Other People’s Toys

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Sordid tales of Flash, Java, Blu-ray, and other things Apple doesn’t want to play with anymore

Almost every day lately, yet another story about Apple deprecating or not supporting major technologies comes to light. This week was particularly dramatic – the week Apple deprecated Java and removed Flash from Mac OS X. The Summer was replete with Flash references all over the press leading to an antitrust inquiry into Apple’s practices. Blu-ray support has been teased for several years. Of course it is the exception case when Apple comes right out and says it categorically will not support something. It prefers to tease its customers like a politician for as long as possible. It wants both sides to buy its products.

If you’ve watched Apple closely long enough, you already know what it’s going to do. Apple will try its best to sideline these three technologies while it finishes building its fully walled garden in the hopes of ensuring that no future technology like them comes along later for it to defend against. Each of these three technologies have managed to leak onto its platforms in some way despite Apple’s attempts to stop them. Apple wants to ensure that can’t happen again while also plugging the vestiges of the leaks, and this week made major progress towards that goal. (Note: I may use ‘platforms’ in the plural in this post, but Apple has only one platform which we’ll call iOS for now since that’s Apple’s latest name for it; however, that means I am defining it more broadly than they do at present – when I say iOS here, I generally mean the entire ecosystem of Cocoa-based operating systems from Apple.) It’s the same OS on the iPhone, on the desktops where it’s called Mac OS X, and even on AppleTV where Apple hasn’t yet publicized that apps can be written for it. They are separated only by minor source code branching internally.

Let’s review the history of each of these technologies and how it relates to Apple’s platform.

Flash

Adobe Flash has always been a bastard child. It was a hack that allowed simple animations and later quality web video needing a more dependable system than that provided by the web browser clusterf*ck of the late ‘90s and the early part of this century. Nobody really likes Flash, but it did solve what were a set of major deficiencies with the web in a way that didn’t require glacial standards bodies to spend a decade debating. Flash was slow, it was maintained poorly, it was rife with security flaws, but fundamentally it was needed for many sites, it dramatically improved the visual architecture of the web, and there was no competing web technology to challenge it. Not all of that has changed much since then. Meanwhile, HTML5 is not a serious replacement yet, and the rate at which a maximally political standard like HTML5 can be improved to compete with Flash means that wont change anytime soon.

During the early days of Mac OS X, Apple was weak. It was in its resurrection period with Jobs taking over a deeply troubled company. It was in no position to make demands. Adobe was acting like a typical corporate enterprise by de-prioritizing software for Apple’s platforms as it assumed Windows would be the future based on Apple’s near-death experience. Flash however ran just fine on Mac OS X and Apple included it by default on all Macs – because users expected it, everyone used it (although few real users even realized that was what made many websites work), and Apple needed to embrace as many partners as it could back then.

Time passes. Apple gives birth to a little ego boost known as the iPod and later the iPhone. The iPod was more of an experiment (and a rush job) – it represented no strategic progress on the software front beyond iTunes on the desktop. Not to take away from the iPod’s success, but it’s the iPhone that changed everything in 2007. What seems opaque to many is that the iPhone is almost pure Mac OS X. It’s almost exactly the same thing running on your desktop Mac. The iPhone was a direct port of Mac OS X to a mobile processor with a new user interface and a telephone application (yes, that’s somewhat simplified). The success of these products allowed Apple to assume a significantly less submissive behavior as it skyrocketed towards its current position as the second largest company in the world.

The iPhone was pretty clearly going to be a runaway success. The idea that Blackberry’s glorified ‘we’ve combined a calculator, pager, and telephone!’ OS or Symbian’s ‘so convoluted and badly designed it might as well be Windows’ OS would survive the onslaught of the integrated iPhone ecosystem and full Mac OS X underpinning that Apple had brought to the mobile game was comical to those who understood the underlying technologies.

Meanwhile, the initial iPhone had no “apps” so the lack of Flash, Java, and anything else seemed perfectly fine for a mobile considering that the major competing platforms at the time like Blackberry could hardly reproduce any web page much less make a beautiful rendition with multitouch. Apple’s strength was its platform – a full desktop platform but under major constraints in terms of memory and CPU on the iPhone so Apple did have to be very careful about what it allowed to run. Blackberry, Symbian, and Windows Mobile were all based on real mobile operating systems so they had to build upwards – a path that eventually became untenable because rebuilding web browsers and such from the ground up is always going to result in an underfeatured browser. Apple was able to build top-down. It already had the web browser running on Mac OS X. It just needed a new user interface that removed features rather than adding them. That’s quite a bit simpler.

