After Apple's iPad snub, what now for Adobe Flash?

Apple officially unveiled its iPad tablet device last week, and after all the buildup and hype, opinion on the official specs proved to be decidedly mixed, with more of the attention focusing on what the unit doesn't do than what it actually does. Much of the criticism singled out the iPad's failure to support the Adobe Flash multimedia platform, with Adobe Software itself joining the chorus of complaints. Writing on the Adobe Flash Platform Blog, marketing group manager Adrian Ludwig argues that without Flash support, "there's something important missing from Apple's approach to connecting consumers to content... It looks like Apple is continuing to impose restrictions on their devices that limit both content publishers and consumers. Unlike many other ebook readers using the ePub file format, consumers will not be able to access ePub content with Apple's DRM technology on devices made by other manufacturers. And without Flash support, iPad users will not be able to access the full range of web content, including over 70 percent of games and 75 percent of video on the web. If I want to use the iPad to connect to Disney, Hulu, Miniclip, Farmville, ESPN, Kongregate or JibJab--not to mention the millions of other sites on the web--I'll be out of luck."

The iPad is not the sole Apple device excluding Flash support, of course--in March 2008, Apple CEO Steve Jobs contended the iPhone requires a media player more robust than the existing Flash mobile solution. That's almost complimentary compared to what Jobs reportedly had to say about Flash during a town hall meeting with Apple employees soon after the iPad premiere: Citing a source in attendance, Wired reports Jobs dismissed Adobe as "lazy" and added that Apple doesn't support Flash because it's so buggy. Jobs went on to blame Flash as the culprit behind most Mac crashes, and said that the platform is facing extinction as the world moves to HTML5.

For all of the consumer outcry over Apple's refusal to support Flash, the company is faring better than ever, selling sold 8.7 million iPhones in the first quarter alone--100 percent year-over-year unit growth. Given Jobs' attitude, it seems safe to assume Flash is never coming to the iPhone platform, so where does that leave Adobe? As longtime Silicon Valley insider John Gruber points out on his Daring Fireball blog, Flash penetration shrinks with each iPhone OS-based device Apple sells: "What's Hulu going to do? Sit there and wait? Whine about the blue boxes? Or do the practical thing and write software that delivers video to iPhone OS? The answer is obvious," Gruber writes. "Hulu doesn't care about what's good for Adobe. They care about what's good for Hulu. Hulu isn't a Flash site, it's a video site. Developers go where the users are."

And it seems like everyone is going to HTML5. Apple rival Google has publicly endorsed the specification on multiple occasions--at last year's Mobile World Congress event, the web services giant's vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra hailed HTML5 as one of the three critical components of the modern mobile web browser, and in December, Google gave it credit for boosting Gmail mobile loading speeds. The New York Times reports Google-owned YouTube is currently trialing the format for select videos, as is another video-sharing site, "We received a tremendous amount of feedback from our users saying that they wanted to have HTML5 as an option for their videos," says Andrew Pile, Vimeo's vice president for product and development. The NYT adds that video sharing sites like Flickr and plan to experiment with Flash alternatives in the months ahead as well. Whichever direction Apple and Google pursue, the rest of the industry inevitably follows--a shift that could leave Flash behind for good. -Jason