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April 30, 2010

On Flash for Mobile Phones

Apple's CEO wrote a thoughtful post about Adobe Flash and explained the reasons why Apple doesn't intend to add support for Flash to the iPhone OS:

"Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short."

Steve Jobs says that Flash doesn't perform well on mobile devices, it drains the battery and it's not optimized for touch interfaces. Flash is also a way to create cross-platform applications, but Apple doesn't want applications that look the same way on all mobile platforms and don't take advantage of iPhone's features. "We cannot be at the mercy of a third party" is the main reason why Steve Jobs doesn't want to include Flash's runtime. Flash's main use today is to play videos, but web developers should start using the native video tag, which is already supported by most web browsers, including iPhone's browser.

Apple's refusal to support Flash in popular products like iPhone or iPad has an important side-effect: web developers will be forced to take advantage of HTML5 features like native video, canvas or create animations using SVG, instead of/in addition to using Adobe's proprietary plug-in.

Unfortunately, users can't access a lot of content on their mobile devices. There are many sites built using Flash and many popular sites use Flash to create animations, charts and other interactive content. Adobe is already working on Flash Player 10.1, the first version of the plug-in that will work on smartphones, if you don't take into account Flash Lite. Flash will soon be available for Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian, Palm and Google will include the plug-in in Chrome and Chrome OS. Flash Player 10.1 for Android will be available as a public preview in May at Google I/O and the general release will be in June.

Google's decision is pragmatic: even if HTML5 is the future, Flash is an important part of the web today. "[Sometimes being open] means not being militant about the things consumer are actually enjoying," said Google's Andy Rubin. Users will be able to choose if they want to enable Flash and Adobe will be pressured to deliver a better product.

Some might say that Android is actually the anti-iPhoneOS: it's an open source operating system, it encourages competition and collaboration in the mobile space, it lets you replace built-in functionality, install applications from other sources than the Android Market and customize your device. Android is not "at the mercy of a third party", but third parties can add a lot of value. Even if Android's user experience is inferior to iPhone's user experience, Android is an open platform that can be fully customized and a better catalyst for innovation. Android doesn't strive for perfection, it's a flexible platform that lets you transform a device into whatever you want it to be.

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