Mobile Flash Player: RIP

It’s been an uphill battle since “Thoughts on Flash” and this year things were finally leveling off. I was getting buy-in from important pockets of my organization and now Adobe’s message has utterly annihilated all the work I’ve done putting mobile Flash in a positive light. I’m not wasting any more time convincing people if Adobe itself isn’t standing behind the technology.

We will no longer continue to develop Flash Player in the browser to work with new mobile device configurations (chipset, browser, OS version, etc.) following the upcoming release of Flash Player 11.1 for Android and BlackBerry PlayBook.

Now, instead of saying “Sure! We can do that in Flash!” – I’ll have to say “Well, HTML cannot do what you want, sorry… maybe we can just take expectations for this web app down a few notches?” Really, really sad state of affairs – especially when considering that mobile Flash Player works really well on the devices I use regularly.

I’ve never targeted mobile Flash Player for application development – have always done desktop Flash Player and AIR desktop or AIR mobile. However, being able to reassure clients that their desktop web project was accessible on mobile phones and tablets over certain platforms was often enough to convince them to go with Flash Player for certain advanced website functionality. Personally, I LOVE being able to view browser-based Flash content on my mobile devices.

Most all of my books, videos, and whatnot over the past year or so have revolved around AIR and mobile… so while it definitely does excite me to think that more resources can be placed into furthering AIR on mobile, as a user of mobile Flash and a strong advocate of mobile Flash across Android, QNX, and beyond… this decision absolutely weakens the perception people have for the rest of the platform.

The way in which Adobe just dropped the news on loyal customers after years of gathering pretty strong support from the Open Screen Project and other partners is probably the worst part in all of this. I’ve written a lot on mobile and Flash on this weblog. I’ve written how Steve Jobs is wrong, how Flash on mobile works well, et cetera… I stand by my previous statements.

I love what Adobe is doing with Flash Player 11 and AIR 3. I have 2 eBooks scheduled for publication by O’Reilly next week on both these topics. I’m also doing work with Adobe Edge and various elements of the “open web stack” – so I get that it’s important to support all of these solutions… it just feels so much like an ill-informed blood-sacrifice to dismiss mobile Flash Player in this manner. I think Peter Elst put it best with his analogy of removing a limb. Seems very unnecessary and Adobe has done great harm to many core supporters in the community and with outside perceptions.

I’m really floored by this decision. I hope I am wrong in my analysis. Thibault Imbert and Lee Brimelow seem to think that this is a good move. They are the ones that know for sure… or at least they are better informed than I…

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Some additional articles on the subject (both positive and negative):

Flash to Focus on PC Browsing and Mobile Apps; Adobe to More Aggressively Contribute to HTML5

Flash to Focus on Apps for Mobile


Et tu, Adobe? Flash Player homicide

Flash Player Mobile, a Post Mortem.

Adobe abandons mobile Flash development

Without mobile, Adobe Flash is irrelevant

Adobe’s November 9th Case Study in Message Failure


Clarifications on Flash Player for Mobile Browsers, the Flash Platform, and the Future of Flash

My Thoughts on Flash and HTML (as Expressed in an Email to “Tech News Today”)


  1. At first hearing, it did seem very bad. I blame Adobe PR for this, as they had to know this was coming and could have softened the blow with better damage control. I spent yesterday advising my management that this is not a bad thing, and that even if we switch to Unity3D, we’d be in the same boat – no mobile browser support. They basically believed that there will be no Flash mobile support, period. Perception is everything, and I really hope that Adobe can weather this crap storm that they created.

  2. Agree in 100%. And this is just week before the Kindle Fire will hit the market and it’s support for Flash could be a game changer in the tablets world. But now since Adobe is killing it’s own product I just hope that some company like Google will take Mobile Flash over and continue developing it .

  3. Despite technical superiority, Flash lost when pitted against marketing genius Steve Jobs. Now the world is worst for it, but nobody is any the wiser. I’m dropping Flash for good now. No matter how bad HTML5 is, it’s the only one with a future right now.

    1. Adobe made this commitment AFTER Jobs passed on, AFTER Microsoft independently said “sorry, no Flash on metro,” AFTER the Fire was announced.

