I think the news that Flash is coming to smartphones over the next year is a big deal. Most of the rich media experiences I have on the web are in Flash. YouTube’s success had a lot to do with its choice of Flash for its video player. Now almost every video site on the web uses a Flash video player. The same is true of audio. It used to be that when you wanted to listen to streaming audio, you had to use Windows Media Player, the Real player, or a link to iTunes. But all that’s gone, thanks again to Flash. Whether it’s Last.fm, Pandora, most radio station Web streams, or hypemachine, you are listening via Flash.
I have been able to port most of my web activity pretty seamlessly to a smartphone, either iPhone or BlackBerry. But the one thing I’ve not been able to replicate is the seamless experiences of watching video or listening to streaming audio on my phone (downloading an app to listen to music is not seamless). I realise that the mobile networks may not yet be ready for hundreds of millions of people watching or listening to streaming media on their smartphones, but they will be someday and getting Flash onto smartphones is going to accelerate the demand for this.
It’s also true that a lot of the interesting new desktop apps like Twhirl and TweetDeck are written for AIR, Flash’s runtime cousin for the desktop. I’d love to have apps like this on my smartphone too.
So it’s very exciting to me that Flash is making a big move over the next year onto smartphones. I’m also very excited to see Nokia and Adobe creating the Open Screen Project and Open Screen Fund to promote an open and consistent experience for web browsing and mobile apps across mobile devices. The mobile web needs to be just like the Web for innovation to flourish and capital to flow.
Which takes me back to the title of this post. I believe Apple is making a mistake by snubbing Adobe’s desire to get Flash on the iPhone. And I believe Apple doesn’t share in Adobe and Nokia’s vision of an open and consistent experience for Web browsing and mobile apps. It seems to me that Apple is interested in replicating its iTunes/iPod strategy it used to dominate digital music to dominate the mobile web.
I don’t think that will work. In fact, I don’t think the iTunes/iPod strategy has much life left in it. Things like Pandora, MySpace Music, music blogging, and other forms of streaming music will eventually chip away at that franchise. But leaving the digital music situation alone for the moment, the mobile web is not going to be dominated by a single device and a single app ecosystem. I don’t even think an app ecosystem is the long term solution for the mobile web. It’s a bridge enviroment that allows for rich experiences on devices that don’t have reliable high bandwidth connections yet.
But the mobile web will eventually just be the web. And a big part of getting it there is to get the tools that allow us to seamlessly consume rich media on the web onto mobile devices. To me that means Flash. I’m rooting for Adobe and its allies like Nokia and Palm (and hopefully BlackBerry) to win this game. If they do, we’ll all be much better off because of it.
Fred Wilson is a partner at Union Square Ventures. He writes the influential A VC, where this post was originally published.
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