Flashtastrophy - Flash and the iPad

One result of the iPad announcement is the Jerry Springer-like feud between Adobe and Apple over Flash support on the iPad and iPhone. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the iPad doesn’t support the Flash plug-in in Mobile Safari.

Apple’s public reason for this is that Flash sucks. I tend to agree. Flash stems back to 1996 and, while it empowers web designers to add many bells and whistles to their sites, it also enables them to cripple my browser. While Apple has not said this publicly, Steve Jobs reportedly said as much at an Apple Town Hall Meeting after announcing the iPad. I don’t need any Apple crash reports to verify this; I see it on my own Mac. The lack of Flash stability is a big reason why the web is moving on with the .h264 and html5 standards.

Another reason I suspect Apple is distancing itself from Flash is the fact that Flash is Adobe’s proprietary code and the only proprietary code Apple wants on its mobile devices is its own. Some pundits have seized on this to claim Apple is trying to foist its own Quicktime format on people but I don’t think so. There have been no such overt moves and Apple seems more interested in the open html5 standard which does not match Flash’s feature set (yet) but is open and less prone to throttle your browser.

Adobe’s reason for wanting Flash on Apple mobile devices is simple. There are a lot of them. The more devices that turn their back on Flash, the less likely developers are to use it. Flash then losses its ubiquity. Today, Flash’s CTO, Kevin Lynch, explains, in essence, the ball is in Apple’s court. Apparently Adobe doesn’t realize or is ignoring the fact that Apple is not in the court. Indeed, Apple is not even in the stadium. Interestingly, the Lynch article also talks about how the web should be “open.”

We strongly believe the Web should remain an open environment with consistent access to content and applications regardless of your viewing device,

I’m not sure how that makes sense while Flash remains proprietary (closed) code.

Regardless, this issue is now very exciting and subject to much public gnashing of teeth. I think a significant portion of the “No Flash=No Purchase” posts/rants/comments are disingenuous. There are a lot of people that for reasons, both rational and irrational, want the iPad to fail, miserably. These folks had their posts written before January 27 and were simply waiting to fill in the blank on the fatal missing features.

For those genuinely upset about the absence of Flash, I think they should not be surprised given Apple’s prior exclusion of Flash. To those people I would first ask, “Do you really need Flash? Really?” Last year I installed Click2Flash on my Mac. This application stops all Flash code in its tracks unless you specifically allow it. Immediately after installing it, I witnessed a noticeable speed increase and stability improvement in Safari. I’ve also discovered it is a very rare case when I actually need to click to see a flash box. Whatever I’ve lost in the display of colorful (and distracting) advertising has been gained in clock cycles and stability.

The fact is, content creators don’t care about a religious war over browser plugins. They will use whatever will get their content before people’s eyes. That means they will code to the open standards if that’s what it takes. Sadly, it won’t be long before even Adobe’s listed pornography site will work just fine without Flash. Finally, If the availability of Flash is that important to you, don’t buy an iPad. There will be countless “iPad Killers” released in the next year chock full of Flash and other code to slow you down.

Another casualty of Apple’s removal of Flash is the loss of Flash gaming. This also seems to me a straw man argument. All of the internet Flash games I’ve ever experienced are largely keyboard based and I don’t see them translating well to a tablet device. Furthermore, there is the App store that includes many free mind-numbing games, many of which are direct ports of their Flash counterparts.

The scrap heap of technology includes many items Apple was “crazy” to abandon. Unless Adobe takes extreme measures to change course, in the not so distant future I suspect Flash will be sitting there right next to a dusty floppy drive.