Adobe’s announcement at the close of 2011 that it would cease putting the Flash browser plug-in on mobile devices may have been painful to its designer and developer community, but Adobe had by then shown a dual strategy of supporting Flash and HTML5. The move may well have been prompted by Microsoft’s decision to ban browser plug-ins in its forthcoming Windows 8 mobile interfaces, but it has been the long tussle between Apple and Adobe over these issues for some time, as well as the rise of HTML5, that has seen Adobe plan for a different future, one based on AIR and HTML5, with desktop Flash plug-ins remaining a lower priority.

Adobe is supporting HTML5 Web design and development by providing an HTML5-compatible creative suite. Adobe also secured the independence of the popular HTML5 app development platform, PhoneGap, by acquiring it in October 2011 and maintaining its open-source status. Though HTML5 is sufficiently converged on mobile devices (thanks to WebKit), on desktop browsers it is still fragmented, with audio and video streaming currently weak areas. The W3C sees its members improving the standard at a fast pace, and by 2014 we may well see significant catch-up.

Adobe has stated it will continue to invest in Flash as its state-of-the-art showcase as it will remain the core technology within AIR, as well as specialized applications such as video streaming. For now, the market will continue to develop on Flash and Microsoft Silverlight for those niche applications where HTML5 currently lacks features, standardizations and browser support.

Adobe recently gave a press conference to outline its next-decade vision for business in its digital media division, which it said grew 10% in 2011. Adobe said typical consumers download 10 mobile apps per month, and spend over an hour a day browsing the Web or using apps. The company is aware that traditional media companies (print and TV) need to monetize their activity, as the move to the Web has so far reduced their revenues. Thus Adobe aims to abstract away the complexity of Web and mobile device fragmentation, and it sees HTML5 as the catalyst to achieve that over the long term.

Adobe’s vision statement was thus upbeat. The move away from Flash and the cut in staffing that were announced simultaneously need to be seen in context, with HTML5 key to Adobe’s realignment.

What about IBM and Worklight?
IBM recently announced a definitive agreement to acquire Worklight, a private company in the enterprise mobile application development and life-cycle management space. IBM views mobile application development as running across essentially four types, spanning open Web applications through to mobile apps running purely natively, with hybrids in between.

The company believes the highest leverage for optimal rich/reach/cost across these types is to build apps using open Web standards (HTML5, CSS and JavaScript), and it sits with the hybrid options. The Worklight acquisition brings an enterprise-strength client-server framework for building mobile applications and managing privacy, security, deployment, maintenance, and upgrades. IBM sees a typical large-enterprise customer having mobile needs in servicing millions of business-to-consumer users and tens of thousands of business-to-employee users. IBM promised more details of the mobile road map once the acquisition is closed.

The Worklight solution comprises Eclipse-based Worklight Studio for development using open Web standards, including leveraging open-source HTML5 libraries such as PhoneGap (recently acquired by Adobe); a client-side device runtime for cross-platform compatibility, server integration, encrypted storage, runtime mobile device skinning, and reporting on statistics and diagnostics; Worklight Server for server-side app logic, authentication, encryption of back-end systems, cloud services, and servicing clients with resources, updates, and unified push notifications; and Worklight Console for version management, push management, reporting and analytics. Developers can create one codebase to deploy to devices running iOS, Android, Windows and others, and it is possible to exploit native device features. This approach brings down the cost of mobile development.

The Worklight acquisition provides the missing link for the many solutions IBM has to offer in mobile, and it meets Big Blue’s need for an HTML5 mobile development and life-cycle management environment.

Michael Azoff is principal analyst at Ovum, where he has been working as an IT industry analyst since 2003.