Maybe Steve Jobs was right about Flash on mobile

Mon, Aug 23, 2010


Apple’s unwillingness to support Flash on the iPhone was cemented this past April when Steve Jobs penned a letter outlining all the reasons why Apple is not too keen on the technology. At the same time, critics like to point to no Flash support as a key downside to iPhone ownership. All the while, the ongoing debate over the merits of mobile Flash seemed a bit premature given that no smartphone, up until the Droid 2 recently hit store shelves, came equipped with Flash 10.1 pre-installed. But now that the cat is out of the bag, Avram Piltch of Laptop Mag decided to put mobile flash through the ringer, and here’s what he discovered.

I’m the last person on earth who wanted to believe Steve Jobs when he told Walt Mossberg at D8 that “Flash has had its day.” I took it as nothing more than showmanship when Jobs shared his thoughts on Flash and wrote that “Flash is closed and proprietary, has major technical drawbacks, and doesn’t support touch based devices.” After spending time playing with Flash Player 10.1 on the new Droid 2, the first Android 2.2 phone to come with the player pre-installed, I’m sad to admit that Steve Jobs was right. Adobe’s offering seems like it’s too little, too late.

A driving force behind Apple’s products and software is consistency, and Flash for mobile seems to be anything but. Piltch notes that when Flash on the Droid 2 performs well, it’s great. But what good is that if Flash for mobile only performs great part of the time?

Specifically, some of the problems experienced by Piltch while trying to watch Flash video included long load times, sluggish performance, and videos that just plain refused to play.

“Wasn’t Flash 10.1 supposed to erase the boundaries between mobile and the desktop?”, Piltch laments.

But what about some of the other uses for Flash, you might be wondering. Well, Piltch explored that as well and was left feeling just as underwhelmed.

After my mixed experience with video, I was curious to try Flash-based games on our Android phones. When I tried going to famous Flash game sites like Newgrounds or Addicting Games, I found that, as Steve Jobs said, “Flash was designed for PC’s using mice, not for touch screens using fingers.” Many of the games I loaded were slow to start and slowed the system, making it difficult to scroll around the page or tap on links. But much worse was that, even when these titles loaded, there was no way to control most of the action. Most games required keyboard or mouse actions I simply could not perform on my phone, even with its QWERTY slider. One shooter wanted me to hit the CTRL key to fire; another asked for the left mouse button.

Again, it all goes back to consistency.

In the end, initial reviews of Flash on mobile have been markedly disappointing. While some may have hoped that a device like the Droid 2 would help move things into a more promising direction, that unfortunately doesn’t appear to be the case. Not only has Flash failed to live up to expectations when it comes to video playback and using apps, but it also drains battery life and tends to freeze up webpages a tad too often.

Piltch conclude:

More importantly, Adobe needs to have a better answer to whether or not Flash  is still relevant in a world where other technologies have rapidly started displacing it.  Based on my early experience with Flash Player 10.1 for mobile, it could soon join the floppy drive in the tech graveyard, something else Steve Jobs helped kill.


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7 Comments For This Post

  1. Erin Says:

    The #1 reason that I’ve seen for people whining about the lack of Flash on the iPhone is because they see it as Apple being too controlling over the device. And I think most of them are saying that because they read it on a tech blog somewhere.

    The other reason? Hulu. Seems that there are a TON of people out there on the blogs that can’t live without Hulu. What did Hulu do? They went and made an awesome iPhone/iPad application. There goes that argument. When the Hulu app came out, people went back to whining about how it’s a control issue and how they want control over their device/etc. Very few legitimate arguments left.

  2. iphonerulez Says:

    I’d say that the Android fanbois don’t really care if the experience of mobile Flash is marginal. Basically they just hate the idea of Steve Jobs having control over them. They’re like Adam in the Garden of Eden. God told Adam not to eat of a certain fruit. Adam told God to screw himself. Nobody is telling me what I can’t eat. That’s my choice. Haha. The iHating fanbois are just free-thinking rebels. They can’t possibly fathom that some of those Flash sites give even desktop machines a fit. Forget some tiny little Snapdragon processor and very limited memory being able to handle those heavily Flash-coded sites. Sometimes people are told things for their own good whether they understand it or not. Apple needs to protect the majority of consumers using their mobile devices, not just a select few.

    No doubt mobile Flash will work OK for the majority of Flash sites, but it will be hit and miss with no consistency whatsoever. Good enough for a nerd fanboi, but low-tech consumers shouldn’t have to put up with such inconsistent crap. Good luck with this unified field theory of Flash being equal on all platforms with so many variables.
    If Adobe can pull it off, then more power to them. I don’t happen to think they can on mobile devices unless the site is specifically designed for mobile devices. I’m only hoping that Apple can influence enough sites to re-code with HTML5 which should satisfy most mobile users on all platforms.

