Web developers like using Adobe’s Flash technology to deliver video, animation and interactive content over the Web. Apple doesn’t like Flash because it’s a proprietary system and because the runtime environment can be a resource hog.
Apple, like Microsoft, only likes proprietary specifications when it can control the spec itself. Otherwise, the company prefers open standards, such as the still-evolving HTML5.
That’s one reason Apple refused to allow Flash onto the iPhone and iPod touch devices—and won’t allow Flash onto the new iPad tablet computer. Given that the iPad can deliver an otherwise-excellent browser experience on its large screen, its lack of Flash hurts everyone.
In the short term, Apple is making life difficult for its customers, who can’t enjoy some Web content using the iPad’s Safari browser. Some consumers may refuse to buy the iPad because of the lack of Flash support. Web developers with Flash-based sites are faced with the choice of implementing a parallel content-delivery system (using a very immature HTML5) or risk alienating some potential end users. After all, most users will blame them—not Apple—if videos don’t play on their shiny new iPads.
The debate about Flash has been nasty, complete with public airings of nasty comments by Apple executives about Adobe’s products, and by Adobe staffers about Apple’s executives. This distracts from more interesting questions about the iPad. Like, what’s it for? Is the inexpensive single-purpose app paradigm replacing the familiar world of search engines and expensive broad-purpose applications? Is a vendor-controlled software approval and delivery platform better or worse for developers and consumers than a wide-open platform, like we have for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X?
In the long run, Apple is backing the right horse. Flash, like Apple’s own QuickTime or Microsoft’s Silverlight, is a transitional technology when it comes to the straightforward delivery of streaming content, like video, over the Web. The future of video belongs to wrapperless implementations like HTML5.
Apple has demonstrated, over and over again, that it’s willing to play the long game. The company is fearless in making discontinuous jumps, such as from Mac OS to Mac OS X, or from PowerPC to Intel, that hurt consumers and developers in the short term but offer huge benefits in the long term.
Often, Apple has sought to reduce the pain of those jumps. Early versions of Mac OS X (through 10.4) could run many Mac OS apps in its Classic abstraction layer. Until Snow Leopard, Intel-based Macs could run PowerPC applications in Rosetta.
The iPad is marketed as “the best way to experience the Web, e-mail, photos and videos.” Flash is the most common way Web developers stream videos. It’s a shame that the executives at Apple apparently didn’t want to work with Adobe to make Flash work, at least as a transition until HTML5 is more mature.
The public bickering and posturing around Flash and HTML5 has made Apple look like a bully. It’s also made Adobe look like a wimp. Nobody—nobody—is the winner here.
Alan Zeichick is editorial director of SD Times. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/zeichick. Read his blog at ztrek.blogspot.com.