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Apple blockades Flash ? what now?

By Dominique Jodoin

This has been an interesting year for anyone watching the battle brewing between heavyweights Adobe, Apple and Microsoft.

After years of enjoying dominance on the PC, Adobe is facing some real hurdles translating its desktop success over to embedded devices. These hurdles are coming mostly from competitors such as Apple and Microsoft, which are putting up roadblocks to prevent Adobe?s Flash technology from transferring the same dominance it has on the PC onto mobile devices.

Apple made, by far, the most direct attack on Adobe last week when it nestled a controversial passage into its new iPhone software developer?s kit which effectively bans any Adobe Flash application from the company?s flagship device.

This move certainly caught Adobe by surprise and has angered millions of Flash developers throughout the world.

For marketers, this news of no Flash integration is especially disheartening.

On a day when Apple made the exciting announcement of its user-friendly new iAd advertising option for mobile applications, the company also clearly told advertisers that all the advertisements they have created in the past using Flash would be useless.

Want to repurpose the Flash advertisements you created for Android, Java or other mobile devices that support Flash in the market today? Not on Apple CEO Steve Job?s watch.

To add fuel to the fire, Mr. Jobs, when asked why the new iPad does not support Flash, said ?We don't spend a lot of energy on old technology,? and reportedly told The Wall Street Journal that Flash was a "CPU hog" and a source of "security holes."

Tough talk. Kind of reminds me of ego battles between the popular kids back in my high school days.

However, with Apple leaving Flash off the iPad and iPhone, Microsoft's announcement of no Flash support in the new Windows Phone, and the emergence of HTML5 as a new standard to compete with Flash, this situation is a serious challenge for Adobe going forward.

Frankly, this battle is also one I am paying pretty close attention to as well since my company is the second largest provider of embedded Flash solutions in the world. As a result, you can imagine that these days I am answering a lot of questions about Adobe and Flash?s future, including:

Why support Flash ? isn?t it going away?
Mark Twain once wrote that ?reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.? Adobe could clearly use this same messaging.

Mr. Jobs and some frenzied analysts may enjoy positioning Flash as a dying technology but let us just look at the facts as they stand today:

o 1.2 billion mobile phones are Flash-capable
o 70 percent of online gaming sites run Flash
o 98 percent of Internet-enabled desktops use it
o 85 percent of top 100 Web sites use Flash
o No. 1 platform for video on the Web ? 75 percent of all videos use Flash, including Hulu, Disney and YouTube
o 2-3-million-person Flash developers community
o 90 percent of creative professionals have Adobe software on their desktops

With numbers and penetration rates like that, the better question is why would I not choose to support this technology? None of the facts indicate that Adobe Flash is disappearing anytime soon.

There is a reason so many have embraced Flash in the past and continue to do so: Flash delivers the richest visual experience and easiest video streaming technology around. Period.

Until Flash?s developer community and companies such as ours see another underlying presentation technology that could compete with Flash?s graphic and video capabilities, we will all continue to support it.

Will Apple ever support Flash on iPhone?
Probably not ? but not because of the reasons Mr. Jobs conveys.

If it was just Flash?s supposedly aging technology, speed, CPU usage or battery drain issues that Apple was concerned about, I am sure it would find a way to resolve them to give consumers the ability to browse the entire Web ? rather than just ?some? of the Web like they are limited to on the iPhone and iPad today.

The reality is that Apple simply does not want developers to have an alternative platform for developing applications for the iPhone and iPad.

Apple wants everything to be built using the native application development kit and sold through its closed marketplace, iTunes. It would take a pretty intense consumer uprising to change that vision for the future.

There is an outside chance, though, that Google?s support for Flash on devices such as the NexusOne could eventually put enough competitive pressure on Apple that it could change its strategy in regards to Flash. That is doubtful, however.

To keep things in perspective, according to analyst firms Gartner and Strategy Analytics, the iPhone, while hugely popular in such a short time, still only makes up 17.1 percent of the smartphone market and 2.5 percent of the global handset market. That leaves 97.5 percent of phones and many consumer electronic devices for Flash applications to penetrate in the future.

Should marketers and advertisers stop using Flash solutions?
Marketers should use whatever technology best serves their needs.

I would argue that if they want to produce advertisements and Web sites with fluid graphics, sexy animations and the visual touches that consumers love then Flash-powered solutions continue to remain the best choice on the market today. 

Marketers can also rest assured that Apple is not going to knock out Adobe and Flash will not disappear any time soon. To displace a technology as deeply embedded as Flash is in the worldwide market would take a tremendous momentum shift.

However, Adobe does need to plan its response.

Apple has made its move. Now it is up to Adobe to develop the strategy that will solidify its presence as a continued leader in visual solutions for the future.

For the rest of us, we can enjoy being spectators at this fight and look forward to reaping the technological rewards that this battle will undoubtedly ignite.

Dominique Jodoin is president/CEO of Bluestreak Technology, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Reach him at .