zaterdag 1 mei 2010

Thoughts on Apple's thoughts on Flash

This week Apple published an open letter by Steve Jobs explaining their inexcusable refusal to allow the use of the Adobe Flash plugin in their mobile operating systems. While reading it I couldn’t fight the impression of a big propaganda machine, disguised as the protector of the digital wellbeing of people, but in fact with a totally different agenda of his own, which mainly revolves around corporate profit.

Jobs uses 6 anchors to explain Apple’s refusal to allow Flash in Apple’s mobile products. But all six of those can easily be reversed in the same propaganda style manner as they are presented to begin with. Let me show you:

#1 Openness
Apple claims Flash is a closed application, controlled solely by Adobe. So? Name one Apple software product that is not. This is really the most ridiculous of all the arguments mentioned, especially coming from the company that has raised closed software and business models to unprecedented levels. When is the last time you installed an application on your iPhone without it being approved by Apple first and the installation process not being completely controlled by Apple? Or used the iPhone on the network of your mobile provider of choice for that matter? This retarded statement about “openness” is what made me write this blog entry. It’s a free market and Apple is free to design their products and services the way they see fit, but by calling the kettle black they are making a complete ass of themselves.

#2 Full web
The entire Apple staff can stand on their heads for all they want but there is no and I repeat no way to deny that without Flash their mobile products only can display 75% of what is available on the interweb and that therefore seriously reduces their usability. No matter how much you hate Flash and it’s devilishly unadvanced characteristics it is out there, has been there for years and will there be for many many years to come. By denying your customers access to it you are selling them a half baked, incomplete product.

On iPods and iPhones this is something that can be lived with, because they are only side products when it comes web browsing. Nobody uses them to browse normal websites, because the screens are simply too small for that. I guestimate that at least 95% of the webuse of iPods and iPhones is through optimized specialty apps. On the iPad however this is a totally different thing. The iPad is designed to replace the use of a desk- or laptop computer in certain locations in the home or on the move. In this environment the full web experience is a must to make it work. Without Flash it simply doesn’t and is therefore useless. I want to use the iPad while laying on my couch, not having to get up to my desktop computer afterall every time I land on a website that uses Flash components, because Steve Jobs and his beloved shareholders want to make more money.

And the same goes for all Flash based entertainment that is available on the web, whether it be free or paid content. I want the freedom to use that whenever I see fit, without having to switch to a real computer. Apple’s counterclaim that there are over 50.000 alternative games available in the Apple App Store is completely irrelevant in this regard and only proves what everybody has known for a long time: Flash based content on the web is in direct competition with their ability to make profits on selling those apps within their closed system.

#3 Performance
Jobs says Flash doesn’t performing well on mobile devices. What he should be saying is that it doesn’t perform well on the lame ass low performance processors they put in their top of the marked priced products, to save money and make more profit.

#4 Battery life
Then he rants on about Flash using too much power and therefore reducing battery life. What he should be saying is that he knowingly cut out worldwide standard software functionality to make the general public believe Apple mobile products have great battery life, when I fact they don’t. Something that wouldn’t even be a problem if they designed their products to have user replaceable batteries, like every other product in the world. But that obviously would cut into their highly profitable ridiculously overpriced battery replacement services.

#5 Rollover functionality
The next argument is that most Flash based web content uses rollover functionality to display hidden content, menus etc and that that is not “touch compatible”. Apart from the fact that this is only a small part of the Flash functionality of current website content, what he should be saying is that Apple itself knowingly and willingly left out rollover functionality from their touch interface protocol to be able to attack Flash and make it look incompetent. It is not Flash that is falling short, it is the Apple touch protocol that is. And mind you hovering and tool tips in essence are the exact same thing and have been an essential part of standard html since it was invented. So what Apple is basically saying is that html is incompetent as well.

#6 The third party barrier
The closing argument is a complex story about Flash being a 3rd party layer between the OS and the application and therefore a barrier that prevents Apple and their loyal followers from developing cutting edge innovations in the mobile user experience. This must be the biggest load of hogwash I have heard all year. It’s just a freakin’ plugin. Noone is holding a gun to anyones head to actually use it. The Flash plugin being available in the mobile browser has absolutely zero influence on the ability of Apple or their associated software developers to continue creating cutting edge developments.

So there you have it. Six arguments all cleverly presented to be in the best possible interest of the digital consumer. All from a company that always has the best interests of the digital consumer in mind and therefore changes the power connector layout and the video out connector architecture in their mobile products, so all previously purchased converters, docks, sound docks and in-car interfaces become useless and have to be purchased allover again. A company that deliberately changes the architecture of its video output connectors, so they can only be used in combination with proprietary 5 times normal market worth cables which have to include an Apple licensed pass thru chip. A company that sells billions of useless lousy bitrate and resolution and DRM riddled audio and video files and then makes their customers pay extra to replace them with what they should have been in the first place. The company that forced all other hardware manufacturers to embed their proprietary audio and video compression formats, because the world standards were not good enough and consumers had no clue why on Earth their iTunes purchased music wouldn’t play on their car stereo.

Apple may be on the forefront of pushing computing and entertainment hard- and software and they deserve all the praise that’s due for that. But don’t be blinded by them, because at the same time they also will decide for you what you are allowed to do and what not. And as innovative as they are, they are also the biggest, most profit hungry monster in town. Steve Jobs may look like the friendly fellow technology geek, but in reality he is the ultimate corporate shark, dressed in jeans and a turtleneck.

Mind you, the only reason that people (including me) accept all this hypocrisy and still buy Apple mobile products is that they are nothing more than mobile products. Relatively insignificant byproducts that will do when there is no real computer at hand, be that a PC or even a Mac. But if all the above is such a huge problem dear Steve then I dare you to show your balls and remove Flash from all your operating systems, including the Mac OS. Oh no wait, now that would actually stop people from buying Macs and hurt your profits. Oh dear.

Lastly a word on progression. Obviously Apple has it up big with development of the web platform, supporting html5 and the like. There is nothing wrong with that. Just don't fight your technology battles over the backs of your customers. They are more than able to decide for themselves whether they want their batteries drowned, their security breached and their operating systems crashed by these so called terrible Flash apps that apparently have turned browsing the internet into complete misery. It's very simple Steve: there is no need to rescue us from a problem that only exists in your own head. And besides, if Flash really is as bad as you claim, then evolution will render it extinct automatically. Darwin never needed any boycott from hardware manufacturers and neither do we.

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