Why Steve Jobs is wrong about Flash

Steve Jobs doesn’t like Flash. That’s patently clear.

He blames most Mac crashes on Flash and, I have to say, since Firefox starting sandboxing plugins I’ve seen regular reported Flash crashes.

However, a lot – a lot – of high profile websites use Flash, mainly to render video. Steve’s answer to this is HTML 5 – a new version of HTML that is being supported more and more by the browsers. And HTML includes video capability. Great – no more Flash.

Except his argument is flawed.

  1. HTML 5 is still a draft standard and is liable, probably for a good few years yet, to change.
  2. Flash does more than just play video and HTML 5 doesn’t support a lot of what it can do.
  3. Although HTML 5 allows video, it doesn’t force you to use a particular format. And, as usually happens, a “war” is going on between competing formats – with 3 formats being particularly strong. Where most browsers are plumping for the 2 royalty free options (after all browsers are given away free), Apple has only added the commercial version to Safari and, so far, that appears to be the less popular. Each site will have to re-encode their videos for a different format other than Flash – are they really going to do it for 3 other formats?
  4. HTML 5 video can’t do everything that Flash video can – it is unable to display video fullscreen and there are content protection issues.

Many have speculated that Job’s dislike of Flash mainly comes down to the fact that, unlike pretty much every other aspect of the iPhone, Apple can’t control it. Even apps, written by others, have to be checked and authorised by Apple, after being written on Apple development tools.

Which makes their choice of video format look odd, as it’s a third party commercial product. But then, they would have even less control over the two open formats.  iTunes and Quicktime already use this format and besides, one of the other formats is being championed by Google.

By insisting that Apple products do not use Flash but instead force their particular video format on the masses that buy them they are, in effect, almost guaranteeing themselves success longer term. Or are they? Can the other browsers support a commercial video format which they will have to pay for.

And, at the same time, sites are going to be reluctant to recode all their video until a format is clearly successful.

But, it’s good to see Steve is taking it on the chin as he always does. After a blogger contacted him about supporting the alternative, open formats, Steves reply was “a patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other open source codecs now”.


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