Flash forward: Can Adobe leave Apple behind in the dust?

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2651 Flash, sharply rejected by Jobs and Company, has moved on to Apple’s competitors, hoping for a warm welcome and the promise of a place in the mobile market. While Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ recent open letter deploring Adobe’s Flash managed to do little in terms of settling the argument as to who was right in the debate, it did point out many of the problems with the oft-buggy software that may indeed plague the smartphone experience.

With Flash Player 10.1 set to debut later this year and a slew of Flash alternatives moving into the forefront, the need for compatibility between third-party developers and designers has grown significantly. In 2009, Avi Greengart, the research director of consumer devices at Current Analysis, predicted that if Apple were to leave Flash out of its lineup, then it must be coming up with its own video support setup since it would end up being a disadvantage.

After Apple’s public support for HTML 5 was announced, Greengart noted that “there is still enough Flash-only content on the Web that full mobile Flash support could be a short-term competitive differentiator against the iPhone. However, mobile Flash 10.1 has been repeatedly delayed…By that time, the gap may have been closed further.”

Greengart’s words may not have hit Adobe’s front doors, but the Flash developers have officially jumped ship and embraced the rest of the mobile market. While the official release date has yet to be set, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen has promised an official launch before the end of the year, along with a plethora of Android, webOS, and Research In Motion smartphones and tablets that will be fully supported.

There have been recent reports that Adobe’s employees are already testing Android 2.2 (or Froyo) with a fully functional Flash Player installed, and a video of the process has been making the rounds on the Internet. The main gripe from Jobs, as well as from Web users, is that Flash on slower systems tends to be buggy and cause crashes. In the video, speeds for both using Flash Player for videos as well as for browsing proved faster than anything either Android or mobile Flash had exhibited before.

Some reviewers are suggesting the process is nearly flawless and see Adobe as effectively proving Apple’s accusations wrong. Flash 10.1 on Google’s Nexus One, the phone used in the video demo, can be turned off as well as optimized to work only on Flash-enabled websites.

While Android and Adobe’s partnership has been anything but secret, with Adobe’s Web programmer population having all been given Froyo phones to work with, other mobile OS companies have been more than mum on the subject.

Neither RIM (BlackBerry) nor HP (webOS) has come out publicly with efforts to help move Flash 10.1 forward for mobile phones, even while both companies announced plans to support Adobe. RIM went so far as to join the Open Screen Project in 2009, a broad initiative to open up standalone applications and Web-browsing access to more than 50 industry leaders. The Open Screen Project is led by Adobe, and includes partnerships with Motorola, Nvidia, HTC and Nokia, among others.

David Wadhwani, the general manager and vice president of the Flash platform business unit at Adobe, said, “It’s a natural fit for both companies [RIM and Adobe] to work together to bring Flash technology-based video and Web content to BlackBerry smartphone users.”

While the respect seems to be mutual for all members of the Open Screen Project, not many have come out to publicly defend Adobe or Flash after Steve Jobs’ public letter that criticized the platform.

Even so, it does not look as though Flash 10.1’s omission on the iPhone — or Windows Phone 7, for that matter — will manage to hurt Adobe as long as all the other players stick to the plan and wait for the eventual release. As for advocates of HTML 5 in place of Flash, the coding standard is not expected to be fully developed for years to come. Adobe’s 10.1 — if released in June, as many have speculated — will likely be able to establish a necessary lead by the time HTML 5 is widespread.

Unlike Apple’s expectations for its “walled garden” of available platforms, the rest of the Internet would benefit from the availability of Flash on mobile browsing, considering that a majority of websites currently still use versions of the Flash player to support their videos — for example, Hulu.

Even with Web polls from tech blogs like PC World and InfoWorld declaring that a larger percentage of their readers (55%) agree with Apple on the matter of Flash, the largest players are still the other platforms. If Android’s Froyo, RIM’s newest OS, and HP’s newest tablets all support Flash, then they will still represent a large majority of the smartphone market share — something that Apple does not seem to mind.

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