Will Adobe's HTML5 strategy really help developers?

With Flash's last stand, Adobe needs to quickly secure its place in the Web developer tools market -- but signs are it won't

Adobe's announcement yesterday that it is canceling development of the Flash Player for mobile devices is the most compelling evidence yet that the Flash platform's days are numbered. If you're a Web developer and still clinging to Flash, let this be your wakeup call.

For a growing segment of the market, smartphones and tablets are already the primary means of accessing online information services. If your Web content can't reach customers via their mobile devices, you might as well pack it in.

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By that standard, Flash was a poor choice even before Adobe threw in the towel. Windows Mobile and iOS devices never supported it. Android devices and two tablets with marginal market share -- HP's TouchPad and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook -- did, but mobile Flash Player performed poorly, so users would often configure their browsers to download Flash content only when specifically requested.

Technically, Flash content is still available on mobile devices via Adobe AIR, a technology that allows developers to bundle HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and Flash resources as stand-alone apps. But although AIR apps for Android perform better than in-browser content, they've never been particularly popular with mobile developers. The Android Market recently broke the 100,000-app mark, yet a search for "Adobe AIR" yields fewer than 2,000 results.

Meanwhile, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all been busy building vertically integrated developer ecosystems, each of which combines a mobile platform with an SDK, developer tools, and a sales channel to bring apps to market. Adobe has nothing similar to offer Flash developers.

Time for Adobe to trade Flash for HTML5
So if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. For years, Adobe has tried to position Flash as a superior solution for rich, interactive Web content. Yet with the advent of HTML5, even Flash on the desktop seems like one plug-in too many. Adobe's best bet now is to quietly deprecate Flash and put all its chips on open Web standards.

Fortunately for Adobe shareholders, that seems to be exactly what Adobe is doing. Work on Flash Player 11 for desktop systems continues, but Adobe's press release says it plans to position Flash "where it can have most impact for the industry" -- meaning games and streaming video. Furthermore, new Flash features will be "designed for a smooth transition to HTML5 as the standards evolve."

But if Adobe deemphasizes Flash in favor of HTML5 -- a content format it can't control -- won't its market position suffer? Some, maybe. Remember, though: Flash Player is a free download. Adobe monetizes the platform by selling content-creation tools -- something it can still do for HTML5.

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