You can look at this one of two ways: Steve Jobs was right on the money about Adobe Flash, or Steve Jobs shrewdly worked to ensure he’d be right about Adobe’s mobile multimedia plugin by using Apple’s leverage to put the tool in a stranglehold. However you view it, it’s death seems all but assured: Adobe’s reportedly killing mobile Flash, switching development efforts to HTML5 (the non-proprietary Flash alternative Jobs lobbied for), and laying off 750 people—about 8% of its global workforce—in the process.
In a note unveiled by ZDNet last night, Adobe revealed it would end further development of its mobile version of Flash:
“Our future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores,” reads an email delivered by Adobe to developers. “We will no longer adapt Flash Player for mobile devices to new browser, OS version or device configurations.”
The company’s expected to publicize the decision on its website at some point today. Adobe adds that its source code licensees “may opt to continue working on and releasing their own implementations” and that it “will continue to support the current Android and PlayBook configurations with critical bug fixes and security updates.”
But without Adobe’s full faith and support for future-proofing mobile Flash, the writing’s on the wall—writing many would argue has been there for years, chief among them Apple’s Steve Jobs.
Jobs took public umbrage with Adobe in early 2010, calling the company “lazy,” according to Wired and stating that Apple didn’t support Flash because “it is so buggy.” Added Jobs: “Whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it’s because of Flash.” A few months later, Jobs posted a letter on Apple’s website titled “Thoughts on Flash” that outlined Apple’s decision to eschew support for Flash on the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.
Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen fired back the following day, telling the Wall Street Journal “If Flash is the number one reason that Macs crash, which I’m not aware of, it has as much to do with the Apple operating system.”
The two companies have since publicly made up (well, sort of), but the contentious Apple-Flash relationship continued. When Apple released Mac OS X Lion this summer, Adobe issued a long list of incompatible apps, including various iterations of Flash for the desktop, and recommended that users running the apps simply avoid upgrading to Lion altogether.
Before all you “Jobs was right” adherents do a bonfire dance, it’s worth noting what Adobe product manager John Nack had this to say on his blog last night. After quoting Scottish satirist and historian Thomas Carlyle, Nash comments that “I’ll catch only shit for pointing this out, but for what it’s worth, Adobe saying that Flash on mobile isn’t the best path forward [doesn't equal] Adobe conceding that Flash on mobile (or elsewhere) is bad technology. Its quality is irrelevant if it’s not allowed to run, and if it’s not allowed to run, then Adobe will have to find different ways to meet customers’ needs.”
Did Apple ensure mobile Flash’s demise by preventing it from competing properly? Or did Adobe’s insistence on keeping the format proprietary, complicated by Flash’s alleged performance issues, tie Cupertino’s hands? The answer to that question depends on your vantage, and stands to be debated endlessly.
Whatever the case, with Adobe’s mobile development switching to HTML5, all eyes are on the desktop version of Flash, and whether after nearly a decade-and-a-half of use, Adobe will eventually opt to retire it, too.