A company in Apple’s 1997-2006 submissive mode could simply have been creative to ensure that Flash content ran on the OS. Apple could have worked with Adobe (or just implemented it themselves) to make portions of Flash run – for instance just the video elements but don’t waste time with the extended Farmville-style animation and sprites that are the real dogs of Flash. Suffice it to say that making Flash “run” for the most part on the iPhone has always been fairly easy without any of the problems that Apple purports could occur – and this path could still be taken at anytime. There are many gray areas of partial support to exploit and reasonable ways to ensure security is maintained if one is so inclined. The question has always been whether Apple wanted it to happen or not. It’s not an engineering, performance, or security issue. Do not be fooled. Yes, such issues exist in theory from a nonsensical direct port, but a proper design for mobile can of course eliminate them. All of this should now be obvious in retrospect as Google’s Android platform has broadly deployed Flash on the same kind of hardware as the iPhone. The fact that my wife’s phone has Flash yet she doesn’t care, and I care a great deal but can’t get Flash tells me something is very wrong.

It all goes back to the platform. The one piece none of Apple’s competitors had is its platform – iOS. Apple already had a first class web browser (which supported Flash on Mac OS X because anyone could build software for Mac OS X and add extensions to its browser). Mac OS X encouraged openness as an OS because it came of age during Apple’s make-friends period. Apple spent many years embracing the ‘community’ as part of the resurrection. Mac OS X is based on ‘Darwin’ which was another word for NeXT’s Unix-based OS that dates way back into the ‘80s but was later renamed Darwin as part of an ‘embrace the community’ open sourcing effort in the resurrection period.

Apple adopted Flash as a core component of Mac OS X shipped on every system. Apple adopted Java and dedicated engineers to it. Both of them were supported despite their many years of endless security flaws. Apple wanted to embrace and make friends. It sorely needed them. Apple made Java a mostly first-class development path for Mac OS X. Fundamentally, Apple needed and succeeded in creating a full alternative to Microsoft Windows that supported all the esoteric technologies and sub-platforms users wanted like Flash and Java.

Blu-ray

In 2005 at the latter end of this make-friends period, Apple joined the Blu-ray consortium. This was entirely a defensive move as most of the standard was already in place. Microsoft had managed to gets its VC-1 video codec (basically a codeword for Windows Media) into the Blu-ray spec, and Apple feared getting left behind. Apple didn’t like Blu-ray. They never did. But they felt they had to get in front of the spec or get left behind as Blu-ray was adopting many potentially competitive technologies. QuickTime/H.264 video were a major push back then as Apple saw them as strategic consistent with its iPod roadmap.

Of course, Microsoft was behaving in exactly the same disingenuous way inserting standards into Blu-ray yet it would later play no role in Blu-ray even preventing the XBox from using it. Blu-ray may have adopted VC-1, but Java as the core platform was still too much for Microsoft to swallow after so many years of ‘embrace and extend’ Java wars with Sun. That same year, Blu-ray ratified Java as its platform. You could argue this was a victory for Apple because Apple had long ‘supported’ Java and at least Blu-ray hadn’t adopted some more odious Microsoft solution like they had with codecs, but in reality it was just another platform threat to Apple and they had to see it negatively. We can now see in retrospect that, despite Apple succeeding in getting H.264 on the mandatory list for Blu-ray, virtually everything is actually encoded using VC-1.

If Apple was to support Blu-ray, every technology adopted for Blu-ray would need to be licensed and implemented by Apple on their desktop systems. So the risk here was pretty high if certain anti-Apple technologies had been adopted. As it is, VC-1 and Java together were a formidable set of what Apple saw as anti-Apple technologies. They represented a video format that had already defined a non-Apple DRM system and a platform over which they had no control. Apple’s favorite H.264 was in there somewhere but the rest of Blu-ray was a confusing mess of non-Apple standards, or a ‘bag of hurt’ as Steve said. That meant it was a threat to the iTunes media ecosystem (DRM) and the iPhone apps ecosystem (Java). The only reason to implement it would be if users demanded it and Apple had to extend an olive branch to those users as it frequently needed to do during the make-friends period. It’s safe to say it has been years since Apple felt the need to do what users wanted rather than whatever is seen as building the larger ecosystem for Apple itself.

