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Why Apple Will Come Back to Flash

Although it won't happen overnight, Apple will eventually go back to Flash.

By Don Reisinger



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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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doesn't see it that way. At his keynote address at the

Worldwide Developer's Conference

yesterday, Apple CEO Steve Jobs made it clear that when it comes to Flash, his company is against it. "We support HTML5," Jobs said. "It's a completely open, uncontrolled platform."

Those comments echoed what Jobs recently said at the AllThingsD D8 Conference. "We're just trying to make great products," Jobs told

The Wall Street Journal

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at the conference. "We don't think Flash makes a great product, so we're leaving it out." Those comments followed an open letter Jobs wrote on Apple's site in April, claiming Flash "has not performed well on mobile devices."

Adobe disagrees. The company's CEO Shantanu Narayen told

The Wall Street Journal

following the publishing of Jobs' open letter that Flash will "eventually prevail." He went on to say that his company's partners, mostly Web and mobile developers, want to be able to "get their content, their brand across multiple devices." In essence, Adobe contends, Apple's desire to force companies into its chosen standard might not be appealing to as many partners as Apple thinks.

More on Apple vs. Adobe Apple Makes the HTML5 Rallying Call

It's certainly a dangerous game for Apple to play.

HTML5, Apple's chosen Web standard

, has yet to be adopted by very many companies. In fact, some firms are saying now that they don't want to follow Apple's path and will instead stick with Flash.

A recent report in the

New York Post

claimed that

Time Warner



NBC Universal

, two major entertainment companies that Apple needs on its side to kill Flash, have decided to stick with Adobe's standard because of the immense cost and time it would take to convert their content to standards that would work on Apple's operating system.

Their decision wasn't as difficult to make as some might think, since


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, 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.