A bitter new controversy is tearing the nation apart: of course, I’m speaking of the lack of Flash capability on the Apple iPad’s browser.
When Flash was originally left off the iPhone, Apple explained it as a concern over performance. Sounds pretty reasonable, as having complicated Flash apps with animation and video running on a mobile phone’s underpowered hardware could present some pretty intolerable performance issues.
Presumably the faster processor employed by the iPad renders the performance issue moot, but Flash is still missing.
The omission of Flash on a phone wasn’t ever such a big deal. The speed issue is real, and I’ve found that while the iPhone is about as good at rendering full-size Web sites as one can reasonably expect from a tiny device, I spend much more time looking at content specifically formatted for the small screen, whether through Web apps such as Google Reader’s mobile version or programs such as Instapaper or the NY Times app.
Users might miss Flash a lot more on the iPad, where they’ll be browsing all their favorite sites in their full-sized glory on a much more generously-sized screen. They’ll be likely to notice that videos on Hulu and mlb.com are gone and their Flash-based games like Farmville and Bejeweled ain’t working.
So? If users don’t like it, they don’t have to use the iPad, and if too many stay away, Apple can reconsider. Meanwhile, Flash makes Web sites bloated and sluggish, and it’s a proprietary format that is contrary the Web’s open ethos. For these and myriad other reasons, Flash sucks.
At the same time, browsers are gaining capabilities for handling video, vector graphics, and animation through the evolution of open Web standards. We’re not quite there yet, bit it’s time for Web sites to get away from Flash and move towards standards, as YouTube is doing.
So anyway, if Apple can’t use performance as an excuse anymore, why leave out Flash support on the Apple tablet? I’m sure they have their own reasons, and those reasons might not all have to do with furthering the welfare of Mankind. Apple gains nothing from bringing people content that depends on proprietary technology that Apple doesn’t control, so it makes sense for them to support open standards over Flash. And as a content gatekeeper, they certainly won’t mind if Hulu users end up buying the same shows on the iTunes Store.
But in this case, Apple’s self-interest coincides with encouraging content providers to make better Web sites. So if they want to freeze Flash out of the iPad, good for them, and good for us.