Chrome browser for Android won’t support Flash, Adobe confirms

Chrome for Android will not run Flash Player, the popular software that Apple has famously banned, Adobe confirmed yesterday.

The acknowledgment was no surprise: Last November, Adobe announced it was abandoning development of Flash for mobile browsers. In other words, Google missed the Flash boat by several months.

“Adobe is no longer developing Flash Player for mobile browsers, and thus Chrome for Android Beta does not support Flash content,” said Bill Howard, a group product manager on the Flash team, in an Adobe blog Tuesday.

The stock Android browser included with the operating system does support Flash, noted Howard.

Early hands-on reviews of Chrome for Android also noted that the new browser doesn’t support Flash.

Adobe explained its decision to halt work on Flash Player for mobile browsers as necessary to shift resources, notably to its efforts on HTML5, the still-developing standard that will ultimately replace many of the functions Flash has offered.

“We will continue to leverage our experience with Flash to accelerate our work with the W3C and WebKit to bring similar capabilities to HTML5 as quickly as possible,” Danny Winokur, the Adobe executive in charge of interactive development, said last year. He was referring to the World Wide Web Consortium standards body and WebKit, the open-source browser engine that powers Chrome and Apple’s Safari. “And we will design new features in Flash for a smooth transition to HTML5 as the standards evolve.”

Analysts read the move as a tacit surrender to the trend, first seen at Apple, to skip support for Flash on smartphones and tablets. In 2010, former Apple Steve Jobs had famously dismissed Flash as unsuitable for mobile devices because it was slow, drained batteries and posed security problems.

With Google’s long-term plan to replace the stock Android browser with Chrome, Flash will ultimately be unavailable on the vast majority of smartphones: According to research firm NPD Group, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android powered over 90 per cent of all smartphones purchased in the U.S. during the last three months of 2011.

Experts expect that Flash Player on the desktop will also fade over time as support for HTML5 in browsers and websites expands. Microsoft, for example, has already said it will block the Flash Player plug-in from being installed on the touch edition of Internet Explorer 10 (IE10) within next year’s Windows 8.

But Adobe has not thrown in the towel.

Earlier this week the company launched a beta version of a “sandboxed” Flash Player plug-in for Mozilla’s Firefox on Windows — following a similar move in 2010 for Chrome — and said its next target for boosting Flash security will be Internet Explorer.

Chrome for Android requires Android 4.0 or later, aka “Ice Cream Sandwich,” and can be downloaded from the Android Market.

As of mid-day Wednesday, Chrome for Android was in the No. 190 spot on the Android Market’s list of top free apps. The Market also noted that the beta browser had been installed on between 100,000 and 500,000 devices since yesterday.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld.

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