Beyond one positive reference in 2005 by Jobs shortly after joining the Blu-ray consortium, essentially nothing has been done on Blu-ray by Apple. It’s clear they either changed their mind or never intended to implement Blu-ray. In 2010 at an Apple internal all-hands, Jobs was asked by an employee when they would introduce Blu-ray. The response was after Blu-ray took off in the marketplace. This sounded particularly disconnected from reality as most people in the world were and still are under the impression that Blu-ray already took off. At around 20% of US households with a 70% YtY growth rate, it’s safe to say Blu-ray will be here a long while. The argument that it hasn’t taken off is the distortion field at work. If you say it enough times, maybe it will become true?

It’s the kind of silly semantic debate that would never have taken place in the make-friends Apple period. If the iPhone had never been introduced, we would have seen Blu-ray support on Mac OS X in 2008. There hasn’t been a competitor for Blu-ray in years. HD-DVD was declared dead by effectively the end of 2007. Apple had expressed public support for Blu-ray in 2005. There was no competition, and essentially there still isn’t. Only someone that has never travelled outside of major cities without broadband Internet would think downloading movies would be a viable replacement for Blu-ray anytime soon (sure, downloading movies is a lovely additional feature when you can use it and don’t need full quality). In a trip to Egypt a few weeks ago, I was happy and surprised just to find power and water much less high-speed Internet drops. On a cruise, I couldn’t even watch a fairly static security camera stream at home much less 720p streaming video. Watching movies on laptops is a primary use case, and it’s not clear which decade will provide reliable broadband worldwide, but it sure isn’t this one. The idea that it hasn’t ‘taken off’ or has been ‘beaten’ by downloads is clear distortion.

By late 2007, Apple had finally realized it was all about its platform, the media that played on it, and the applications that ran on it. That was what would allow it to compete long-term. The platform covered every major front end: the Mac OS X incarnation covered the desktops, iPhone OS covered mobile, and now iOS covers TV (iOS arguably being the name used for all three of them). Blu-ray was simply another platform that wasn’t Mac OS X and would thus cause problems down the road. Whether it was licensing issues with Microsoft codecs or the Java platform, anyone who really knows Apple should have seen back then that Apple would find a way never to support Blu-ray if it could. Apple no longer needed its friends as much as it had in the resurrection. It needed to solidify the walls around the garden it was building that made virtually everything not invented at Apple a threat.

Java

In the resurrection period, Apple was quick to embrace other technologies. Before NeXT was acquired in 1997, a web-based platform had been developed by NeXT known as WebObjects. This was simply another Cocoa platform based on Objective-C. It was an insanely expensive solution for developing enterprise web apps. In 2001, Apple transitioned it from its native platform technologies for WebObjects to Java. This was due to market pressures as Java was becoming very popular for enterprise server technologies at the time. Apple didn’t have the market strength necessary to hold the line on Objective-C back then.

The next few years saw Apple increasingly open source and move WebObjects out of its core technology set. It was soon made free and eliminated from the product line by 2007. WebObjects, in its original conception, was a way to write native Cocoa applications for the web. Once it went Java, it was no longer strategic. It wasn’t part of the iOS platform. It was simply another way to develop Java apps for the web, and Java was increasingly contrary to Apple’s strategy of native Cocoa applications – because it could exercise ultimate control over that entire ecosystem.

For the iPhone, Apple needed something very similar to the original native WebObjects that it had just spent 6 years killing. For the first iPhone, Apple introduced a silly solution to write iPhone ‘web apps’. That was simply a sleight of hand trick to avoid admitting that ‘we don’t support apps yet but feel free to access websites.’ The fact they were able to convince some in the drooling press that these represented ‘applications’ remains an amusement. Internally, rest assured there was never any mystery that real applications and real developers would be forthcoming. It was a matter of engineering all the infrastructure such as the App Store and finishing public APIs to ensure Apple had control over what they now were certain would be their ace in the hole, their platform.

