This is actually an old version of danielmall.com. For the latest and greatest, check out the new site.
 

Adobe vs. Apple

My previous post didn’t quite get the reaction I expected, which is great. This is why I love having a blog. While some misinterpreted extended metaphor as simile, I certainly accept equal blame for miscommunicating the idea. It was meant as lighthearted parody, but it’s clear that people want to have a dialog about the issue at hand. Thank you, readers and friends, for making that clear.

I’m ready to speak plainly about Apple’s stance toward Flash.

To defend and protect

Steve Jobs’ Thoughts on Flash is significant. While it contains many logical fallacies and even factual errors, there are some great points being raised, both direct and implied. In some respect, Apple is forcing everyone who creates content for the web to justify the use of technology—namely Flash. Honestly, the need for full Flash sites is shrinking. I’m happy about that. That means we’ll see less and less inappropriate and gratuitous uses of Flash.

Bandwagon jumpers

Please forgive the directness, but I think this needs to be said. Some of you are fighting this battle ignorantly. You’re using Apple’s opinion to justify your personal perspectives as gospel. I’d wager that a large majority of you reading this are happy to see Flash go. Yet, you don’t fully understand it. If you haven’t opened Flash since version 4, you don’t fully understand it. If you haven’t had client work that explored the possibility of using Flash, you don’t fully understand it. If you’re only reacting to executions of Flash—SWFs, not FLAs—you’re reacting to the execution, not the technology; you don’t fully understand it. And how can you pass judgment on what you don’t understand? Loyalists often become collateral damage in holy wars; enlightened revolutionaries make a difference.

Held at gunpoint

What I hate most about the situation is the generality. If I worked at a company that had a standing rule to never use WordPress, I’d go nuts. (Thankfully, I don’t.) What happens when we get a client that WordPress would be perfect for? Even if that’s 1 out of 10 clients, our hands are unjustifiably tied. And for what? A bit of technological dogma?

Because Apple devices don’t support Flash player (note the distinction), the freedom of choice is taken away. I certainly believe that it’ll make for better experiences the majority of the time. But in those cases where Flash would be better, it’s not even an option.

(Aside: there are cases where Flash would be better. Perhaps I’ll write that post next.)

A proposal

I don’t know all the reasons Apple made this decision. But from what I’ve observed and heard them say, they’re solving the wrong problem. Banning content created in Flash won’t solve anything; the same idiots that made all the annoying Flash stuff will just figure out how to make the same stuff in HTML5, Canvas, Processing, Objective-C… you name it. Taking away a tool is pretty near-sighted; we should be focused on changing mindsets.

As I’ve said before, I believe a huge part of the solution is education. Instead of banning Flash (edit) removing the ability to use Flash to create content for the iPhone and iPad and hoping that will fix the web, can we talk about what would make Flash a tool whose output is worth including on any device that can browse the web? For instance, if Flash compiled to <canvas> in addition to SWF, would it be the GUI people are asking about?

Here’s what I’d love to see happen, if it hasn’t happened already:

Both companies care about their bottom line; I get that. They’re both acting primarily with their livelihoods in mind. But if they care more about user experience than making a buck, I’d like to see them prove it by working together for the benefit of all the people that use their products and services.

Comments

Andy Polaine said:

You make a great set of points, particularly in the solution suggestions, but aren't you falling foul of your own argument here? You start off talking about people are missing the point if they're talking about compiled Flash swfs/player instead of the authoring environment and making that distinction. But then end up suggesting near the end that Apple have banned Flash - not just Flash created content. At least, when you write "Instead of banning Flash and hoping that will fix the web", it reads that way.

There are two parts to the Flash/Apple issue. One is the player, the other is the compiler and Apple's section 3.3.1. It's important not to mix those up. If Flash compiled to canvas, this wouldn't a problem on the playback side. Isn't it exactly the poor performance of the Flash player that's the issue there?

The compiler issue is a different one, but framing this as the removal or restriction of your "freedom of choice" is a particularly US cultural way of perceiving things (I mean that as an observation, not judgementally). It doesn't stop you choosing some other technology to execute your work, even while it might not be your first choice of tool to work with. It also doesn't stop you ignoring the lack of Flash on the iPhone/iPad and making something in Flash anyway. Apple hasn't banned the usage of Flash.

I can't put diesel in a petrol engine car and I can't (easily) run a Windows game on my Mac. It's simply not a freedom of choice issue. Freedom of choice isn't always the trump card there are plenty of good examples of why its useful to restrict it. Apple and Adobe have every right to choose to do what they want and suffer or gain from it. Adobe could decide to withdraw the Flash player for OS X, for example. They won't, but if they did would people be making that argument?

