Adobe guts mobile Flash player strategy

Adobe Flash logoGraphics software giant Adobe announced plans for layoffs yesterday ahead of a major restructuring. The company intends to cut approximately 750 members of its workforce and said that it would refocus its digital media business. It wasnt immediately obvious how this streamlining effort would impact Adobes product line, but a report that was published late last night indicates that the company will gut its mobile Flash player strategy.

Adobe is reportedly going to stop developing new mobile ports of its Flash player browser plugin. Instead, the companys mobile Flash development efforts will focus on AIR and tools for deploying Flash content as native applications. The move marks a significant change in direction for Adobe, which previously sought to deliver uniform support for Flash across desktop and mobile browsers.

Although Adobe will not be introducing its own Flash player plugin for additional platforms, the company will continue to support its existing implementations-including the ones for Android and the Blackberry tablet operating system-with updates that address bugs and security issues.

Its not clear, however, whether the existing mobile browser plugins will be updated as new versions of Flash player are released. There are also some unanswered questions regarding the fate of the Open Screen program, though Adobe says that existing licensees will be able to continue developing their own Flash ports.

Our future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores. We will no longer adapt Flash Player for mobile devices to new browser, OS version or device configurations, the company said, according to a ZDNet report.

Adobe has struggled for years to make its Flash player viable on mobile devices. Although it has met with some success on Android smartphones, the quality of the Flash user experience varies between devices and is a lot less impressive on other mobile platforms.

The early attempts to bring Flash to mobile devices focused on a scaled-down implementation called Flash Lite that Adobe used to license to embedded software vendors. Flash Lite was hobbled by major limitations relative to the desktop version.

Adobe began work in 2008 on a project to bring native ARM support to the full desktop version of Flash, a move that eliminated the need for Flash Lite and made it possible for regular Flash content to work across desktop and mobile environments. Adobe also dropped the licensing fees and launched the Open Screen project to encourage support for Flash on a broader range of mobile products.

The goal of achieving ubiquitous support for Flash on handheld devices was thwarted, however, by Apples refusal to incorporate the plugin into its mobile Web browser. The decision launched a war of words between Apple and Adobe that eventually escalated to the point where former Apple CEO Steve Jobs issued an open letter to personally address the issue. Concerns about battery life, security, and stability have been cited as key reasons why Flash isnt allowed on iOS.

In light of Flashs extremely bad security track record and notoriously poor performance on Macs, Apples rejection wasnt particularly surprising. The significant popularity of Apples devices has compelled most Internet video sites that have historically relied on Flash to also support the HTML5 video element with the H.264 codec. Today, HTML5 video is so widely supported that the lack of Flash on the iPhone is hardly noticed by users.

Other platforms have followed Apples lead in disallowing Flash, including Microsofts Windows Phone 7. Google, however, worked with Adobe to bring Flash to its Android mobile platform. As we wrote in our review of Android 2.2 last year when Flash support was introduced on Android handsets, the plugin worked acceptably well in many cases, but still had a number of minor problems.

Adobe wasnt able to repeat that relative success on tablets, however. The Flash plugin wasnt ready for the Motorola Xoom at launch and didnt perform well on the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Flash was also disappointingly buggy on the Blackberry Playbook despite the fact that Adobe worked very closely with RIM on the product.

Its clear that enabling the Flash plugin across the full spectrum of popular mobile platforms isnt possible and that results are mixed on the platforms that Adobe has already committed to support. As the consensus in favor of HTML5 for rich Internet content on mobile platforms continues to solidify, it seems like Adobe has little to gain by continuing to pursue a derailed mobile Flash player strategy.

Transitioning the focus of mobile Flash towards native applications is a logical step that will better serve the interests of Adobes real constituents: the professionals who buy the companys tools. Its worth noting that Adobe has also recently taken some major steps to advance HTML5 on mobile devices-particularly with its acquisition of PhoneGap company Nitobi last month.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Adobe, Flash

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