November 9, 2011, 4:06 PM

Adobe surrenders to Apple in the four-year battle over Flash

As a result, e-retailers better bone up on HTML5, experts say.

Lead Photo

Steve Jobs did not live to see his victory in a major mobile battle that started in 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone. He made it clear from the start that Apple Inc. mobile devices would not render Flash, the programming language from Adobe Systems Inc., because, he said, it did not perform well and drained batteries. So when a consumer on an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad shopped an e-commerce site with Flash, all he would see in place of a Flash video or animation is an empty box.

Today the battle is over. Adobe quietly announced in a blog post that it has ceased work on the mobile version of Flash, and instead will focus its mobile efforts on HTML5, the up-and-coming web programming language whose power to create rich, multimedia experiences on mobile sites and apps is light years ahead of its HTML4 predecessor, mobile technology experts say. HTML5 generally can do what Flash can, and, unlike Flash, it will render on Apple devices.

“Adobe dropping Flash for mobile is not completely unexpected,” says Tom Nawara, vice president of digital strategy and design at digital marketing firm Acquity Group LLC. “HTML5 is a more universal solution across smartphone and tablet platforms, and is probably a better bet for Adobe in the long run. With this change, Adobe can now focus on their bread and butter—providing digital media creation and management tools—rather than fighting with Apple. Adobe’s position in the market and the sizable user base for their products may actually help drive standardization of HTML5 capabilities in mobile browsers.”

In the blog post, Danny Winokur, vice president and general manager of interactive development at Adobe, writes, “HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices. This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms. We are excited about this, and will continue our work with key players in the HTML community, including Google, Apple, Microsoft and RIM, to drive HTML5 innovation they can use to advance their mobile browsers.”

It’s not a coincidence that Winokur mentions those four companies by name. Google, Apple, Microsoft and Research in Motion operate the four leading mobile platforms—Android, iOS (iPhone), Windows Phone and BlackBerry, respectively.

Adobe says this decision will not in any way affect its work on Flash for desktop computers. But it clearly is a blow to the company after a four-year struggle against the intransigent Steve Jobs. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Retailers should be prepared for the revolutionary HTML5 and understand how they can best put it to use in their mobile commerce programs, Nawara says.

“Online retailers should understand that this is a tactical change rather than a strategic one,” he says. “Retailers should be strategically focused on providing seamless customer engagement and transactional capabilities across touchpoints. The move away from mobile Flash means that, tactically, they may need to rework certain content, but most companies had already moved away from Flash on their mobile properties simply because of Apple’s market share.“

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