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The irony of Android 4.1: third-party browsers also lose Flash support

Third-party Android browsers like Opera Mobile, Dolphin HD, and Firefox will no longer support Flash in Android 4.1, aka Jelly Bean, as foreshadowed by Adobe's announcement last week that it will drop Flash Player support in Jelly Bean.

"From what we understand from the announcement, no browser will be able to support Flash on Android 4.1 and above," Jonathan Nightingale, senior engineering director at Mozilla Firefox, said.

Similarly at Opera Mobile, spokesman Thomas Ford said the browser could only support Flash if it was available for the device or platform.

Nowadays most applications are based on web standards like HTML5, but Flash technology is still found in rich media like videos, games, and online publications, and 98 per cent of web-browsing desktops still support Flash plug-ins.

A key feature in Android 4.1 is that Google's new, Flash-less Chrome browser will replace the stock Android browser on tablets.

However in mobile browsers, Flash support is increasingly rare as companies push for HTML5 as the mobile web browsing standard. Adobe maintains that it pulled the plug on Flash because it realised it'll never reach the same level of ubiquity as on PCs, and last week Adobe told CNET that web standards match 80 per cent of Flash's functionality.

Apple realised this even earlier; it has famously blocked Flash since the beginning of the iPhone. Perhaps as a result, Flash gained something of a cult following among certain developers. Until Android 4.1, Flash represented a key point of differentiation between iOS and Android.

Google even supported it at one point. Back in 2010 when Google chairman Eric Schmidt launched the Droid X, he subtly dissed iOS's lack of Flash support by saying the Droid X was "not a toy, not just an app engine." Gesturing to executives from software partners like Adobe, who were standing behind him, Schmidt said devices needed such applications to properly execute multimedia.

Meanwhile the Metro UI browser in Microsoft's upcoming Windows RT will support Flash, Microsoft recently confirmed. The BlackBerry PlayBook will also continue supporting Flash.

Most HTML5-Ready Mobile Browser?

Ever since Adobe's warning last November, third-party Android browsers have completely evolved their messaging from multimedia performance to becoming more HTML5-ready.

Which browser actually renders HTML5 content the fastest, or most completely? According to a benchmark created by HTML5 industry body World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which runs browsers through a laundry list of standard specs, the most HTML5-ready Android browsers are:

  • Chrome: 369 points/500
  • Opera Mobile 12: 367
  • Firefox 14: 311
  • Stock Android browser: 281
  • Maxthon Android Web Browser 2.6: 280
  • Safari (iOS): 324

Meanwhile, on Monday, Mozilla announced release dates for its standalone, HTML5-based mobile operating system, now called Firefox OS. It will ship out in early 2013 in Brazil on devices manufactured by TCL Communication Technology and ZTE.

The OS is part of Mozilla's open-source Boot to Gecko project and boasts a super light footprint and low manufacturing costs.