So, there is a new front in the great war of the traditional media rightsholders. We have been hearing for some years, now, how terrible and awful it is that the iPhone lacks Flash, and how no-one will ever buy an iPhone because the iPhone has no Flash, and how Steve Jobs is worse than Hitler, oppressing the poor Flash faithful for fun, or alternately how it's all a terrible plot to make people download free games on the App Store instead of playing free Flash games, because clearly Apple makes billions on those.
However, the sad fact of the matter was that, while indeed the iPhone, cursed as it was by Jobs, lacked Flash, well, so did all other smartphones. Except a couple had Flash Lite, which does not in fact do anything and certainly doesn't work with popular content, and this hardly counts. All of this, however, is about to change, for Google have announced their newest dessert-themed Android edition, 2.2 (Froyo, which stands for frozen yoghurt, presumably non-fat). And Froyo supports Flash!
A few lucky Android users have already got 2.2, primarily users of Google's own Nexus One phone. Because of the way that Google releases Android, it'll be some time before a majority, or even significant number of Android phones have 2.2, and some will never have it; updates are not generally distributed by Google themselves, but are released at the pleasure of the manufacturers and operators, meaning often years late - phones running 1.6, three versions ago, are still being released. But the thing is, Flash is finally coming to phones, some three years after Adobe started going on about it.
The only application of Flash that anyone really, really cares all that much about on mobiles, of course, is video. There are Flash games, but do people really want to play Farmville on their phones all that much? I doubt it. And then there are awful Flash-based websites, but I'm pretty sure that the only people who love those are the people who make them.
In the world of Flash-less mobiles, there have been three approaches to providing video. The first, adapted by, for instance, BBC iPlayer, is to provide the video as H264, which most phones can play quite happily. The second, which is rarer than you'd expect, is the use of custom applications. Netflix, a US company who does streaming of video rentals, does this. The third, an approach taken by, amongst others, Channel 4 and the popular US streaming site Hulu, is not to provide them at all. It is normally claimed that this is because only Flash can provide the necessary security for the highly important TV shows.
The truth, as it turns out, may be a little different. You see, there are now phones which can play Flash... but they can't watch Hulu videos. The Android phones are told that they are unsupported devices, and to bugger off. People briefly got around this by telling their browsers to lie about their identity, but that seems to have been fixed now. The reason, it seems, is that these sites are not really horribly worried about people stealing the precious TV shows; if they wanted to record those, then they'd probably just download a torrent anyway. The reason is that the media rightsholders simply do not care for mobile phones, at least not on the same contracts as they do PC streaming. Because a mobile and a computer are fundamentally different, you see.
Hulu will win this particular battle, as will Channel 4 and anyone else who cares to. All they have to do is to have their player ask the Flash plugin what version it is. The Flash plugin could probably be told to lie through disassembly and binary modification, but this would be rather a lot of work, and it would be illegal to distribute such a modified Flash player. So, in practice, the vast majority of phone users will be unable to view Hulu videos. Hulu wins.
Or... does it? All of this trying to keep media away from paying, or at least ad-viewing, customers because they are using the wrong form-factor is simply... not sensible. What do they hope to gain from it? I suspect that it's just a repeat of the days when one couldn't buy DRM-free music, because obviously people would rip it off and there's no way they could find anywhere else, such as a CD, to rip it off from. The people who hold the rights on this stuff are control freaks, even when it is not in their interests to be so. The games companies appear to be busy destroying PC gaming by making the anti-piracy stuff so onerous that it is probably easier to just pirate the damn things than to use a legitimate copy. Microsoft did the same with Windows, of course.
I wonder which camp will be next to give in to the inevitable and just sell their stuff sensibly, as the music people did?