Apple Won’t Let Itself Get Flashed

So the latest news out of Apple, they won’t let Flash go on their iPad. Now this is old news. Apple wouldn’t allow Flash on the iPhone and the iPad is just a giant iPhone anyways, so not having Flash available should come as no surprise. However it seems people were shocked because the iPad had more power and could probably handle Flash, plus it works better as a video watching device and most video on the web is Flash-based. So some might think it seems odd that Apple would deny a program on their device that would seem to be perfect for it.

Now everyone knows I’m not Apple’s biggest fan. I will never buy one of their products, primarily because I think it’s badly designed, but also because I hate their business practices. But today, I will defend Apple because I honestly see why they are doing this.

Adobe Flash is one of those programs that one is required to have if they want to do anything online. Many sites use embedded Flash on their homepage as part of their menu bar or for specific content. YouTube uses it to facilitate their video player and they are not the only ones. Pretty much every site that uses streaming video content, either live or not, uses Flash to deliver said content. Now some may say it’s great that it’s a de facto standard, because it’s so versatile and it works so well that you don’t need any other plugin. But my problem with Flash is that it’s owned by Adobe. True the plugin to view Flash files is free, but if you want to create Flash applications you are going to need Flash Professional, which will set you back $700!!! There is also Flash Builder, but despite it’s name, I’m not sure you can create actual Flash applications with it.

Then there’s also the Flash Plugin, which, while available for every operating system, only recently became available for 64-bit processors, which are slowly becoming the standard, replacing 32-bit processors. I remember when I first started using Linux, I was running the 64-bit version because I wanted to take full advantage of my 64-bit processor. Didn’t work out so well, because of limited software options and because I could not run any Flash applications. They have since released a 64-bit version for Windows and Linux, but it’s classified as experimental, which is Programmer for: “If it crashes your system, sucks to be you.”

So anyway, my point is one of the biggest web standards is wholly owned by Adobe. It has some competition from Microsoft in the form of Silverlight, but that has yet to receive wide adoption and it isn’t cross-platform no matter what the Microsoft literature says (it isn’t available for Linux). Kind of goes against the idea of an open web, having a piece of proprietary software be such a central figure. Everything else about the internet is open…to a degree. All you need is a web browser and you’re golden, and thanks to Firefox it’s even more open. Apple knows this. They’ve been supporting the open-source community for a while now. Hell! The OSX kernel is 100% open-source…I said the kernel…Darwin…look it up. Now it’s not the entire operating system, but it’s a hell of a lot more then what Microsoft has offered. There is also the WebKit engine for the Safari browser, also available with Google Chrome. Both are open-source and are nothing to shake a stick at. So it should come as no surprise that they would be opposed to Adobe Flash. In spite of the fact that their treatment of their iPhone/iPad/iTouch customers have been dictatorial at best and abusive at worst but I digress.

Now, I know what your thinking: “But what is the alternative!? I want to watch my video online! Do I have to download an app for every video site out there?” Of course not. Apple’s not completely stupid…only partially-that’s why they are doing this now, because there’s a new standard being introduced that should make Flash obsolete…HTML5! The idea behind HTML5 is to reduce the need for these types of “rich Internet application” frameworks (as they’re known), because the more websites use these plugins, the more it seems the browser has failed somewhere. I can almost imagine it crying, “Don’t you love me as I am!? *SOB* QUIT TRYING TO CHANGE ME!!” But we do, and I think it’s important that these applications become part of the standard architecture of the web, open and free for everyone to use, not just those who pay $700.

So where does Apple fit into all this? Well as much as I hate to say it, Apple is a major player. Many people love their products-I don’t know why! But they do, and Apple can use this power to push the web to certain standards just by requiring them on their products, like they are doing with HTML5. Sites like YouTube can’t run their Flash player on the iPhone or the iPad, so they will have to use HTML5 to push their content instead. My only problem with this is they are pushing for the standard HTML5 video codec to be H.264. A very not-open, very proprietary standard. It does good video, I’ll give them that, but this, once again, goes against the whole idea of an open web. I assume the only reason they are pushing for H.264 is because they own the patents or something. I mean it’s already a part of Quicktime, and the number two result for H.264 was the Quicktime website. I doubt that’s a coincidence. But Ogg Theora is fully open and ready to be the next standard, plus there’s a new codec coming out of the BBC, fully open, not licensed in any way, ready to be used for your next Vlog post, called Dirac. I’ve used Theora a few times and it is beautiful, excellent video quality, and no artefacts-that I can see. Now, I haven’t gotten a chance to use Dirac, but I assume it hits at least the same level of quality as Theora. I mean why bother releasing it otherwise?

