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Apple iPad Not So Flash

Posted by javakiddy on February 1, 2010 at 7:38 PM PST

Amidst all the hype of the Sun to Oracle transition over the last week, some of you may have missed a certain announcement by a Cupertino-based firm regarding the imminent release of a computing device they say will fill the gap between netbooks and laptops. The Apple iPad is not, as some onlookers first suspected, a innovative feminine hygiene product, but a tablet device promising to offer (to quote Apple CEO Steve Jobs) "the best browsing experience you've ever had".

But "the best browsing experience" does not include web plugins it seems, as despite the iPad's 1024x768 screen, 1Ghz processor, and support for wireless connectivity, it is destined to be bereft of Flash, Silverlight, and (everyone's favourite in this neck of the woods) Java.

These omissions, particularly Flash, have caused some degree of controversy online, but why is Apple thumbing its nose at plugins?

Since the iPad product announcement the Flash debate has been raging across the blogosphere, on both pro-Apple and pro-Adobe sites. As you'd expect, the Adobe fans point to the prominence of Flash on the web, its use for games, video, and rich interactive content. This is undeniably true -- even Jobs' own carefully crafted iPad introduction quickly stumbled across a couple of examples of missing Flash content as he demonstrated browsing the web, although he was careful to ensure the tell-tale blue Lego logos were quickly scrolled out of view.

Apple fans respond by echoing Steve Jobs' own alleged comments that Abobe are lazy and produce crash-prone software. The iPad is better off without Flash. they say, because data gathered by Apple's crash reporting tools has shown the plugin is the single greatest source of Safari crashes, and its video playback is far too CPU-hungry.

Besides, isn't HTML5 the future?

These responses ignore a few simple facts. For a start Flash's high ranking in the crash report statistics could surely be explained by its overwhelming popularity on the web. Plugin systems, by their very nature, seem to be particularly prone to crashing -- for reasons far too numerous to list here trying to embed one application inside another, seamlessly and without either tripping the other up, has always been a particularly difficult trick to pull off. This is especially true of desktop software, where the thick and complex code glue that usually binds the two independent GUIs together and keeps them in sync often has to keep up with the erratic actions of the user. The question is this: when the stats are adjusted to account for popularity, is Flash any worse than other plugins?

And as for Flash's video playback being slow, the reason for this, according to Adobe (click "Product Details"), is because Apple refuses to expose the required APIs for hardware optimised decoding -- presumably they would prefer everyone to take the QuickTime route for video.

But what of the final charge against Flash, that it's obsolete now HTML5 has arrived? This relates specifically to Flash's use on sites like YouTube to play video. Even if for argument's sake we accept this as true, it ignores Flash's other numerous features, and it doesn't explain why Java is also missing.

i-Apologists have a simple answer for this: Apple is trying to defend the freedom of the web by taking a stand against closed source. They paint Apple is a knight in shining armour, with HTML5 its Excalibur, engaging in an ideological crusade against the evil forces of proprietary software (non-Apple proprietary software, naturally!) that seek to enslave the good citizens of the web. To defend everyone from the tyranny of Flash and its fellow freedom-hating plugins, Apple (our hero!) has banished them into the wilderness -- anyone suggesting this is a bit like fighting totalitarianism by burning all books that don't advocate democracy will be thrown in the dungeons! (Although these being Apple i-Dungeons, they probably have nice shiny walls and brushed metal trim on the thumb screws...)

The iPhone's limited 3G connection at least presented a plausible excuse for its lack of Flash -- but on the iPad (a Wi-Fi device being promoted as "the best browsing experience you've ever had") its continued non-presence looks more than a little absurd. Is this really the result of Steve Jobs' desire to keep the web open? I, for one, doubt it!

Apple makes substantial profit from selling software through its app store; this revenue stream would be severely compromised by rival (and free) application and media playing platforms like Flash, Silverlight, or our own JavaFX. We've become accustomed to walled gardens on cell phones, simply because of the limited nature of the hardware and networks (although how long this will last in the age of the smart phone is anyone's guess), but the iPad is distinctly not a phone, it is being pitched into the space between netbooks and laptops, an arena where the consumer does not expect to encounter walled gardens. (And remember, this is an artificial barrier, not created by the technical limitations of the device but the desire of the manufacturer to drive content towards their revenue creating services -- perhaps the iPad should be renamed the i-Pay?!)

Ultimately it could be said that Apple is just exercising its right to put out a products as it sees fit, and this is undeniably true. And consumers, after all, don't have to buy the iPad! But if we're talking about freedom of expression here, surely it is my (and other's) right to exercise free speech by commenting on their decisions, or indeed asking questions about the wider issue: should companies like this be allowed to arbitrarily block software applications and platforms from their devices?