      Jobs has passed on. Adobe has moved on. You’re still an unwilling puppet being operated by the ghost of a dead man? Time to get a new life.

  4. Hey Joseph,

    I’m not going to address what was announced, how it was announced, or the sensationalist journalism that is going along with all of it. What I thought I would do however is take the opportunity to have a little make-believe. Play some theoretical scenarios for a moment.

    There was a time when, at the dawn of GUI browsers, HTML did not do everything everybody wanted. Then Marc Andreessen comes along with this idea for adding features to his browser to differentiate it, and the IMG tag is born. And this was far from okay with the standards bodies. Realizing that in it’s current state, the web simply wasn’t going to evolve very fast, he also then added a plug-in layer such that innovation could happen outside of the standards. And behold, Flash Player is born (more or less).

    Fast forward to today, and web standards are evolving at a very rapid pace. Not perhaps as rapidly as proprietary technologies such as the Flash Player, but still at a very marked increase in rate. For reasons I’m sure we could debate, much of that increased rate of innovation is coming from the world of mobile devices. And even with that, browser vendors are quickly solving the problem of getting people to upgrade their browsers. Chrome updates and I don’t even know it. It is just always current.

    What would happen then if rather than innovate solely in Flash Player, that innovation was added directly to the browser? Better yet, go back to the dawn of GUI browsers and ask yourself, what would have happened if the standards wouldn’t have moved so slowly? What if the innovation that happened in the Flash Player wasn’t via a plug-in, but rather was added directly to the browser itself? What if all along you were just developing for the most ubiquitous runtime out there – the browser – and all the features you have come to know and love with Flash Player, were simply the fabric of the web?

    That’s where we are with the rate of innovation in web standards today.

    And if innovation in web standards is happening fast enough, then why not help? Why not start treating the browser as Flash Player? Why not inject all the great innovation that has happened in the proprietary world, into the world of web standards, where it is badly needed. Why not leverage our lessons learned to further the overall state of the web for 90% of the use-cases? And what if those contributions made it such that rather than people wanting to upgrade their Flash Player at the rate of 90% every year, people upgraded their browsers to stay current at the rate of 90% every year?

    What if rather than having to fight battles for your favorite plug-in, all the features you needed for 90% of the use-cases were already there and the web was a given? What if WebKit was a runtime product team at Adobe? And what if you had a great suite of tools at an affordable price ($49/month) that made it such that you didn’t even need to argue over what tooling to use? And what if Adobe even gave you a way to easily measure and monetize all the innovation you were able to achieve with the time you save from “fighting the good fight”?

    There was a time where Flash Player was disruptive, and other technologies were disrupted by its innovation. Over the past few years, Flash Player has been the one to be disrupted – and at an immense cost. Making the web the runtime, and weaving Adobe innovation directly into its fabric, as opposed to a plug-in, makes Adobe the disruptive driver once again, or as a well-known financial analyst recently said “the arms dealer for the future.” I know it is a lot to digest, and it’s not going to be a straight line from here to there, but I’d encourage you to step back, soak in the potential, and give the changes a chance.

    Two cents,

    On a very personal PS – Chaos breeds opportunity. Will you be one to take advantage of the massive new opportunity, or will you simply cling to the status quo?

    1. Thanks for taking the time to respond to this, Kevin. I appreciate your thoughts and other little notes I’ve received from Adobe staff. Know that when I speak of “Adobe” here, I don’t speak of any particular individuals.

      The picture you render here is exciting, and welcome. We *should* be able to do everything in the browser that we are able to do through Flash Player. If Adobe were to be able to innovate using the browser itself as a runtime – that would be excellent. How that could ever happen is beyond my understanding. I’m guessing there are many pieces to this hypothetical that remain shrouded in darkness for good reason.

      My main point of frustration, on a technical level, is that as things stand now, we cannot achieve in HTML what can be achieved using Flash Player. It is just not possible for many scenarios, as you must know. On top of this, ActionScript 3 is such a killer language to develop in – going back to JavaScript, for a lot of developers, is beyond consideration.

      If the tooling was there… if there was a robust language for the browser runtime or a method to cross-compile to that runtime… and if the features we need were available and consistent across major browsers… that would be a real win for developers, Adobe, and the greater world.

