Adobe vs. Apple or Flash vs. HTML5
Any of you watching the recent iPad coverage may already know that the iPad not only does not support Flash, there is no intention on the part of Apple to support Flash. Granted, the iPhone doesn’t support Flash, but neither do most other mobile devices. iPhone users had been complaining about this for a while and Apple cited its policy toward acceptance of software from third-party manufacturers as a reason not to expect it (“Why Apple Won’t Allow Adobe Flash on iPhone,” Wired, Nov. 17, 2008).
With Apple’s pitch that the iPad would replace netbooks and slide into the average user’s hands as the de facto web surfing platform, hopes were high that the iPad would support Flash. The original iPad promos even showed Flash in use, but those were quietly changed without any acknowledgment from Apple (“Apple Pulls Flash Content From iPad Promos,” PCWorld, Jan. 30, 2010).
In the last couple weeks things have heated up even more. Apple modified its iPhone Developer Program License Agreement (part of the iPhone OS SDK) to expand on a section covering how external applications can be developed:
While Flash Player 10.1 is now available (or on its way) for other mobile devices (Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile, webOS and BlackBerry), the iPhone is still not having it. This new language essentially blocks a utility Adobe created to allow Flash developers to convert their Flash projects to the iPhone app format. And that utility still didn’t bring Flash support to Safari on the iPhone (“Adobe Announces Flash Support for iPhone (But Only for Apps),” Mashable, Oct. 5, 2009). On the bright side, Adobe is also planning to support exporting to the HTML5
Apple has been quick to point out that anything you can do in Flash can be done in HTML5. Not only is this patently not true (primarily because HTML5 isn’t even a finished spec yet — see “Too Soon to Advocate HTML5?” at this blog), the Safari browser doesn’t support it all (CSS3 and HTML5 support checklist). Given how many sites use Flash for even basic features like non-critical content or add-on features, the average web surfer on his or her iPhone/iPad will just see blank areas where Flash should appear. Apple is free to limit its support at no cost to itself, but if companies truly want their Flash-specific features to work on an iPhone or iPad, they now have to consider not only how they might technically do that, but how much they are willing to spend to achieve it.
A handful of companies are already re-orienting their sites or at least their strategies, but these are companies who know they have to target iPhone and iPad users (“Virgin America Ditches Adobe Flash for New Site” at Mashable, March 3, 2010). They are also companies who have the budget to do it. For the rest of us, the best thing we can do is continue to watch the battle between Adobe and Apple and see where it goes. I predict no winner. However, I do see the losers in this battle — end users and smaller organizations who cannot afford a rebuild.