When Steve Jobs posted a letter last year blasting Flash as being unreliable, slow, buggy, a battery life killer, and a known malware target, among other things, Adobe cried foul. They complained loudly, got plenty of favorable press, but could never prove Jobs wrong. When I presented a challenge to Adobe in these columns, that they should demonstrate that Flash can be made to run efficiently on an iOS device, I expected they wouldn’t respond, and they didn’t. But it was such a sensible request, I’m surprised so few took up the cause to egg Adobe on.
But even with media support, the pressure on Adobe grew harder, even as they demonstrated a poorly-running mobile version Flash on the Android and BlackBerry PlayBook platforms. The argument was that one of these gadgets could give you the full Internet, whereas Apple excluded Flash and thus deprived you of a significant amount of online content.
Of course, few bought the PlayBook, and not just because Flash performance sucked. As of now there are over 250 million iOS devices, none of which support Flash. Only a small number of mobile devices do support Flash, such as it is, and it’s quite clear Adobe wasn’t having much luck fixing the well known problems.
Before I go on, let me tell you that the lack of Flash doesn’t bother me so much, but Mrs. Steinberg does complain from time to time when she can’t bring up a site on an iPad 2.
But it was time for Adobe to throw in the towel. The announcement that came this week from Adobe, in the form of a blog entry from Danny Winokur, vice president of the Flash Client Platform, does attempt to play down the obvious implications. But the meaning is clear. Adobe will concentrate on supporting HTML 5 on mobile devices from here on, and Flash will only get maintenance updates. Development will cease after the coming release of Flash Player 11.1 for Android and the PlayBook. There will be no further development of the mobile version, which basically puts the kibosh on expectations that you’ll see expanded support in the years to come.
However, the AIR platform will survive, meaning that developers will be able to use that tool to create native iOS apps from Flash content. But it also seems clear that these developers need to be looking for alternatives. The future of Flash on desktop personal computers may also be uncertain, especially since the forthcoming Microsoft Windows 8 will not be shipped with Flash as a standard installation. As with Mac OS X Lion, and all new Macs shipping for quite a while, you have to make a separate effort to download a copy of that’s what you want.
At the same time, Adobe is restructuring their business, which means issuing more pink slips. This time, Adobe is shedding some 750 employees, roughly 7% of their worldwide workforce.
Here’s Adobe’s excuse for the cutback: “Adobe is investing aggressively in Digital Media and Digital Marketing, two growing market areas. In Digital Media, the company is the industry leader in content authoring solutions, enabling customers to create, distribute and monetize digital content. In Digital Marketing, the company intends to be the leader in solutions to manage, measure and optimize digital marketing and advertising.”
Two years ago, Adobe axed 680 full timers, which goes to show that this particular company isn’t the place to get a job if you count on long-term security.
Now I’m not going to denigrate Adobe because they wanted to leverage that multibillion dollar buyout of Macromedia, primarily to get control of Flash and, as a consequence, allow them to kill Illustrator’s only serious competitor in the digital artwork market, FreeHand. However, Flash’s time has clearly passed, and it’s time to embrace open Web standards.
But isn’t it funny how some criticize Apple, one of the prime movers behind HTML 5, for closed platforms. Flash is, after all, Adobe’s proprietary format, and it’s not one that has always worked well for Web developers, although it makes it fairly easy to build sites with multimedia content. I know that, early on, my original Webmaster said Flash was the future, and I needed to embrace it as completely as possible.
Then came the iOS, and the forced decision to rid myself of Flash-based content as quickly as possible, so my sites would continue to run with all features intact on those fancy new mobile gadgets. Fortunately, it was mostly about fancy menus that could have been designed to work as well or better without Flash. I still have one Flash-video and a couple of other widgets on one of my sites, but that’ll change soon.
Meantime, I want to convey my best wishes to those soon-to-be former Adobe employees; I hope they find new employment soon, and I’m sure they did nothing to lose their jobs. It’s all about the bad decisions made by company executives. At the same time, the late Mr. Jobs is now vindicated yet again in his predictions about our online future. Did you expect otherwise?