My take on the iPad: No Flash is foolish

Hey, wait a minute, this is a media consumption product, why doesn't this thing run a lot of the Flash sites I use every day?

I like the iPad. A lot. But the iPad's lack of support for Adobe Flash is a blight on an otherwise great product.

Steve Jobs' Adobe-is-not-open letter means nothing to the average user of the iPad. To them, it's much more simple: Hey, wait a minute, this is a media consumption product, why doesn't this thing run a lot of the Flash sites I use every day?

Yeah, I know, Flash can be buggy. And no one is being forced at gunpoint into an Apple store to buy the iPad. But a lot of people who buy the device are oblivious to this limitation. Besides, I'm going to complain anyway because I think it's an unnecessary (did I say stupid?) omission from an otherwise great device.

One of the biggest shockers for me after I bought the iPad was the number of Web sites and applications that, for better or worse, use Flash. In other words, it's not something I consciously thought about much until I couldn't actually view the videos on the iPad.

Curious about the thoughts of those in the upper echelons of the tech business, during a phone interview Thursday with Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, I popped the question about Apple's lack of Flash support. His answer was diplomatic, since Apple is a large customer of Nvidia's graphics processors, but he did say that he's a regular consumer of Flash. "Obviously, they made the choice...[but] I use a lot of Flash," he said. And to be fair to Huang, he added: "I think they make wonderful products and if Flash is not part of their plans, so be it."

But the larger point is that Huang, myself, and everyone else uses Adobe Flash. It's unavoidable, it's pervasive, it's everywhere. Yes, there are a growing number of sites that can do video on the iPad (see a partial list in Jobs' letter linked above) and the number will continue to grow, but Apple can't just say no to a technology that's baked into the Internet and not expect it to adversely affect the experience. You can't move the entire Web to a new technology overnight. It's like an automaker building a really great car, but it turns out that the car can only be driven on certain designated road surfaces. It's as if Apple is saying: "Hey, if you want to drive on all of those other roads that everyone else is on, get another car."

Screen capture from an Adobe video touting the HP Slate and its ability to do Flash video. Adobe

And I think it's disingenuous when bloggers suddenly have an epiphany that Flash isn't really that necessary anymore. Why, because Apple says so? And Apple must be right?

And the fact that Hewlett-Packard or Dell or Motorola or Verizon haven't been quick to capitalize on this opportunity is just as stupid. Where is the "cool" Flash-capable HP Slate that both HP and Adobe crowed about earlier in the year? And, more generally, why isn't there one decent competitive product on the market now from another first-tier device maker? (I'm sorry, the Archos tablet doesn't count.) I guess Apple wins again.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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