There’s another reason using H.264 as the standard for HTML5 video is a bad idea, and that is Firefox. Firefox, by its very nature, can’t incorporate the H.264 codecs into its code. Why? Because Firefox is open-source, H.264, as I said, isn’t. If Firefox incorporates the H.264 codecs into its code, it will be unable to keep the open-source licence, and Firefox will lose its biggest advantage. Hell! They’ll lose their identity! The open-source licence is what makes Firefox Firefox. They could get away by making the H.264 codec available as an add-on, but that probably won’t fly well in the long run.

Anyway, that being said, there is a problem with ditching Flash, and that is, Flash is used for other things. Go on Newgrounds or Armor Games for five minutes, or check out Homestarrunner.com, a website filled with Flash animations that are good, unlike the crap at Newgrounds. Some may say all these videos can easily be converted to another video format like H.264 or Theora, so they could be viewed in HTML5. The problem with this is they will lose all their interactivity and they would be rasterized when they don’t need to be. Vector graphics are beautiful and highly underrated. If we want to abandon Flash all-together, we need to start work on a new, open format for vector animations. I’ll start the work for you, we’ll call it the Interactive Vector Animation format. IVA. Already got the file extension, it’ll be .iva. There, once that’s done, we can ditch Flash.

So while I’m back to bashing Apple, it’s time to talk about the latest news, a change to the SDK. For the unwashed masses, the SDK is the Software Development Kit, the package that app developers get from Apple so they can design their apps. Anyway, this is from the new developer agreement.

Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

For the laymen, this means, basically, Adobe’s planned Flash to iPhone compiler, is effectively useless because it doesn’t code in an approved language. You can use it to make apps for Jailbroken iPhones I’m sure, but legit app developers probably don’t want to do that. They want apps that can get onto the app store, for legit phones, so they can make money. Now, not allowing the Flash plugin on Safari for the iPhone kinda makes sense due to the reasons listed above, but this seems like a simple dick move. I mean, why would Apple have a problem with the language the app is written in? I can’t think of a reason, honestly. However, the folks at my favourite tech show, CrankyGeeks, came up with a reason for me.

You know I could have trimmed that clip better…skip two minutes in to get to the part about the SDK. Anyway, it seems Apple is doing this to make app development as difficult as possible. Why? So developers will develop apps exclusively for the iPhone, instead of making their apps cross-platform, compatible with the iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. Apple wants all the apps, they don’t want to share with Google or RIM. Which is kind of ironic when you think about it. I mean look at Apple’s other offering, OSX. Pretty much every application on OSX is cross-platform with Windows at least. The only exceptions I can think of are programs created by Apple like iMovie, iWork, iPhoto and Final Cut Pro. Now one may mention VMWare Fusion, which is an application that only exists to run applications that are not available for OSX within a Windows VM. Which sorta supports my point. Now there are a few more exceptions that I can’t think of, but I think it’s safe to say that the major players are all cross-platform.

Now imagine if Microsoft made development for Windows so difficult and time consuming that developers wouldn’t have time to port to OSX. Apple’s PC division would be out of business…very quickly. Because if you could only choose one, why would you develop for a platform that is in the hands of 10 per cent of the market? You wouldn’t, and Apple’s counting on that, which is why it’s ironic. Now one may point out, developers would probably abandon Microsoft out of spite along with their consumer base. Which I doubt, but it brings up an interesting point. Why do we allow Apple to get away with what Microsoft would be nailed to the fucking wall for? Well because we all know Microsoft is so draconian, so Big-Brother-like, and Apple is the rebel, the anti-Big-Brother. We know that because Apple said so in 1984.

