Monday, June 29, 2009

Who wants Flash?

When Flash 10 comes to mobile phones in the fall, it will be available for Android, the Palm Pre, Symbian S60 and even Windows Mobile. This leaves out the BlackBerry and iPhone — roughly 30% of the world market (and the majority of the US market).

Obviously this is not a technical issue — the ARM processors on the missing phones are no less capable than those that will have Flash. In the long-running iPhone saga, Steve Jobs has been explicit in rejecting the need for Flash.

This obviously slows Adobe’s efforts to make Flash a ubiquitous cross-platform mobile phone media platform, building upon its success delivering annoying animated ads (as well as YouTube videos) to desktop owners.

Will phone buyers prefer a phone that has Flash over a phone that doesn’t? So far, there’s no evidence of that Flash matters that much, but my hunch is if either RIM or Apple gives in to Adobe, the other will have to follow.

Meanwhile, economists and pundits crow about the importance of open standards, but then developers take the lazy way out and use a proprietary platform like Flash because it is powerful with good tools. (Like all proprietary systems, it’s partly open — in this case not being died to any particular hardware.)

So it’s fine to say that, all things being equal, developers and users and MIS managers prefer open standards over proprietary standards. The problem with that claim is that all things are never equal: the creator of a mostly proprietary standard has financial resources rarely available to more open standards (with their more limited options for appropriation).

Adobe has done a good job of re-investing the rents provided by its control of Flash to continuously advance the platform. In doing so, it builds upon the successful efforts by Macromedia since it bought FutureWave Splash in December 1996. (Ironically, Adobe founder John Warnock turned down the opportunity to buy Splash the year before).

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