Instead of getting Steve Jobs to relent on his “thoughts on Flash”, however, Adobe is adding HTTP Live Streaming support to Flash Media Server.
I was surprised to read this at first, but it’s only logical. Adobe has painted itself into a corner with Flash on mobile devices. You know, that wonderful plugin that plays every kind of video on the Web and runs rich applications without burning through battery life? The one that is always mysteriously two-weeks away from being, you know, real? It’s coming back to bite them.
Adobe’s gamble was that consumers would rise up against Apple’s tyranny and demand Flash support on iOS devices, or else they would abandon Apple’s platform in droves. What they didn’t understand then is that playing video on the Web has never been an actual problem for iOS users for years. Nearly all of the video on the Web is available for Flash, yes; but under the hood, most of those videos are actually coded in H.264, which iOS devices can play just fine. In order to get to every user, many content providers are choosing to enable fallbacks to serve non-Flash users the original H.264 video directly through HTML5’s video element.
With each additional million iOS devices sold by Apple, Adobe’s stance weakens progressively. Every Android tablet that comes out sporting a half-baked version of Flash hurts their case and damages their image even more. And so, we have now come to a situation in which content providers cannot afford to ignore the iOS platform any more (content providers that want to make money, that is). They were waiting for Flash to solve their needs, but it was only a matter of time they started looking elsewhere. Adobe’s decision was not altruistic, it was a pure survival move.
It is ironic that, while Adobe’s public message and justification for Flash were ostensibly focused on defending the users’ rights and freedom, its actions seem to be focused on catering to the needs of content providers instead (which, coincidentally, are the ones that pay Adobe to use Flash).
I’m not saying that Flash is dead. Far from it. But I am saying that the days of Flash being the only way to play video on the Web are over. Flash will still be around and its relevance in the traditional PC space is huge, but if it wants to be a player in the mobile landscape, it needs to evolve.
This announcement marks Adobe’s first step on a new path. Only time will tell if it is the right one.