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Adobe Flash vs. The World

Who’s going to win this battle going forward?

Does it seem like everyone is ganging up on Adobe these days? Apple and Microsoft have made some bold moves lately in an attempt to prevent Adobe's Flash technology from transferring the same dominance it has on the PC onto mobile devices.

At the recent Mobile World Congress exhibition Microsoft's Steve Ballmer announced that the new Windows Phone operating system would not support Flash "out of the gate" and gave no indication on when Flash support might be available.

Apple took the battle further when they nestled a controversial passage into their new iPhone SDK that effectively bans any Adobe Flash application from the company's flagship device. This move certainly caught Adobe by surprise and has angered millions of Flash developers throughout the world. To add fuel to the fire, Steve Jobs, when asked why the new iPad doesn't support Flash, said "We don't spend a lot of energy on old technology" and reportedly told Wall Street Journal staff that Flash was a "CPU hog" and a source of "security holes."

Tough talk. Kind of reminds me of ego battles between the popular kids back in my high school days. However, with Apple leaving Flash off the iPad and iPhone, Microsoft's announcement of no Flash support in the new Windows Phone, and the emergence of HTML5 as a new standard to compete with Flash, this situation presents a serious challenge for Adobe going forward.

Frankly, this battle is also one I am paying pretty close attention to as well since my company, Bluestreak Technology (http://www.bluestreaktech.com), is the second largest provider of Flash-enabled solutions in the world. As a result, you can imagine that these days I am answering a lot of questions about Adobe and Flash's future, including:

Why would your company choose to support Flash - isn't it going away?
Mark Twain once wrote that "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." Adobe could clearly use this same messaging. Steve Jobs and some frenzied analysts may enjoy positioning Flash as a dying technology but let's just look at the facts as they stand today:

  • 1.2 Billion mobile phones are Flash capable
  • 70% of online gaming sites run Flash
  • 98% percent of Internet-enabled desktops use it
  • 85% of top 100 websites use Flash
  • #1 platform for video on the Web - 75% of all videos use Flash (including Hulu, Disney and YouTube)
  • 2-3 Million person Flash developers community
  • 90% of creative professionals have Adobe software on their desktops

With numbers and penetration rates like that, the better question is why wouldn't I choose to support this technology? None of the facts indicate that Adobe Flash is disappearing anytime soon.

There is a reason so many have embraced Flash in the past and continue to do so: Flash delivers the richest visual experience and easiest video streaming technology around. Period. Until Flash's 2-3 million person developer community and companies, like Bluestreak Technology, see another underlying presentation technology that could compete with Flash's graphic and video capabilities, we will all continue to support it.

Won't the new HTML5 standard replace Flash?
Maybe...but not today. Not tomorrow. Not even in 10 years. To displace a technology as deeply embedded as Flash is in the worldwide market would take a tremendous momentum shift. HTML5, as it stands today, doesn't offer all of the same capabilities as Flash and it will take several years before it can catch up.

And let's not forget that, most important, people who browse the web and watch videos want Flash. The popular Apple-focused blog site TUAW (http://www.tuaw.com) recently asked iPhone owners what they most wanted on the next version of the iPhone. The number one response, from 80% of survey respondents: Flash support.

Consumers like Flash. They like the fluid graphics, the sexy animations, the visual touches that you just can't reproduce with other technologies today. Typically, what consumers want, consumers get.

That being said, if you ask me: "Does my company, Bluestreak Technology, support HTML5 development for the applications we build across mobile phones, TVs, set-top boxes and consumer electronics devices?" My answer would be "yes". We are fortunate that we can be both a strong proponent of Flash-enabled application development but still embrace and offer support for alternative, emerging technologies.

Do you think Apple will ever support Flash on the iPhone?
Probably not - but not because of the reasons Steve Jobs conveys. If it was just Flash's supposedly "aging" technology, speed, CPU usage, or battery drain issues that Apple was concerned about, I am sure they would find a way to resolve them to give consumers the ability to browse the entire web - rather than just "some" of the web like they are limited to on the iPhone and iPad today.

The reality is that Apple simply doesn't want developers to have an alternative platform for developing applications for the iPhone and iPad. They want everything to be built using the native application development kit and sold through their closed marketplace, iTunes. It would take a pretty intense consumer uprising to change that vision for the future.

There is an outside chance though that Google's support for Flash on devices like the NexusOne could eventually put enough competitive pressure on Apple that they could change their strategy in regards to Flash. That is doubtful, however.

To keep things in perspective, according to analyst firms Gartner and Strategy Analytics, the iPhone, while hugely popular in such a short time, still only makes up 17.1% of the smartphone market and 2.5% of the global handset market. That leaves 97.5% of phones and many consumer electronic devices for Flash applications to penetrate in the future.

Who's going to win this battle going forward?
There won't be a single winner. Apple's not going to knock out Adobe. Adobe's not going to eradicate HTML5. All of these technologies and vendors will continue to evolve and, ultimately, consumers will be the real winners. It is the consumers who will reap the rewards from the innovative solutions and new technological breakthroughs that this competitive spirit ignites.

More Stories By Dominique Jodoin

Dominique Jodoin is President and Chief Executive Officer of Bluestreak Technology. He has more than 23 years of experience in the mobile and wireless industry. Prior to joining Bluestreak, he was President Americas at Red Bend Software, a provider of Mobile Software Management.

Previously, Mr. Jodoin was Vice President of Business Development within the Mobile Systems Division of Alcatel. He was Executive Vice President at WaterCove Networks, a venture-backed company that was acquired by Alcatel in 2004.

Mr. Jodoin also spent 17 years with Ericsson in a variety of executive positions in Canada and around the World.

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