Posted on May 14, 2010 11:57 AM

Jeff Croft said:

Nice post, Dan. The best part is seeing someone finally have the balls to call out the fact that many of the people deriding Flash don't really understand it at all.

And thanks for the nod. ;)

Posted on May 14, 2010 12:13 PM

Dan Mall said:

@Andy: Fantastic counter-points.

aren't you falling foul of your own argument here?

You're right. It was an unintentional proofreading mistake. I’ve updated those lines to hopefully better reflect what you’ve pointed out.

It doesn't stop you choosing some other technology to execute your work, even while it might not be your first choice of tool to work with. It also doesn't stop you ignoring the lack of Flash on the iPhone/iPad and making something in Flash anyway. Apple hasn't banned the usage of Flash.

True. My point is more that I'm at an unwarranted disadvantage. If a client of mine said that they wanted the same caliber of design I do for others, except that I must use Fireworks instead of Photoshop, it would be much more difficult for me. Not impossible… just more difficult.

I want to create content for the iPad. And I believe some of that content could be best executed in Flash. Yes, maybe I could accomplish the same things in other technologies, but sometimes with severe budgetary, time, or qualitative penalties on the client I’m creating on behalf of.

Freedom of choice isn't always the trump card – there are plenty of good examples of why its useful to restrict it. Apple and Adobe have every right to choose to do what they want and suffer or gain from it.

I completely agree.

Adobe could decide to withdraw the Flash player for OS X, for example. They won't, but if they did would people be making that argument?

Honestly, I believe this might actually be a next step for Apple, which is why I’m making such a big stink about it now. Thousands of people are rallying behind Apple (for mostly good cause), but that support enables their view that they can create an exclusive system. I’m just afraid that they believe that the next version of Safari shouldn’t allow Flash player, and that it would be for the good of the web.

Posted on May 14, 2010 12:24 PM

Owen said:

This is a great perspective. I couldn't agree more. Flash has been an excellent tool for bringing rich media to the web. Educate the developer, don't punish them by fragmenting the development environment further.

Adobe makes great tools to make great stuff. Apple makes great things to display/interact with great stuff. Both belong, both should grow up and quit this pathetic pissing match.

Posted on May 14, 2010 12:38 PM

Mark Huot said:

Dan, I'm a little curious about this:

Honestly, I believe this might actually be a next step for Apple, which is why Im making such a big stink about it now. Thousands of people are rallying behind Apple (for mostly good cause), but that support enables their view that they can create an exclusive system. Im just afraid that they believe that the next version of Safari shouldnt allow Flash player, and that it would be for the good of the web.

Specifically, the idea that the "support enables their view that they can create an exclusive system." I'm not sure that's, exactly, what Apple is going for. While they certainly wouldn't turn it down, I think even Apple realizes it's not feasible or best for the greater web. Rather, I think Apple is looking for something they can just be a part of. Look at what they're throwing their support behind:

  • HTML5 an open standard who's speed and reliability (on Apple devices) is determined by their software (Safari, or even more specifically, another open source project, WebKit)
  • Javascript an open standard who's speed and reliability (on Apple devices) is determined by their software (Safari, specifically SquirrelFish)
  • H.264 a licensed standard who's speed and reliability (on Apple devices) is determined by their OS (iPhone or OS X)

All these technologies allow Apple to control the experience while allowing consortiums and working groups to push the standard forward.

Flash on the other hand operates as a black box uninformed by Apple's work. If Apple were to come up with a great new UX experience for radio buttons involving some sort of slider between options they could implement it within mobile Safari the same way they implemented a unique select box within mobile Safari. All the radio buttons built in Flash though? They'd be stuck re-emulating Apple's progress after the fact. That's what Apple is afraid of with Flash player and their update to section 3.3.1 of the iPhone SDK. Allowing these black box plugins hinders Apple's ability to push their own platform forward.

Think about it another way. Apple is looking to implement background tasks within the iPhone. They don't want just anything running in the background so they wrote a full featured API to facilitate certain tasks they deem Ok to run in the background. Background audio is one of those. If you used an AUDIO tag that'll work fine. If you use Flash there's no way for Apple to detect that and allow it in the background. Again, the black box model hinders Apple's ability to push their own platform forward.

I think it's wrong to say Apple is looking for a strictly closed system. I think they're just looking for a system that allows them some control over their user's experience.

