By Don ReisingerNEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Adobe ( ADBE) Flash is arguably one of the most important standards on the Web. According to Adobe, the platform powers more than 75% of the Internet's video content and 70 percent of all Web-based games. It's also the backbone of thousands of Web sites that call on it to enhance the design value of Web pages.
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Their decision wasn't as difficult to make as some might think, since Google ( GOOG), Apple's chief competitor in the mobile market, recently announced that it has inked a deal with Adobe that would bring its Flash platform to the search giant's Android mobile operating system. That means just about every Web site, including casual-gaming sites, will work on Android OS version 2.2 when it launches later this year. Compare that to Apple's support of only those sites that don't run Flash, and it quickly becomes clear that from a browsing perspective, iPhone OS is at a disadvantage. But that's just one aspect of Apple's issue. For the first time, according to market-research firm NPD, Android phones outsold the iPhone in the first quarter of 2010. It should be noted that no single Android-based device outsold the iPhone, but Android devices combined, Android was the preferred software platform to iPhone OS. And that was before Google announced that it would support Flash. Steve Jobs says he isn't worried. In his D8 speech last week, the Apple CEO said that iPad and iPhone sales have shown consumers don't mind not having Flash. He also played the innovation card, saying that since Apple "doesn't have the most resources in the world," it needs to be ahead of the market. That's precisely why, Jobs said, his company came to the conclusion that "Flash had its day. HTML5 is starting to emerge." Whether or not HTML5 really will "emerge" is decidedly up for debate. There is significant reason to believe that as Google's mobile operating system continues to sell well, Apple's influence in the mobile market will be marginalized. That could cause entertainment companies and Web sites to stick with Flash, inevitably forcing Apple to admit defeat and run back to Adobe. Jobs acknowledged such an outcome is possible in his recent interview at D8. He said that if the market demands Flash, it will come to iPhone OS. "Things are packages," he said. "If the market tells us we're making the wrong choices, we'll listen to the market."
Apple is walking a fine line. On one hand, it has lots of leverage in the market. On the other hand, it is pitting itself against an entrenched standard and companies that rely on that standard. Maybe Flash can be overcome a few years from now, but until the standard stops being downloaded millions of times per day, Apple is up against the single juggernaut that it won't easily beat. Look for Apple to eventually go back to Flash. It won't happen overnight. But as market factors push it in that direction, it will have no other choice.