Flash In The Pan

broken-iphone-screenSteve Jobs lied. That’s one of the curious features of Apple Fan Syndrome (A mental illness which I have just invented. Don’t worry, doctors do it all the time.) Anyway, where was I? Yes, Apple fans tend to believe what the company tells them, particularly the late Glorious Leader, to a degree unmatched in any other consumer group.

What I’m thinking of in particular was when Steve issued from on high his “Thoughts On Flash” a long discourse on why Adobe Flash was not appropriate for (his) mobile devices. The most controversial point was where he alleged that Adobe Flash is inefficient and prone to software flaws (or “bloated and buggy”, as we would say in the software world).

The fact is that he was absolutely right about that. Although most of us encounter Flash by playing movies or sound clips on the web, it’s capable of much, much more. A cornucopia of different capabilities. And that is the problem. Adobe has put so much extra functionality into its product that it’s a struggle for the company’s engineers to keep it efficient, reliable and secure.

But the claim from Steve that the reliability issue was an important factor in banning Flash from Apple devices was just a smokescreen. Even what he calls the “most important reason” is only just squinting sideways at the real issue. Steve says that the cross-platform nature of Adobe Flash (i.e. that it works and looks the same on PCs, Macs and non-Apple phones and tablets) is bad. He says that Flash therefore can’t take full advantage of the features of an iPad or iPhone.

Again, that’s not the real reason. Apple’s real problem with Flash is the power built into it. If you’re a developer, you can use Flash to create a complete “user experience” of menus, icons and windows, all within the Flash application. In general, that’s not a clever thing to do, but could perhaps be justified under some circumstances. But the anathema to Apple of allowing a rogue user interface onto their devices is the real show-stopper. If Flash was just a dumb movie-player, there would be no problem with it, no matter how bloated or buggy it was. (The official App Store is full of them).

That kind of intolerance towards different ways of doing things is characteristic of the Apple approach. On the plus side, users have less to learn; but against that, they are constrained in what they are able to accomplish. However, exposure only to the one true way means that generally they are unaware of what is missing. (Unless it’s some missing piece of major functionality, such as “cut and paste”.)

One of the side effects of the Apple ban on Flash seems to have been a decline in the number of web sites which use the “extra” functionality of Flash to replace normal web page features. (You will know these: a fixed window in the middle of the screen and the first thing to appear is a “Loading – Please Wait” message.) This is good. The sooner the rest of the Internet ditches Adobe Flash the better. It’s bloated and buggy.


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