Posted on May 14, 2010 01:04 PM

val said:

You bring some some really great points, Dan. While there are most definitely legitimate issues being raised in these debates, there is also a lot about Flash that is misunderstood. Many people seem to be arguing from the point of view that web standards move forward while Flash remains constant.But both are moving targets.

I agree that education is a big part of the answer. More talk about how Flash, HTML, CSS and JS can work together now and moving forward will help both the folks who currently embrace Flash, and those who don't have a full picture of what it can offer.

Posted on May 14, 2010 01:07 PM

Nathaniel Taintor said:

One comment on something Andy brought up above:

If Flash compiled to canvas[...]

I haven't played with CS5 yet, but there have been demonstrations on the web (here, for example) showing Flash compiling to <canvas>, albeit in very rudimentary ways. And there's also the capability to compile Flash docs to Cocoa Touch through Adobe AIR (although using this is apparently grounds to be rejected from the App Store).

I don't doubt that the performance and stability of an application built this way will be worse than one built natively in the end technology, but since there's a real lack of authoring tools for canvas animations, I definitely see myself using Flash as a stepping point for that purpose in the near future.

Similarly, I use InDesign as a tool for exporting books to epub format. The actual XHTML output InDesign creates is ugly, buggy, and often needs several hours of cleaning up before releasing, but its a lot easier to do that work than start from scratch with the epub package. I'm hoping that Flash/AIR to canvas can be an aid in that same way.

Posted on May 14, 2010 01:35 PM

Sal said:

Not exactly on topic, but also a good read: What the iPad Owes to Flash

Posted on May 14, 2010 02:31 PM

Josh said:

Dan, very well put! I'm tired of the mud slinging back and forth like a political campaign. We shouldn't be "voting" for a technology. We are creative problem solvers with an array of technologies. Sometimes an "Animated GIF" is the right answer. And OMG even comic sans had its place once. I can draw, but sometimes I need a paint brush.

I want to develop for a web that maximizes the strengths of each technology and can communicate with each other performing in a consistent way on many platforms. Apple may not be delivering content in multiple ways but I am.

I'm really looking forward to HTML5 and CSS3 but I don't see it as a replacement. I see it as a new door opening for integration evolving into an experience we can't yet fathom. And I'm excited for that.

Bravo to you for suggesting solutions instead of casting stones. You can count me in as someone who wants to build a better, smarter, community through education. Not only for tomorrows technologies, but also for better use of what we have today.

There is a lot at stake here with the potential of pitting really smart people against one another over semantics most people don't even really truly understand. Instead use that energy to make things better in an honest and "open" way. Otherwise it will set the entire spectrum back 10 years and who suffers? The user.

Posted on May 14, 2010 03:52 PM

Matt Kenefick said:

Your comment area is too skinny. Sorry, this is unrelated.

Posted on May 14, 2010 06:10 PM

Mehdi said:

This whole thing is just getting more childish and out of control. As a Flash developer, I am highly critical of Adobe for their failures.

Today is 15th May 2010 and we are yet to see a beta for Android Air. Way smaller companies like Unity, ShiVa and Ansca mobile have already developed and released their Android branch.

At the other hand, I see Jobs as a control freak and a hypocrite. Naming Flash a closed platform and having a thankfully failed Quicktime video which works the exact same way as Flash does is stupidity if not worse.

Unfortunately, there is this trend, followed by masses of uneducated, thoughtless people who will just echo what Jobs says just because they see him as a smart person and will follow the mans word even if it makes no sense.

Adobe have indeed failed their developers, Jobs is a complete hypocrite, and this flame war is not helping the situation.

AS you said, they should sit together, and find a way out of this nonsense.

Posted on May 14, 2010 08:14 PM

Andy Polaine said:

Hi Dan - Thanks for the comprehensive comeback. I think, though, that "my point is more that I'm at an unwarranted disadvantage" sums up the entire issue and what people heated up about and why it often gets framed the removal of some kind of freedom.

The disadvantage lies not in the choice of tools, but your knowledge and skills in them, does it not? I say this with utmost respect for your work my point is, it might be more convenient and make a lot of streamlining sense to code once and deploy across multiple platforms, but if you want to create interactive experiences for the iPhone/iPad you can code it natively. It's not so much that Apple has banned the use of Flash on the iPhone/iPad, it's that they have effectively banned the use of Flash developers' knowledge and skills on the iPhone. I know the feeling I can still just about remember how to code in Lingo in Director. There's not a lot of call for that these days thanks to Adobe letting Director die while pushing all their effort onto Flash. When someone takes away the need for your skills, it feels like they're taking away choice, but they're not. There's not much call for blacksmiths anymore either - great news for car mechanics though.

