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Google Smiles as Flash Quietly Dies

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Flash used to be central to Google’s competition with Apple’s devices. Now it seems HTML5 is enough, says Clint Boulton

When Adobe vowed to cease developing its mobile Flash Player plug-in for phones and tablets earlier this month, the temptation to think Google would be incensed was great.

After all, Google made Flash a huge selling point for its Android mobile operating system. While the late Apple founder Steve Jobs lambasted the technology as too slow and inefficient to run on his company’s iPhones and iPads, Google made it a point to show off Flash.

Flash is so last year

For example, when Google senior vice president Vic Gundotra showed off the Android 2.2 Froyo platform at Google I/O in May 2010, he made sure to show Flash running on Froyo smartphones. “It turns out that on the Internet, people use Flash,” Gundotra said, a stab at Apple’s refusal to support the technology for its iPhone and iPad.

It wasn’t just Google. Android OEMs all over the world champion Flash as a competitive differentiator from Apple’s mobile devices. Top Android OEM Samsung notes on its site: “Browse without limitations. Thousands of top Websites use rich Flash applications, so whether you’re browsing the Web or viewing online multimedia content, you’ll be able to see it all.”

Google expects Flash to be supported on its Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” platform.

However, while the company won’t go on record, Google can’t put enough distance between it and Adobe’s dead man walking software. Sources familiar with the company’s thinking told eWEEK Google is super pleased Adobe is transitioning to HTML5, the horse on which the search engine has placed its bets.

Indeed, when Google rebuilt Google Docs’ editors in April 2010, it did so with a mind on accelerating support for HTML5, Google did away with Google Gears to focus on building offline capabilities for Docs, Gmail and Calendar with HTML5.

And Google is experimenting with some of the prettier, eye-candy elements of HTML5 for its Chrome Web browser. Chrome Experiments is a showcase for creative Web experiments, most of which are built with the HTML5, Canvas, SVG and WebGL.

“The Wilderness Downtown” is an interactive interpretation of Arcade Fire’s song “We Used To Wait” and was built with HTML5 video, audio and canvas.

“3 Dreams of Black” is an interactive film by Chris Milk and Google that showcases WebGL, a context of the HTML5 canvas element that enables hardware-accelerated 3D graphics in the Web browser without a plug-in. You can’t do this stuff with Flash, folks.

Still, IDC analyst Al Hilwa told eWEEK that as committed to HTML5 as Google is going forward, it will soften the blow for Flash developers.

Is HTML5 all we need?

“There is no doubt that Google is committed to Web technologies and I am pretty certain that they want to move HTML5 as fast as possible,” Hilwa said. “That certainly has been their Google Chrome story. But Google is also committed to competing with Apple in every which way and Flash as part of the mobile browsing experience was an important trump card for Android. Now that Android devices are outselling iPhones, this is not a major issue any more.  The fact that Flash is integrated with Google Chrome on the desktop is wise no matter what happens on mobile.”

Danny Winokur, vice president and general manager of interactive development at Adobe, said it best in a blog post:

“HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices, in some cases exclusively. This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms. We are excited about this, and will continue our work with key players in the HTML community, including Google, Apple, Microsoft and RIM, to drive HTML5 innovation they can use to advance their mobile browsers.”

You can bet Google is on board with that.