Archive for May, 2010

Apple Computer vs. Adobe Flash

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Apple Culture

On and on and on it goes… What did Flash ever do to Apple? Why is Apple forbidding Flash from playing in its sandbox? Adobe cried foul last week scrapping plans to include a feature in Flash CS5 that would allow apps created in Flash to be compiled for the iPhone, iPod and iPad…  this after Apple added a clause to its Developers Agreement that prevents applications created this way to pass muster for inclusion at the App Store.

Flash content has of course never been available on Apple’s mobile devices. Adobe has publicly stated repeatedly that this fact keeps iPhone users from experiencing the “full web”… claiming that Apple is engaged in a power grab seeking to exclude all outsiders from profiting from the App Store while keeping its content homogenous and under its control.

At first glance this would seem a valid suggestion, but in a rare post at Apple.com, Steve Jobs laid out not one, but six reasons why you’ll never see Flash content on any of Apple’s mobile devices. You can read about it in detail here at the original post, but in summary;

First, Flash is 100% proprietary, completely controlled by Adobe. Although many aspects of the Apple experience is proprietary as well, all aspects that pertain to the internet are “open”, as in open source (free and publicly supported). The future of the web on Apple devices will embrace the trinity of open web standards; HTML 5, CSS and Javascript.

Second, Adobe claims Apple users are missing the “full web” because 75% of video on the web is in the Flash format. What they don’t say is that all that video is also available in the more modern h.264 format, which was developed by Apple and is emerging as the uncontested front-runner for the video compression standard within HTML 5.

Third, there’s reliability, security and performance. Flash consistently gets poor security marks (it’s easy to hack), it’s the number one reason a Mac crashes and it’s a proven fact that it runs very slowly on all mobile devices, not just Apple gear. All these problems once seemed curable, but at this point, they’ve lingered for years and years.

Fourth is battery life. Mobile devices need to decode video in hardware, decoding in software uses too much power. Many of the chips in modern mobile devices ship with an inline h.264 decoder. These are an industry standard found in every Blu-ray DVD player and have been adopted by Apple, Google (You Tube), Vimeo, Netflix and on and on. Flash video requires an older generation decoder that initiates from the Flash Player plug-in, which is software. On an iPhone, h.264 video will play for 10 hours on a single charge, video decoded by software kills the battery in about 5 hours… striking difference. Video encoded in h.264 can be played natively on HTML 5 compliant browsers such as Apple’s Safari or Google Chrome without the use of any cumbersome plug-ins. It can be said that getting rid of plug-ins (like Adobe Flash) is one of the major goals of HTML 5.

Fifth is interface. Flash was designed for the desktop era of PC’s using mice, not for touch screens using fingers. Most every existing Flash site is coded to respond to rollovers, the action of hovering the mouse over a target on the screen. This indicates that even if Apples devices supported Flash, every Flash application out there would have to be re-written to support touch… so if you were going to do that, why not just code your project in HTML 5 which is an open standard and not proprietary?

And sixth is a bit more abstract, but certainly something Apple has learned from 3 decades of innovation… which is, “allowing a third party layer of software to come between developers and the platform ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform”. In other words, features that are added to the iPhone/iPod/iPad by Apple, couldn’t be realized by developers using Flash to develop, until Adobe decided to include that functionality in one of their updates.

This last one was the only one I really needed to hear… For me, 20 years of working with software has definitely proven this to be true. Apple and Macintosh have always remained my platform of choice because they’re designed so damn well. They also own innovation, giving me OS features today that my PC brethren won’t see for five years. Add to this the fact that a Mac rarely crashes… ironically, the only apps that ever crash on my Mac are Adobe apps (if I had a dollar for every time Photoshop has crashed I’d be retiring… sho’nuff).

This rock-solid performance is brought to us courtesy of Apple being as proprietary as they are. Comparing a Mac to just about any other platform is all the proof that’s needed. For that reason I’ve never doubted the vision of Steve Jobs, that cat knows what he’s doing… He was the one who started it all and he was the one that came back and saved it… and in-between he developed what would become OSX and founded Pixar Animation. No matter where your loyalties lie, his genius can’t be denied…

Now I’m still using my original iPhone, my iPod is approaching its 6th Birthday and I’m yet to purchase an iPad… but I’m quite sure that these devices will all be part of my digital life for the foreseeable future… and it’s not because I’m an “Apple Fan Boy” as Mike DiMichele would put it… but rather I’m a designer of things, and as such I put a premium on things that are well-designed. If Steve Jobs thinks Adobe Flash’s days are numbered, I’m guessing he’s most likely correct… as he has been with so many other things that have been important to the philosophy of the platform that has fueled my career. Plus, as a designer I never really did enjoy creating web content with Flash… so much tinkering necessary to get things working like you need to see them… when I was turned on to open-standards a number of years ago, I put all those old structural tables as well as the Flash stuff away in a drawer and the only time I open that drawer these days is when a client insists on it.

Stay proprietary Apple (not like you need my blessing). All the haters are just jealous. You’re the best company the world has ever known… keep it that way…