Microsoft, RIM and Google will be affected in different ways by Adobe's plans to stop investing in Flash for mobile browsing.
Adobe announced plans to
stop investing in Flash for mobile browsing, neatly upending the tablet market.
For months, tablet
manufacturers-desperate for a competitive differentiator from Apple's iPad-touted
their device's support for Flash as a way to access "the full Web."
Advertisements and television spots highlighted this Flash support as a major
feature, giving it equal weight as processing power or camera megapixels.
Research In Motion has
decided to stick with Flash for its PlayBook tablet. "Earlier today, Adobe
announced plans to stop investing in Flash for mobile browsing, and focus more
efforts on HTML5," Dan Dodge, president and CEO of QNX, wrote in a Nov. 9
statement posted on RIM's
. "As an Adobe source-code licensee, we will continue to work
on and release our own implementations, and are looking forward to including
Flash 11.1 for the BlackBerry PlayBook."
The PlayBook's browser
supports both Flash and HTML5, Dodge added. "We are pleased that Adobe will
focus its efforts on next-generation Flash-based applications delivered via AIR
and BlackBerry App World as well as the great opportunities that HTML5 presents
for our developers."
RIM's Flash announcement
comes at a delicate moment for the company's mobile efforts. Google Nov. 9
announced that it will no longer support its Gmail App for BlackBerry, instead
choosing to focus on improving Gmail in the mobile Web browser. That means no
further maintenance help for Gmail applications already installed on BlackBerry
devices, and presumably no updates once RIM releases its upcoming BBX operating
system for mobile phones and tablets. Whatever Google's intentions in
withdrawing support for the application, it deprives RIM devices of another
potential selling point.
BBX will presumably arrive
sometime in the next few quarters, appearing on a line of "superphones" that
RIM hopes will prove capable of competing toe-to-toe against Google Android
devices and Apple's iPhone. RIM will also release a long-awaited software
update to the PlayBook in February 2012, supposedly with an integrated email
application, a "new video store," and better tethering between the tablet and a
Will continuing Flash
support help RIM's PlayBook sales during this "transition period"? Certainly,
the tablet has proven an anemic contender on store shelves so far. But with
hopes for its tablet's survival pinned on public perception of the PlayBook as
a robust and business-ready device, capable of handling most if not all
productivity tasks, RIM in many ways has no choice but to devote resources to
For Android tablet
manufacturers, the Adobe decision robs them of a significant selling point. For
now, most continue to promote Flash support on their Websites. "Browse without
limitations," suggests Samsung's corporate Web page for the Galaxy Tab.
"Thousands of top Websites use rich Flash applications, so whether you're
browsing the Web or viewing online multimedia content, you'll be able to see it
Time will tell whether those
companies end up deleting all mentions of Flash from their materials, but for
the moment, it remains as a "competitive differentiator."
Microsoft was already ahead
of the curve in terms of tablet Flash support. According to a September post on
the official Building
blog, the desktop version of the company's Internet Explorer
10 will fully support plug-ins and extensions, but the Metro-style browser
(meant for Windows 8 on tablets) will be "plug-in free."
That bifurcation in browsers
stems from Windows 8's two user-interface modes: a touch-centric one for
tablets (based on a set of colorful tiles), alongside a more traditional
desktop. "Running Metro style IE plug-in-free improves battery life as well as
security, reliability and privacy for consumers," Dean Hachamovitch, head of
Microsoft's Internet Explorer team, wrote in the blog's posting. "Plug-ins were
important early on in the Web's history. But the Web has come a long way since
then with HTML5."
At the time, Adobe felt
Microsoft's decision was worth a response.
"We expect Windows desktop
to be extremely popular for years to come (including Windows 8 desktop) and
that it will support Flash just fine," executive Danny Winokur wrote in a Sept.
15 posting on Adobe's corporate blog. "We expect Flash-based apps will come to
Metro via Adobe AIR, much the same way they are on Android, iOS and BlackBerry
Tablet OS today."
In the intervening months,
though, the game has significantly changed. However much Adobe's decision will
affect how these mobility-centric companies build and market their future
products, one thing's for certain: deceased Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who famously
derided Flash and forbade it from his company's mobile products, is laughing
his head off somewhere.
Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter