In 2005, I launched a startup in the online video space by the name of vSocial. Powered by Adobe Flash's 'embed and spread' capabilities, our service grew virally, piggybacking on the growth of the emerging social networks, most fundamentally, MySpace.
In about 120 days from launch, it would grow from 0 to 71M+ monthly page views, and 45M+ monthly videos served.
Moreover, there is little question that the rise of YouTube (and countless other video service providers) was directly tied to the power of Flash to facilitate viral distribution.
In fact, numerous video clip sharing networks existed before Flash took hold, but for this lack of virality, never reached a tipping point.
I was sufficiently blown away by the potency of Flash that I wrote in mid-2006 that Flash was delivering on the promise of 'write-once, run-anywhere' in a way that Java never would, and had the potential to be the fuel that drove the engine of social computing.
Meanwhile, Adobe was spreading the message how by the end of 2006, tens of millions of mobile devices would be running Flash lite, giving developers the dream scenario of being able to develop on one platform that would run on PCs, Macs, the Web and Mobile devices.
There are no Shortcuts to Greatness
I set the above backdrop, as in 2006, iPhone had not yet been announced, Adobe had incredible market momentum with Flash, legions of dedicated developers, and as a developer, the ideal of NOT having to create different code bases for different platforms, while maintaining rich application and media functionality, was a no-brainer.
Thus, IF Adobe had delivered in mobile, I and most of the developers in my circle would have enthusiastically ridden that bandwagon.
There is not a SINGLE mobile Flash Success Story
Flash-forward to the present, and the inconvenient truth is NOT that Apple blocked Adobe, but rather, that there is not a single mobile success story that Adobe can hang its hat on showing why mobile Flash is more asset than liability, let alone a viral propagating game-changer.
Think about that for a moment. There is not a SINGLE mobile Flash success story that one can point to either at the killer app level, the handset level or the carrier level. And it's not for lack of interest on the part of any of these constituencies.
You don't think that RIM desperately wants to be able to piggyback on the installed base of Flash on the desktop?
Or, that Google didn't want Flash's presence on Android to make Apple's iOS look closed and hobbled?
Or, that the legions of Flash developers didn't want to see their existing Flash apps running on mobile devices?
Or, that AT&T and Verizon didn't want a device-agnostic software play that would strengthen their hand relative to end-to-end providers like RIM and Apple?
How the fuck did this NOT happen for Adobe?
If they had even remotely executed on the mobile side in terms of portability, performance and battery life, they would likely still be in the driver's seat, and Apple would have had no choice but to capitulate and put Flash on iOS (something that every Mac owner knows would have sucked the performance 'juice' out of iOS).
Adobe didn't Bow to Apple; they FELL on their face
The narrative that Adobe management would desperately love to propagate is that, in the end, pushing Flash on mobile was blocked by Apple, and the success of iOS forced the company to shift to open standards like HTML5 (which notably, has been long-pushed by 'closed,' proprietary Apple).
The hard truth is that almost eight years after Flash variants were introduced to run on mobile devices, and five years after Adobe began pushing mobile as core to its Flash everywhere strategy, mobile Flash is a dog without any serious defenders outside of Adobe.
In other words, in the so-called war for mobile video and mobile app run-time supremacy, Adobe simply never showed up, something to keep in mind when you see ludicrous headlines, such as WSJ's 'Adobe Bows in Apple Feud.'
If anything, the company that was once known for creating brilliant tools and core technologies for creative professionals and web developers, fell prey to its own internal entropy.
In this context, shooting mobile Flash in the head hopefully frees the company both psychically and from a resource perspective to focus on building great products that enable HTML and other open web technologies to realize their potential in mobile, the desktop and beyond.
But, as others have noted, the sheer PR-speak, gobbledy-gook nature of their announcement that they are killing mobile Flash is indicative of a company that continues to confuse assembling a bunch of fatty chicken parts with the magic and alchemy of creating a living, breathing, organic free-range chicken.
That, in tandem with their failure with Mobile Flash, is the inconvenient truth the company needs to get clarity on IF they are going to turn the tide of irrelevancy in mobile.
UPDATE: Mike Chambers, Adobe’s Principal Product Manager for developer relations for the Flash Platform, has written a 'clarifications' post that in blaming Apple, seems to be confusing correlation with causality so as to ignore an inconvenient truth. After all, Adobe was like the 'Boy who Cried Wolf' for so long that when Apple came along and solved many of the problems that Flash had been known for and then Adobe STILL failed to make them pay for it on Android, RIM, etc., it was more a case of death by irrelevance than by attack.