IPad might be the future, but without Flash, it could be alienating the present
During the unveiling of the iPad, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs called it "the best way to browse the Web."
As long as you don't watch Web videos using Flash technology, and that's about 75% of the streamed content online.
Like the iPhone, the iPad won't support Adobe's Flash browser plug-in, which also is used for the majority of games, said the company's group manager of the platform, Adrian Ludwig.
Apple's gadgets might be able to live without Web games -- iPhone apps are generally more fully featured anyway -- but the dearth of video on the iPad is going to hurt. Thanks to a partnership between Apple and Google, YouTube videos can be tapped without Flash on the iPhone and iPad. But everything else -- Vimeo, Funny or Die, Break, Hulu -- is inaccessible.
The iPhone had a good excuse. The hardware wasn't quite up to the speed that a processor-intensive plug-in like Flash requires (despite the iPhone 3GS having "S" for "speed" in its name).
Adobe's Flash Lite is a stripped-down (a nicer way of saying "terrible") version of the plug-in for phones -- an unacceptable replacement and unsupported on the iPhone. Adobe is working with platform makers to create Flash 10 for Google's Android and Palm's WebOS, which powers the Pre and Pixi.
"If you look at makers of smart phones, we're working with 19 of the top 20 makers of smart phones to deliver Flash," Ludwig said.
Hm, wonder who the lone holdout is.
Well, if you can't do everything on your phone, no big deal, right? But for the iPad -- a device billed as "the best way to browse the Web?"
"We'd love to be on the iPad," Ludwig said. "Our goal with the Flash platform is to provide an open, consistent run-time on as many different devices as we possibly can."
Apple isn't reciprocating. In this lover's quarrel, Ludwig and his cohorts are lightening the mood by cracking jokes at the iPad's expense.
During Jobs' presentation when he demoed a few sites, many of those pages -- NYTimes.com and Time.com -- contained blank spaces showing a blue brick graphic (that's the browser saying, Where's my Flash plug-in?) where video players should be.
"I counted five specific instances," Ludwig said. "It was like a two-minute demo. That sort of sums it up.... If you go to a handful of sites, you're not going to find the content you're looking for."
Apple has made several excuses not to include Flash on its mobile platforms. Perhaps Apple's goal is to squeeze out Flash, at least in the Web video space, with HTML5 -- the standardization effort led by Google and Apple engineers.
Ludwig isn't worried. HTML5's video standards have hit brick walls thanks to corporate disagreements, and it doesn't support more advanced Flash effects, like transparent pop-ups and embedded ads. You can see those limitations firsthand in YouTube's HTML5 test version.
Even if content providers learn to live without Flash's video perks (yeah, boo-hoo, no more pre-roll ads), Ludwig says full standardization is still a long way out.
"Standard bodies just move slow," Ludwig said. "HTML5 is probably going to be around standardization in, maybe, 10 years."
If he's right, that's a lifetime in Internet years.
-- Mark Milian
Photo: Screen grab from Apple keynote video.