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.

| Print This Article Print This Article

17 Responses to “Apple and Flash: Still Missing in Action”

  1. Jon Terry says:

    Please start a flash petition, I would like to view my flash web page from my iPhone.
    P.S. I couldn’t leave a comment from my phone for some reason.

    • @Jon Terry, Hmm. I presume you were viewing with our mobile version? I just want to figure this out.

      As to a petition, I think we need a wide level of cooperation to get that going. Readers?


      • Travis Butler says:

        @Gene Steinberg, I would start a petition to keep Flash OFF the iPhone. For several reasons:

        * The iPhone is currently a haven from the infestation of Flash ads across the ‘net. I want to keep it that way. Annoying Flash content outweighs Flash content I actually want to see by at least a 20:1 ratio, if not 100:1.

        * As others have noted, Adobe’s technical record on the Flash plug-in is questionable, at best. Bugs, crashes, resource hog, etc. etc. etc., you’ve heard it before, but it hasn’t changed in the two years that Flash-on-iPhone has been an issue and you’d have to be pretty darn persuasive to convince me that it won’t be a problem in the future. The Adobe 10.1 mobile announcement has exactly zero credibility for me until they can demonstrate technical quality – and not just on this release, but over a series of releases.

        * Likewise, you’re going to have to be awfully convincing to persuade me that simple performance on a mobile processor won’t be an issue. I’ve mentioned this before, but on the one mobile platform I’ve used that supports Flash – Nokia’s Internet Tablets – Flash is an utter dog. Runs at about 1/10 the speed of a MacBook Air, which is not exactly a speed demon.

        * At least in the browsing I normally do on the iPhone, ‘Flash required’ is almost a non-issue. Almost. I run into sites that need Flash to operate perhaps… once or twice a month? If that? By no means often enough to make it worth putting up with Flash the rest of the time. And the situation there has actually been improving in the two years since the iPhone’s release; I run into fewer of them now than I did then.

        * Even there, I’m not sure Flash-on-iPhone will help, though, because of the interface issues. The sites that need Flash to operate are the ones that use it for activities more complicated than playing animations… and that requires interface behavior that is going to be tricky if not impossible to duplicate on the iPhone. For example, many sites like that use ‘mouseover’ functions – where hovering the pointer over an area without clicking will do something. How do you do that on an iPhone?

  2. Karl says:

    I really haven’t run into an issue with it on my iPhone so it really doesn’t bother me that a Flash player isn’t available. With that said, I think Apple is wise to wait. This may finally get Adobe to deliver a version that isn’t resource hungry.
    Flash on the Mac has always been somewhat painful and would hate to have that experience transfer over to the iPhone.

  3. John says:

    The issue has multiple facets. From political to technical. The technical issues are minimal. If flash exists on the Mac, it’s a simple matter of recompiling it for the iphone and Apple distributing it with the iPhone’s OS.

    However, the bigger issue is the political one. If you think about it, why should Apple be nice to Adobe, Adobe is surely not nice to Apple. At one time, Adobe didn’t hesitate to drop support for the Mac and encourage its software users to move away from the Mac towards Windows (remember the Premier fiasco?).

    When will Adobe fix the Flash player for the Mac? It’s almost the buggiest piece of software on my Mac and the biggest resource hog. Why playing a flash file on Windows takes 7%-8% of the CPU while the playing same file uses 60% to 70% of the CPU on a Mac with identical power as the Windows one?

    Playing Flash contents on the Mac makes it look bad compared to Windows. Why should Apple support a platform that makes its own platform look bad? Why should any platform be at the mercy of another company?

    The least Flash contents that exists on the internet the better it is. Idiotic web developers shouldn’t be encouraged. The other day I went to a site that had all navigation links, which are no more than 40-50 pixels wide by 20 pixels high, made up with small flash files. They were static images that could have been .gif files. There were nearly 30 of those on the site’s home page. I noticed them because I have clicktoflash plug-in blocking flash. When I enabled flash and loaded the page, the memory consumption of Safari shot up by a couple of hundred MB. That is terrible. Such practices should be discouraged and your web site not being viewable on the most popular portable platform is a big discouragement.

