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

2011 Consumer Electronics Show Showcases Latest Technology Innovations
Marziah Karch

When Android was first released, one of the differentiating features between Android and competing iOS was that Android would support Flash. That was one of the few differentiating factors. Android 2.2, Froyo supported Flash, but Android 4.1 Jelly Bean took all that support away. Why? 

The information below applies no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

Blame Adobe

Adobe Flash logo

Adobe no longer supports it. There are a lot of reasons why that is the case, so here's the longer version of why Adobe might decide to pull the plug on mobile support after years of pushing very hard to try to make it an industry standard. 

Blame Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs giving keynote address

Steve Jobs declared that iOS devices not only would not support Flash but that they would neversupport Flash. Why? A combination of factors. 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, so it would do no good for phone users to see it. Flash performed very poorly on mobile devices and ate battery juice like it was going out of fashion. 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 Android users got used to the idea and started 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

When Flash was finally available on Android Froyo, it did use a lot of battery life. The playback was often jittery. Games really didn't perform well using Flash. 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 much of the older content really did need 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 OS and Mac OS. (Yes, there's Linux, but Adobe doesn't support it either.) In the case of Mac OS, there's a known hardware configuration, since Apple makes them all, and in Windows, they create the OS around 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 develop around. For that, and probably some other reasons, Adobe finally ended all support of Flash just as the Android platform was starting to finally take off. 

Adobe Flash is dead... well, sort of. Adobe 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 2020. The combined adoption of the open HTML5 and CSS3 standards, which enable much of the animation power previously reserved only 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.