Why Doesn't Android Support Flash? Does It Even Matter?

A brief history of Flash and the mobile ecosystem that killed it

2011 Consumer Electronics Show Showcases Latest Technology Innovations
Marziah Karch

One of Android's standout features in the early days of its development was its support for Flash, the online multimedia platform made by Adobe. Flash support distinguished Android from the other major mobile operating system at the time, Apple iOS, which has never supported Flash.

But, despite the initial support, Android discontinued Flash support in 2013 with the release of Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean). But why? In this guide we look at all the factors that contributed to the decline of Flash in both mobile and desktop environments.

Blame Adobe

Adobe Flash logo
 Adobe

Adobe no longer supports it. There are a lot of reasons why the software company chose to abandon the platform, with an official end-of-life date scheduled for December 31, 2020. In essence, competition from Apple made the software obsolete, or at least far from the industry standard many hoped it would become.

Blame Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs giving keynote address
 Wikipedia

Steve Jobs famously once declared that iOS devices would never support Flash. Flash was a proprietary system created by Adobe and not an open web standard. Open alternatives were already available, such as HTML5. A lot of the existing Flash content was old and developed for mouse rollovers, not touch displays like those used on the iPhone and iPad. So Apple concluded Flash would do its customers little to no good.

Sure, some of the anti-Flash talk was simply that Steve Jobs was a stubborn man who was irritated with Adobe for foot-dragging with their development of other Adobe products. (It took Adobe years to finally develop a 64-bit version of Photoshop for Mac.) Adobe probably hoped that Apple would adopt Flash after people began flocking to Android and eating into iPhone and iPad sales. But for the most part, Steve Jobs was right. Flash on mobile devices was just not part of the future. 

Flash Drained Batteries and Performed Poorly on Phones

Phone with dead battery
 Pixabay

When Flash was finally available on Android Froyo, it used a lot of battery life, the playback was jittery, and games didn't work as intended. Worse, TV networks started getting nervous about the idea of people watching their content on phones and started intentionally blocking people from seeing Flash streaming video on Android tablets and phones. So users weren't seeing the content they wanted to see, and some of the older content still needed revamping. 

Blame Adobe Again

Adobe had to certify that Flash would work on each and every configuration that supported it. This is a much harder task for mobile than it is for desktop computers. On desktop computers, there are only two major operating systems, Windows and macOS. (Yes, there's Linux, but Adobe doesn't support that either.) In the case of macOS, there's a known hardware configuration because Apple makes its own hardware, and with Windows OS, there are minimum hardware standards. Supporting just those two operating systems makes Adobe's job a lot easier, and it makes a Flash developer's job a lot easier since there aren't as many screen sizes and interactive elements to work with. But the advent of mobile OS threw a wrench into the machine. Competing systems and constant updates—not to mention fleeting or non-existent support from Android and iOS—made the task of updating Flash unsustainable for Adobe.

In 2017, Adobe finally ended support of Flash. The company officially killed Flash on all platforms in 2015 or 2017, depending on what you count as dead, but the 2017 announcement confirmed that Adobe would stop support altogether in late 2020. The combined adoption of the open HTML5 and CSS3 standards, which enable much of the animation power previously reserved for Flash, has forced Adobe to put the final nail in its coffin. Even as web browsers and other technology moves on, you can still find Flash as a zombie, shambling around the corners of the web that haven't quite caught on.