I can’t say I was surprised by Adobe’s decision to kill the Flash Player for mobile, and I’m not entirely sure what all the fuss is about from the Flash community. After all, how many Flash developers out there were actively developing Flash content for mobile delivery? I bet it was a tiny percentage.
So why did Adobe’s mobile strategy for Flash Player fail so badly? Well to be honest. Apple’s decision not to support Flash on iOS pretty much killed Adobe’s plans from the outset. But it’s also clear that there wasn’t much enthusiasm for Flash on Android either. Performance across devices was variable and even Flash on high-end tablets seemed to struggle. So why was this the case?
Well, I think Flash was pretty much a victim of its own success in this regard. It’s clear Adobe spent considerable time and energy optimizing the Flash runtime for mobile but unfortunately that was just half the battle. There really isn’t much that can be done if the content being run by the player is bloated and not optimized for mobile, which unfortunately is the case for almost all SWFs out there.
Developers had simply become accustomed to creating content for desktop with almost no consideration for memory and CPU usage. What we ended up with was a web chock-full of SWFs that strangled the life out of every mobile device they ran on. A decade, or so, of not having to care about optimization had essentially set Flash up for a very bad fall.
But ultimately it wasn’t the performance that was the real killer. It was a simple issue of usability. Even content that ran well was almost impossible to use. With the tightly packed pixel density of mobile screens it was difficult to interact with buttons and links that were designed for pixel-perfect mouse clicks rather than fairly inaccurate finger taps. Of course, this isn’t a technology issue and certainly isn’t exclusive to Flash, however with so many Flash sites out there the problem was quickly associated with the platform.
By excluding Flash from iOS, Apple has effectively cleaned-up the web. Companies who wanted a mobile web presence were forced to ditch Flash and redesign their site. In the process this allowed them to create simpler, cleaner and ultimately more usable experiences. The success of the App Store did the rest. Games and applications that were once delivered via the browser had found a new home and another reason for having the Flash plugin had eroded away.
So while many will feel aggrieved, disappointed, and angry at Adobe’s decision to stop developing Flash Player for mobile, I think it’s hard to argue against it.
You’ll still be able to develop for mobile using Flash, but it won’t be for the browser – you’ll be targeting the Android Marketplace and Apple’s App Store instead. This makes perfect sense as this is the expected location for the sort of rich content that can be created using Flash. And let’s not forget that the Flash Player will continue on desktop where it has had so much success over the years. Many of the recent announcements, such as Stage3D, create exciting new possibilities and will hopefully be making their way to mobile soon too.