Adobe said Tuesday it is eliminating some 750 positions and ceasing development of Flash on mobile devices as part of an effort to refocus the company on digital media and marketing.
In a blog post, the company acknowledged that HTML5 had become more widely supported than Flash as a mobile technology. "HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices, in some cases exclusively," said Danny Winokur, general manager of interactive development for Adobe. "This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms."
In so doing, Adobe has validated the criticisms of Flash made by the late Steve Jobs in 2010, when he was CEO of Apple. "Flash was created during the PC era--for PCs and mice," Jobs wrote in an open letter defending his company's refusal to support Flash in iOS. "Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces, and open Web standards--all areas where Flash falls short."
Even if Jobs' argument was tailored to advance the interests of Apple, and was hypocritical in its advocacy of openness, it has proven to be true enough with respect to the shortcomings of Flash on mobile devices.
Walter Luh, CEO of Ansca Mobile and former lead architect for Flash Lite at Adobe, says Adobe's decision isn't a surprise. Pointing to the Adobe MAX conference this year, he said Flash was treated as an afterthought and all the company's attention was on its HTML5 tools like Adobe Edge.
Luh, who worked at Adobe from 2005 through 2007 and left to create his company's Flash competitor, Corona SDK, said he saw two problems with Flash in the context of mobile devices that the company failed to address.
"The first was legacy technology," he said in an email. "Adobe had the opportunity to invest in building the next generation foundation for Flash very early on, but didn't read the hardware trends correctly. Instead of making a bet on smartphones, the company focused on (at the time) the mass-market feature phones."
The second problem, Luh said, was that Adobe ignored its developers. "A lot of the early mobile Flash developers wanted to create standalone apps, but Adobe wanted to build a mobile platform, so they focused on trying to get distribution of their Web plug-in on mobile phones," he said. "There was an impedance mismatch and Adobe just took too long to come to the right conclusions."
Adobe said it will continue to develop Flash for personal computers, but this appears largely to be a way of avoiding the shock of killing off Flash in one blow. The irony is that the problem Flash aimed to solve--to provide a single platform and toolset for creating interactive content and apps that run on multiple platforms--hasn't entirely been solved, by HTML5 or alternative technologies. At the recent New Game Conference for HTML5 development, several experienced Flash developers said they're busier now than ever, even if they conceded this may not last.
HTML5 is the heir-apparent, but it has at least another year of growing up before it's ready to rule. At the same time, it's evident that native apps, and the tools that can be used to create them--Corona SDK, Unity3D, and various tools like Appcelerator and PhoneGap that enclose Web code in a native wrapper--have a place in the new world order.
A single platform, particularly one changing as rapidly as HTML5 and the browsers that support it, simply cannot be the optimal choice for all possible use cases. Just look at Java to see that one platform does not rule them all.
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