This post was also published in VentureBeat.
When my company Transpond added support for Nokia smartphones, we were excited that we would be able to deliver Flash videos in apps deployed to Nokia handsets. Instead, we were shocked to learn that there were no Flash video players that worked on the devices, even though the handsets supposedly supported Flash. We talked with Nokia. They couldn’t find one. Then we called our friends at Adobe. The only one they could recommend was JW Player, which didn't work on Nokia's Flash-enabled phones. Between Nokia and Adobe, we could not get a way to play Flash Video (FLV) files on a Nokia/Symbian handset.
Flash Lite is not Flash
We discovered Adobe’s dirty secret: while Adobe’s asserts that 80% of videos on the web are viewed in Flash, virtually no online videos other than YouTube are viewable on shipping, Flash-enabled mobile device since they use a limited version of Flash called Flash Lite. And since most mobile devices include a native YouTube player, they didn't need Flash to play YouTube. In essence, no one was watching any Flash videos on any smartphone, and Adobe’s entire Apple gambit about Flash video was a PR ploy.
When SmartphoneMag.com tested playing Flash videos on Flash Lite 3 devices, they found that they could not watch video on many popular Flash video sites including Atom.com, blip.tv, Break.com, imeem, Metacafe, and Vimeo. (http://www.smartphonemag.com/cms/blog/9/tutorial-everything-you-need-know-about-flash-lite-3-and-playing-back-flash-web-videos). The reason for this is that the latest version of Flash Lite only supports a subset of the four year old Flash 8 ( http://www.adobe.com/products/flashlite/faq/), which has since been replaced by Flash 9 and then Flash 10. Most websites and Flash video players are implemented with Flash 9 or Flash 10 and will not run an Flash 8. It is like trying to run a Mac OS X application on an old PowerBook. The reason the mobile version of Flash was so limited was that mobile devices did not have to the processing power to handle the full, modern version of Flash.
New Mobile Devices Now have the Real Flash
Adobe is now shipping the full Flash 10.1 for Android with the introduction of new, more powerful Android devices such as the HTC Evo 4G that employ the powerful Snapdragon 1ghz processor. Now that smartphones have much more processing power, Android 2.2 will run the same Flash that runs on a PC, and will therefore run all of the Flash content on the web. As always, there are some exceptions: Flash developers are obsessed with “hover” events that only work when a mouse hovers over an element which does not work on a mobile device where a user can't hover, and many Flash implementations are not built to resize themselves to a screen's limit and target 1024x768 sized screens, which will require a lot of scrolling by the user.
For Most Apps, Flash Does in Fact Suck
Flash on mobile devices does in fact suck, even on devices with the new, more powerful processors. Loading a massive Flash site on a PC is bad enough, let alone a mobile device, and blinking Flash ads suck up a ton of processor power that is better used to render a web page’s content and scroll through the page. For most non-game mobile apps, and even regular websites, both developers and users are much better off with HTML5, as evidenced by the slew of HTML5 announcements from even the staunchest former Flash supporters. If an App is going to be very sophisticated and interact extensively with features like the phone's camera, a handcoded, native App for each target platform is the ideal solution.
Flash Games will Actually be a Differentiator
However, in the gaming segment, Flash support on mobile devices will prove to be very useful. There are a ton of existing Flash games that will never get ported to the iPhone/iPad, and many Flash game developers will continue to produce fun Flash games, since they do not have the skillset or inclination to learn how to program in the iPhone’s complicated Objective C language. In addition, it will take quite some time for all of the video players on the web to get upgraded to HTML5.
Now that the Flash on new smartphones will be the real Flash rather than Flash Lite, devices that support Flash will have quite an edge over Apple when it comes to games and video. Support for more apps and video really didn’t matter when competitor's phones weren’t competitive with the iPhone, but now Android devices are outselling iPhones, and the new generation of Android devices such as the HTC EVO 4G and Droid X are arguably just as good if not better than an iPhone. Flash support will actually be a differentiator, particularly in the lucrative 15-35 male market that is very game and video focused. Despite all of the recent acrimony, Apple may very well reverse course once it ships more powerful iPhones that can support the full Flash. Apple has a long history of emphatically stating that it will not support something and then changing it's mind. Steve Jobs' rants about Intel and Microsoft went far beyond his recent Adobe vitriol, and soon after Macs switched from PowerPCs to Intel processors and Microsoft invested in Apple.