Apple: “You don’t need Flash”
If there was any doubt about Apple’s stance on Adobe Flash before Wednesday’s keynote, you can kiss that goodbye. During the keynote, Steve Jobs was casually browsing the web (it was a bit awkward, actually) and he spent a few minutes on the New York Times site. As he scrolled down the page, there was a large box with the all-too-familiar blue cube signifying that the Flash plugin was missing. The audience chuckled and Steve paused for a while, leaving the “Flash failure” on the big screen. Although he never mentioned anything about it, it was very clear that Steve was not trying to hide anything. It’s almost as if he wanted everyone to know that the iPad will not support Flash. For the last 3 years, critics have complained about the lack of Flash on the iPhone and it appears as though Apple is still unwilling to budge on the issue. I believe that Apple is trying to send a clear message: “You think you need Flash, but you really don’t. Try it.”
I’ve been using my iPhone for the last 18 months and I can honestly say that there have been very few occasions where I have been burned by the lack of Flash. Most of the web-related things I do on my phone are actually through third-party apps and I don’t spend that much time using Safari. As a result, the lack of Flash is definitely not something I think about on a regular basis. Now on my mac, it’s a completely different story. Nearly every website I visit has some type of Flash content. A majority of the videos I watch on the web are Flash videos, and there are TONS of ads that are built using Flash. If you took away the Flash plugin on my MacBook, the web would feel like a very different place. This is a problem. The iPad has been pitched to us as the “perfect web-browsing machine”. The entire reason I want one is so that I can lounge around on the couch or in bed and surf the web and watch videos. The screen on the iPad really opens up the browsing capabilities and makes the lack of Flash a glaring omission. So, is this why the internet is throwing such a hissy fit? Partly. I think there are also a lot of people out there who feel the need to latch onto a “flaw” and beat it like a dead horse. It’s almost cool to joke about the iPhone/iPad not supporting Flash. But before you get disappointed, there’s still some good news.
I think Apple is being a bully here. They are making a very bold statement to content providers out there on the web: “If you want to play on the Apple devices, you need a Flash alternative.” As the market share and even more importantly, the mind share, of Apple products continue to grow it’s going to become really hard for content providers to ignore Apple. Last week both YouTube and Vimeo made a point of reminding the internet that they have pilot HTML5 video players available on their site. This allows anyone to watch most videos using just a modern HTML5-capable browser (except Firefox). With these industry leaders taking charge on the HTML5 video front, I expect many other sites to follow. Earlier today I spoke with the web guy from a favorite site of mine, Freeskier.com, to ask him what his plans were for the custom Flash player they are using. He informed me that they need to re-configure their videos to use the .m4v format instead of HD Flash and that they would be charging ahead with this in the next few months. I think by the time the iPad is released, we will see many sites providing these type of alternatives for their users who prefer (or can’t) use Flash.
As you might imagine, there are a lot of politics going on here. Adobe and Apple are battling it out for control over the content. Apple wants full control over their device and the ability to tweak anything and everything. By allowing the Flash plugin on the iPad, they are opening themselves up to possible performance issues, crashes, and other issues. Have you seen Flash on the Mac? It’s not pretty, it’s loud. Adobe seems to be pretty bitter about the whole thing. I suspect that they are starting to get concerned about the future of their platform as Apple (and Google) continue to push HTML5 as a better alternative. Futhermore, Apple’s recent purchase of Quattro allows them to setup a robust ad platform for the iPad and iPhone. This will provide a nice alternative for advertisers who were primarily relying on Flash as their preferred format for publishing ads. As the situation continues to heat up month after month, I really don’t see Apple giving in any time soon.
Still want to learn more? Check out @gruber’s excellent post “Apple, Adobe, and Flash” which dives into some of the technical (and political) reasons for the performance issues with Flash on the Mac and other interesting tidbits.
Update Adobe posts another anti-iPad blog post. Boy are they scared!
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