Apple Caves on Flash
by Mark W. Hibben
Well, Sort of
A little over four months since Jobs published his “Thoughts on Flash” which carefully explained why Adobe’s Flash cross platform development tool would not be allowed to create iOS apps, Apple has officially announced the lifting of this ban. After reading through the new Apple developer agreement, I can say that the new policy is not a complete lifting of the ban. For instance, it will not be possible for third party web browsers to provide Flash enabled browsing, unfortunately. Apple requires that all “interpreted code” or “scripts” be packaged in a self-contained application and forbids applications that download or install code or scripts. So Flash based applications can be ported to iOS, but Flash on the Web is still verboten to iPad and iPhone users. If this seems a little ridiculous, take heart, Apple’s newly found pragmatism regarding Flash will almost certainly lead to further concessions. Given the pace of adoption of Flash 10.1 in the Android universe as well as Android’s burgeoning market share, it shouldn’t be long before Apple iOS users will be able to view Flash web sites, draining their batteries as they see fit.
An Ill-Conceived Strategy
Picking a fight with Adobe over Flash and driving them into the waiting arms of Google and the Android OS camp was never a particularly good idea. Indeed, it seems to have arisen from a fit of pique on Jobs’ part rather than a well thought out strategy in the War for Mobile Internet Supremacy (WMIS).
Perhaps back when I wrote The Flash Debacle, Apple didn’t yet realize they were fighting a war, but I’m sure they have by now. In any war, one must choose one’s battles carefully, and Flash was always the wrong battle to fight. Depriving iPad and iPhone users of Flash was only going to be seized upon by Apple’s competitors as a deficiency to be exploited, and all of the competing mobile operating systems, Android, Windows Phone, and even Symbian, have jumped on the Flash 10.1 bandwagon.
Declaring that Flash was a “dying and obsolete technology” failed to make it so, primarily because virtually all of the world’s desktop and laptop computers, including Windows and Mac OS, run Flash. Apple simply didn’t have the clout or market share to will Flash out of existence, and the declarations of obsolescence merely came off as wishful thinking. Except, of course, to the Apple zealots who embraced Jobs’ rants as gospel, and viciously attacked in Apple Forums anyone who disagreed, as I described in Through the Apple-Glass. That the issue of Flash ever became a matter for political correctness in the Apple community I still find appalling, although it’s not surprising that so many of the Tech Paparazzi joined in the eulogy for Flash, wishing to seem wise. With this change in Apple direction, I don’t doubt that the zealots will perform the necessary mental contortions to embrace the new orthodoxy: Flash on the Web - BAD, Flash in iOS apps - GOOD! Although I doubt it will have much meaning for these people, the term doublethink comes to mind.
Bowing to the Realities
The reality is that Flash is just software, and if it works, and works on your platform of choice, then it can’t be obsolete. Flash works for most people, perhaps not perfectly or with the level of performance they might want. Despite Apple pushing HTML5, no one really rushed to pull Flash Player from their computers, and almost everyone wanted Flash capability on their mobile device, if they could get it. Given the size of the Android user community, and the release of Flash Player 10.1 for Android 2.2, Apple found itself being left behind while pretentiously claiming to be leading.
Furthermore, Flash developers who use Adobe Creative Suite for the Mac were fuming. It’s been difficult enough for them to stay loyal to the Mac platform all these years without being pissed on by Jobs himself. And Creative Suite 5 is a wonderful set of digital content creation tools, as I can attest from personal experience.
Yes, there is still a performance deficiency in the Flash implementation for Mac OS X, which Apple users shouldn’t have to live with. I proposed the constructive, non-confrontational approach to this back in The Flash Debacle, which is for Apple to help Adobe cooperatively to work through the performance issues for the Mac. This was derided by Apple zealots at the time who asked rhetorically, “Why should Apple help Adobe fix Adobe’s problems?” The answer, which should have been obvious at the time, I’ll now make explicit: because it’s in the best interests of Apple, and Apple’s customers, to do so.