Apple, Adobe, Flash, iPhone, iPad and Open Source

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010 | Business | by

I just saw an interesting blog “Back and Forth” between a few sites:

The conversation revolves around the future of Flash and open standards. I will quote each article, but read them all —

It starts out with Robert Scoble saying, Can Flash be saved?:

Let’s go back a few years to when Firefox was just coming on the scene. Remember that? I remember that it didn’t work with a ton of websites. Things like banks, ecommerce sites, and others. Why not? Because those sites were coded specifically for the dominant Internet Explorer back then.

Some people thought Firefox was going to fail because of these broken links. Just like Adobe is trying to say that Apple’s iPad is going to fail because of its own set of broken links.

Robert follows up on  himself with Google + will + save Flash:

I just recorded a 45 minute conversation on my iPhone while we sat on the deck at theHalf Moon Bay Ritz with Luke Kilpatrick about Flash, Silverlight, Palm Pre, and a few other topics, but mostly focusing on what will happen to Flash.

If you crunch the 45-minutes down it comes down to Google +will+ save Flash because Adobe’s 10.1 is finally ready for mobile phones. Adobe is, next month, going to show off its new mobile strategy, at the Mobile World Congress, he told me.

Robert Scoble picked up the ball here, and followed up with his stance on the viability of Flash in our future, Who Can Do Something About Those Blue Boxes?:

Regarding those blue boxes that indicate embedded Flash content in MobileSafari, think of it this way: Who can make them go away?

  1. Adobe can’t. They can’t put Flash Player on iPhone OS on their own.
  2. Apple could, but they won’t.
  3. Users could make Apple change its mind by refusing to buy iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads because they don’t support Flash. That does not seem to be happening. In fact, iPhone sales are accelerating.
  4. Web site producers could do it, by replacing or providing an alternative to the Flash content on their sites.

Used to be you could argue that Flash, whatever its merits, delivered content to the entire audience you cared about. That’s no longer true, and Adobe’s Flash penetration is shrinking with each iPhone OS device Apple sells.

What’s Hulu going to do? Sit there and wait? Whine about the blue boxes? Or do the practical thing and write software that delivers video to iPhone OS? The answer is obvious. Hulu doesn’t care about what’s good for Adobe. They care about what’s good for Hulu. Hulu isn’t a Flash site, it’s avideo site. Developers go where the users are.

Dave Winer asks an interesting question, reinforcing Robert’s stance ( web developer’s won’t just use a technology that doesn’t work) by stating – What if Flash were an open standard?

Users and website developers are practical people. We don’t care about Adobe, says Gruber, and that’s probably right (I don’t have a single Flash document on But I very much care about an open Internet.

Yes, that opens me to ridicule from users with little experience with the other kind of networking, one that has huge Do Not Enter signs everywhere. Their naivete is no excuse for throwing out the engine that’s been driving innovation. The question of where and how we draw the line should be part of the public discussion.


PS: Adobe might want to consider, right now, very quickly, giving Flash to the public domain. Disclaim all patents, open source all code, etc etc. That would throw the ball squarely back into Apple’s court and would frame the question right now in its most stark terms.

Finally John Gruber responds with What if Flash Were an Open Standard?

That’d be an interesting move, and it would certainly shake things up. But what if the source code to Flash Player is — as many would wager — a huge steaming pile of convoluted C++ horseshit? It’s sort of like what if Microsoft open-sourced the Internet Explorer rendering engine. It’s not like anyone who is now using WebKit or Gecko would switch to that just because it was opened — or that WebKit, Mozilla, and Opera would suddenly be obligated to or even interested in adopting IE-specific web features.

The problem for Flash is just like the problem for IE — the web has already moved on.

My Response

These guys have a lot to say on the subject.  I have to say I don’t think Flash will be the final web platform for animation and “rich content”.  If you read this blog, you know I love Flash and everything it does.  It is a great tool, and there are many applications of that tool both now, and in the near future.

Apple isn’t the big problem here (but they are sure making noise with it), the problem is that a company, or individual, that wants a say in Flash development cannot have such a say, because it is a closed solution controlled by one company.  That has always been an inherent design flaw of Flash.  Back in the beginning it made sense, because Macromedia needed to make money.  Eventually someone will have wanted to say something about flash, or developer would have wanted something changed.  If Adobe didn’t listen, developer would come up with a way to have their voices heard.  The end user’s web surfing experience is currently split between mobile web, and the “real” web.  This is partly because Apple is making a big deal out of this, but mostly because Flash is closed and cannot be fixed by the developers who use it.

What we are seeing is digital evolution.  The end goal of evolution is reproduction.  The end goal of web development is the end user’s experience.  Anything that stands in the way of that goal will eventually be taken down.

The ball is, most definitely, in Adobe’s court.

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