The Future of Flash Part I – The Current State of Affairs

Apple VS Adobe

Apple VS Adobe

Adobe and Apple have recently been making rather public fisticuffs (love that word). Adobe has been slightly quieter, letting their fans speak for them, while on Apple’s end, Steve himself has blogged on the matter. The whole affair has been splattered far and wide on the web, but above the opinions and battles defending such opinions, 1 question remains.

What is the future of Flash?

Flash has come a long way since it’s inception with Macromedia and it wasn’t an easy start. If you’ve been crawling the web for 8 years or so, then you remember how poor it’s integration was. Tricks and hackery was used to force cross-browser compatibility, it was very resource heavy and it didn’t play well with web standards. Yet, the mark had been made. Rich web media was born. It wasn’t long before a more or less standard embed technique was publicized and standards such as the clickTag emerged. Flash’s abilities in interactivity, smooth animations, sound and video playback as well as keyboard control were undeniably cool. Then came the jaw droppers. Site’s that used Flash in ways people couldn’t have seen coming. The future was bright.

A few years later while game changers like YouTube we’re emerging, a fateful patent violation brought Macromedia and Adobe to the table. Adobe’s very successful line of design software (Photoshop, Dreamweaver, etc) had a lovely patent for dock-able toolbars. Macromedia published Flash with a dock-able toolbar and a legal battle ensued. The result was a $3.4 billion buyout; well received by the Flash community since their much loved workspace had returned. While the Flash experience on the developer side had improved, the experience on the web side had not. Being a browser plug-in, Flash can not properly access computer resources. Java had it’s virtual machine, but Flash required something else.

As Apple’s client base rapidly expanded, Microsoft worked directly with Adobe to ensure Flash had the resources it required to function acceptably. Apple and Linux were kept in the dark while the Flash experience flourished on Windows. Another, more ambiguous player was in the arena however. Java coupled with web native XML (AJAX) was producing some very unexpected results. Fetching data without reloading the page was giving the web new application-like abilities. What’s more – it wasn’t a resource heavy proprietary plug-in, and it worked across all operating systems and browsers. Google Maps was and still is undeniably the best application of AJAX. While AJAX and Flash shine in their own ways, web interactivity now had competition.

The Apple vs Adobe battle came center-ring with the release of what is now one of the world’s most successful mobile devices – the iPhone. Multi-touch blew the mobile web-experience wide open. People couldn’t wait for power of the whole internet in their pocket. Then came the announcement of no Flash support for the iPhone browser. With so much of the web experience involving Flash, the iPhone’s superior web abilities suddenly had a watered down image. The built-in YouTube application alleviated much pressure but the lack of support wasn’t let down. As the pressure for Flash support was seemingly ignored by Apple, something grew inside of Steve Jobs. His very public iPhone leak and very public reaction probably haven’t helped, but regardless, a usually cool and professional Steve has been a very unprofessional and childish Steve.

Adobe hasn’t been taking it all sitting down however. In what’s clearly a much more adult reaction, here’s what Adobe thinks:

Moving Forward
This morning Apple posted some thoughts about Flash on their web site.
The primary issue at hand is that Apple is choosing to block Adobe’s
widely used runtimes as well as a variety of technologies from other
Clearly, a lot of people are passionate about both Apple and Adobe and
our technologies. We feel confident that were Apple and Adobe to work
together as we are with a number of other partners, we could provide a
terrific experience with Flash on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

However, as we posted last week, given the legal terms Apple has
imposed on developers, we have already decided to shift our focus away
from Apple devices for both Flash Player and AIR. We are working to
bring Flash Player and AIR to all the other major participants in the
mobile ecosystem, including Google, RIM, Palm (soon to be HP),
Microsoft, Nokia and others.

We look forward to delivering Flash Player 10.1 for Android
smartphones as a public preview at Google I/O in May, and then a
general release in June. From that point on, an ever increasing number
and variety of powerful, Flash-enabled devices will be arriving which
we hope will provide a great landscape of choice.

Like a cliché bar fight each side has friends and it is not just Adobe and Apple in the ring. Far from it. Google has sided with Adobe and made a subtle blow with the announcement of Flash being built into the next release of their Chrome browser. Such a move could have Flash preform similarly to HTML5, which has been the source of much Apple ammunition (Appleunition?). Microsoft, Google, Palm (soon to be HP), RIM and others have also teamed with Adobe for Flash support on mobile devices in an effort to give consumers a reason to jump off the Apple train. The list of stabs and swings is much too long to chronicle.

Various players can spout their pro-open-standards and throw around the p-word (proprietary) as much as they like, but where does this leave us? By July, a serious mobile Flash experience will be available on Android. This will be dangerously close to Apple’s release of the next iPhone. That light at the end of the tunnel it seems, was just a lamp. We’re going to be here for a while…

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