By Harry McCracken | Monday, August 1, 2011 at 4:08 pm
“Adobe Quietly Surrenders to Steve Jobs, Builds Flash Alternative.” That’s the headline on Adam Clark Estes’s article over at the Atlantic on Edge, Adobe’s new HTML5 authoring tool. It captures the tone of a lot of coverage I’ve seen. Edge supposedly represents a capitulation on Adobe’s part. And it’s supposedly a product that Adobe might never have come up with if Steve Jobs hadn’t kept Flash off of the iPhone and iPad and been bluntly public about his reasoning.
Well, maybe. It’s true that the inability of Flash to run natively on iOS gives Adobe a powerful incentive to get on the HTML5 bandwagon. I tend to think, however, that this take gives Apple too much credit, and Adobe too little. Edge isn’t about Adobe bowing to Steve Jobs; it’s about it acknowledging reality. And Adobe shouldn’t be building this product in a grudging, grumbly fashion. If Edge is a great HTML5 tool, there’s no reason why it can’t be an enormously popular and profitable component of the company’s portfolio. It would be nuts for Adobe not to do it.
I’ve run Flash on a bunch of mobile devices based on three operating systems: Android, WebOS, and QNX. Sometimes it works, sort of. But that’s the best thing I can say about the experience. It’s usually painfully obvious that Flash really wants more computing horsepower than phones and tablets have. And even when performance isn’t a serious issue, it’s too often clear that most Flash content wasn’t designed with touchscreen input in mind.
End result: On mobile devices, Flash gets out of sync. Or freezes up. Or has odd display glitches. Or doesn’t let you control apps the way they were intended to be controlled. It introduces as many problems as it solves.
Even if Adobe is inclined to be biased in favor of Flash, and in favor of the profits that Flash currently brings, it must understand that mobile Flash in its current incarnation has severe issues. It keeps saying that the next version of Flash is going to be great. But by the time mobile Flash is great–or even just tolerable–it might be largely irrelevant. (Its absence on iOS hasn’t hurt Apple devices so much as forced sites and developers to redo their Flash-based creations so that they don’t require Flash anymore.)
But you know what? If Flash did run on iOS, it wouldn’t solve Adobe’s Flash problems. It would almost certainly be less than satisfactory there, too. It would still feel like the past, and HTML5 would still feel like the future.
And even if Flash somehow worked great on every mobile device, HTML5 would be here, and would be burgeoning–and it would make perfect sense for Adobe to create Edge.
There’s no scenario under which it’s a bad idea for Adobe to build a top-notch HTML5 authoring product. Adobe, I suspect, is capable of understanding that without Steve Jobs’ help. The hard part will be making sure that Edge is, in fact, that product.