Two Years In: Are We Really Better Off Without Flash on Our iPads?

Love it, hate it, however you look at it, two years after its initial introduction, iPad owners still don’t get the same experience as Flash-based desktops.

So Bubba Watson was in a playoff at the Masters with Louis Oosthuizen. Fate conspired against me, and I was pulled away from the TV on the second playoff hole. I returned to see Watson donning the green jacket, with multiple references to a miraculous second shot.

I had an iPad nearby, so I surfed over to ESPN. I found the video, but it wouldn’t play without Flash. Tried the Golf Channel; same thing. Tried and failed at a couple of other sports-related sites, then went to a desktop computer, and found and played it right away. With Flash, of course.

Last fall, I looked at 20 very high profile sites–Coke, McDonalds, Nike Football, Victoria’s Secret, Victoria’s Secret again–and the iPad experience lagged behind that produced by Flash. And the more immersive the Flash experience was on the desktop, the more the iPad lagged. Love it, hate it, however you look at it, two years after its initial introduction, iPad owners still don’t get the same experience as Flash-based desktops.

I don’t mean to bring up old arguments; the Flash vs. HTML5 argument has been hashed, rehashed and rehashed again. But today, we know more about the true motivations and repercussions of Steve Jobs’ decision not to include Flash on the iPad. For example, Flash Manifesto aside, Walter Issacson’s fabulous Jobs biography discloses that Jobs’ decision not to include Flash was at least partially based on previous perceived slights by Adobe (“I put Adobe on the map and they screwed me”).

We’ve also seen that the Apple decision has had far reaching negative consequences for the mobile ecosystem as a whole. It’s accelerated HTML5 development and adoption, though that comes with its own dual-codec warts and feature deficits and is far from a universal solution on any platform. It convinced Microsoft to leave Flash out of the Windows Tablet 8 interface, dooming the two or three folks who ultimately buy a Windows-based tablet to the same deficits as the iPad. Ultimately, it helped convince Adobe to abandon Flash Player for Android, complicating video support for the fastest growing segment of the mobile market.

It made it much tougher to stream video to mobile devices. It made things worse, not better. It made things harder, not easier.

In an alternative reality, Jobs might have put aside his petty grudges, called the president of Adobe and said something like, “here are the deficits that make us not want to use Flash; let’s work together to resolve them.” You know, make lemonade out of lemons, rather than creating a technology divide that’s negatively impacting us all today, and will continue to do so for many years. And hey, Mr. Cook, you know, it’s really not too late.

Again, I don’t want to open old wounds and rehash old arguments. A certain percentage of the population hates Flash and Adobe; a certain percentage just hates proprietary technologies. I don’t want to argue or debate.

I just want to watch Bubba Watson’s magical shot on my iPad as soon as I can on my desktop. And I’m pretty sure that all iPad owners who aren’t dyed-in-the-wool Flash haters feel the same way.

About Jan Ozer

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I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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