[Is Adobe’s mobile strategy doomed? Mark Doherty guest author and Platform Evangelist for Mobile and Devices at Adobe responds to the recent criticism and argues that the best is yet to come]
The Big Picture
Adobe’s vision – to revolutionize how the world engages with ideas and information – is as old as Adobe itself, in fact 28 years ago the company was founded on technologies like PostScript and later PDF that enabled the birth of desktop publishing across platforms.
Today Flash is used for the 70% of online gaming and 75% of video; driving innovation on the web for over a decade. Flash Player’s decade long growth can be attributed to three factors:
- Adobe customers such as BBC, Disney, EPIX, NBC, SAP and Morgan Stanley can create the most expressive web and desktop applications using industry leading tools.
- The Flash Player enables unparalleled cross platform consistency, distribution and media delivery for consumers on the desktop (and increasingly on mobile)
- A huge creative community of designers, developers, illustrators are involved in defining Flash, and hence driving the web forward.
Now, as consumers diversify their access to the web they are demanding the same experiences irrespective of the device. Content providers and OEMs across industries recognize this trend and are delivering Flash Player and AIR as complimentary web technologies to extend their vertical propositions. The process of actually delivering this is not trivial, and was made more complex by a failing global economy, but we are on schedule and the customer always wins.
Where we ‘ve been
The success of Flash on mobile phones has been second to only Java in terms of market penetration, but second to none in terms of consistency. According to Strategy Analytics, Flash has been shipped on over 1.2 Billion devices, making it the most consistent platform available on any device.
Adobe announced in 2008 a new strategy for reseeding the market with a standardised Flash single runtime, creating the Open Screen Project, an alliance of mobile industry partners to help push this new vision. So why the change of plan?
In the historically closed, or “wild west” that is the mobile ecosystem, web content providers and developers have found it too difficult to reach mobile devices. In practical terms, it was too difficult for the global Flash community to reach consumers, and to do that in a manner consistent with the consumer reach of desktop content. Japan has been the most successful region because of deep involvement from NTT DoCoMo and Softbank, and by enabling the use of consistent web distribution.
On the top end of this success scale, Forbes recently announced Yoshikazu Tanaka has become the first Flash Billionaire with the incredibly successful Flash Lite games portal Gree in Japan. (Gree is a “web service”, not desktop or mobile, and is indicative of what can be achieved using Flash as a purely horizontal technology across devices)
In all, our distribution and scaling plans worked very well for Adobe, but outside Japan the mobile “walled gardens”, and the web on devices today, didn’t work for our customers. The cost of doing business with multiple carriers in North America and Europe and the lack of web distribution to a common runtime left our customers with few choices. It was time for a new plan.
Open Screen Project
Delivering on the Open Screen Project vision at global scale with 70 partners is a huge task; it was always going to take about two years. We are very much on schedule with Flash Player 10.1 and AIR, although eager to see it rollout.
However, describing the goals of the Open Screen Project in terms of dates, forecast market share, Apple’s phone or their upcoming tablet, specific chipsets or Nokia hardware is to miss the whole point. The Open Screen Project is not a “mobile” solution; it’s about the global content ecosystem.
In summary – connecting millions of our developers and designers with consumers via a mix of marketplaces and the open web.
Google and Microsoft are great examples of companies that have competitive technologies and services, but both companies still use Flash today to reach consumers. Google use Flash for Maps, Finance and youtube, and Microsoft for MSN Video and advertising. So indeed we have a co-opetition between Silverlight and Flash, or Omniture and Google Analytics, but together our goal is to enable consumers to browse more of the web on Android, Windows Phone and other devices in the future.
Today, over 170 major content providers (including Google) are working with us right now to optimize their HTML and Flash applications for these mobile devices. In the coming months we’ll begin the long roll out process, updating firmware, enabling Flash Player downloads on OEM marketplaces. We’re projecting that by 2012, 53% of smartphones will have Flash Player installed.
It’s really exciting to see it coming together and so many big names involved, why not have a peek behind the curtain?
Flex Mobile Framework
To enable the creation of cross-platform applications even simpler Adobe is working on the Flex Mobile Framework. Essentially we have taken all the best elements of the open source Flex 4 framework and optimized it for mobile phones.
Using the framework and components you will be able to create applications that can automatically adapt to orientation and layout correctly on different screens. The most important addition is that the Flex Mobile Framework “understands” different UI paradigms across platforms. For example, the iPhone doesn’t have a hard back button and so the Navigation bar component will present a soft back button on that platform.
In terms of developer workflow we expect that all background logic of applications will run unchanged. User interfaces and high-bitrate video will need some adjustments for some hardware, though most changes will be basic changes like bigger buttons, higher compression videos and to adapt HTML for mobile browsers.
Over time with the Flex Mobile Framework, our goal is to enable our customers to create their applications within a single code base, applying some tweaks for each platform for things like Lists, Buttons or transitions. In this sense we can expect to enable the creation of applications and experiences that are mobile centric, and yet cost effective by avoiding fragmented solutions where appropriate.
We are aiming to show the Flex Mobile Framework later in the year, and I’d love to see it supported in Catalyst in the future.
The Year Ahead
Throughout 2010 we will see Flash Player 10.1 on Palm’s WebOS, Android 2.x, with Symbian OS and Windows Phone 7 coming in the future. In addition to that we also have plans to bring Flash Player 10.1 to Blackberry devices, netbooks, tablets and of course the desktop. For less powerful feature phones we’ve got Flash Lite, and all of these platforms will demonstrate Flash living happily with HTML5 where it’s available.
Adobe AIR 2 is also in beta right now, enabling users to create cross-platform applications that live outside the browser on Windows, Mac and Linux computers. AIR is of course mobile ready, and later in the year we’ll be bringing AIR to Android phones, netbooks and tablets. On top of that, you will also be able to repackage your AIR applications for the iPhone with Flash Professional CS5 very soon.
The rollout and scale of Flash Player and AIR distribution over time are now inevitable, and largely committed over a year ago.
There are risks of course; these ecosystems are moving targets just like they have always been. However, I’m extremely confident that we can build upon our previous successes, learn from our mistakes and innovate faster than any of our competitors.
– Mark Doherty
Platform Evangelist for Mobile and Devices at Adobe