Elance Blog

Did Apple’s iPhone and iPad Kill Flash?

Rumors of Flash’s impending death have been greatly exaggerated, but according to recent headlines, the Cupertino mobile devices giant is looking to singlehandedly shift online rich media content from the Adobe Flash platform to HTML5, CSS, and Javascript with its mega popular iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad devices. But why?

Last week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs published a 1,500+ word article titled “Thoughts on Flash” highlighting his and Apple’s collective decision to continue to leave Adobe’s Flash technology off of their products. His argument details six main reasons, which include (from Apple.com):  

  1. Adobe Flash is a 100% proprietary product that is not open and is completely controlled by Adobe.
  2. While most online video is Flash based, H.264 is a more modern alternative that is widely available.
  3. Flash has significant reliability, security, and performance issues. (He even claims the number one reason why Macs crash is due to Flash.)
  4. Flash technologies require software decoding, thus eating an unnecessarily large amount of battery life.
  5. Flash was designed in a world when input devices simply comprised of mice and keyboards and not touch.
  6. The most important reason to Jobs: Flash is a third-party layer of software that hinders the progress of development and the platforms it resides on, like the iPhone OS, for example.

While most of these arguments can be seen as thoroughly valid points, several of them can be fiercely debated, and recently, some of them have been.

First, Flash is neither entirely proprietary or entirely open – according to an article from Fast Company. Certain aspects of Flash are open source, like the SWF and FLV video formats and the Flex SDK, and some are not, like Flash IDE. But why the accusation of open vs. closed? Fast Company writes, “The open-vs.-closed argument isn't really what we're talking about here, anyway: Jobs only mentions it to negate the accusations that iPhone OS is 'too closed.' His real problems are technological (like battery life and touch).”

Second, regarding Jobs’ fourth point, ReadWriteWeb put together an in-depth look at the performance consumption with interesting results. In a nutshell, if Flash is given access to graphics hardware, then it can be as efficient or even more efficient in many cases. From ReadWriteWeb: “Here's what this all means in layman's terms: Apple isn't allowing Flash to become more efficient on their Mac OS X/Safari platform (or their iPod/iPhone/iPad one, either) by not providing the access to the hardware it needs to reduce its CPU load. Adobe is waiting and watching to see if they do, but, as Ozer says "the ball is in Apple's court."

Despite the validity of arguments and counter-arguments published on the web, several members of the technology community are currently alluding to a hidden truth behind Apple’s interest in the matter: It’s not that third-party apps will muck up the experience on the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, and it’s not the fact that battery life will significantly decrease. It’s Apple’s interest in continued control and oversight of all rich media content throughout Apple’s hardware ecosystem.

Author Charlie Stross shares this on his personal blog. The App Store and the iTunes Store have taught Steve Jobs that ownership of the sales channel is vital. Even if he's reduced to giving the machines away, as long as he can charge rent for access to data (or apps) he's got a business model. He can also maintain quality (whatever that is), exclude malware, and beat off rivals. A well-cultivated app store is actually a customer draw. It's also a powerful tool for promoting the operating system the apps run on. Operating system, hardware platform, and apps define an ecosystem.”

The overall outlook for Adobe isn’t exactly peachy, according to a new report featured on TechCrunch. A significant population of businesses and other content creators have already shifted their investments of time, resources, and money into ensuring their content is properly viewable in a mobile platform (read: iPhone) by utilizing the H.264 codec over Flash video.

Now, Flash video isn’t the only piece in this puzzle, as there are tons of other Flash-dependent interactive experiences on the web that still exist (casual gaming being one of the biggest). Additionally, Adobe Flash and its related technologies continue to be some of the most highly demanded skills by businesses on Elance, according to the Online Talent Report,  So the truth behind the matter, much to Jobs’ dismay, is that Flash won’t be disappearing into oblivion anytime soon.

However, even if journalists, the media, influencers, CEOs, and self-proclaimed pundits reveal the true motives behind Apple’s decisions to leave Flash in the digital dust, all of the he-said-she-said mudslinging will ultimately result in a moot point. The winner of this battle and the supposed impending expiration date of Flash will be determined by consumers. And with the iPad reportedly reaching the “1 million sold” milestone in record time, it appears that the consumers are speaking very clearly.

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