Flash and Apple

This is more a stream of consciousness piece than a well-developed thesis. I’ve had these thoughts thundering around upstairs and needed to get rid of them.

I really like Apple and their products. The MacBook Pro saved me from Vista, and I haven’t looked back. The iPhone is a great piece of technology. I would really want an iPad if I didn’t have a Kindle already. I have to say I’m really disappointed by all of this Flash and Apple nonsense. I’m also happy to read that some other people are disappointed by this (Gizmodo, Digital Beat, MacRumors Forum, FucktheIpad).

Some of Apple’s justification for the lack of Flash, namely performance issues, seems to fall a little flat here. Supposedly by designing the chip themselves, Apple has a chip that can render webpages instantly and still play video for 10 hours. It would appear that performance isn’t really the issue with the iPad.

That being said I have never really understood the whole Flash-performs-poorly-on-Mac thing. I work for Adobe. I am a member of the Flash Platform evangelism team. I use multiple Flash applications, every day of my life, for hours on end. I don’t have browser crashing issues. I currently use Chrome, and used Firefox before that. I never really gelled with Safari. I’m not being obtuse here, or acting, I just don’t have those particular problems. I’m not running a special version of Flash Player either; I just use the latest released version.

I also don’t understand cognitive gymnastics it takes to hate Flash because it’s proprietary and love the fact that Apple is batting us around by designing systems that block it by way of preventing one from installing it through a proprietary gatekeeper.

Flash is proprietary. It’s also free, widely distributed, rapidly brought up to date on user’s computers, and cross platform. Yes, to some degree you have to depend on Adobe. This is true. Even worse, we get something out of it–we sell authoring tools, content creation tools, services, and servers that target that dependency.

With HTML 5 you don’t have to depend on anyone….

Except browser authors: Opera, Mozilla, Google, Microsoft, and Apple. But they all conform to the HTML 5 standard…

Okay, they don’t yet but they all have detailed plans that outline when they will support HTML 5…

No they don’t. But they don’t get anything out of it…

Except access to your data, or locking you into their operating system, or locking you into their operating system and hardware or whatever ideologically pure motivation Mozilla and Opera have these days.

At the end of the day, all of these technologies are driven by mutual self-interest and not by ideology. You have to decide if what you get is worth what you give up.

Personally I don’t like being told what to do. But more important than not liking being told what to do, I enjoy being told how to do it even less. I don’t like opinionated software that promises Do it the way we tell you to, and we’ll make your life better.

  • I didn’t like Graffiti.
  • I don’t enjoy working with Ruby on Rails.
  • I don’t like the Apple Mobile device’s increasing demand that I work the way they want me to.

At the end of the day, despite the fact that they may not be well expressed or even coherent, I have more faith in my opinions than my software’s opinions.

19 thoughts on “Flash and Apple

  1. Terrance,
    You say you hate being told what to do, and even more so how to do it… but that is exactly what Flash does… by a website author deciding to use Flash they are saying “we dont care that this page in no way conforms to normal HTML specs (aside from cramming this tag down your browsers throat) — you will download and install flash if you care to see anything more here… Yes its become ever more popular (and lately it seems the quality of Flash sites has been decreasing exponentially) but in the heart of it all, its a 3rd party dependency that (regardless of Apple, Microsoft or anyone else) still forces users to do something in a way other than what a web browser by design was meant to do… Maybe its just my take on it. And for the record I dont dislike Flash, I just dont believe its home is in the design of web pages.


  2. I think you need to separate the fanboy argument from the rational argument.

    Rational argument: Flash crashes browsers and pegs CPU usage. Installing a Flash blocker radically improves the browsing experience; it’s one of two reasons why Chrome remains a secondary browser here.

    Back in the early 2000s, Steve Wozniak posted a comment on a mailing list to the effect that most Classic Mac crashes which were attributed to the operating system were actually due to Microsoft system extensions. It occurred to me for the first time: my System 8 and 9 servers routinely had months of uptime, but I told my clients that it was normal for a Mac to freeze every couple of days.