      To address your postscript; when I was in graduate school I wrote a paper on this very thing. My conclusion was that in order to stay ahead and be successful in this field, that individuals would need to adapt to changes in technology and always keep learning. I’ve always stuck with that conclusion and have seen it borne out more than once. It is not in my plan to surrender to chaos.

    2. “Chaos breeds opportunity. Will you be one to take advantage of the massive new opportunity, or will you simply cling to the status quo?”

      Obviously the status quo is gone and over. But what Adobe has done has introduce massive amounts of fear and uncertainty in the market with the manner, nature and timing of these announcements. That makes it much more difficult for people (both your customers, and their clients) to make informed decisions on technology — especially when the firms on which they rely to provide that technology have shown a willingness to depart from prior roadmaps, with no advance notice.

    3. Kevin, innovation in the browsers is happening a lot faster, but it is still moving along very slowly. Also we get into format wars like what is happening with the video tag. What about filling the need for DRM with HTML5 video tag? Doesn’t seem possible with WHATWG firmly against DRM and having to get all browsers on side.

      While HTML has finally gotten a boost, JavaScript is still moving incredibly slowly at a language, with ECMAScript 4 going the way of XHTML 2.

      The work Adobe has done with CSS shaders is absolutely great, but now when we developers get to use in projects? Maybe 5 years from now, if no one side tries the block it like Microsoft is doing with WebGL.

      I still think there was room for innovation to happen with plugins and then for browsers to standardize that feature for browsers. Unfortunately, companies like Apple and now even Microsoft want more control and don’t want other companies creating plugins.

    4. What you are saying is far broader than what Adobe has said. You are stating that Flash Player will be absolute in all browsers, even on the desktop. So that tells me once again how misleading Adobe messaging is to the community.

      Without a Flash player in the browser, there is no Flex applications in the browser. So this also has in impact on the Flex SDK. There are already rumors that 4.6 will be the last version of Flex SDK. This has some truth because without Flash player in the browser, any updates to Flex SDK (future features) might only be used in AIR on the desktop. So there would be some split at that point between targeting Flex for the browser and the desktop.

      Now the real question is, how long will Adobe continue to support the desktop or AIR on mobile. From what you say the browser is the future, so Adobe doubling down on AIR is just a stop-gap measure until they get their tooling strong enough to replace enterprise applications (if that is even their intention).


      If the tooling were already there for browser-based HTML applications, I could totally understand this move by Adobe at this time. But the tooling is not there and their move to announce this now puts the entire Flash platform in question.

  5. The problem with web standards is that the browser manufacturers don’t implement those standards properly. Or in some cases, they believe they have ideas for better features or they simply want to differentiate themselves so they add webkit specific features, etc. The reason I left web development in HTML over 10 years ago was because browser inconsistencies are not only frustrating and time consuming to deal with, they’re just not fun to work through. I want to spend my time developing, not double checking that browser manufacturers implemented the features Im using consistently across platforms.

    Browser innovation rate has increased, but you have to be joking if you think it is either a.) at a rate even 1/2 as fast as Flash Player can innovate, or b.) that is has feature parity with Flash Player.

    If HTML actually did have feature parity and similar, consistent, efficient workflows could be applied then I would not have any issues with this mass exodus of interest and support in the Flash Player. However, HTML(5) is far, FAR, from actually being able to effectively supplant Flash Player in the modern web. Until that happens people will continue to need Flash, but if Adobe keeps reassuring people that HTML5 can do what it can not then it will continue to get harder to sell clients on actual valid use cases for Flash Player plugin implementations. This is the real problem that I don’t think Adobe is currently understanding. This affect carries over to technologies that they have stated that they do intend on supporting and investing further, such as AIR for mobile devices. However, the branding around these technologies is so poor that clients and decision makers have no idea what the real differences between AIR, Flex, Flash, Flash Player and ActionScript really are. So when we go and try to sell them on developing their mobile applications for AIR we STILL have to fight the misconceptions that Flash is dead, and that running it on mobile devices is just not possible because the layman does not differentiate between AIR and Flash Player on Mobile. Hell, they don’t even differentiate between something they see in their browser and an actual native application. To them its just something on their phone.

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