The iPad Takes on Flash Video, and Wins?

People used to whine about the iPad’s lack of Flash support, saying that it’d never suit for watching videos on the world wide web as Flash is integral and immovable.

Yes, it’s buggy, bloated, and unlovable, but you’ve got to stick with it because that’s the way things are; Flash is the British (and a few friends) driving on the left side of the road, it’s not really necessary if you were to start from scratch, but it’s too difficult (and dangerous) to change it now…

I’m here to announce some good news; watching stuff is going to be fun again, and it’s down to the iPad!


Apologies for the provocative title, but you’ve got to start somewhere. This battle is far from over, but it certainly bears thinking about – what else do we take for granted that we really shouldn’t?

The Flash Analogy

While the iPad was scorned as being headed for video isolation, the reality is that Apple’s decision not to support Flash was a stroke of genius that may smooth the transition away from Flash for everyone – making the world of visual internet content a much friendlier place.

However, a confession.

The analogy I used above is actually way out, ridiculous, and completely off the reservation – especially for web based technology. Flash isn’t like driving on the left side of the road at all; Flash is VHS.

Admittedly it’s a little confusing to use a video based analogy when talking about video, but roll with it!

It’s short sighted to think that just because a technology is prevalent at the moment it’s going to stay that way. Especially when there are fundamental issues with the technology in question, such as Flash’s closed-ness and the bloated nature of its execution; for the analogy read fuzzy lines and deterioration of quality over time.

Rather than try and persuade everyone to move over to H.265 just because it’s easier and better for everyone, like DVDs to VHS, what Apple has done is expedite the process by selling people extremely attractive multifunctional devices that don’t work with Flash; a large number of people owning DVD players is going to create a strong market for DVDs.

The Playstation 3 had a huge effect on the format battle.

Admittedly there are holes in the analogy, but the point remains true. Apple is helping the web move away from outdated technology by creating a user base that can’t use it! It’s a little like the situation we had with Blu-ray and the Playstation 3 forcing the issue in the HD DVD format battle; with the added bonus of the superseding technology actually being better than the existing one.

A Changing Tide

The success of these devices directly impacts the industry and causes a shift in the way people think about their content. If a huge proportion of people can’t access what they’re showing, the move away from the gradually redundant technology is made that much more necessary – providers of video content are forced into changing due to the success of a product (or products).

That Apple fully backed the iPhone and iPad to make a stand against Flash is certainly interesting, but very much in line with their general philosophy; Open web, closed everything else. The ensuing success of the iPad as a video watching device has caused a fundamental shift in the way people think about video on the web. If videos are to be embedded in a site, people now want to know one thing, “will it work on an iPad?”

Final Thoughts

I’ll freely admit that a lot of this is speculation about the way things are heading, but it’s based in reality. HTML 5 is gaining inevitable traction, and the explosive growth of iOS is certainly making its mark on the psyche of content providers, even if there aren’t hard stats to prove it. Many sites that use video extensively, NFL.com and the Onion for example, have made native iPad apps to compensate for the Flash deficiency their sites face – while they haven’t gone the whole way yet, it highlights the considerable effect the iPad is having in regards to web formatting.

Interestingly, it has been suggested that the uptake of HTML 5 for web apps could hurt Apple’s profits – even as it improves the user experience on its devices. This is definitely something to muse over. It seems that, currently, Apple is more concerned with openness (and user experience) on the web than with profits from native app sales – which make up a surprisingly small proportion of their profits anyway. It reminds me of Apple’s initial intention with Safari, which was to advance the user experience of the web (particularly for Mac users).

What do you think about the current position of Flash, in regards to the success of the iPad? Will Flash video still be around in 5 years time? Conversely, do you think Apple will eventually be forced to support Flash?

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts – simply post a comment below!