The iPad’s “Flash Forward”

apple vs flash - The iPad's "Flash Forward"

The news is out! The all new Apple iPad does not support Adobe Flash! Now, I know what you must be thinking, “I don’t know what Flash exactly is and I don’t understand what’s the big deal in iPad not supporting Flash?” Now before you run away from my blog let me keep things simple and explain everything.

Flash is a multimedia platform designed by Adobe which is used to add animation, videos and games on web pages. In even simpler terms, if you download videos from youtube.com they are mostly in .flv format i.e. Flash format. So does that mean if you open YouTube on the iPad, most videos won’t work? Absolutely right! They won’t work! And the same applies to many, many other websites.

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Next question, “why did Apple commit such a huge mistake?” Actually, it is not at all a mistake. In fact iPhone and iPod have never supported Flash too. Steve Jobs recently posted his thoughts on why iPad doesn’t support Flash content. Below are the six major reasons with little explanations that I have added,

1. Adobe Flash is a 100% proprietary product that is not open and is completely controlled by Adobe

Yes, we do get Flash free of cost but still Adobe has full rights over it so if Adobe decides, it can start charging Rs. 500 per month for Flash

2. While most online videos are Flash based, H.264 is a more modern alternative that is widely available

H.264 is just a new standard of video compression. Whenever you record a video it has to be compressed to some standard form, flv (i.e. Flash) is one of the standards which are used however Apple argues that H.264 is the next big thing and iPad supports H.264

3. Flash has significant reliability, security, and performance issues

In fact Apple even claims that the number one reason why Macs crash is due to Flash!

4. Flash technologies require software decoding, thus eating an unnecessarily large amount of battery life

So not using Flash will save battery life and hardware resources.

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5. Flash was designed in a world when input devices simply comprised of mice and keyboards and not touch

Basically, Jobs is trying to say that inputs from touch screen are different from that of keyboard and mouse thus Flash is not the right technology for touch screen inputs

6. Flash is a third-party layer of software that hinders the progress of development and the platforms it resides on, like the iPhone OS

For example – This means that Flash is like a mediator between the user and the operating system. According to Jobs, Flash hinders the progress of the operating system it is installed on which is the most important reason for iPad not supporting Flash

So these are the six strong points given by Steve Jobs himself. Officially, Adobe may be slow in responding to this but one of their employees on ‘The Flash Blog’ rightly points out the fact that millions of websites use Flash and without the Flash support, it would be foolish for Apple to claim that the iPad provides “ultimate browsing experience”. The image in the left shows how few websites look when you open them on the iPad, no flash content only the blue legos.

ipad without flash - The iPad's "Flash Forward"

Shocked? Did you see Farmville on the top? But wait before you make up your mind about not buying an iPad because Farmville is the only thing you do on the internet, Apple does have an answer to all this. According to Apple, many websites are now switching to HTML 5 content which is as good as Flash, take nytimes.com for instance. The video it has on its homepage is based on HTML 5. HTML 5 is just the new version of the language which does most of what Flash does i.e. presenting content dynamically. The iPad supports HTML 5 and most of the mobile versions of websites use HTML 5 instead of Flash. Actually, Flash and mobile phones have never been comfortable together. The simple reason being the amount of hardware, software resources and battery life Flash requires running on the mobile phones.

H.264 format gels very well with HTML 5 and thus HTML 5 has become the best way to deliver videos on mobile phones. Many web video providers are working to adopt HTML 5 not because Apple doesn’t support Flash but because it is the best suited format for smartphone (including iPhone) users. However, Adobe will soon launch an “iPhone packager for Flash”, a system that converts Flash into apps that can run on iPhone. So Adobe may soon come up with similar ‘packager’ for the iPad as well which may stop this shift from Flash videos to H.264 and Flash content to HTML 5.

But then, Steve Jobs certainly has a track record of knowing which technology is about to come to an end. He launched the iMac in 1998 without a floppy drive. I had not even seen a floppy disk and people hardly knew what it was during that time in India. Steve was smart enough to guess that floppies are coming to an end. MacBook Air, Apple’s slimmest laptop, comes without an optical drive. So, is Jobs right in judging that Flash’s time is over?

Personally, I don’t think Flash is dying anytime soon. But the new generation of web developers should probably think twice before using Flash on their websites. Even if the iPad fails (which is unlikely with the recent ‘1 million sold’ milestone) there is iPhone and other smart phones to worry about. The number of people using their phones to access the internet is increasing enormously. So either develop a separate mobile version of the website or use HTML 5 and H.264 videos to avoid compatibility issues. Who will emerge victorious out of this battle between Adobe and Apple will be decided by the consumers worldwide.

Finally, I thought the best way to conclude this blog was to add the video below,

5 thoughts on “The iPad’s “Flash Forward””

  1. Thanks for the comments Prasad. Onto your question, I still dont think it is a matter of survival for Flash. As I said Adobe can come up with a solution for this problem but it will do that once iPad proves out to be an earth shattering product just like the iPhone. So for the next 2 years till we get the final verdict on iPad, I dont think Flash will go anywhere.

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