Adobe Kills Flash Player for Mobile Browsers

Adobe Systems (NAS: ADBE) will halt development of its browser-based Flash Player application runtime for mobile devices, shifting its focus to native apps and the HTML5 web standard.

"Over the past two years, we've delivered Flash Player for mobile browsers and brought the full expressiveness of the web to many mobile devices," writes Adobe Interactive Development vice president and general manager Danny Winokur on the Adobe Featured Blog. "However, HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices, in some cases exclusively. This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms."

Moving forward, Adobe will focus on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with its Adobe AIR runtime for all the major app stores. "We will no longer continue to develop Flash Player in the browser to work with new mobile device configurations (chipset, browser, OS version, etc.) following the upcoming release of Flash Player 11.1 for Android and BlackBerry PlayBook," Winokur states. "We will of course continue to provide critical bug fixes and security updates for existing device configurations. We will also allow our source code licensees to continue working on and release their own implementations." Winokur adds Adobe is already at work on Flash Player 12.

Adobe Systems released Flash Player 11 and AIR 3 just last month, promising publishers the tools to deliver console-quality 2D and 3D gaming experiences to mobile platforms including Google's (NAS: GOOG) Android, Apple's (NAS: AAPL) iOS (via the AIR runtime) and Research In Motion's (NAS: RIMM) BlackBerry Tablet OS as well as the desktop and connected TVs. A superset of Flash Player, AIR enables developers to leverage existing code to build standalone applications across devices and platforms -- AIR extensions add support for unique device features and native code libraries, giving developers the flexibility to mix and match elements of Flash, HTML5 and native code.

Companies including Apple and Google have made significant investments in HTML5, long considered a significant threat to Flash's continued viability. In many respects, the Adobe Flash deathwatch officially began in April 2010, when Apple rewrote its iPhone developer agreement to mandate that all applications must be written to run directly on the iOS platform, effectively banning cross-compiler translation tools like Adobe's Flash Professional CS5. Even prior to the move, late Apple CEO Steve Jobs had long maintained the iOS platform would never support Flash content, privately dismissing Adobe as "lazy" and blaming Flash as the culprit behind most Mac crashes.

Roughly six months after instituting the cross-compiler ban, Apple reversed course, easing restrictions on the creation of iOS-based applications. "We are relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any code," Apple said in a statement. "This should give developers the flexibility they want, while preserving the security we need." The changes enable developers to design and build apps in Flash, then convert their efforts to Apple-approved code -- the revisions do not mean consumers are able to access Flash-based web content via their iPhone, iPod touch and iPad devices, however.

Weeks after Apple lifted the ban on cross-compiler translation tools, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen said the overall impact of Apple's actions was "muted." Asked during Adobe's third-quarter 2010 earnings call whether Apple's decision to again allow tools like CS5 would impact demand for Adobe Creative products, Narayen said, "What we did see was that the day Apple announced the removal of the licensing restrictions that a number of people who had created products using our tool submitted that to the Apple Store and were approved. I think it just continues to reflect the opportunity which we have with our tools, which is to help designers and developers continue to develop their applications and content in our tools and repurpose it to multiple different output media."

Last month, Adobe Systems acquired Nitobi Software, creator of PhoneGap, an open-source development platform enabling programmers to build cross-platform apps written in HTML5 and JavaScript. PhoneGap technology has been used to create thousands of apps across iOS, Android, BlackBerry and other mobile platforms.

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