It was not too long ago that the deadlock between Apple and Adobe came to a head over Flash. Steve Jobs famously wanted no part of Flash for his iPhone, while Adobe moved to work with many other mobile developers to offer Flash natively on their smartphones. Jobs said that Flash was buggy, unreliable and, in some cases, caused things to slow down. He also saw it as a security risk: The Flash player could conceivably be a portal that could lead into hacking a phone or releasing code that could exploit the OS. Adobe held its ground and moved ahead with other mobile developers. It is not without a touch of irony that Steve Jobs was not able to see the latest announcement (opens in new tab) from Adobe. He would have no doubt gotten a smile out of it.
It is worth going back many years to see the early stages of Flash on desktop computers and what it brought to the table. When the transition from dial-up to broadband started, Flash made a lot of sense. It was a way to do animations in a much more compact and efficient manner. Because Flash is vector based, it could do animations and graphics much more easily than regular bitmaps. And while RealPlayer, QuickTime and Windows Media battled it out for domination as a video player, Flash swooped in and made video playback easy, because so many people already had Flash installed. When major sites like YouTube embraced Flash, it seemed like Flash could do no wrong. But there were some snags — multiple versions of Flash, incompatibilities, performance issues, and the fact that Flash was not the best option for everyone — that caused a bit of a Flash backlash.
Also changing were webpages. Gone were the days of swirling animated splash pages; site visitors wanted to get to the content quickly. Broadband speed was constantly increasing, so the need for Flash optimized graphics was steadily decreasing. HTML was developing, as were browsers, so more could be done natively, not requiring a plug-in.
Meanwhile the smartphone ndustry was ramping up, with the same challenges as early webpages — minimal connect speed, optimized graphics needed, video playback with small bandwidth streaming, etc. Flash moved in to save the day. But just as the web advanced, so have mobile phones. Data is faster, processors can play back graphics natively, video can stream even in HD. Now is Flash even needed on mobile phones?
Apparently not. HTML5 is the new king and Adobe is getting behind it in a big way. Although they do lose the licensing and proprietary nature of Flash for mobile, they are smart enough to know where things are heading, and unlike some companies who cling to something far too long, they know when the tide is turning and choose to ride the big waves. It will be interesting to see where Adobe goes in the arena, and we’ll all miss Flash (well, maybe not everyone). It had its ups and downs, but certainly it paved the way on the computer and on mobile devices for greater things to come.
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