How Will Jettisoning Mobile Flash Affect Adobe?
Adobe’s decision to abandon Flash for mobile devices in favor of HTML5 is big news. But what does it really mean for the software company’s business?
Probably not all that much. For now, at least.
First, from a financial perspective, the issue is not dire. Adobe doesn’t break out Flash in its earnings reports. But according to a 2010 estimate by Robert W. Baird & Co., Flash generates less than 10 percent of Adobe’s total revenue. And some believe the percentage is quite a bit lower than that — less than 5 percent.
So, from a financial perspective, Flash was never worth all that much to the company’s bottom line.
That said, Flash’s real value has always been as a sort of gateway drug for Adobe’s other software tools. And now that the company has officially pivoted to Flash successor HTML5 with the launch of its Adobe Edge design tool, Flash will inevitably become worth even less to it.
“I don’t see this act alone as having a significant financial impact on them,” IDC analyst Al Hilwa told AllThingsD. “The key for them is to address HTML5 effectively in their tool lineup. They have started doing that and are, in fact, an early leader in this relatively nascent market.”
Forrester analyst Mike Gualtieri agreed. “Adobe made the right decision in dumping Flash for mobile,” he said. “Adobe is about selling creative and development tools, so jettisoning Flash for mobile will allow them to focus on the tools for mobile development.”
Still, while it is not a huge part of its revenue, Adobe did own Flash, and those that wanted to support it were compelled to use the company’s tools.
Plus: Even though HTML5 may be a bigger pie, as they say, there will be a lot more companies looking to take a bite of it.
The looming question, then, is whether Adobe will be able to maintain its share of the broader development tools business, in a world in which it doesn’t have Flash to support it.
Beyond this, there are a few other business issues to consider, as well. Foremost among them is what it means for Adobe to begin to step away from the platform for which it is arguably best known.
And there’s simply no good way to spin that. Flash is in decline, and Adobe is wise to be moving on, first with its mobile browser offering.
This makes it a big strategic loss for the company. Regardless of what you think of Flash as a technology, it has been an important brand for Adobe, particularly in the consumer arena. Phasing it out entails some loss of visibility for the company.
And, make no mistake, it is phasing Flash out. The company’s abandonment of mobile Flash, and its switch to HTML5, almost certainly heralds a migration away from the desktop version of Flash, as well. Part of Adobe’s sales pitch to developers today was a promise to help developers move off it when the time is right.
“We will design new features in Flash for a smooth transition to HTML5 as the standards evolve, so developers can confidently invest knowing their skills will continue to be leveraged,” Adobe said in a statement.
In other words: We’re improving Flash to make it easier for you to stop using it.
Which brings us to the strategic missteps leading up to Adobe’s announcement today, in particular the company’s high-profile public relations battle with Apple.
Scrapping mobile Flash is a humiliating concession to Cupertino, which has been urging the recalcitrant Adobe to do just that for years now.
As the late Steve Jobs famously said in his “Thoughts on Flash” essay, “Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.”
Adobe dismissed that suggestion with a series of embarrassing tough-love, full-page, pro-Flash advertisements in the business sections of a number of major newspapers.
Now, a year and a half later, it’s heeding Jobs’s advice.
What does that say about Adobe’s leadership? What’s been going on over there?
Evidently, a lot of waffling.
But now that it’s over, Adobe says it is ready to “aggressively contribute to HTML5.” Good thing, too. The company is already late to the game, and it’s got a lot of work to do if it hopes to advance the standard for the broader industry.
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