See, we know Apple’s not draconian, because they say they’re not draconian. Am I the only one who sees a problem with that? Just because they say something doesn’t make it true.

You know, Steve Jobs is on top right now, in the smartphone, PDA and tablet market, though the PDA market is all but dead and the tablet market is pretty much new. So I think someone needs to tell him, “don’t get cocky.” Now’s not the time to crack the whip on your developers to increase your market share, because that’s what they are doing. They want to be able to advertise all their exclusive apps that the Android and Blackberry lack, so people buy an iPhone instead. It’s a ploy to increase their already large market share. If Microsoft or Intel or any other dominant tech company did this, they would be nailed to the wall. But Apple gets away with it. It’s sad.

You know I’d like to go back to that 1984 ad. Some may call Microsoft Big Brother, or use words like Micro$oft. OH HO! Clever, you replaced the “S” with a dollar sign…that’s very…anyway. But what they have to realize is Microsoft is like any company. In business to make money. Don’t kid yourself, Apple is the same, and to say they aren’t Big Brother, is true, they simply want to be Big Brother. They want to be the dominant force, like any company. But the way they are going about it, can kind of piss you off.

We already live in a Microsoft-run world of personal computing, so I don’t need to tell you what that’s like. I’d like to explain what I think, given their current business practices, an Apple-run world of personal computing would be like. First off, you want to buy a computer. Nothing too high end, simply something that can let you check your email, browse the web, and maybe do some word processing. Sorry, all you have a choice of is high end, and slightly higher end. That is, if you want OSX, which is the dominant operating system in this universe. Next, you need to get software. Well you know of this really cool virtual CD drive that can allow you to mount CD images that you download off the web. Why you are using this software I’ll omit. Anyway, you go to download it. Oh no! It’s not available in the Apple app store which is now on the desktop version of OSX. Apple refused to allow it on the app store, which is the only way to get applications, because it can be used for piracy. So you can’t get this software. Okay, forget it, you just want to browse the web, and you know how awesome Firefox is so you go to get that. Again, not in the app store because it competes with Safari. So you go with Safari. Now you are a healthy adult, fully capable of making his or her own decisions, and you are in the mood to do things that would probably get you arrested if you did them in public. But you are not in public, you are in the privacy of your own home. So you decide to go online to look at some porn. Uh oh. Once again Apple has blocked all of what it considers to be “obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory” material, like what it did to e-reader application Eucalyptus last year.

You see what I’m getting at? Microsoft might not be the most open company, but at least they let you choose what hardware to run Windows on, and what software you run on it. Now some might say the app store is not on Apple personal computers, and you are right. But does anyone doubt that if Apple could get away with it, they would do it? Well in this universe, they can and they do. Now one could argue that some apps should not be allowed to even exist, like this baby shaking app that was taken down. I agree, certain things should not exist, especially this. I mean, to say it’s in bad taste is an understatement of astronomical proportions. It’s in horrible taste, it’s twelve kinds of wrong, and Apple approving this game, if you can call it a game, I call it an abomination, is also wrong, and they deserve to get crucified for it. However, if the app store wasn’t there, and this app was just released on some guy’s website instead, there would be no problem for Apple, all the ire would be directed at the motherfucker who created it. Now it’s true, people would put it on their phones, but I believe that if you see someone who put that piece of shit on their phone’s you have the right to punch them in the testicles…or other body part depending on their gender. (Note: Your gender is irrelevant to whether you can punch them, remember that.) In case you forgot, we are adults who can choose what we want to do with the stuff we buy, and if we want to install a simulated baby murderer, then we should be allowed, and we should also be allowed to punch anyone who would install that. But if it wasn’t for the app store it would tumble down into obscurity anyway.

Where was I going with that? AH Yes! We have a right to choose. We need to keep that right. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the app store. Linux uses an app repository, which is the same thing but free, the only difference is, you have the option to get applications outside the repository. It’s probably not always a good idea, but you have the option, and it’s an option you deserve, and Apple should recognise that.

I’m sorry if the last few paragraphs were a little dyslexic…I’m really tired right now.

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