A lot has been made of Apple’s decision not to support Flash on the iPad lately so it is no surprise that it was big news when Google announced that the next version of its Android OS would support Flash as a downloadable add-on. You can argue the issue from either side. Apple has good reason not to support Flash. It is a resource hog, hasn’t run well on mobile devices, and is out of Apple’s control to modify or improve. Adobe has good reason to fight for it. It is one of their flagship product. It has allowed us to do things on the web that no other technology has. Apple has a lot of power behind it and Adobe is afraid that Apple might succeed in eliminating Flash from the web, and there is a good chance that fear will come true.
Adobe’s partnership with Google is a last-ditch effort in my opinion, one that will not succeed. It does seem that they have been able to build a version of Flash that supports all of the functionality that users come to expect on the web and they’ve gotten it to run pretty well on a mobile device. But that doesn’t change the fact that Apple isn’t going to support it. It doesn’t change the fact that Apple and its non-Flash supporting products aren’t going away any time soon. Apple launched a new market, the touch tablet, and in two months sold 2 million iPads. That’s quite a feat. They have already silenced the critics who declared the iPad dead before it went out the door. They have already forced HP and Microsoft to cancel their tablet projects and reevaluate.
Regardless of the number of Android phones that sell that can support Flash there will still be Apple devices out there that don’t support it. Content developers will still want to develop content that works across devices. They can’t use Flash, because that will only work on Android devices. They’ll have to use HTML 5 if they want to target Android and Apple. Adobe tells everyone that Flash is cross-platform, and it is, well it was. Now that Apple has decided not to support it, it’s not cross-platform. HTML5 is.
Adobe is hinging their partnership with Google on the idea that Android devices will outnumber Apple devices, Apple will become a niche player again, and they will have to support Flash. It is very feasible that Android devices will outnumber Apple devices. There are at least five large companies pumping out Android phones two, three, or four times per year. Apple can’t keep pace. But Apple won’t become a niche player. There were hundreds of companies pumping out MP3 players and the iPod is still king. The iPhone is their biggest platform and I believe that they will do whatever they need to in order to keep it that way. So even if the Android platform has a larger market share than Apple, I don’t think it will be large enough to force Apple into a niche again. As long as Apple is on the radar, HTML 5 will be the easiest way to go cross platform.
Some say that HTML5 isn’t ready yet, and that may be true. It has a way to go before it can completely replace Flash, but Apple and other companies are working on it. The advantage for Apple is that they have control of it – they can put the necessary resources to it to make it better than Flash. They aren’t afraid of change. They never have been. The switch from ADB and serial to USB was abrupt, sometimes painful, but extremely beneficial. The same goes for HTML5. I think we will all look back on this debacle in two years and wonder what all the fuss was about.