Flash is Dead. Long Live Adobe

The twit-o-sphere came alive last week with the news that Adobe is canceling their Flash for Mobile products. I even briefly joined in.  Many see this as evidence that the open web has won (it has), or a justified comeuppance for Adobe's historical slights to Apple (it might be), or perhaps vindication of Steve Jobs' rant anti-Flash (it was), and maybe even that Microsoft was really to blame (it's a stretch).  Lost in all this, I wonder, is the effect this actually has on Adobe beyond their short term problems.

Lets step back a minute and consider what Adobe actually does.  They have some enterprise backend products for document management and (amazingly still used) a server side platform in Cold Fusion.  They have some cloud products (Acrobat.com) built on the the Flash platform. Then there is Flex, an enterprise application platform designed to steal Java developers from Sun, as well as a mobile advertising and analytics platform (Omniture). And of course Flash for mobile.

Oh yeah. And they also make Photoshop, Illustrator, Fireworks, and a bunch of other industry leading graphics and content creation tools so pervasive that some have called them the Adobe tax.

This really sounds like two different companies, doesn't it?  I'm not exactly sure when, but at some point Adobe strayed from focusing on high quality content creation tools for designers and artists. They entered the "platform space": trying to be an enterprise company, a software as a service company, and own the mobile content market.  That's a whole lot for any company to do, especially one who traditionally focused on content creation tools.  In the end I think it just became too much for one company to do, and it takes away from the thing they are good at: killer tools for designers.  If killing of mobile flash lets them focus on their core competency then this is a good thing for everyone.

Adobe is known for tools used by professionals to create content. The Flash designer tool is used by professionals to create animated interactive content. Currently, the format of the final output is a SWF file. Do the purchasers of this tool care? Not really. Flash designers want to create content that is viewable by the most people. The audience wants great content accessible from the most devices. Neither of these two groups of people gives one whit about the actual format of the bits.  Flash, the runtime, was simply an end to a means.  With HTML 5 technologies becoming viable for interactive animated content, the Flash designer tool can simply output a new binary blob to be uploaded onto web servers.  The designers won't care, the audience won't care.  Everyone will get on with making/viewing their content and Flash Designer CS 22 will sell millions of copies.  This really isn't a big deal.

Well, except for one group of people who really truly do care about mobile Flash: the makers of iPad competitors. Apple's refusal to allow Flash onto the Safari mobile browser created a market opening for a device that *would* play Flash.  While it was never a big factor for webOS, it was a flagship feature for the BlackBerry Playbook and various Android Tablets.  They've now lost a checkbox in their feature war with the iPad.

No matter. The world will move on.  The mobile web is built on HTML 5 standards. And in 5 years the mobile web will simply be the web; which may foretell the end of the desktop Flash plugin as well, but the end result is the same. Adobe will continue to sell world class content creation tools. Tools which output whatever format the world actually wants. And now, finally, the world wants HTML 5.

Long Live the Web. Long Live Adobe.

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Posted November 14th, 2011

Tagged: rant