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  • Apple and Flash: Still Missing in Action

    October 5th, 2009

    I have to wonder just what Apple is thinking by not coming to an agreement with Adobe over putting Flash on the iPhone. Just this week, Adobe has announced a new version of Flash, version 10.1, which will support loads of smartphone platforms. The press release mentions upcoming support for Palm’s WebOS, Google Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian and even Research in Motion.

    Nowhere does Adobe mention Apple or the iPhone.

    Now it’s a sure thing Steve Jobs has been quite skeptical of Flash. He pointed early on to the inferior performance of the existing mobile version and voiced concerns about excessive battery use. Not mentioned, of course, is the fact that Flash is probably the number one (with a bullet) cause of browser-related crashes.

    Yes, you could tell Web developers to simply stop using Flash and look for other ways to embed multimedia content, but the reality isn’t so easily handled. There are literally millions of those sites around the world, and every single one of them will fail to render properly on an iPhone and iPod touch.

    We’ve recently removed all the Flash-based navigation bars on our sites except for the one devoted to the science fiction novel, “Attack of the Rockoids.” There hasn’t been enough time to rejigger that site to drop the Flash content, which includes a special video introduction when you first access the site.

    However, even our other sites aren’t entirely free of Flash. Our forums are configured to let you embed multimedia, from YouTube and dozens of other sources. But they arrive requiring Flash, and thus you can’t view them yet on your iPhone. Worse, it doesn’t seem as if there will be an early resolution to that dilemma.

    For its own smartphone platform, Apple has worked with Google to provide an alternate method of viewing YouTube content, using the industry-standard H.264 video codec that’s part of QuickTime. It does quite well.

    Indeed, here is where Apple on the one hand, and Adobe and Microsoft on the other, remain far, far apart. Microsoft is notorious for wanting to enforce its own proprietary standards upon the industry, standards that, in many cases, would allow them to collect royalties. This is part and parcel of their ongoing efforts to control digital content. Adobe wants you to use Flash and its other standards, although some, such as PDF, have become open protocols.

    While Apple is often accused of the very same nefarious behavior, in large part they are dealing with technologies that are available to any tech company. QuickTime is an amalgam of industry standards and Mac OS X puts a proprietary graphical interface and other features atop a rich selection of open source software. WebKit, the rendering engine for iTunes and Safari, is also used by lots of third parties. Even Google’s Chrome browser uses WebKit.

    But that doesn’t change the dilemma that Apple is going to have to confront sooner or later. Failing to provide Flash support on the most popular smartphone browser platform not he planet may have a solid basis. It could very well be that Steve Jobs was quite correct about the shortcomings of Flash’s mobile platform, although one might hope that most of those concerns are being addressed in the new version just announced by Adobe.

    But that doesn’t mean that you and I should suffer as a result. Why should it be necessary to avoid Flash-based sites, or see them with reduced compatibility and lots of missing parts just because Apple and Adobe can’t find a way to make the technology function reliably? That’s their fault, not mine, not yours.

    Sure there may be plenty of blame to share among all the offenders for this silly situation. There may indeed by various and sundry technological hurdles that need to be overcome before Flash can run acceptably on the iPhone platform without hurting compatibility, security and even battery life. However, both Apple and Adobe have lots of supremely talented software engineers that, if put to work, ought to be able to address the problem in a way that satisfies all of the concerns voiced by Steve Jobs.

    In the meantime, I suppose there’s not much you and I can do — except perhaps to submit lots of feedback to the two companies asking them to work out their differences and resolve the Flash dilemma forthwith.

    The prospects of encouraging or forcing Web designers to give up their affections for Flash are next to nil. It’s not fair to them or to the visitors to their sites who have to endure this unfortunate state of affairs

    Sure, I suppose it’s also possible to just insist that people who want to view Flash-based content simply not do it on an iPhone or iPod touch and be done with it. That may seem an all-too-convenient solution. But it’s not one that seems reasonable.

    It doesn’t matter to me whether Flash is good, bad, or just prevalent. I’d like to see Flash content on my iPhone and I don’t care what these companies have to do to make it so. What’s more, to make matters even more confusing, this article from TechCrunch seems to hold out hope that Flash can be used by developers to build iPhone apps, though Adobe is clearly not taking the next step, which is direct support for Flash on the iPhone.

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