I remember Flash Player. A while back during one of my favorite past times (deleting useless files from my MacBook), I found the .swf file below I created, still lingering, much like the mighty indomitable cockroach. It was the beginnings (and end) of my own "site assistant" for my long defunct web development operation - all well before iOS was a glimmer in its father's eye. Naturally it reminded me of Jobs' "Thoughts on Flash" (TOF). I had no trouble understanding why it made lots of sense to use open standards when TOF was first published. However, the annihilation of Flash was lost on me. As it turns out, Flash isn't like the cockroach at all.
As mobile computing began to solidly trounce "trucks" or desktop computing, Flash understandably became less and less desirable to hardware manufacturers. Consumers should have also shared this sentiment as the experience was subpar to say the least the more mobile the computer. Nonetheless, the lack of Flash was not only one the loudest battle cries of almost all the incumbent mobile computing players in response to Apple's new mobile computers, but also of smart phone consumers. I couldn't leave one geek argument without someone explaining how negatively the lack of Flash had affected my life as an iPhone or iPod Touch user. It didn't. Still it seemed as if Apple had to respond, and that's exactly what it did. While TOF was a brilliant marketing tool for the purposes of addressing one of the early alleged short-comings of Apple's mobile devices, it was also quite accurate. In retrospect I found the second point, "the full web" rebuttal, most interesting.
Adobe has repeatedly said that Apple mobile devices cannot access “the full web” because 75% of video on the web is in Flash. What they don’t say is that almost all this video is also available in a more modern format, H.264, and viewable on iPhones, iPods and iPads. YouTube, with an estimated 40% of the web’s video, shines in an app bundled on all Apple mobile devices, with the iPad offering perhaps the best YouTube discovery and viewing experience ever. Add to this video from Vimeo, Netflix, Facebook, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ESPN, NPR, Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, People, National Geographic, and many, many others. iPhone, iPod and iPad users aren’t missing much video.
Today, if you are on a mobile platform you likely cannot see and interact with the .swf immediately above (note: you can see a crude HTML5 conversion here on your mobile device). Still, no one can say with a straight face that this is somehow an indication that you aren't experiencing the "full web." Jobs' combination of foresight and willing a particular outcome has always been fascinating.
Show me a person who would prefer-to-install a plugin, and I'll show you a person with a body bearing Frankenstein bolts chained up in their laboratory. It was fairly easy to create web graphics content in Flash, from buttons or dynamic menus to an entire website. However, the impact on the enduser was harsh - a reciprocal correlation of the ease-of-development. That is, the utility of Flash was also its downside. Users needed a plugin, as it wasn't a standard, but instead a cross-platform-tool.
While it was generally hassle free to whip up a shockwave file for me, it wouldn't be quite as fun-and-fancy-free for your CPU (i'm remembering a time when Flash left your GPU to its own devices). System resources were often taxed more than needed to run Flash content, which could not be optimized for the best platform or hardware. Jobs said it this way:
We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features.
TOF is still a great read today - amazing insight and foresight. Reading it again, I wonder whether Adobe could have succeeded on mobile even if they were able to drastically increase the efficiency of Flash - which is doubtful as the fans on my Macbook Pro still spin up when running Flash content. In such a scenario, Adobe would still be a middle-man, and we always prefer the control and security of going straight to the source. If Adobe was extraordinarily altruistic, and Flash was extremely efficient and optimized for particular platforms posthaste, Apple's position likely would have been the same - 'we tolerate it on desktop trucks, but No Flash on mobile.'