When you say, "I want to create content for the iPad. And I believe some of that content could be best executed in Flash," that's the part where I admit my ignorance that you alluded to before. What would be best executed in Flash? Surely anything would be best executed natively, although it might be "best" in a budgetary (time and money) sense to be able to do this.

I agree with the general sentiment of everyone here though it's not a seemly way for the two companies to be behaving in public, but they have also painted themselves into corners where neither feels they can afford not to respond to the other.

@Matt - It is a skinny comment box, but you can drag it out wider to type at least.

Posted on May 15, 2010 10:03 AM

Dan Mall said:

@Mark:

Specifically, the idea that the "support enables their view that they can create an exclusive system." I'm not sure that's, exactly, what Apple is going for.

I wasn’t saying they are going for that; just that I’m afraid they would. If they never took that step, I’d be very happy.

Flash on the other hand operates as a black box uninformed by Apple's work.

I’m not sure I buy that reasoning. As I’m sure you know, you can customize Safari’s unique select with JavaScript and CSS. Facebook and Adobe created an AS3 library for Flash to call the Facebook API. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I think it's wrong to say Apple is looking for a strictly closed system.

I agree, but I think it’s important to make the distinction between a closed system and an exclusive system. My point was the latter. Apple’s looking for a system where they can have a seat at the table to influence the direction of the technologies involved, which I certainly don’t blame them for. It’s great for their business, but to claim it’s for the good of the user experience of everyone is presumptuous.

@Matt:

Your comment area is too skinny.

I know :( That’s what I get for having the same site for 5 years. Designing for 1024×768 was awesome!

@Andy:

There's not a lot of call for that these days thanks to Adobe letting Director die while pushing all their effort onto Flash.

Like I’ve said before, Director died a slow but peaceful death. Flash is being tried for murder, and some are fighting for the death penalty.

When you say, "I want to create content for the iPad. And I believe some of that content could be best executed in Flash," that's the part where I admit my ignorance that you alluded to before. What would be best executed in Flash?

I think the most telling examples are due to the lack of Flash player in Safari on the iPad. I understand the (conquerable) constraints on the iPhone, as its mobility provides a different context that often calls for different content, but the iPad is—please forgive the oversimplification—a really great laptop. When my mother-in-law can’t view videos of her nephew on Facebook on the iPad like she can on her laptop, no amount of explaining the details of Flash player and battery life and open standards will convince her that the iPad is broken or an inferior device (which I don’t believe it is). It’s easy for techies like us to justify and understand why this is the case, but it’s a massive disconnect in her user experience.

Also, when you get a brief from a client to get me as close to the beach as possible, it’s difficult to the ignore the advantages of using Flash for the project.

I’ll put some more thought into other examples and see if it’s worth writing another post about it.

Posted on May 17, 2010 07:10 AM

Andy Polaine said:

I think the most telling examples are due to the lack of Flash player in Safari on the iPad [...] Its easy for techies like us to justify and understand why this is the case, but its a massive disconnect in her user experience.

This may be true, but those arguments have already been made over and over and, really, in those examples HTML5 coded alternatives are readily available. It does potentially make your life as a developer more painful, but only in the same way as using, say, sIFR and requiring a non-Flash degradation process. This is the weakest argument in the Flash/Apple debate because those issues are avoidable and it also negates the 'closed system' and 'lack of choice' argument. It's hard to argue that Apple's iPad is a closed system or lacks choice, but then complain that it doesn't support a proprietary web plug-in when standards-based alternatives are available and that this is a problem with Web content. The closed system of Apple is the App Store and the approval process - that's the most problematic part, in my view. But then there are always web apps, that require no approval.

The strongest argument has nothing to do with users and everything to do with business on a personal and company level. It's painful to see your hard won skills and years of experience in a certain platform move from being the hot thing to not-so-hot. For those of us who have been around since the "multimedia authoring" days of kiosks and CD-ROMs, it's old news and par for the course. I don't think Flash will die soon, but I do think it's position as the darling of interactive media has already shifted. Sad as it may be, clients have a new young model on their arms at parties.