A decade ago Microsoft was dragged into court by the US Department of Justice for taking advantage of its privileged position as an operating system maker to heavily promote and favour its own products. But Microsoft at no point banned Netscape, Java, or other competing products from Windows computers. It tried to influence new users towards its own products by pre-installing them and giving them high visibility on the desktop, but ultimately the end user was free to ignore the Microsoft choice and install an alternative instead. Not so with the iPad, it seems!

I guess what I'm trying to say is, while I admire the style and innovation Apple bring to each product, the political baggage they're starting to accumulate is really beginning to turn me off. And perhaps I don't like the message it sends out should the iPad prove to be successful -- that manufacturers, not consumers, should choose which software platforms run on their devices. As the Java community finally seems to be on the verge of getting the client facing tools it needs (JavaFX and its associated designers/editors), perhaps I dread the thought of being locked out of the next generation of devices.

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new days

I hope to see a big turn at Apple with regard to Java this year due to the Ellison/Jobs association. Oracle already well understands the power of Java on the server side; now we (the Java community) are in an exceptional new position: Oracle woud benefit greatly if Java were as well supported on the client (Apple) side, as it is on all the other major client platforms.

<rant> IMHO, web 2.0 broke the web. HTML is great for data presentation and linking, and later more importantly, the indexing of information. However, trying to turn HTML / ECMAScript / XMLHTTPRequest (i.e. ajax) into a UI/UX development platform is much like trying to drive a nail with a screwdriver. The web is a perfect information / pre-packaged entertainment media, that will not change. </rant>

I would be delighted even if Apple chose only to support WebStart  on their iToys platforms. (of which I happily own several)

I agree with the original

I agree with the original post and especially with the "rant" by Jonh. I'll only add one point:

" I don't really know whether Adobe or Apple is to blame for this, so I'll withhold judgment."

Well, there are some points that are certain as there are public discussions: Adobe says that they are perfectly able to have Flash running on the iStuff, and it's Apple that is blocking them.

As for the idea of "let's everything move to the beauty of HTML 5 and abandon the past" - things are not so simple, because this forces everybody to a precise architectural choice (web applications, that I don't think are of for a vast number of things). But let's suppose is ok. It's like saying: the future of cars is with hydrogen engines, it's not ready yet, but in the meantime let's prevent a good deal of people from running a gasoline car. Of course, in the case of cars there could be an environmental reason bound to pollution, while it's not the case with our technologies.

That's a very good

That's a very good point. Following the Oracle webcast, what sounded interesting were two things: 1) Unifying Java for Desktop and Mobile. 2) A consistent API for gestures known as "Multi Touch" This almost sounded like aiming at iPhone or iPod, but of course Android being an OS somewhat "closer" to Java is also capable of that (despite flames and rumors in the media or some older devices not capable of it yet) 5 years ago Apple was still Executive Committee Member of the Java Community Process, believe it or not ;-) However, not only Java but other RIA capable languages and tools like Flex/Flash are consistently banned by Apple and Jobs. Almost a miracle, it seems the E-Book format used on iPad is not a propriatory Apple only thing (as opposed to Amazon) but an open format used at least by other big vendors like Sony. They just like others had to admit defeat against copyfree MP3 files, too some while ago. So ignoring established formats and standards like Java, Flex or Flash may well put their devices into a bad position despite still vivid media "gaga" around Jobs and the new device. I bet, the batteries just die after less than 18 months or so. This TimeCapsule disaster to which entire victim sites are dedicated is kept silent by Apple, but after all it is close to Toyota's blunder with Millions or cars being replaced or repaired right now. Or the infamous Elk Test of the Mercedes A Class couple of years ago. Speaking of cars, the somewhat less prominent and prestigious brands of VW or Audi have recently outdone upscale brands and competitors like Daimler, BMW or even Porsche which they took over after a long fight. Microsoft has invested Millions into Apple shortly before Steve Jobs returned. Microsoft is even said to support projects like Eclipse now, or Apache Harmony. Something almost unthinkable at Apple. They TAKE many of the Open Source standards like BSD Linux or others and mash it into their products, but commit nothing back into those. And Apple AppStore forces Open Source projects developing iPhone or iPad solutions to either become closed source or never sell their products in the AppStore (on the other hand we just saw a case of Nazi hymns openly sold on iTunes until the press uncovered the scandal !) Werner

Some, yes

[oops, a reply to 'decisions made for you'] There are plenty of Apple decisions that I don't like, but I'm not the CEO of Apple. My only decision is whether or not I think a particular product or service is worth the money. I like my iPhone; I think it delivers a lot of value for the money. It's a unique combination of hardware capabilities in a small package that creates a synergy unmatched by any similar device. It's a gadget geek's dream. If I have to put up with some nonsense from Apple to develop for it, I will. Sure, I'd like to develop in Java (my favorite OO language) over Objective-C, but I'm not going to curl up and die because I'm forced to use it. Apple's decision to close the platform and force developers to identify themselves with a $100 certificate has both advantages and disadvantages for that platform. They picked the "full control" option. No surprise there.
When I worry about the influence of giant corporations on the Internet, I worry about net neutrality, surveillance, data mining and censorship, primarily, and not closed development platforms.

