So the news comes down this week that Adobe has at last updated Flash for the Mac to bring it closer in alignment to the Windows version at least in one key respect. There’s now limited support for H.264 hardware acceleration, but you have to wonder why it took them so long to get it done, and why only a limited number of Macs are supported.
Now which models are favored is also a question mark. Some stories specify the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, GeForce 320M or GeForce GT 330M graphics cards, ATI need not apply. Other reports are more expansive, claiming support applies to, according to Macworld, “MacBooks shipped after January 21, 2009; Mac minis shipped after March 3, 2009; MacBook Pros shipped after October 14, 2008; and iMacs shipped after the first quarter of 2009. The Mac Pro and MacBook Air are not supported at this time.”
But at least it’s a more comprehensive list, and millions of Mac users have at least some hope of taking advantage of the added support.
What this means in the real world is that Flash can use these graphics chips to render H.264 Flash-based videos, rather than do it in software. The end result is that less system resources are used and performance is much faster. Owners of portable Macs can see improved battery life.
Adobe is now quoted as stating: “I know it is frustrating for GPU chips which are not compatible. Again, understand that this decision was not made by us and is not in our hands. We do rely on the Video Decode Acceleration framework provided by Apple, which works on specific NVIDIA cards only today.
“For ATI cards, we will need to wait until the Video Decode Acceleration framework does handle those cards.”
So I suppose that means it’s really Apple’s fault, and Adobe still has problems building Flash for Macs, or just doesn’t care to help add that support. More to the point, you surely cannot expect Adobe to actually deliver a credible version for Apple’s mobile products.
At the same time, the it has now been confirmed that the European Union is joining with our FTC to investigate Apple’s refusal to support Flash-based development tools for the iOS. Now I am not about to address the legal implications. As a practical matter, I agree that Apple’s announced reasons, to ensure that iPhone and iPad apps are easily capable supporting new features, seem reasonable.
Adobe can cry crocodile tears about this all day long, but if their motives are strictly based on greed — the possible impact to sales if fewer Flash tools are sold — then I’d pay them no mind. Besides, I suspect most customers buy Creative Suite apps as bundles, not individual products. That being the case, they get Flash authoring tools whether they want them or need them. If Adobe gave up on Flash, they’d spend less R&D cash developing their apps, and it’s questionable whether they’d really lose that many sales.
Of course, I may be dead wrong. It may be that loads of people choose Flash Professional to the exclusion of a Creative Suite bundle and that could, potentially harm Adobe. Then again, they also need to justify to their stockholders the billions spent in acquiring Flash as part of the acquisition of Macromedia some years back. No sense writing off that investment.
If I sound cynical about the whole thing, it seems to me that Apple is reacting not just to the whims of their chief control freak, CEO Steve Jobs, but is clearly concerned over the fact that Adobe cannot be depended upon to build Mac software promptly, with acceptable performance and reliability. They’ve been late to the party again and again, and this new Flash update, which omits key models in the Mac product lineup when it comes to hardware support, is evidence yet again that Adobe is forcing Apple to play second fiddle to the Microsoft platform.
Indeed, Adobe has always had a way to convince everyone that Apple was wrong about excluding Flash from the mobile platform. All they had to do was demonstrate that they can build a working version running on the latest version of the iOS. As Apple developers, this ought to be a trivial matter for Adobe, and they can even provide YouTube videos to show it can be done.
Except that no such proof-of-concept exists. Yes, there is a version of Flash working on Google’s Android OS, but performance is erratic, according to published reports, and there’s little evidence Adobe would fare any better on Apple’s mobile OS,
On the other hand, when it comes to the decisions made by government officials about whether a company is anticompetitive, they might be looking at the overall potential for harm, particularly to Adobe, not whether Apple was forced to reach a decision based on Adobe’s inaction.
In the end, it’s always possible Apple will be ordered to accept Flash-based development tools, and even to allow Adobe to build an iOS version of Flash. In that event, Apple would have to comply, even if the product was sub-standard.
But I really don’t think it’ll come to that, and I hope I’m right.