NEWS FLASH: No Flash on the iPad!

April 2nd, 2010 by Mike Wilcox

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?

Conclusion

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.

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6 Responses to “NEWS FLASH: No Flash on the iPad!”

  1. Bill Mackin says:

    Hey,

    Good article and thanks for the link. I agree with you that Apple will eventually be forced to relent, but it will certainly be interesting to see how things unfold. While Adobe doesn’t appear to be doing much in the way of marketing and publicity, it certainly does sound like they are taking this seriously. Google’s recent announcement that Flash will now be incorporated directly into their Chrome browser, and no longer be a plug-in, shows they are investigating numerous solutions. If Mozilla & Microsoft were to do the same, things might get very interesting.

    In regards to Flash crashing the Mac, this certainly is true, but it is not for the reasons Apple is telling everyone. As the web continues to mature, websites are becoming more and more powerful. In fact, many people believe web based applications will replace desktop applications. Flash allows developers to create applications that are very powerful (similar to desktop apps), and for that reason Flash content is able to crash your browser just like a desktop application can crash your computer. No matter what technology you use, when that technology enables developers to do more powerful and more complex things you will run the risk of causing crashes, whether it is Flash, AJAX, JAVA or any other technology. The answer to this problem, is not to eliminate powerful tools from the web, but instead to leverage a solution Apple & Microsoft have already used on the desktop. Sand box each application so it is no longer able to crash the operating system. Google has already done this with Chrome, sand boxing each browser tab so a web page can not crash the whole browser. You can be sure that the next major revision of every browser will include the same functionality. So if Flash can no longer crash the browser, much less the operating system why would you need to kill it?

    Why kill Flash? Well I mentioned many reasons in my article, but there is one big one I didn’t include. Things are moving to the cloud, all the big software companies know it and they are already trying to position themselves. Apple realizes the apps of the future will be web based and whoever controls the development tools will be a force to be reckoned with. For Apple, it is clearly better to attack Flash now, before a majority of the apps you depend on daily rely on it. Don’t believe me? Than think about why Microsoft created Silverlight?

    - Bill Mackin

  2. Bob Byron says:

    I like the article, but I don’t think Apple will place Flash on the iPad. I think it is more likely you will see a flood of enterprises sprinting to get HTML5 based apps out the door as fast as they can in order to garner a large portion of market share. Bill also makes a good point about the cloud.

  3. Mike Wilcox says:

    @Bill: control makes sense. It’s not *really* about crashing – I’ve had iPhone apps that crashed the phone pretty damn hard.

    @Bob: You’re looking at the iPad from your own point of view. A flood of enterprises is a tiny portion of the web. Most sites that use Flash are not enterprise. My argument is that grandma and kids will be a majority of the user base. There will be growing discontent about all these broken sites.

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