Adobe brings Flash-free-Flash to Apple iPad, iPhone

By Jonny Evans

At long last Adobe Flash has come to an iPad or iPhone. At long last, Adobe finally seems to have got the idea in its long-running dispute with Apple [AAPL] over the once important media encoding technology. Flash will in future run on Apple devices -- no Flash required, kinda.

[ABOVE: In case it might amuse, Conan O Brien's take on the missing iPhone 5 debacle.]

Flash to iOS the best way possible

Adobe appeared at Europe's NAB equivalent, IBC this week to introduce Adobe Flash Media Server 4.5 and Adobe Flash Access 3.0. There's a whole bunch of detail pertaining to these releases here, but how Adobe has delivered Flash support to iOS devices is absolutely the right way forward: it has enabled the server to stream a version of a Flash asset to an iPhone or iPad. Flash never needs to run on a mobile device again.

"With Adobe Flash Media Server 4.5, media publishers now have a single, simple workflow for delivering content using the same stream to Flash-enabled devices or to the Apple iPhone and iPad."

In other words, Adobe's solution repackages content in real-time, changing the protocol to suit the target device, HTTP Dynamic Streaming or HLS, for example. This should mean that iOS devices will get much of the advantages of Flash video support, without the processor degradation and battery life cost of the format in use on other devices. Though we still have to wait a while longer until the "full Flash experience" of embedded ads and so on makes it to the new streamed system.

[ABOVE: Adobe also recently introduced Carousel, its free LIghtroom-based imaging app for iOS.

From the release:

Premium Video Streaming with Flash Media Server 4.5

Flash Media Server 4.5 expands on its mobile delivery options with the addition of iOS support and enables content owners to create HTTP content on the fly to reduce costs brought on by device proliferation. New features of Flash Media Server 4.5:

Delivery to iPad and iPhone enables businesses to use the same media and live streams to deliver full adaptive bit-rate experiences to platforms supporting Flash, as well as Apple devices, including iPad and iPhone.

Integrated Content Protection simplifies deployment and reduces infrastructure cost, enabling seamless streaming for advertising-funded online video.

On-demand Stream Packaging eliminates the need to prepare and protect assets ahead of time, reducing complexity and storage costs and simplifying publishing for businesses so they can use one set of source video to reach multiple downstream devices.

Offload the tasks

Essentially and sensibly, it seems Adobe now understands that developing Flash to work efficiently on mobile devices is incredibly challenging. This is driving Adobe toward a streaming future in which the hard work of decoding the data for different platforms is handled by the media server, not the device. I think this is an inevitable step.

That's a direct reaction not just to the changing nature of the device ecosystem, but also to Apple's determination that Flash not be supported on its devices. It also (I feel) leaves the gate open for Adobe to maintain relevance of its Flash standard even in a future of low power devices that rely entirely on cloud-based services for their media assets.

This is a better development target, I think, for a post-PC age. Flash on mobile devices -- even Android devices -- has a reputation for degrading processor power and/or sucking the last dying gasp of battery life. This won't do in a mobile age.

The move to deliver a more intelligent way to support Flash publishers in getting content to iOS devices may also reflect some water under the bridge in the spat between the two firms.


[ABOVE: Many saw Final Cut Pro X as 'iMovie Pro'.]

Will Adobe scoop-up Apple's pro markets?

Many Mac users have voiced concern that with a move to favor iOS Apple has ceded some of its advantages in the pro markets. Final Cut X, for example, while exciting many with some of its new features, managed to damage its reputation in the pro video market.

This has generated better success for Adobe, which reported a 45 percent increase in demand for its video creation tools for Macs since Apple introduced Final Cut X. It will be interesting to see if Apple continues to cede its pro markets in favor of focused competitors such as Adobe.

The next Logic release will be a big test of Apple's commitment to its pro markets.

Thoughts on Flash

In his much-cited 'Thoughts On Flash' note published last year, then Apple CEO, Steve Jobs challenged Adobe to get with the new post-PC times.

"New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind," he wrote.

Now it seems Adobe has at last taken up this challenge, though it continues to champion Flash. "Flash and HTML have lived together for the past 13 or 14 years quite happily and Flash has always been the tool designers have gone to when creating in the browser," said Adobe Asia-Pacific's Paul Burnett.

"If we're going to sit here for years with no additional new features in the browser or an updated standard, then Flash is going to be the tool of choice."

Brave words, despite which Adobe seems engaged on an attempt to refocus Flash primarily as a development environment rather than as a device-focused media player.

This attempt may succeed, enabling the firm to offer a solution with which to develop multimedia solutions for many different platforms and devices. And enabling iPad and iPhone users to access Flash content the best and most secure way I know -- without using Flash.

NOTE: I've spotted a couple of comments on this, and it's important to explain this: This does not mean Flash is directly supported on your device, just that the media server will be able to export Flash assets as an HTML5-supporting format, for example, so you should eventually be able to access such content, but only as publishers deploy the new Adobe software.

Please let me know what you think in comments below. Please follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when I post new reports here at Computerworld.  

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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