    Retroactive reason: with Classic Mac OS, the first thing you installed was Microsoft Office. We didn’t have good alternatives back then. So even folks like me, who knew Mac OS backwards and forwards, obscured something that should have been obvious.

    Likewise: Apple’s goal in producing the iPhone and creating a closed ecosystem was creating a phone that didn’t crash. By and large, they succeeded. If Flash plug-ins brought down the iPhone regularly, it wouldn’t be attributed to Flash, it would be attributed to the iPhone… just as we unfairly maligned Classic Mac OS.

    Going forward? I prefer HTML5 solutions to Flash or Silverlight, because I tend to prefer open solutions. This also means I tend to prefer Android to iPhone ecosystems. But it won’t be a real competition until an open solution meets the fit and polish that Apple has put together.


  3. The performance of Flash has absolutely nothing to do with Apple not supporting Flash on the iPhone or iPad. The old adage “Follow the money” is what is at play here.

    If you can deliver applications via Flash through the web browser, the app store loses a ton of money.

    Follow the money.


  4. Gus and Kris: sorry, that assertion is not supported by reality. You want to deploy a web app for the iPhone using non-Flash technologies? You’ll have good company: .

    Perhaps you’ve forgotten 2007, when Apple encouraged web app development as the *only* way of doing business.

    It’s widely believed that Apple runs the iTunes and iApp stores at close to breakeven; they exist to sell hardware, which is where Apple makes its profit margin. This is almost certainly true of apps, where many are sold at $0.99, and Apple has a high overhead cost in product approval and QA.

    If you want to follow the money, I’ll oblige you: Apple believes that putting Flash in Mobile Safari will weaken the experience (with system instability and slow CPU response), and lessen the gap between their hardware and their competitors. *That’s* a bottom line issue. My experience with Flash on a Mac bears out that observation: I’m happy to run it as necessary, but make it ubiquitous and bad things happen.

    You guys are the Flash experts; I’m just Terry’s apostate friend. If you’ve got technical details proving me wrong, share.


  5. @Jeff There is no app store for Mac OSX. Apple allows flash to run on OSX. If the experience is so bad, it seems Apple would not want it ruining the OSX experience.

    It’s probably just a coincidence that Apple allows Flash apps to run on it’s platforms that do not have an app store.

    By the way, I am not a Flash expert, or even a Flash developer. But I do utilize many sites that make great use of Flash ( like the PGA Tour and NFL ).


  6. Thanks Jeff. I’ve never really bought the whole “Apple keeps Flash off the iPhone to protect App store profits” meme. There are a whole number of articles out there supporting the supposition that the App store isn’t a cash cow. Especially in light of their overall financials.

    But I do have to take issue with the performance criticism again. All I hear about performance are anecdotes about some dude ranting somewhere about Flash crashing their browsers. I have my anecdotal evidence that it doesn’t happen. Other then Apple saying so I haven’t heard anything factual which backs up these claims. And I can’t really buy Apple’s take.

    I mean we do well on Windows, we do well with Firefox on Mac, but Safari seems to be a problem. It’s might be the Webkit engine, except the fact that we have pretty extensive knowledge of Webkit internally for AIR. Which is not to say Apple is doing anything nefarious, but they’re not too interested in anyone playing in their pool.

    Which is your point, except the market has pretty well spoken here. Hulu, Disney, ABC, Failblog, ESPN. If you want video on the web you want Flash, and Apple isn’t delivering.


  7. Karl, the major difference here is that Flash can be turned off when present, as opposed to it being blocked completely. One solution allows that we are adults capable of making decisions for ourselves, and the other that we are children that need to be protected from things that might harm us.

    As for producers that force you into using Flash… that’s an interesting point. I have to point back to video though. If you want to display video, today, you can’t do it without Flash. Yes you can use HTML 5, but it won’t work everywhere, and major vendors can’t even agree on a codec even when they do support it. So yes, we’re forcing something on you, but it’s to give you content that you seem to want.