They couldn’t just pre-announce products or detail their entire future strategy as that would have terrified all the partners they’d spent years cultivating. The most ironic part is that, had Apple supported Java on iPhone OS, these ‘web apps’ could easily have been much more functional with a well-developed Java-embracing strategy. The fact Apple did not enable that should have made their plans clear to observers. Apple shortly introduced the ability to write full native Objective-C Cocoa applications for iPhone OS – as long as you don’t use Flash or Java (thus ensuring among other things that your source code not just your app will work only on Apple’s operating system and development environment).

Apple’s platform is somewhat unique in that nobody else uses any form of it. Building something for it requires a complete code rewrite to port to anything else in the industry today – entirely true at the user interface layer and often true for backend code. To give credit where credit is due, I’d also note that Apple’s development environment and language is arguably much better on the whole than any of its competitors, but the walled garden is certainly enforced by the fact that every single technology in the ecosystem is fully Apple controlled.

While above I made the point that enabling Flash is fairly easy on the iPhone if Apple wanted it, enabling Java would be literally trivial. The fact it is not supported from a technical perspective is pure politics. Java has been ported and deployed on many small devices without issues. At least with Flash one does need to redesign some things and likely drop some features altogether. The lack of Java isn’t a technical issue.

Java represents a foreign web technology that doesn’t advance Apple’s platform. Blu-ray’s core platform is Java. WebObjects had become polluted by Java a decade ago when Apple wasn’t paying attention to the platform as its core strength and needed market friends. Apple’s cornerstone technology is Objective-C Cocoa not Java. Flash and Java compete with Cocoa today. Apple wants to eliminate these other technologies it sees as threats. More recently, Google has based its Android operating system on Java and its market share has been going through the roof. It represents the first very credible threat to the iPhone. This has of course only increased Apple’s anti-Java resolve and likely led to it making the dramatic deprecation of Java announcement this week – a situation really unthinkable not too long ago. Being everybody’s friend and the supporter of Java is no longer in Apple’s best interest. Java is not only a platform threat to iOS, but now that Oracle has acquired Sun, Oracle has demonstrated that it’s going to be a troublesome parent that could sue anyone at anytime for specious reasons. Apple could have just as easily used Oracle’s lawsuit against Google as a good reason to deprecate Java. That kind of legal uncertainty is just not tolerable for Apple when Java is both a platform competitor as well as having very little reason to include it on client platforms – users barely notice its absence on the iPhone unlike Flash.

The Platform

Android is bursting Apple’s bubble around its walled garden. For the first time since the iPhone introduction, Apple feels a very real threat. In September, it took the inconceivable step of relenting on some of its many restrictions by allowing apps that include Flash-based components. After impassioned anti-Flash arguments from Jobs only a few months before, Apple actually allowed some forms of Flash in the store.

It’s very important to see what that September announcement is not however. It’s nothing like Apple allowing Flash on its platform. No. If you write an Objective-C Cocoa app that happens to include a segment that runs in pre-loaded Flash (you can’t download it from a website dynamically, it must have been part of your app from the moment it appeared on the store), that is allowed. But that was never what people wanted. That was only interesting to a few developers who had gone down that path. Flash itself and especially Flash in the browser is still completely off-limits. So really there is nothing to see here. Nothing relevant changed.

There are a set of platforms each with their corporate backers against which Apple is defending. We’ll ignore Oracle. Google is the Java platform, but with APIs entirely unique to Google’s environment. RIM also uses Java, but again entirely customized for its environment. Microsoft now has Windows Mobile 7 with its old-school Microsoft .NET platform. Adobe is just a vendor, but Sony has adopted Chumby for its Dash platform, and Chumby is just a Flash environment. So you see that each of these technologies like Java and Flash (nobody cares about .NET anymore, sorry) aren’t just foreign execution environments, they’re actually market-level competitors for Apple the company, and a threat to its entire platform.

Interestingly, all of the competing platforms are non-native. They’re all interpreted platforms (this generally means slower) like Java, Flash, and .NET. Yes, some try to get around this via compilation optimizations, but any real tech knows that if you want performance, you want native code, and only Apple plays there. For the record, Android has a hacked native code solution, but its definitely a second-class citizen – you sure aren’t going to write your whole app in the NDK as it’s just not possible.