don't curl and die

I totally agree with you. Sometimes it's worth changing its habits. But I, like you, am a Java developer, and I miss it on iPhone... Like aehrenr said in "decisions made for you", there are plenty of useful java libraries out there, surely more than in Objectice-C. It not just about a language. Fortunately, some people have addressed this issue, and found a solution : with iSpectrum (by FlexyCore, ) you can develop Java applications for iPhone. It cross compiles your app, and your libraries. So now you can develop with your favorite OO language ;) ... It's a complete tool with which you can develop and debug in Eclipse, use XCode iPhone simulator, and deploy your app on the phone, very easily. I think it's great that workaround solutions like that exist to show Apple how much Java ca be requested by developers.

Various Plugins

Flash, Silverlight and Java on the iPad are not at all in the same situation. The Java VM for Mac OS is entirely produced by Apple. Should Apple expend its own development resources to support Java and JavaFX on their mobile platforms? It would be nice if they did, but you really can't blame them for not diverting resources for what would, effectively, be a marginal technology on the iPad/iPhone. Silverlight? Would Microsoft develop SL for iProducts even if Apple wanted them to? I doubt it. Flash? I don't really know whether Adobe or Apple is to blame for this, so I'll withhold judgment. I've never developed in Flash, or cared much for it, and I'm pretty sure we can have a decent browsing experience without it. It's not that great a product that it's worth worrying about. In the end, remember that the Flash plug-in is widely used just to display video in a frame on a Web page. Who needs Flash just for that? HTML5 is obviously the way to go. But if you're a big fan of those crappy Jib-Jab animations, I guess you're outta luck.

decisions made for you

so it seems that you like the decisions Apple made for you.
But the point is, that if the iPad is anywhere near the success the iPhone has, then it will shape the Web as a whole. So Steve Jobs decided that desktop Java is a "ball and a chain". Then it will not be possible to give it a try. We have to use Objective-C, but the version for the real men, without the garbage collection. Unfortunately there are not many free libs in this language. And you have to pay $99.- a year to program your device. I heard that Ellison and Jobs are good buddies, but nevertheless I have not much hope for Java on the iPad.

why people are angry with Apple?

Your article is one of many anti Apple articles coming after iPad presentation. This is fascinating phenomena. I'm not a Mac user. I use Ubuntu on PC, and netbook, Android on phone, and my old MP3 player is not an iPod. If I will need to give up Linux I will go for Windows or Solaris not for Mac. I'm also Java developer science version 1.1.0 But I don't understand people moaning about iPad. Why you are so angry with Apple? Did they disappoint you? Are you a iPhone user or what... I also don't get your arguments. You say what if you cannot develop application in Flash, you cannot develop application for iPad. Why? You should be able to develop anything in HTML5 you are able to develop in Flash. As a customer I don't like situation when I need to have 3 VMs (Java, .Net, Flash) to support developers freedom of choice. I don't have Java, JavaFX, .Net, or Flash on my Android phone (I included Java as there is not JVM, but different runtime and compilation process, also not full language is supported in Android language fork). I block Flash on my netbook, and Java is there only from historical reasons. Of course not .Net or even the Mono. As I don't like Apple products I'm fully supporting Steve Jobs in promoting open standards like HTML 5. There are some consequences for me as developer, but I'm a programmer to learn new things. I decided to say "sorry" to JavaScript and re-learn it. I found it fascinating, as you can use it as functional programming language. Very refreshing. I came to Java from other languages because of "write once, run everywhere" slogan. This was never true, and it will be even less in future. If it is time to say "bye" to Java after 10+ years I'm fine with it.

Good comment

I am a Mac user now for many, many years and will for sure at some point of time by a iPad because I read a lot of papers in pdf format and do not want to print all of them out. A laptop is just not right for this. I think the lack of Flash and Java on the iPad abates the "best browsing experience" of the iPad considerably. And although I have anticipated the lack of Java on the iPad I am very, very unhappy with it. If Apple has no resources or will to implement Flash or Java it should let other companies do it. I as a user think I can distinguish whether my iPad is slow because I recently installed Flash or not. Of course Apple wants to monopolize the iTunes store. Everything else is plain lie coated with a dumb populism that is unworthy for a company that targets people that think different. I hope that Apple realizes this before a long and boring blogging starts that hurts their reputation or before there will be a long legal action against them in this case.

A Kindle DX is probably a

A Kindle DX is probably a better device for reading PDF files.