  8. My problem with the lack of Flash on Apple devices is the failure to meet the internet where it is. Regardless of the philosophical debate of how video content should best be delivered on the internet, today, it is largely Flash. The failure to support and recognize that makes any iDevice less useful to me. I can’t fully consume blogs or keep up with Twitter references that use video. Heck, I can’t even get the news I want. CNN and others make huge use of video. Personally, if I’m going to watch the news, I’d rather watch it on TV. But when the TV is tuned to Blues Clues and I’m holed up in the corner with my iPhone, I’d rather not have the desire to hurl it across the room because of imposed software limitations.


  9. Apple could give a shit about HTML 5. Apple is happy to exploit internet plumbing that connects Apple devices running Apple sanctioned applications to Apple services collecting a toll when you buy the overpriced “magical” devices and the mandatory services as well as a cut of the apps. Apple has become a very creepy company. Apple is very happy to Balkanize the web. I’ve owned a lot of Apples starting with the Apple 2, followed by the original 128K Mac, etc. They’ve obviously always been very proprietary but they have become bad internet citizens. I’ve gotten rid of my Macs, my iPhone and MobileMe. I run Win 7, have a Droid and a Zune and am quite happy about it.


  10. “But there’s another reason why Apple created this new external process architecture for web content plugins in Snow Leopard: it was the only way they could ship Safari and the WebKit framework as 64-bit binaries. Flash Player is only available as a 32-bit binary. (This is true for other third-party web content plugins, like Silverlight, but Flash is the only one that ships as part of the system.) 64-bit apps cannot run 32-bit plugins.”

    This and a few other technical reasons why Flash degrades the overall performance of platforms that make use of it can be found in the article below:


    Throwing Ruby on Rails into the mix of technologies that “tell you what to do” is kind of silly. It’s called MVC, and it’s an architectural pattern used in software engineering.

    @Janice — Apple’s devices do a decent job at meeting the Internet where it stands today. If you’re unhappy with that, try an Android phone.

    PS — Can’t wait to see how this “blog engine” mangles my comment.


  11. Terry, I thought your post was at least somewhat insightful. No matter what you go with (Flash/Silverlight/HTML5) you’re aligning yourself with some “club” with some level of exclusivity that doesn’t play well with the other kids. Apple is particularly exclusive, and I for one don’t see that changing any time soon. If you have to pick a club, there is an argument to be made for the one that already has the most members (Flash). There’s also an argument to be made for the openness of HTML5, but until it’s broadly supported it can’t be your only investment if you want to reach a wide audience.

    I can’t say that lack of Flash on the iPhone has me frothing at the mouth for a Google Nexus One; but it *does* have me keeping an eye on the Android platform, waiting for the “magical” (to borrow the term) day when my AT&T contract is up, and hoping that the Nexus One matures in the meantime. (Seriously: WTF is up with the scroll ball?!)

    Anyway, I think HTML5 is well intentioned but specifically in the case of video (and the ongoing codec war), it’s just another example of why design by committee is doomed to failure. Why don’t browsers just support the top 4 or 5 options and let the cream rise to the top over time? Content creators will ultimately decide what the best format is.


  12. @Gus: There is no app store for Mac OS X because Macs are what we call “computers”. iPhones and iPads are appliances. Try to apply an app store to a computer, and you’ll instantly kill its developer base and send most of its power users to other platforms.

    @Terry: The Daring Fireball article someone else linked to has better data on Flash performance than I do; best I can do is point to anecdotal evidence. There’s a difference, I think, between Apple’s official corporate stance, and Apple’s reporting back on crowdsourced data, which is essentially what they’re doing with the WWDC report.

    Besides: when in doubt, what a company says to its developers had damn well better be more truthful than what it says to the Wall Street Journal. Just saying.

    I’ll note that YouTube is no longer in your list of Flash-only video sites. Fairly big omission, IMO. The premise here is that, given a big enough market of non-Flash-enabled devices, Hulu and Disney might consider going that route.