Meanwhile, Android runs Flash as well. Amusingly despite being based on Java, Android does not run Java apps. This is purely a market forces issue. Flash is becoming a major competitive feature to use against the iPhone so Google wanted it right away. Running client-side Java apps is entirely irrelevant as almost no websites use that. (Java as a technology never got into the mainstream anywhere other than the enterprise Internet applications area that it took hold of back in the WebObjects days – not counting essentially proprietary uses like Android of course).

Android’s use of Flash does however blow up many of Apple’s arguments against it. Now that the Emperor is wearing no clothes, what is left other than to admit it doesn’t want Flash because it sees Flash as a competing platform threat to iOS? Flash and Java (and by corollary, Blu-ray) are other people’s toys and can’t be depended upon. If we play with them, the toys might get taken away, their parents might get mad, who knows what crazy thing might happen!

If cross-pollenation of runtimes occurred, apps would be more portable between platforms, but portability is not good if you’re trying to build a walled garden where toys can grow up without foreign influences and lawsuits.

Apple doesn’t just have an ecosystem now. It’s evolved into an economy. They have essentially all of the mobile developers. They’ve built a system where those developers can make money off of Apple, but you give up the ability to make your app easily portable of course. We want you living off Apple and ideally depending on that. If you’re too big, or try to impact the platform itself, all bets are off.

I admit I both love Apple and want to see all three of these technologies supported on both Mac OS X and iOS (yes, Blu-ray support in iOS would be necessary for a complete AppleTV product). For better or worse, I know enough about these three to realize there are no real obstacles to that happening beyond politics.

I have to wonder whether Apple, at its newly grand size and flush with incredible amounts of cash, really has to worry so much about its walled garden anymore though. It’s all very convincing to look at this from Apple’s perspective on why one would try to eliminate these three technologies, but Apple is now in a position to outmatch Google dramatically on the openness front. If Apple were to allow these technologies in the appropriate places, it seems to me it would only solidify its position as market leader. As it is now, Apple creates holes in the market by holding what is so clearly a political line on these technologies that users want or need. Google and others are trying to fill these holes more or less successfully as the case may be.

If that short-sighted protectionism stays in place, I fear Apple may be shooting itself in the foot.

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About Will Price
cypherpunk, PGP Corporation vpe/co-founder, entrepreneur, currently working on a new product called Roomie Remote

12 Responses to Other People’s Toys

  1. JCK says:

    Google’s “openness” is just a fake argument against Apple. Apple is in the consumer space, not the developer space. It’s selling computers, devices, and media to consumers. Do you think the end-user really cares about BSD vs. GPL ? In fact, Android’s “openness” is allowing the network carriers to totally mess up the user experience (see V-GHAST and Bing-only on VZ phones).

    Blu-ray : is TOTALLY against Apple’s vision and renting and selling media over the cloud. Esp now that 720p and 1080p is already stream-able if you have a sizable pipe, the future of media delivery is all in the cloud (see Netflix’s explosive growth ever since they embraced streaming over mailing DVDs).

    Flash : If Apple’s Cocoa is a walled-garden, wouldn’t the same be with Flash? Imagine your entire web presence is at the mercy of a single vendor in Silicon Valley, compared to a standards-based approach (even though it might be a lot harder to code up the same site using Javascript/AJAX/DHTML/CSS/god-knows-what). And it’s the wrong paradigm because it’s designed for keyboard and mouse interaction, and has no correctly adapted to Touch.

    H.264 : YouTube can waste space and re-encode their entire library into WebM, but if the iOS continues its explosive growth (esp the iPad), YouTube would be a fool not to have HTML5/H.264 in the entire library within the next 2 years, and will ensure their survival against Vimeo’s onslaught.

    Java : should’ve been deprecated years ago. It was the right concept with the wrong implementation. The correct way should’ve been interpreted code for browser-based usage, but multi-platform native compilation for full-scale apps, both in desktop and server-side. The horse has left the barn – just RIP please.

