In case you’ve been living under a rock: Apple isn’t particularly keen on Flash. They can’t control it, and the company claims it’s the number one cause of crashes on Mac OS X. Now that Steve Jobs is busy promoting the iPad to content providers, he’s also on the offensive against Flash.
Fail or win for the iPad will in part depend upon the amount of content Apple can deliver to its customers through the tablet device. As such, Jobs is making the rounds, talking to major content providers – print, mostly – to get them to publish their stuff on the iPad. The problem? Many print media like Flash and have invested in it. The iPad, obviously, doesn’t do Flash.
So, Jobs has a tough job ahead of him. He has to convince content providers of a number of things. First, that Flash is bad, evil, and will step on little kittens. Second, and probably much more troublesome, he has to convince the print media to invest a lot of money into switching from Flash to producing content in other ways – h264, HTML5, you name it.
Jobs was in full force in his dismissal of Flash while pitching the iPad at The Wall Street Journal, according to ValleyWag. He made the usual claims – Flash is slow, a resource hog, major attack vector, all things that are hard to disagree with. He also called Flash a dying technology (“We don’t spend a lot of energy on old technology.”), and compared Flash to floppy drives, old data ports, CCFL backlit LCD, and even the CD (what, CDs are dead technology now? I must’ve missed that memo).
Jobs also reportedly said that the iPad’s battery performance would degrade from 10 hours to 1.5 hours if it had to spend its time decoding Flash. However, as ValleyWag rightfully notes, the iPad wouldn’t reach its advertised 10 hour battery life when decoding regular video either. Still, Jobs’ point is valid: Flash is a resource hog, which hurts battery life. No secret there.
Where things start to get a little sketchy, however, is when Jobs said that leaving Flash would be “trivial”. ValleyWag explains quite well why ditching Flash would hardly be “trivial” to a publication the size of the WSJ:
I’m all for Jobs using his influence to promote web standards, but my fear is that, knowing Apple, this is much more about locking content to the iPad and iTunes than about promoting web standards and destroying Flash to make the web a better place. In the end, Apple is a company, and just like any other company, altruism doesn’t exist.
Still, if this brings Flash yet another step closer to the grave, then who are we to complain?
I’m really quite impressed (in an evil sort of way) that Apple has been able to define the terms of the debate about Flash on the iPad. There are three issues at stake here:
* Apple doesn’t ship Flash by default,
* Apple SDK agreement prohibits developers from bringing browsers that support Flash to the app store, and
* Installing software from non-app-store environments (excepting limited betas and internal corporate deployment) is a felony in the U.S., thanks to the DMCA.
Apple has managed to focus the media on the first of these issues, but it’s really irrelevant. Ubuntu doesn’t ship with Flash, but there’s nothing stopping me from installing it on my system if I wanted to. I don’t use Internet Explorer under Windows, so I had to install Flash separately for use with Firefox.
Of course, I also installed a Flash blocker (NoScript) because Flash is a buggy, laggy, insecure, and unnecessary blight on the browsing landscape. There are still sites that require it, so I have it installed for those sites and those sites only. This is a choice that I can make at my own discretion because I can install software of my own choosing on my computers.
Instead, Apple has removed this option from iPhone and iPad users with the force of U.S. criminal law, and all the media wants to talk about is how bad Flash is. For shame! I may not like Flash, but I will defend to the death iPad users’ right to run it on their own hardware.
This situation hasn’t changed since the iPhone was originally introduced. I recognize that it can be tiring to beat on this point without any real change, but the Flash issue, like the Google Voice application that Apple still purportedly continues to “study”, is ultimately the result of Apple’s app store restrictions. Please don’t forget that when discussing Flash on the iPad.