It's also potentially more time consuming and expensive to have to make multiple versions of interactive experiences and/or re-train. But that's neither Apple nor Adobe's fault (or, perhaps, it both their faults). But that's like anything else in the mid 90s, we (at antirom) didnt bother with the web much because it was so clunky and page based and didn't seem to be able to much of the kind of interactivity we were interested in exploring. Others did and did well and, of course, people like antirom's Nik Roope from Poke caught up very quickly indeed and continue to show what the web can do when you think beyond the technology and more about the culture of it.

I do sympathise with those arguments, but they're really nothing to do with standards and nothing to do with closed or open systems. It's just the way the cookie crumbles.

I read your piece on A List Apart and enjoyed it, but it's simply not true that Director died of natural causes. Adobe let it starve. They ploughed a lot more time and effort into Flash than Director. The initial blow to Director was in the very early days of the web. The Shockwave plug-in was a 'large' (2MB I think) download. Massive at the time compared to Flash. Flash's vector art also compressed better, but as a tool to work with and in terms of much of its capabilities at the time, Flash was a donkey. Then Flash was shipped as standard with the major browser. It was only really around Flash 4 that things got better in terms of its UI as a tool - and it was still painful until recently.

Adobe made Flash their darling and I understand why but it was at the expense of Director. They could have created a leaner Shockwave plug-in, they could have kept updates of Director rolling out at a far greater rate, they could have evangelised it more. They didn't and I think it was simply because you can't do everything. I don't think they really knew what to do with Director (and still don't) and I suspect a lot of the product marketing folk at Adobe don't get it either. In some ways they should have killed it already and much earlier.

But, hey, in CS4 you finally got Director's much better timeline, tweening and keyframe approach and in the previous version to that you got to work with pixel level manipulation welcome to the past! ;-).

Posted on May 17, 2010 08:56 AM

joe said:

You can't be serious. Apple joining Adobe on some task force? Listening to a panel of random people discuss Flash's shortcomings on their own campus no less? Steve Jobs laid out pretty cleanly why there will be no Flash on iPhone OS. A bunch of random developers talking about it on stage is not going to change his mind. You are free to suggest anything you want but let's be real: Apple can do whatever they want with their technology and if you don't like it you can develop elsewhere.

It's up to Adobe to create a decent working mobile version of Flash. The video from Ryan Steweart a few days ago of it running on Nexus One is a good sign. But even if it's perfect Apple still doesn't have to listen to whiny Flash developers and put it on iPhone/iPad. If Big Spaceship and other open-minded studios don't like it, they can either follow their proclaimed ethos and hire iPad-specific developers when the right client project comes along, or deny iPad projects because it doesn't fit their expertise. In the next few years we will see if anyone can truly be a one-stop-shop.

I love Apple products and I hope they succeed. I'm also a Flash dev and I think there will still be opportunities for us elsewhere. I'm just not bitter I won't get to play on the hip new toy.

Posted on May 17, 2010 11:25 PM

Matthew Smith said:

Well written Dan. I'm really interested in this from a conceptual point of view. I understand the legitimate claims from Apple's camp, but I don't really think either group is working toward a powerful future for the web.

Both of these groups are notoriously closed about their platforms or technologies or where they are taking their products.

I'm in the process now of trying to coordinate an Apple and Web Designer/Developer working group that could really look at where the browser, iPhone, and iPad are going and how the community that makes sites and apps for them feels and thinks about it.

Some folks from Adobe would be a great fit for this type of group. Ultimately, the purpose of a group like this would be to assess the greatest areas of weakness in our industry and the greatest areas of strength. We can figure out some common ground for all of us make a living and do good.

Thanks for pulling me into this discussion. Let's talk more offline about it all and see where it goes?

Posted on May 18, 2010 09:49 PM

Darko Arsenijevic said:

At the end of the day as the consumer who is paying a lot of money for Apple and Adobe products I expect some kind of client oriented policy. Apple and Adobe products are very well synchronized with 64 bit OS and native 64 bit applications in CS5 and that works very well. They should make an effort to work together but it looks like they are heading to the anti-consumer direction...

Posted on May 31, 2010 11:50 PM

Jason V said:

Well I have not used flash in about 1 year. I have been more keen to jquery animation although it is still no where near what flash can do. There is a huge amount of favoritism to apple. I agree totally with the part on the band wagoners. it pisses me off too especially since they don't fully understand it from a web prog/designers point. Html 5 is not even close to being a killer of flash. Flash however is a huge memory/battery hog. If html continues to take the strides they are taking I can see flash going out the window. Flash does have to step up there game and bring something to the table that will either compete, exist, or work with html 5.

Posted on June 4, 2010 02:40 PM

Sorry: comments are closed.