So the iPad hits the stores tomorrow and horror or horrors – it doesn’t support Flash. As an AJAX developer, I’m actually rather happy about this, and from an entertainment point of view, am enjoying the over-the-top barbs that Steve Jobs has thrown at Adobe (not to mention Google). But in all of the uproar over there not being Flash on the iPhone or iPad… has anyone even noticed that there is no Silverlight or JavaFX, not to mention Java? Where’s the love! Not that there hasn’t been enough opinions on why there’s no plugins on the iPhone or iPad, but I do have a few thoughts on the subject.
First of all, it’s not entirely true that Flash doesn’t work on the iPhone – it doesn’t work on the browser. Flash does work on the apps, and in fact, Adobe CS5 will have an iPhone app exporter. But it doesn’t work on the iPhone-Safari, and why that is, is the matter of the speculation.
Flash has a long history of crashing the Mac, and there are utilities that have been created just for blocking “evil” Flash to prevent this. Apple recently upgraded Mac-Safari to 64 bit, but in order to do it, they had to run plugins in a separate process since most are 32 bit, including Flash, which Adobe cannot control, only isolate. However, the iPhone is 32 bit, and as near as I can tell, the iPad is as well. So 64 bit is not the reason. Certainly there is a plausible case to be made for Flash crashing the browser. Apple does not support Flash because it is so buggy, Jobs says. Whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it’s because of Flash.
Jobs has also said that the desktop version of Flash runs too slowly on the iPhone, the cellphone version of Flash isn’t functional enough, and “there’s this missing product in the middle” that would presumably run fast enough for the iPhone while retaining enough functionality. Additionally, I’ve heard that the look and feel of the UI was to be protected and this couldn’t be done by allowing Flash-based anything-goes sites. Not sure about that… how can anyone live with an Internet that doesn’t let you see THIS?
Jobs has also said it’s buggy, a CPU hog, full of security holes and would change the battery life from 10 to 1.5 hours. And he called it a dying technology, comparing it to the floppy drive. No one will be using Flash, he says. The world is moving to HTML5.
Finally, it’s been speculated that allowing Flash on would have enabled too powerful of online applications and steal precious sheckles away from the App Store.
So what’s the truth?
I don’t miss Flash at all on the iPhone. I’ve probably run into the broken plugin a handful of times in the three years I’ve owned it. But the iPad is a different animal. It’s not a phone, it’s not desktop computer, and it’s not even a laptop. The iPad is a browsing device. It’s for games, movies, pictures, and the web. And whether Jobs likes it or not, the web includes Flash… and Silverlight and Java (not so sure if that includes JavaFX. If there are any JavaFX sightings, let me know :) )
All of the above accusations are more than likely true but should also be taken with a grain of salt. In spite of the recent good will and open sourcing of Flash, Adobe is no saint and has a history of litigation and being too vigilant with the software police, so its easy to understand that Apple has bad blood with them and is probably fed up with the money and resources spent to keep Flash working on its platforms. In fact it reminds me of Google giving up in trying to support IE on Google Wave.
Given that, it’s my guess that Jobs and Apple are simply drumming up publicity with the anti-Flash stance. Good for them, bad for Adobe. And its publicity that will undoubtedly get many developers on their side as well – developers for whom Apple would like using not Flash, but the HTML5 technology that they’ve worked so hard on in WebKit.
But in the end it’s my guess that we will eventually see Flash on the iPhone and the iPad. I think currently what we are witnessing is Jobs giving Adobe a whooping for being lazy in addressing these and other long standing issues. It’s currently a game of chicken, and both sides will eventually reach a compromise. Especially because the iPad is an Internet browsing device, and while the iPhone could have lived without it, the iPad is going to have a much different, less tech-savvy audience – an audience that won’t give a crap about HTML5, they’ll just want to know why so many websites are broken.