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Adobe is Running Scared from Evolving Standards

John Federico

Buy this from SpreadshirtLike the iPhone and iPod Touch that came before it, the iPad runs the same slimmed-down version of Mac OS X complete with it's multi-touch controls, icons and menu bar.

The iPad also shares with its forebears a lack of support for Adobe's Flash. Flash is an application runtime environment (a nerdy way of saying "software that lets other software work") that competes with the native applications on the iPhone, so it would make business sense that Apple might exclude it from the native capabilities of the "iPlatform".

More likely however, is the fact that Flash is buggy, crashes often and can suck up CPU cycles like crazy.

Case in point: now that I'm running Google Chrome on my MacBook, I can see how often Flash crashes as the browser will remain functioning but indicate that the plug-in has crashed. These are crashes I used to blame on my browser - Safari, Firefox, Opera, Camino - all of them. Shame on me.

Given how maniacal Apple is about the user experience and stability of the iPlatform, it's a no-brainer for them to exclude Flash - competitive issues aside.

And now, with the triumvirate of the iPhone, iPod Touch and soon iPad, Adobe is getting a little uncomfortable. If there's one company that can utilize its momentum and marketing prowess to shift an industry from de facto standards to web standards, it's Apple - and in this case, that web standard is HTML5.

Apple did this for the Webkit rendering engine that now powers Safari and Mobile Safari, but also Google Chrome, Android and soon a variety of other Webkit-based browsers for mobile devices like BlackBerry. They did it for video with H.264 and soon, they'll do it for HTML5.

Adobe is so threatened by the potential of this that their CTO, Kevin Lynch, addressed it head on in a blog post.

The two basic premises of his argument are:

 


  1. Apple is ruining your user experience. We're ready to work with them to get Flash on your favorite device right now.

  2. If users and content creators make the migration to HTML5 they would be "thrown back to the dark ages of video on the Web with incompatibility issues."

 

 

Have you seen Jillion's Sublime HTML5 Video Player yet? It delivers beautifully rendered video - even at full screen - all without Flash. Posterous also provides an impressive example of how to handle video on multiple devices. Visit a Posterous blog on our computer and you'll see Flash video. But, visit the same site on your iPhone and Posterous will serve up H.264 video which plays perfectly on the iPhone and iPod Touch (and presumably, iPad). (Note: this is only for video files rendered by Posterous, not those embedded from other sites, like Vimeo or Blip.)

Josh Bernoff at Forrester Research adds to this discussion in his reference to the "Splinternet" - a period when a diversity of devices, operating systems and runtime environments are considered a nuisance for developers and corporations.

To his credit, Josh provides his usual sound advice to his corporate clients (emphasis mine):


Here's what not to do: panic and try to unify things again. The shattering cannot be undone.

Here's what to do: choose your devices carefully -- investments in one cannot be transferred easily to others if you make a mistake. Rethink analytics, links, and measurement -- they're just becoming available in the new environments. Promote the new channels, SEO won't help you so much here. Platforms like iPhone apps and Facebook are some of the most exciting new channels out there. Just realize that you're leaving the comfy environment of the Web behind -- along with all the tools you've grown dependent on -- as you embrace the new platforms.


However, the analysis goes on to indicate that while the Internet is "controlled by standards," the Splinternet is "controlled by platform vendors" (like Apple and Facebook).

I believe that's only partially true.

Apple may control the iPlatform but the way in which applications can be created for it include standards like H.264 and HTML5 and not proprietary runtimes like Flash. Granted, H.264 must be licensed in some fashion by the software provider or content producer, but the terms are seemingly reasonable as they are for other media standards such as MP3.

For applications that appear to require an obvious use of Flash or a native application, HTML5 can also fill that need.

See Google's HTML5 implementation for Google Voice on the iPhone. It's like having a native iPhone app in Mobile Safari. For an example of a rich Flash-like animation check out Anthony Caldazilla's AT AT Walker animation (you'll need Safari or Chrome, of course.)

If you really want or need to create native applications for Apple mobile devices - including video, it's relatively easy to find someone with the skill to quickly learn Objective C, if they don't already know it.

Bottom Line

Any replacement of current technologies will happen gradually, over time. Flash isn't going anywhere soon. HTML5 video doesn't support file protection or DRM of any sort - Hulu isn't about to deliver their video content in HTML5 while allowing anyone to download it. However, as an increasing number of browsers support the standards and technologies, so will content producers and platform providers. The existing crop of plug-in technologies will decrease and eventually, we'll be talking about the next new new thing.

At the very least, this transition period would provide Adobe the time to figure out how they can transition to this new web, possibly both within their server and development tools.

Perhaps - and this is a BIG maybe - we'll see Adobe re-engineer Flash to Apple's liking and it will make it's way to the iPlatform. If that were to occur, we'd all win. I won't hold my breath, though.