Flash Goes Mobile - First Take

It's been a long time coming but it's here at last. Flash has finally made the transition to the mobile screen. First and foremost, while the Apple/Adobe debate about Flash goes on, I'm going to ignore that issue here. At the end of the day, Apple customers will either view this as important or not and Apple will respond or not.

For the last few days I've been testing a build of Flash 10.1 that Adobe calls pre-beta on a Google Nexus One running the newest build of Android, 2.2 (also known as Froyo). (I find the pre-beta naming to be a little strange, isn't pre-beta really just Alpha? but I digress). First, the specs for running Flash on Android are clear. This is a Froyo-or-above platform. Until your device gets the latest Android release, forget running Flash. Second, Hulu isn't going to work. I bring this up because Hulu is the poster child for Flash applications users want to run. To be clear, Hulu not running has nothing to do with how well Flash runs on Android. Hulu, at this moment in time, only has the legal right to run on PC screens. In an age of connected screens, I realize this makes little sense but that's the way it is. No Hulu mobile for now.

Overall, my experience with Flash on Android was pretty good. Sites that did use Flash loaded relatively quickly and effortlessly. It was fun to surf to a site and not get an error message because Flash was being used. In general, the less Flash heavy the site, the better experience and performance but if you're using a Flash enabled site, for the most part, what the web designer intended is what you'll experience. Performance worked well and sites loaded quickly and fairly complex animations and user experiences worked quickly and looked good. I didn't spend enough time to gauge battery life implications but for the most part didn't see much degraded performance or battery life as a result of running Flash. Adobe has done a good job making the case that Flash is viable for mobile.

The longer term question is, does it matter? It's great to see a more complete web experience on mobile devices but it's never going to be fully complete. Let's face it, most web sites were designed for large screen PC monitors and navigated with mice and keyboards. Even as the PC desktop moves more and more to web based applications, mobile is different. Rich applications are far more important than web browsing. Do you use Twitter on a mobile device? If so, I'll bet that you use a native application for your phone rather than the Twitter website. Even Google is creating rich, native application and service experiences for Android as opposed to just pushing web applications. In a world of native client, rich applications, the ability to run Flash is simply less critical than it might have been in times past.

At the end of the day, developers will be a key factor. With ten mobile platforms vying for attention and ten not a sustainable number long term, many developers may look at Flash as a way of leveraging their code and IP to a larger number of platforms without making a strategic bet on the success of any one of them. After weeks of rhetoric, Adobe has answered the mobile Flash challenge with a solid demonstration on the technology viability on mobile, notably Android. Developers and users now will make the final call about whether Flash is important enough for them as they make their development and purchase decisions.