With the launch of a full version of Flash for mobile devices Tuesday, Adobe is moving beyond its war of words with Apple to field a product to compete with HTML5 as the media software of choice for mobile phones.
Flash 10.1 will be available for platforms including Google's Android, BlackBerry, webOS, and the forthcoming Windows Phone 7. Adobe says in its announcement that the software which powers 75% of Web video has been completely retooled to include new mobile-specific features geared to both smartphones and tablets.
That doesn't include the iPhone and iPad, of course, from which Apple CEO Steve Jobs has banned Flash, calling the Adobe technology bug-prone, outdated and ill-suited to mobile devices. Apple instead has championed HTML5 as the preferred programming language for video and rich media in mobile.
Following publication of Jobs' open letter attacking Flash in April, Adobe struck back with an ad campaign portraying the battle over Flash as one over freedom of choice. Adobe co-founders Chuck Geschke and John Warnock also responded to Jobs with their own online letter last month.
But with the release of Flash 10.1, the companies can put the rhetorical war aside (although they probably won't), and let the marketplace decide whether Flash has a future on mobile phones and connected devices. With the iPhone and App Store playing such big roles in mobile Web browsing and application downloads, it's not likely developers are going to abandon Apple because of the Flash ban.
But how much the backing of Flash 10.1 by other platforms, especially Android, will help attract developers to create sites or apps for other mobile operating systems, is the bigger question. Android is gaining market share as a mobile OS at Apple's expense, so anything else Google can do to promote it as an open system for developers compared to Apple's iOS, could benefit the search giant as well as Adobe.
However, Google, like Apple, has been a prominent supporter of HTML5, and demonstrated its backing by shifting YouTube from Flash to HTML5. But included in Adobe's announcement is a testimonial from Andy Rubin, Google's mobile chief, underscoring the company's support for the full mobile version of Flash.
"We are excited that Android is the first mobile platform to support the full Flash Player," read Rubin's statement. "Now mobile users can browse the full Web on their smart phones, and Android developers can use industry-leading tools to create immersive experiences on the Web."
For Adobe and Google, it looks like a case of following the proverb of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" in partnering to take on Apple. And that goes for Research in Motion, Microsoft and every other company competing with Apple in the mobile market. Now Adobe has to show that Flash 10.1 is a weapon that can help them in that battle.