Adobe's Retreat in Mobile Underscores Apple's Dominance


Adobe's announcement last week that it was shifting its mobile development efforts to AIR and ending work on the Mobile Flash Player is an admission that Apple can and does dictate the terms by which the mobile ecosystem plays. One the one hand, as someone who has to regularly wrestle control of my computer away from Flash, I'm fine with this. On the other, I'm not so sure that I'm entirely comfortable with a single company dominating the mobile landscape as Apple does, much as Microsoft did when the desktop was the name of the game.


So far, Apple's been pretty consistent on the matter of interpreted code for iOS, no matter who's speaking for the company: it doesn't like interpreted code and doesn't think it's good for the platform. Flash and Java have been the two most notable casualties of this mindset, but they're far from being the only ones. Nevertheless, Apple's up-yours to two of the most powerful players in software has been successful, largely because neither Adobe nor Oracle has any leverage in the mobile space to speak of; if they can't extract concessions from Apple, who can?Apple's dominance is interesting, because it encompasses both hardware and software even though by most conventional measures it's not the largest player in either category. It's the streamlined nature of Apple's approach to mobile that has given it such strength in the space; part of the streamlining involves keeping the platform simple by banning outside frameworks from the outset. Because the mobile market is far more divided than the desktop ever was, it's unlikely that Apple will face charges of restricting competition the way Microsoft did in the 1990s. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be watched, or that we should assume the company's intentions are benign.

As for Adobe, it's not hard to foresee a day when Flash on the desktop is strictly for backwards compatibility; it may be ubiquitous today, but going forward, content developers are going to face the same question that their counterparts in mobile face today: given the inescapable need for content delivered via HTML 5, who in their right minds will bother redoing that work for Flash?