This weekend we will see the launch of the new Apple iPad, a device which has the potential of being very successful if early indications are accurate. But for all the benefits this new computer form factor may bring its audience, it won't be packing the web's most popular plug-in... Adobe's Flash. Apple has already shown the iPhone and iPod Touch can sell very well without Flash and if they can sell iPads in record numbers as well, perhaps Apple decide their computers will no longer need to run Flash either.
If you are Adobe, you have to be sweating about now and profusely. After all, if users can buy apps which approximate the performance of Flash then the makers of the app stores win at Adobe's expense. And for the app store vendors, they realize the extra work it takes to build apps is generally recouped by charging for apps or perhaps some other service in the application. And this of course means there is an opportunity to make additional money if you don't support Flash on your platform.
Steve Jobs has come out against Adobe, calling them lazy and calling Flash buggy. Of course buggy software is not only being created by Adobe, last I checked, most companies have software updates to cure problems in earlier releases. And commenting on Adobe being lazy is a bit tougher for me... They come out with new releases of their products and companies buy their software - the free market to some degree ensures they make software people want and they work hard enough to ensure we keep buying.
I am not accusing Jobs of ulterior motives here but my memory is not good enough to hear about massive Adobe complaints from Apple before the app store became a cash cow.
Regardless, Adobe has fought back against Apple is some of the best ways they can. First they partnered with HP on the Slate and made a video which shows the Flash-powered device browsing a variety of Web sites which do not display properly on more and more Apple products.
Going further, today Adobe partnered with Google and will provide Flash as an integral part of Chrome - it will update with the browser in fact. In addition, the two companies are working with others on browser neutral APIs which will support browser plug-ins. This is great news actually - as I mentioned yesterday, TMC launched its first browser extension for Chrome called Twitter Plunger and life would be much easier if it seamlessly worked on all browsers without us having to rewrite for each product on the market. If it works as advertised, some of the additional benefits of this new API integration should be increased speed and security.
Google has a blog post about its Flash support and seems to go out of its way to differentiate itself from Apple by supporting what they describe as "the most widely used web browser plug-in [which] enables a wide range of applications and content on the Internet, from games, to video, to enterprise apps."
My take on the issue is that forcing developers to make different versions of their sites for different browsers contributes to the splinternet phenomenon and moreover has become the real Apple tax. But on a small device you could make the argument that a custom program is the best solution for conveying information. When you move to a screen the size of an iPad, you are in netbook territory and to be honest, this is the baseline for the majority of Flash apps out there.
So what is perhaps an advantage to users on a smartphone could potentially work against Apple on a larger screen. Time will tell of course but based on how many times I have had to explain to people why Web sites don't work properly on an iPhone, I expect the problem to escalate greatly when these users try to surf the web with an iPad as they might on any other computer.