Why Apple is Right to not support Flash on iOS

One of the most often criticized ‘flaws’ of the iPad or iPhone for that matter is it’s inability to play flash. How can something described by the Apple marketing gurus as the best way to experience the Internet not allow the user to experience all the joy that comes from watching a kitten dance on youtube or the trailer for an upcoming movie? Friends deciding on which tablet to purchase, would often play around with my iPad but then inevitably ask one of two questions. “But why can‘t it play Flash videos?” or ” Where is the USB connection port?”.
YouTube App on iPad
To answer the latter simply, there is no USB port on the iPad yet there were adaptors for the iPad 1 that allowed an external camera to be connected to it but those adaptors arguably became obsolete with the inclusion of onboard cameras on the iPad 2. Unless you need to store images from your actual digital camera. The transfer of media and files to the iPad can also be accomplished via iTunes, the cloud or some apps that allow wireless transfer via FTP.
The former question is one I myself thought about quite a lot before buying my iPad. At the time it seemed to dominate the discussion with most reviews of the iPad focusing on this ‘shortcoming’ and some Apple fans even starting Facebook fan pages trying to show the stubborn Apple execs that there is a strong market for Adobe flash support on the iPad. The android fanboys were also quick to criticize Apple for it’s non adoption of an open market philosophy. One would have been forgiven, amongst all this hype, for thinking that Apple could not incorporate Flash into it‘s device. I decided that I hardly watch videos on the web so the lack of flash support on the iPad was not a deal breaker for me.
I raise the issue, rather belatedly , because I had always answered this inevitable criticism about the lack of support for flash with some muttering about how it ensures a better battery life. Talking about things like support for HTML5 to non-tech people is like explaining to a “˜Trekkie‘ (Star Trek fan) why the Star Wars prequels were a waste of celluloid i.e Pointless. Recently however, I realised that although I am not one to watch random videos on youtube, there are often links to videos on Facebook or Twitter and I have been happily watching by merely pressing the Play button at the centre of the clip. How was this possible?

Rather than try to explain what I discovered when I searched for an answer to this mystery, allow me to direct you to the man himself, former CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs reasoning behind the lack of Flash support on the iPhone and iPad. One could argue that that is like getting the devil to argue the case for fornication but it just appears logical (in much the same way as I suspect the devil would appear logical in his arguement). The main points appear to be the following:

  • The common misconception that flash is an “œOpen“ system whereas it is 100% proprietary (owned and controlled by Adobe) by any definition.
  • Apple has adopted HTML5, CSS and Javascript – all completely open standards that are also supported by Google and others
  • Adobe‘s claim that the iPad and iPhone are unable to experience the “˜full web‘ since 75% of the video on the web is flash. This is untrue (and the answer to my mystery), as most video is also available in a more modern format H.264 which is viewable on iOS devices.
  • The infamous “˜battery life‘ reasoning. The reasoning behind this is that to achieve longer battery life, video should be decoded in hardware (H.264 decoder on mobile chip) rather than in software, and
  • Because Flash was designed for PC‘s using mice, not touch screen using fingers

The intention of this post is not to support Apple products (which I suppose it indirectly does) but merely to correct the common misconception out there that iOS devices are not capable of accessing the “œfull web“ and the reasons behind why Adobe Flash is not supported in iOS. Web developers are catching on to this and slowly but surely the web is quickly switching to open standards that are accessible by any device. Just as Apple has done before, they forced the entire industry to do a rethink of the web going forward.
Regardless whether you support Apple or not, we will all benefit from this. The future of the web is open, and we do not need that choke-hold of proprietary standards like Flash.