    @Janice: No question, it’s annoying as hell when your general-purpose device fails at some purposes. But your argument that the fix is to write to a particular technology could have been used equally against CSS as it is today against HTML5. I expect that advertising-supported models will go dual-platform pretty damn quickly.

    @Art: “Apple could give a shit about HTML 5.” The two editors of the HTML5 spec are full-time employees of Google and Apple. You literally can’t get any more supportive of HTML5 than Apple. Have fun with your Zune.


  13. Forget Games for a second.

    If Flash gave up its use as a Video Wrapper, could it optimize the other components to work well in the Mobile Touch world?

    Did sales of Flash (the development platform, the software, not the player) grow considerably when it became a Video Wrapper?
    Would it lose that bump if it STOPPED becoming a video wrapper?

    Of course, you are sort of back to games at that point, or something touting vector motion graphics +interactivity. And yes, HTML can fulfill some of those needs.

    Another reason Flash may be so ubiquitous is that it is being used for functions it never needed to be used for in the first place.


  14. Sorry to interrupt, folks, Jeff Porten directed me here in our discussion of iPad & Flash on my blog. Two thoughts:

    1) Apple has long prioritized the “crash-free” experience over the “do whatever you want” experience. It has gotten them exactly what you’d expect it would get them: a small, but vocal, minority of users who are OK doing everything they want within the confines of what won’t crash their Apple device. The rest of us (by which I mean 80% or more of us in most cases) are OK with an occasional app crash if the app is exteremely useful the vast majority of the time. IMHO, Apple should get over itself and let its users play their flash games if they want to.

    2) I’m not sure why anyone would argue about how much money Apple makes from their app store, when they are legally bound to tell us in their 10Q reports. If you look at “Net Sales by Product,” you’ll see that for the three months ending 12/26/09, ITMS sales accounted for $1.2B of the $15.7B Apple made in Net Sales, or roughly 7.6%. It’s not iPhone sales & carrier agreements (36%) or even sales of computers (28%), but it ain’t chump change (and it’s certainly more than break-even).


  15. I don’t know if those categories are as clear as you think they are. Is the App store a “music related product”, or “software, service, and other sales”? Common sense says the latter, but certainly the App store is designed along the same lines as the music store.

    In any case, presuming that a large chunk of the $1.2 billion from the music store is profit, there’s still a 3-1 sales ratio between iPods and ITMS. I’ll stand by my assertion that the ITAS is much more labor-intensive (as currently run), and has better odds of being breakeven even if the ITMS is not.


  16. The footnotes specify that “music related products” include ITMS and that “software, Service and other sales” refer to “sales of Apple-branded operating system, application software, third-party software, AppleCare, and Internet services.”

    The note right below the footnotes says this:
    “Net sales of other music related products and services increased . . . due primarily to increased net sales from the iTunes Store, [including] the continued interest in and growth of the iTunes App Store.”

    In the discussion of gross margin (roughly 41%, btw…) they warn that margin will likely drop going forward, due to “the cost of key components including but not limited to microprocessors, NAND flash memory, dynamic random access memory (“DRAM”) and liquid crystal displays (“LCDs”), as well as potential increases in the costs of outside manufacturing services and a potential shift in the Company’s sales mix towards products with lower gross margins.”

    Even if ITAS is labor-intensive, I imagine that’s nothing compared to the cost of hardware required to build iPods & Macs. Also, apps are cheap – if they were breaking even, they could turn a 10% profit simply by adding 10-15 cents to the cost of an app. It’s not like they have any competition (for now…)


  17. Sorry to threadjack (I know this was all about Flash), but after the above exchange, I saw this and thought I’d share:

    Jeff Jarvis: How will [Google] make money on phones?
    Eric Schmidt: Not to worry. We do not charge for Android because we can make money in other contexts. The strategy is to establish volume for application development to follow. The phone is defined by the apps.

    So Google seems to be making money from its app store. Given Apple’s leadership in that market, I’m guessing they are as well…


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