    • Will Price says:

      In general I agree with all of that. I’m not so much a cheerleader for these three technologies as a supporter of the fact that, in the absence of harm to the platform caused by these technologies, Apple should allow them as at present their absence is causing damage to the platform and creating large holes for competitors to attack it. Not supporting Flash is being used today in advertisements against the iPhone, and it is a fairly persuasive argument given how prevalent Flash is.

      No one doubts the future of media delivery is in the cloud. The problem is that future hasn’t taken place yet except for people like you and me who no doubt operate under very fast pipes. Even then, 99+% of that content is at most 720p with no extras and heavy compression. Not home theater quality. So both the low end and the high end are not well served by downloads for the short and medium term. In any case, the Blu-ray issue is more about Apple trying to enforce its walled garden and make you buy everything from iTunes. Which again is simply causing damage to the platform as everyone else is much more open – see Google TV for instance which allows an open app environment for content providers rather than Apple’s ‘you can only buy/rent from iTunes, and you can only stream from NetFlix.”

  2. Bones says:

    You said that Android runs flash, but does it run it well? What percentage of flash apps run correctly on the flash platform? What percentage of flash videos play legibly (or even play) on those portable machines? How much quickly do batteries die when downloading and running the flash apps on webpages? Those questions must be answered before one can really say that flash runs in an acceptable fashion on any handheld device.

    The article http://www.macrumors.com/2010/08/20/flash-player-performance-on-droid-2-found-to-be-hit-or-miss-at-best/ notes that droid flash is hardly a seamless operation. Many flash apps must be re-released to run well here, and users have no way of knowing which are which.

    Knowledgable desktop and laptop users have click-to-flash plugins installed in all their browsers. Muzzling Flash is the single best way to improve the browsing experience: faster webpage loads, reduced CPU/battery suck, no annoying Flash advertisements, no Flash-leaking of my identity, and minimizing exposure to Flash security holes. Flash has always worked poorly with the Mac UI (different scrolling semantics, Apple kbd shortcuts not working when in the flash window, etc.). I strive to minimize my Flash usage, and I help less-experienced users install click-to-flash on their machines.

    You failed to mention that Apple is now allowing the use of Flash cross-compilers to create iPhone/iPad apps. If there is some “essential” flash app out there, programmers can now distribute it that way. If they want to distribute it freely, Apple will even pick up the tab for distributing the app. If users wish to get money for their Flash, they can do that. This relaxation of the rules should satisfy the regulators.

    We’ve seen the future of laptops from Apple this week: no optical or magnetic drives at all. These computers are smaller, faster, quieter, consume less power, and are far more reliable. Even if there were a blu-ray drive available for these computers, who would want to lug it around with them? Who really wants to own little disks of plastic anyhow?

    You are right: streaming download doesn’t work for everyone. If Hollywood were smart, they would figure out a way to distribute movies through small USB drives to bandwidth-challenged users. Netflix and Redbox (and the B-store) could rent movies that way. Set-top boxes could have a USB plug for reading and playing those movies. Simple.

    Blu-ray is the last spinning medium that will be used for distributing movies. Some would argue that Blu-ray was already obsolete on its debut, and I would tend to agree with them. Jobs and Apple already knew that future laptops (and none of their tablet or iPhone machines) would have no optical drives. It wasn’t worth the hardware cost or the licensing cost to deal with Blu-ray for laptops.

    • Will Price says:

      I’m drawing a line most are not drawing which is that Flash can be divided into necessary and unnecessary functionality. 90+% of people just need the necessary functionality and that primarily comes down to the video elements. I don’t believe Apple needs the rest of Flash, but yes Android is proof that you can go all the way. Sure, Android Flash isn’t amazing and I’m no fan of silly Flash stuff, but if it isn’t harmful to the platform which I submit it is not then there’s really no reason to prevent it. The more critical need however is of course Flash video because there is no end in sight to that logjam and Apple just looks silly at this point as it keeps putting out propaganda to convince people HTML5 video has taken over when we know that is far from true and wont be true anytime soon.

      You say I failed to mention that Apple allows Flash embedded in apps. Actually I have a whole section about that. See the OP. That’s an edge case of Flash use to say the least. The user expectation is for Flash to work when they visit the many websites that use it.

