Adobe made a couple of interesting announcements today.
Neither announcement is a surprise to us, but it is very important to notice the timing and the implications of these announcement.
First of all, Adobe has been avoiding to publicly admit that Flash lite is useless in 99.9% of cases because Flash lite is so different from Flash for PC.
The marketing team of Adobe has been smartly using the statement "Over 800 million (mobile) devices shipped with Flash" over and over again, trying to convince us that Flash is already de facto standard, ignoring the fact that most of Flash contents on web-site today are written for Flash 8 or 9, and Flash lite on those mobile devices are not able to display those contents.
As far as I know, this is the first time Adobe publicly admitted that putting "full" Flash Player (Flash 10) on majority of smartphone is very important for Adobe to become the true de facto standard in the mobile industry.
As all of us already know, the biggest challenge for Adobe is iPhone. Even though nobody besides a small number of executives in Adobe and Apple know the real reason, Apple won't (or can't) put Flash on iPhone and will remain this way for a very long time (if not forever). Along with the fact that the most of web traffic from mobile devices are coming from iPhone, this is making virtually impossible for Adobe to dominate the smartphone market.
While iPhone itself is enough pain in the neck, here comes HTML5. It started with a small "hack" made by engineers in Apple who put <canvas> tag into Safari browser for Apple Dashboard. It was very awkward extension - mixing the "immediate" mode into the "retained" mode, but made it possible to create flash-like web applications inside HTML pages. Later, Google chose WebKit as the rendering engine for Chromium. Both Firefox and Opera started supporting <canvas> tag, and it became a part of proposed HTML5 standard.
The <canvas> tag is just a small piece of HTML5. Many other features in HTML5, such as <video> tag, CSS animation, SVG, and WebSocket are threats to Flash. Once HTML5-compatible browsers became the norm, the technical advantage of Flash player will disappear.
There is even a rumor that Apple is working on HTML5 authoring tool, which would directly compete with Adobe's Flash authoring tool. This makes sense. If I were inside Apple today, I would definitely propose such a product.
The biggest hurdle for HTML5 is Internet Explorer, which still has a very large market share. Microsoft just made an announcement that they will support HTML5, but I think it takes years for them to catch up. In addition, supporting HTML5 is a double-edged sword for Microsoft. While pretending to support HTML5, Microsoft may even (incorrectly) think there is a chance to make Silverlight more relevant than Flash while Adobe is busy fighting with HTML5.
If we just look at PC market, it probably takes at least three years for HTML5-compatible browsers to become the majority (unless something really drastic happens within a year). Adobe does not need to worry about this market too much.
On the other hand, the smartphone market is very different. Mobile Safari is already the #1 browser in the market because of iPhone and its traffic (iPhone users are much more active than Blackberry users). We also know that a flood of Android-based smartphone will hit the market in later this year and 2010 - most of them will have a Webkit-based browser. This fact - Webkit is becoming the de facto standard of smartphone browsers, will accelerate the adaption of HTML5 by web developers in mobile mobile - way faster than PC market.
Let's pretend you are a web developer. If your client ask you to create smartphone version of their web-site, which looks great on iPhone and also works other smartphones such as Blackberry, Palm Pre and Andoroid phones, which technology should you use? The answer is obvious - HTML. If your client ask you to make it animated, interactive or multi-media rich, you'd probably choose one of those new features in HTML5.
This is obviously a big threat to Adobe. Considering the fact that more and more people access web from their smartphones than from their PCs, this is a REALLY BIG threat.