    The internet should be built with open contents, not proprietary one. If Adobe wants flash on the iPhone, then Adobe should release Flash’s file format as an open specification and let Apple build the player themselves.

  4. Hairy Goomer says:

    I cannot stand Flash on my Macs. And Adobe’s tech service is abysmal. My wife uses Adobe Connect to conduct webinars, and when she has had issues with it, she has to speak with their tech support in India and often finds the male on the other treating her condescendingly, never mind having him repeat things multiple times. I think she spent at least two hours on her last go-round just to solve a single issue.

    Adobe can go crash and burn.

  5. KBeat says:

    I cannot stress this enough; keep Flash off of my iPhone! They found a solution for YouTube videos, they can find solutions for other content as well. Having seen what that ludicrously processor hungry app does to my MacBook Pro’s battery and performance, I don’t want it anywhere near my iPhone.

    • @KBeat, Asking developers to fix millions of sites to get rid of Flash is not terribly realistic. I’m not enamored with Flash either, but it’s not the fault of the people who built those sites that they simply used the tools at hand.


      • Brett says:

        @Gene Steinberg,
        Asking developers to stop coding websites requiring Internet Explorer was not terribly realistic either, but sure enough gradually they are coming around.

        Flash is a bloated sack of proprietary crap. It encourages the development of artsy-fartsy difficult-to-navigate and difficult-to-maintain sites. I’m willing to wait for HTML5 to replace Flash altogether.

  6. Kaleberg says:

    There are a handful of places where Flash makes sense, but for most people it is just an annoyance. I use Click2Flash so I don’t have to deal with it except in those rare cases when it does something I want, not just as distracting visual noise. (I run with sound off too, except when I want to listen to something. It is no more trouble to turn on Flash for the occasional video as it is to turn on sound for the occasional audio.)

    Given the popularity of tools for blocking Flash, I imagine that Apple is waiting for an iPhone version of Click2Flash before making Flash available. Knowing that Steve Jobs is a bit of a perfectionist, he probably wants something more than just a plebeian click for activating a Flash display. Perhaps Apple is working on a touchscreen technology for detecting one’s raised middle finger.

  7. Patrick says:

    Flash Must Die!

    I avoid any website that uses Flash. Please support anything and anyone who keeps Flash off of my iPhone.

  8. Lawrence Rhodes says:

    I don’t know why you have confidence in the ability of Adobe software engineers. On my 2.1 GHz G5, Flash CRAWLS. I can save the Flash video file and it works well in VLC and great in Perian. If Adobe were any good they’d be embarrassed enough to fix that.

  9. John Dowdell says:

    Hi Gene, it sounds like the biggest barrier to iPhone use is the inability of this version of Safari to accept Netscape Plugins. If these hooks were available, and if Apple permitted distribution, then iPhone would be able to match other devices.

    (I’m amazed by how many take the time to write that they don’t want to view something…. 😉


    • Travis Butler says:

      @John Dowdell,

      “(I’m amazed by how many take the time to write that they don’t want to view something…”

      If Flash were something you could ignore and not have it negatively impact your browsing experience, then maybe so many people wouldn’t be writing!

      Flash hogs memory, eats processor time and slows page loading and display tremendously, and IIRC was stated to be the #1 cause of browser crashes by Apple.

      Even if Flash performed superbly from a technical standpoint, Flash ads range from the benign (barely-noticable animation) to the annoying (bright, distracting and speed-eating animation) to the downright execrable (ads that eat your entire screen if you accidentally mouse over them).

      Gee, and you think people shouldn’t be writing in to say they don’t want to view them?

  10. James Katt says:

    Flash must DIE.

    Adobe is a poor company when it comes to designing non-resource hogging software.

    Flash crashes. Flash freezes. Flash is dog slow.

    If Adobe can’t make Flash run well without crashing on a Mac, why should Apple allow it on the iPhone?


  11. John Dowdell says:

    hmm, for those seeking the death of Flash, I’m not sure how to help, but this link has the best description I’ve seen: 😉


Leave Your Comment