Flash launches on Android--now things get interesting

With the launch of Flash Player 10.1 for Android, we can now test how Flash works on a next-generation smartphone.

Adobe launched Flash Player for Android 10.1 today--the latest move in the Chess match between Adobe and Apple over the future of interactive mobile ads and video content. Now, the world can begin to experience firsthand whether Flash delivers as expected on smartphones, or if Steve Jobs made the right move in turning his back on the platform.

Adobe developed a native player for Android, but for other smartphone platforms it left the ball in each respective court. RIM (Research in Motion), Microsoft, WebOS (previously Palm but recently acquired by HP), Symbian and other mobile platforms will have to work with the Flash software and determine whether to incorporate it into the OS or offer it as an app. Then, it will still be a challenge to figure out which existing smartphone handsets will be able to support it.

My PCWorld peer Jared Newman notes that even with Android it's not completely clear sailing. Flash Player 10.1 only works with Android 2.2, and Android 2.2 is only available on the Google Nexus One currently. With the exception of the Nexus One, and possibly the Motorola Droid, it seems that it will be months before Android 2.2 is even available.

But, even with only the Nexus One as a barometer, Flash Player 10.1 for Android finally provides a real-world proof-of-concept for Flash on a smartphone. Instead of a vitriolic war of words between Apple and Adobe, or media hyperbole about why Flash is or is not suited for mobile computing and smartphones, we can actually test it out.

Steve Jobs cited a number of factors in defending Apple's rejection of Flash for the iPhone and iPad. Reliability and performance, battery life, and security were mentioned, along with the reliance of Flash on a mouse as a trigger--making it seemingly incompatible with a touchscreen interface. Will those reasons hold true on the Nexus One?

As users on the street begin to use Flash Player 10.1 on Android 2.2, the proof will be in the proverbial pudding and we can learn firsthand what impact Flash Player has on the reliability and performance of devices like the Nexus One. If battery life drops precipitously, we will hear about it. If Flash Player exposes the Android OS to security vulnerabilities, we will hear about it.

Ultimately, the success of Flash Player 10.1 on Android 2.2--or more specifically on the Nexus One--could make or break the future of Flash on mobile devices. If it lives up to expectations, more smartphone platforms will embrace it, and perhaps user demand could eventually force even Apple to backpedal.

However, any issues encountered by Flash on Android will be spotlighted as evidence of Apple's wisdom in shunning the platform, and could lead to even stronger support for HTML5 based content and solutions to replace Flash in delivering interactive mobile ads and video content on smartphones and tablets.

Businesses have a vested interest in determining a winner in this war. Companies want to deliver interactive mobile ads, feature-rich Web sites, and video content. Regardless of how Flash performs on Android or other smartphone platforms, though, if Apple sticks to its anti-Flash guns HTML5 may eventually win by virtue of being a broader, cross-platform solution that can reach both the Android and the IOS4 markets.

The Nexus One just became the Guinea pig in the experiment that is Flash for mobile computing. Let the games begin.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com . He also tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW .

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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