The Google home page is shown on Google's latest version of the Android operating system, Honeycomb, on a Motorola Xoom tablet device following a news conference at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California February 2, 2011.
One big argument in favor of Android over Apple's iOS has been the platform's support for Flash video content. Apple's refusal to support Flash has become legendary. The controversy escalated last year when Steve Jobs penned an open letter about Flash and committed Apple to HTML5 for video and animation. A war of words between Apple and Adobe ensued, but in the end many websites have begun to adopt the HTML5 standard over Flash.
Before the war of words started, Adobe had been pushing its plans to develop a mobile version of Flash that could deal would handle the unique challenges that mobile devices can pose when it comes to displaying Flash content. That mobile version of Flash repeatedly saw its release date delayed, adding fuel to Apple's anti-Flash crusade.
Despite widespread adoption of HTML5, Flash is still pretty common on the web. That has allowed tablet and smartphone makers to use Flash support as a big marketing tool. RIM quickly touted support for Flash and Adobe Air apps on its PlayBook. Samsung did the same on the Galaxy Tab. So did almost every company that announced a Honeycomb Android tablet – including Motorola's Xoom, which is accepting pre-orders and will launch on Thursday.
Despite the promise of Flash, the Xoom won't initially ship with it. A Verizon ad for the Xoom today included a note in the bottom right corner saying that the Xoom wouldn't ship with Flash. The ad does imply that the Xoom will get Flash support eventually, but provides no information about when that might happen.
As BusinessInsider points out, this might actually be a good thing for Xoom owners. Flash has been included in pre-Honeycomb Android tablets, but overall the experience of using it hasn't been all that great. With the Xoom outclassing some earlier devices, lacking Flash support might be a blessing if Flash video ran as slowly or jerky as on those earlier tablets and smartphones. In fact, that may be a reason that the Xoom isn't getting Flash support out of the gate.
A related possibility might be a need for further beta testing. Google had to make some accommodations in Honeycomb for Adobe's recent Flash 10.2. It's possible that getting Flash 10.2 and Honeycomb to play nice hasn't been as easy as expected and Adobe or Google needs to fine-tune the experience.
Whatever the reason, it doesn't make Adobe or the manufacturers that have been hyping their Flash support look good.
Toshiba may end up looking worse than Motorola. The company took its pro-Flash Apple taunting above and beyond most companies by creating its entire tablet website in Flash and leaving a notices for iOS users saying: "Such a shame. Add this to the list of interesting places on the internet you can't see on your device. Of course, if you had a Toshiba Tablet you would enjoy the entire internet. Yep, Flash sites too." – an approach that is a bit sophomoric to begin with, but which will completely backfire if it needs to take a not-at-launch approach to Flash as Motorola is doing.
The situation also poses significant challenges for Adobe. If it can't work with device manufacturers outside of Apple to get Flash working well on mobile devices soon enough, web developers that remain committed to Flash may start having second thoughts as more and more mobile users get locked out of Flash content. Eventually, that could lead to a tipping point after which Flash could be on the way out in fact rather than just in rhetoric.