      • Bones says:

        I have no idea what you mean when you say that you can “go all the way” with Flash on Android. As many columns including this one have noted, absolutely nobody has “gone all the way” to have a satisfactory user experience for Flash. Further, I have no idea how one would satisfy your video demands without providing the entire Flash player. Adobe has not been asking for a video-only; they have been demanding all of flash. I don’t even know if Adobe has the concept of a video-only player.

        One man’s edge case is another man’s bread and butter. If there really are earth-shattering Flash apps, then they should be showing up in the App Store now. I have heard of no “must have” App Store Flash Apps.

        There’s an excellent reason for keeping Flash out of Safari: it would force Apple to rely on Adobe to ensure the security of Safari. That would be a terrible idea! This is distinct from Flash apps in the App Store, because each App on the phone is firewalled from all other apps.

        Apple could conceivably port their own version of Flash to the iOS, but it would be a huge undertaking. Note the lack of any viable third-party of public-domain Flash engines. This would be a huge project with very limited upside for Apple.

        What commercial sites do you regularly use that can’t serve up their video on an iPad?

        You also didn’t comment on my Blu-ray notes. AFAICT, Blu-ray was a dead technology from Day 1. Today, streaming is a far better option for anyone who has the bandwidth. For those who are bandwidth-challenged, getting movies via a USB memory stick would be far better than spinning media. A Redbox could host a vast repertoire of movies and load a movie onto the rental-stick on the fly.

        Apple’s new laptops have no spinning media. That is clearly the way of the future. Just like Flash, any investment in Blu-ray infrastructure would have been a waste of time for Apple.

  3. Sean McLean says:

    Very well written Will!

  4. jhn says:

    How many user applications actually use a desktop java runtime?

    The big ones are all IDEs, which in turn are mostly used to create server code. Server-side java isn’t going anywhere. I can think of a few file-sharing applications with mediocre UIs that are java apps. While it’s a good way to make lowest common denominator cross platform applications, for the most part, no big loss. (The best cross-platform apps simply write new UIs per platform. VLC etc.)

    Flash is “harmful” to the web as a whole, as a proprietary non-standard, and to the platform, since it harms performance and the quality of a user’s experience. Reason enough to block it.

  5. Aleks says:

    Just a small observation. You said that practically all Blu-Ray are encoded using VC-1. Well I just went through my collection and can tell you that 10 of my films are VC-1, 25 are in H.264 and 5 are in mpeg-2. What are you basing your claim on?

    While I understand that Apple would want to replace blu-ray with their streaming technology, I can’t see this happening untill 2020. Currently the vast majority of the world still doesn’t have any access to any iTunes videos. Here in Norway, I don’t know a single person who watches streamed videos (at least not legally). Everyone I know who aquires their entertainment legally buy or rent dvd’s or blu-rays. I’m 22 and none of my friends have any idea what an Apple TV is and I only know two people who purchase songs through iTunes. Physical media is still living strong in this part of the world. Can’t comment on other countries though.

    Also, as for streaming video, I tried one service they have here called headweb (it’s not porn, I swear :P) to watch Nightmare on Elm street. Even with the low quality version I still wasn’t getting pause free playback. Since then I’ve moved into a student flat and I now have even slower internet. I’ve lived four different places, and I’ve never had internet fast enough to watch stutter free.

    I buy blu-ray discs due to the fact that they cost onlu $2 more than the dvd version. Even if I could purchase a 720p iTunes version, I don’t see the point. Physical media is more flexible, despite the DRM. I can take it to friends house and stick the disc in the player. With iTunes video, I would have to drag my Apple TV with me :P. Also, with blu-ray I get a 1080p copy for watching at home, and I can easily rip them onto my laptop for traveling. I rip all my blu-ray films and tv-shows as 540p files for viewing on my Macbook Pro. The only advantage I can see with iTunes is the fact that I can get the movie without leaving the house, but considering the fact that my neares video store is on the other side of the road, is open from 9 – 23 and has an impressive blu-ray collection, I just don’t see the point.

    That’s my 2 cent 🙂

  6. Bones says:

    If your concern is displaying flash video on iOS devices, there’s some very good news this week: http://www.macrumors.com/2010/11/02/skyfire-to-bring-flash-video-to-ios-devices/ . If you go to http://skyfire.com/product/iphone , you’ll see a description of their product: a browser built on top of Safari that does server-side conversion of Flash videos to a compatible format.

