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Adobe's future is controlling what you watch, not delivering it

Streaming video is so 20th century

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Analysis Adobe's decision to stop developing mobile Flash shouldn't surprise: Adobe can see there's more money in preventing people watching stuff than enabling them to do so.

The news came on the back of 750 layoffs and a refocusing of the company which will see Adobe "investing aggressively in Digital Media and Digital Marketing" – which will no doubt include significant development of the company's successful products in the field of Digital Rights Management.

In the eyes of the public, embedded Flash has become synonymous with streamed video, thanks largely to its use by the (now) Google-owned YouTube site. But YouTube doesn't just use Flash to deliver video: it also uses Adobe's DRM to prevent viewers skipping the adverts or lifting videos with too much ease.

That's why 4OD, Channel 4's catchup service*, is just one of the commercial services which aren't available on iPhones or iPads. The YouTube applications (including the Android one) don't support Adobe's DRM, so 4OD content doesn't appear. Users of Androids or RIM PlayBooks can navigate to the YouTube website to catch up on the latest episode of Misfits, and even throw it onto a big screen from there (using DLNA), but to those subscribed to the world of iOS the content just doesn't appear.

For streaming video, HTML 5 with open codecs is fine, but for controlling who can see that video – and when – one is going to need technology from Adobe or similar.

And best not forget electronic books. Amazon's Kindle might be the biggest kid on the block, but just about all the other electronic book readers rely on Adobe's Digital Editions DRM to protect (and distribute) their content (which is laid out using the Adobe-owned-but-happily-shared ePub format).

Adobe hasn't even given up on Flash on mobile, it just wants the technology to be used to create applications rather than streaming video around the place. Adobe's AIR is a cross-platform development environment based on Flash, which was used to develop TweetDeck among other things. TweetDeck runs across Windows, Mac and Linux in just the way that Java applications were supposed to do, and the mobile version differs only in interface details.

The entire interface of the BlackBerry PlayBook was created in AIR, and very beautiful it is too (one might accuse the PlayBook of having faults, but lack of pretty interface is not one of them). That also explains why RIM has taken development of a Flash client in-house from Adobe, as the platform is so dependent on Adobe's Flash technology.

So this announcement has much more to do with Adobe seeing that there's no future in selling tools for streaming video, but there is a decent future in selling tools to create, and control, digital content.

The decision does nothing to prove Steve Jobs right; iOS users still can't watch Drop The Dead Donkey, though one can understand Adobe's reluctance to hold off announcing it until he was safely in the ground. ®

* Updated: Channel 4 does now have a dedicated iOS app, so you can catch up with Misfits (and you should, it's good). But thanks to Adobe's DRM a wealth of content on YouTube isn't available in a dedicated app or without a Flash-enabled browser.

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