  3. Fjord Prefect Says:

    Don’t forget that Steve helped kill legacy ports and ushered in the age of USB with the original iMac. Ironic considering that Microsoft, Intel and several others were the inventors of that technology but just couldn’t get consumers to buy in…wait, this all seems a bit familiar…didn’t this happen with tablet PC’s and iPads? Anyway, just trust Steve, it’s just easier that way and he’s always right in the end.

  4. Peter Says:

    “Specifically, some of the problems experienced by Piltch while trying to watch Flash video included long load times, sluggish performance […]”

    So he tries to play a video formatted for a desktop computer (ie, a larger file) and is surprised that his 1Mbps EVDO download speed means it takes longer to load?

    Sounds like this guy is an idiot.

    My boss has an HTC EVO on Sprint’s 4G network. Flash videos load nice and fast and it’s not sluggish at all.

  5. Scott B. Says:


    Listen Up and Understand This.

    Adobe Stated Flat Out that Mobile Flash would Be “SEAMLESS” and would Play everything the desktop version would.

    It Has Not & has failed.

    Now who is the idiot for not being aware of the differences and all the dishonest boasting Adobe is Pushing out.

    And did you even bother reading the Main story, Mobile flash is not designed to work with Mouse made control API’s also adding to the problems with the video.

    No Peter it is people like you that can’t think for themselves and understand that Flash is a MESS, Adobe is pushing a old non Mobile, Technology. it may work on the Desktop But the experience on mobile devices is far from that …

    Instead of Falling for Adobes Lies, Read the number of Real world reports on the failure of Flash Mobile.

    It is choppy, Sluggish, Kills battery life, and crashes, And is Very Slow.

    Are you part of the Adobe PR team Paid to derail bad press and blogs about Mobile Flash, Seems to me i have read the same posting almost identical on another site, The Boss and the HTC sound real familiar.

    But it is true that the Mobile Flash Experience is Far from what Adobe said it would be.

    Also what is the purpose of changing from Desktop Flash content and recoding it to Mobile flash content?
    Listen up, Flash is supposed to work on all platforms Mobile included without any re-encoding of the content, This is what the whole purpose of flash and what Adobe has been boasting all the time, NO Changes Just Use it the same as the desktop.

    Peter Now you are telling all of us that Flash needs to be Re-encoded for all the Mobile devices out there so it can run properly, That kind of defeats the Purpose Doesn’t It.

    Think Before you post, Flash is dying a death and Adobe is going with it.

    Adobe made the mistake of pushing out old technology, Saying it would work seamlessly like the desktop version on all content and now Apologist like you try to argue that Flash Must be re-encoded for Mobile devices so they can work properly…

    What is the Point then.
    ROTFL 🙂

  6. Gerald Shields Says:

    The point I think people are missing is this: The reason why some sites played poorly on Mobile Flash while others played great is those “good” sites were designed and optimized for Mobile Flash content while the “bad” weren’t. Which comes to the question that Jobs posted last April: Most Flash websites will need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices. If developers need to rewrite their Flash websites, why not use modern technologies like HTML5, CSS and Javascript?

  7. Walt French Says:

    @Peter, I’ve now heard of TWO people who find Flash works fine on their smartphones. (I also saw one commenter on the Laptop article.) Of course, your boss probably doesn’t say how it worked on the sites that Laptop said were crash-prone; that might invoke some cognitive dissonance. That hurts for all of us.

    Anyhow, now if Adobe can just please the other ~ 99,999,998 of us smartphone users. Keep up the great work, guys! Another decade or so (cuz smartphones HAVE been around for over a decade without ANY of ’em having Flash) and we might get to the point I’m at right now: no Flash is actually PLAYING on my laptop, but the Flash player is using over 319 MB of real RAM — more than ANY phone introduced before late 2009 even has. Now there’s a CHOICE that some people might actually want. (It’s OK on a laptop!)

    I won’t call Flash a pig, or the Adobe engineers incompetent. But when it uses more RAM than most smartphones have, and when it takes as much CPU as all but the fastest, most battery-hungry devices have, how can that possibly be something useful in 2010? Who in their right mind would incorporate it into a web site intended for access by ANY smartphone? That’s what I don’t understand: how can anybody make a big deal about Flash on smartphones when, for ALL intents and purposes, it simply doesn’t exist?

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