    For the small percentage of iOS users that need to access legacy Flash videos, this provides a way to get to them.

    Adobe itself is providing a pathway for developers to get away from Flash: http://www.macrumors.com/2010/10/29/adobe-shows-off-flash-to-html5-converter/ .

    The handwriting is on the wall. Flash is a dead technology, and smart developers have either converted or are in the process of converting their assets. Adobe itself is pointing that way, and vendors like skyfire are providing bridging software until those conversions are complete.

    I am glad that Apple is staying far and wide away from Flash in Safari. I can do without the CPU/battery suck, the UI incompatibilities, the identity leaks, and the security problems that Flash introduces. At the same time, I’m happy that third-party vendors are providing a means to run parts of Flash in a separate app.

    • Will Price says:

      The appearance of Skyfire is simply yet another proof of what I’m saying above: Apple could “solve” the Flash problem in a safe, performance-neutral way. There are many technological paths (including at least 2 that I consider better than what Skyfire did but are probably things only Apple can do) Apple could use to make their customers happy and bring us the full web. They have not taken these easy paths. This concerns me because Apple is putting silly politics ahead of its users. As per above, “support” for Flash does not mean just dropping the entire Flash runtime onto iOS which is obviously a non-functional concept. It means re-thinking what Flash does and then making the important parts of that work on iOS. Skyfire is an example of that logic at work. Apple should have done it right years ago. They still can. For the record, Skyfire is more of an experiment than a solution and it doesn’t change anything. Users expect the web, the full web, inside Safari without compromise, and Apple will continue to be attacked successfully by Google et al. until it solves this problem.

      • Bones says:

        You told us earlier in this discussion “90+% of people just need the necessary functionality and that primarily comes down to the video elements.” By your own definition, they have made the important parts of Flash available in iOS. Apple approved the Skyfire app for the App Store. For the record, Skyfire is a product, and the service is a mission-critical component of the product.

        I have no idea why you think the presence of Flash would have a huge impact on iOS device demand. iPad sales were supply-limited until mid-September; the iPhone 4 was supply-limited until a few weeks ago. Demand has been unprecedented for the iPhone 4 device. I can provide you with links if you can’t find the stories.

        Jobs announced there were over 100M iOS devices shipped in June of this year. I’ll take a guess and say were at over 120M devices today. That’s a lot of devices, and the demographics of those users are attractive to website owners. You can talk all you want about “the full web”, but even Adobe realizes that Flash ain’t a part of that experience. Go off and read http://www.macrumors.com/2010/10/29/adobe-shows-off-flash-to-html5-converter/ . Adobe has seen the future, and it doesn’t include Flash.

        Apple shipped iOS Safari without compromise; adding Flash to it would have compromised the software. It’s part of the brilliance of iOS: less is more. If you don’t like Apple’s choices, please feel to select products from other companies.

        For the record:

        120M iOS devices that won’t run Flash apps.
        Millions of Android devices run Flash poorly.
        Click-to-flash plugins muzzle flash for Windows and MacOS users. Flashvertising is never delivered.
        Adobe itself is starting to migrate off of Flash.

        In short, Flash has ceased to be a viable platform for delivering content or advertising to users.

  7. Bones says:

    Last week, there was another zero-day vulnerability in Adobe Flash. The vulnerability affects Flash Player on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Solaris. The current Flash Player for Android is also vulnerable.

    Steve Gibson talks about this in his latest Security Now! podcast (transcript at http://www.grc.com/sn/sn-273.htm ). Steve notes that Adobe’s quarterly update program is absurd: we would have to wait until 2/8/2011 to get a fix for this bug. Surely an emergency update will be forthcoming.

    It would be absurd for Apple to allow Flash to be included in Safari. They would be at the mercy of Adobe to deal with these zero-day bugs — from a company that *still* thinks that quarterly updates to software are good enough.

    Apple is right to nix Flash in iOS. Safe alternatives are already available. If you really want the “full web experience” of zero-day Flash Player bugs, you need to get another smart phone.

    That zero-day bug is equally dreadful for laptop and desktop computers. It’s an excellent reason to turn off Flash by default on those machines through either click-to-flash plugins or to remove Flash entirely.

    Every zero-day bug is another nail in the coffin of Flash.

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