Flash and the iPhone (Unmet Journalism)

Today is Apple day it seems, and so here’s one of two posts of mine on the company/subject. This one has to do with the unmet expectations of journalism when it comes to those things relating to the iPhone.

As solid as the user experience is, there’s just too much ignorance from those who should know about mobile when it comes to evaluating what’s possible, versus what has happened. And this article over at Venture Beat is really one of the worst that I’ve seen. The facts aren’t full, and the real issue is skirted for what could amount to an attention-getting headline.

I won’t speak for others, but I did have my piece to say in response:

I have to agree with many of the comments here, this article while starting with the right premise, didn’t really take the technical or philosophical turns that could have been more fruitful for discussion.

For one, Flash doesn’t need “the cloud” any more or less than any other web-based technologies do. The assumption here is that Flash is like other multimedia, however its a platform used for a container for usually incompatible media and for complex interactions through its specific scripting language. If you will, you can call it nearly an operating system, just without the overhead, and with the assumption that many of the interactions are driven through some kind of IP connection.

Concerning these points:
1. Very real device limitations
2. Bandwidth issues
3. Battery life impacts
4. The “moving target” of web technologies

There are no limitations with any of the upper tier smartphones in this wise. Flash Lite has been running successfully on Nokia’s Symbian smartphones, and plenty of others (usually not in the US) for many, many years now. When the iPhone released without compatibility to even Flash Lite, this was seen as a slight for Apple, not Adobe, as the run-time was already well optimized for mobile device hardware/software.

Bandwidth issues are a very real issue with mobile devices, specifically smartphones and cellular-connected laptops. However, their bandwidth issues relate first to the signaling used to maintain the connection, the architecture of the network(s), and then the end-user’s use of whatever web-based media that might be flowing over that connection. Its being increasingly realized that many carriers in the US did not build out their networks for the dearth of persons who are using always-on data connections that they push these same users to. So while Flash can contribute to issues here, bandwidth can’t be cited as a reason for no Flash on mobile devices – especially when the counter argument is that “the cloud” is a better item to leverage. They (Flash and the cloud) are both the same – a media platform – in this case.

Battery life is an issue for all mobile device. Again, though, I will cite the use of Flash Lite for media *and* user interfaces on mobile devices which has been optimized for such constrained hardware. Battery life is no more a limitation than the processor or the user – that is to say, this point just doesn’t stand in this argument either (again, Flash and the cloud are platforms, both would utilize the available physics of a battery the same as usage will determine impact).

Lastly, the section on the “moving target of web technologies” should have been more fleshed out. In light of the recent video which showed that the Webkit-based browser on the iPhone is capable of video play through the use of HTML5, I would say that it is not only well positioned for web technologies, but that the target is moving *towards* the hardware limitations, and not away from them. Flash (again) has been available in three versions of its lightweight Flash Lite format for almost 5 years now (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_Lite), and happened to have always been ahead of where mobile device hardware was – it tried to emulate the desktop experience as best as possible. These points weren’t raised, and therefore this is where I say in the beginning that this article could have been better fleshed out for discussion.

I agree with your statement, “Mobile internet users should be able to access all the content on the Internet, especially all the good stuff like video and slideshows that are currently only in Flash formats on millions of websites.” The change will come not from “the cloud” though, it will come from content producers creating accessible content (for example: http://camendesign.com/code/video_for_everybody or the S5 HTML slideshow format) which uses plugin platforms like Flash to enhance the experience, not be the only experience.

Its better to speak about the issue fully, and in truth, than to just create buzz about something that doesn’t even get swatted down.

Where are the journalists who write to engage the issue, not just gloss over it?