Before the Apple press conference was over yesterday this image of a broken plug-in icon where Flash content should have been displayed was flying around the internet showing and the debate over why Apple refuses to put Flash technology on the iPhone, iPod Touch and now the iPad was reignited again. So what’s the real story behind all of this?
We have all heard the company line from Apple that they have not included Flash because they want to keep the platform stable and that is threatened by Flash because it is a resource hog and a security risk – which are both true. The problem is that it’s a convenient truth because the reality is that Apple could work with Adobe to fix the problem but it’s in their best business interest to keep Flash off their platforms. Flash represents a risk to their substantial revenue generated from people buying TV shows, movies, apps and games through iTunes. It would threaten their development community as the appetite for those paid apps and games would shrink. So while everyone points to Apple as the creative thought leader the reality is that they are just like any big business where a threat to their bottom line is takes priority over everything.
No one paying attention yesterday even started to believe Steve Jobs when he said things like “The iPad is the best browsing experience you will ever have.. better than a laptop” after seeing that broken plug-in icon. You can’t make a statement like that when you are going to exclude 70% of online games, 75% of video on the web and millions of other sites from that browsing experience. You can’t make that statement after you just made fun of Netbooks for being useless but they support Flash content.
All of that being said this isn’t a love letter to Adobe and a complete condemnation of Apple. They have have forced a conversation a lot of designers and developers have had for a while now that Flash is in trouble. It has really languished since Adobe purchased it most of the changes coming in the form of useless filters and changes to the coding language but real strides to move the platform forward. The Web experience is moving more and more onto mobile devices and HTML 5 looking to take a good sides bite out stranglehold on the ability to create rich experience. Flash is struggling for the answer to how it will be part of this new future. Last year Adobe launched the Open Screen Project with more than 50 partners to get Flash and Adobe technology working across all platforms and devices. It sounded good but they haven’t shown any breakthroughs and it leaves me feeling that it was more of a PR stunt to show how everyone is working with them but Apple.
For me the bottom line is that there are faults and flaws on both sides of the isle.
For Apple we will agree that Flash is a flawed technology but millions of people create or consume Flash sites every day and that makes it a standard online technology we want on a device like the iPad. In the past we have been willing to somewhat forgive the exlcusion of Flash on the iPhone and iPod Touch because on those devices they are used to having a mobile device browsing experience where they get lighter versions of sites and paired back content. But with the iPad experience you are moving from that small mobile device screen and mindset to a laptop like experience and that changes all the expectations of what the device will do. The compromise of no Flash content is no longer acceptable and you can’t hide behind the company line anymore. For many people, including me, it’s a deal breaker that’s going to keep a $729 iPad off your bottom line because you’re protecting $1.99 apps. To me that’s just bad math.
For Adobe you need to evolve your platform and respond to the challenge because Apple is imposing their will on you and they have changed the game with the iPhone. When I consult with any business that gets retail traffic I tell them to stay away from Flash because with the number of searches being done from an iPhone you don’t want to risk business customers not accessing your content but being able to get your competitors non-Flash content and winning out. As designers you have to give us a solution we can work with or we will be forced to walk away from you because we have chosen the success of our customers over nostalgia and platform penetration numbers.
For the rest of us another author said it better than I can when he wrote about this subject “We know some things are bad – quarterpounders, cigarettes, Jack Daniels and Flash animations – but we choose to consume them because the rewards frequently outweigh the risks.” Like with all products we vote with our wallets and we have a choice. Buy the device and accept the fact that Apple is restricting your choice and content or don’t and show them that we will like companies who take a creative leadership role just not at the cost of reshaping the online world solely for their bottom line.