What Killed Adobe Flash

“Virgil”, responding to my piece the other day looking back at Steve Jobs’s “Thoughts on Flash” open letter:

Impossible to refute. There’s no doubt that this was the beginning of the end for Flash, right? Except that this is utterly wrong. I worked on Flash, and I worked on the thing that actually killed Flash. It is my strong belief, based on what I observed, that Steve Jobs’ letter had little impact in the final decision — it was really Adobe who decided to “kill” Flash. Yes, Flash was a bad rap for Adobe, and Steve’s letter didn’t help. But ultimately, what was probably decisive was the fact that developing Flash costed Adobe a ton of money — and the world changed in ways that made Adobe leadership believe this investment is no longer justified. As it is often the case — “follow the money”, they explain things better than any open letter — even one from a very influential person.

To be clear, I don’t think Jobs’s letter killed Flash. But I don’t think Adobe did either. Eventually Adobe accepted Flash’s demise. What killed Flash was Apple’s decision not to support it on iOS, combined with iOS’s immense popularity and the lucrative demographics of iOS users. If Jobs had never published “Thoughts on Flash”, Flash would still be dead. The letter explained the decision, but the decision that mattered was never to support it on iOS in the first place.

It’s possible that Flash would have died even if Apple had decided to allow it on iOS. Android tried that, and the results were abysmal. Web page scrolling stuttered, and video playback through Flash Player halved battery life compared to non-Flash playback. Android’s experiment with Flash Player ended quickly, and if Apple had gone down the same path, it likely would have ended quickly there too.

Flash was just a bad fit technically for mobile, and the rise of mobile was inevitable. But Apple was the first player to recognize that.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017