If you’re merrily browsing away on your Android phone or tablet, enjoying the “full web experience” with all its features then you might be in for a shock. Adobe, the makers of Flash, are removing support for mobile devices. From the 15th August, Adobe will disable all new installs of Flash on Android. This is boldly in the face of their assertion last year that Flash would enable the full web experience on mobile devices. Brand loyalty has instead been switched to promoting HTML5 as the new format.
To be fair, there are pretty good reasons for doing so. Apple’s reluctance to support the format in iOS hamstrung them from the start for the mobile market. Furthermore, once both Apple and YouTube put their collective weight behind HTML5 as a competing format, the days of Flash were numbered. Yet it still seems rather early to pull the plug on the project, for it leaves a lot of developers in the lurch. The BBC’s iPlayer for example requires Flash for Android and many consumers explicitly chose to buy an Android tablet because it had this feature built in while iOS didn’t’. HTML5 may well be better in the long run, but in the short term there are still Flash based websites that are not well optimised for mobile platforms that will simply be broken to users on Android.
Even odder, Adobe is continuing development of the PC side of Flash, and hoping to continue supporting standalone Flash app development through their Air platform. Developers might well be put off developing in Flash if they know that the company’s fortunes are turning against them and they may well be inclined to pull the plug at very short notice. More worrying is Adobe’s statement that it wants to work on “premium copy-protected video for people … like movie studios or cable companies, who want viewers to watch the video anywhere but also want to make sure it’s protected.” The promulgation of closed encoding formats is not necessarily a good thing for the development of the web or for consumers. Plus, it is increasingly futile as you can be pretty sure that if someone wants to crack it enough then they will be able to do so.
Nevertheless, if the removal of Flash from mobile devices leads to an increased adoption rate of HTML5 then we are more likely to see a standardisation of the web’s content. Seamless browsing for all is a pretty respectable ideal, and you can’t complain at Adobe for doing it – they’re funding the development of HTML5, the competitor which brought them down. One wonders, however, if they are doing so just a little bit too soon.