Jobs’ Use of HTML5 to Justify Flash Exclusion is Disingenuous

I am no big fan of Flash but this letter from Apple’s chief rationalizing the exclusion of Adobe’s technology from its mobile OS just irritates me. Sarah Perez has a succinct summary of the letters points if you don’t want to wade through Jobs’ sense of smugness. She has some good analysis around the timing as well as a reprint of the letter in case Apple pulls it. I think her reasoning around the odd place in the market filled by the iPad makes as much sense as any attempt to divine the intentions of Apple’s increasingly capricious tyrant.

The letter irritates me because it co-opts some of the rhetoric leveled against Apple recently by its critics, myself included. One of the points is how Adobe’s Flash is closed and entirely controlled by Adobe. How could these words have been penned without someone’s head exploding is beyond me. Another part of the defense is to point out at how great a job Apple is doing fostering an open standard, HTML5. I have no technical quibbles with that claim, other than skipping over KHTML’s role in the evolution of WebKit. It is a total dodge, though, when the iPhone is considered as an entire platform. It in no way excuses their own utter dictatorship over native applications.

As far as experience of the web goes, yes, Apple’s support of HTML5 is nice but it is disingenuous. Some of Jobs’ criticism of Flash as poorly suited to a touch capable, mobile device can also be applied to Mobile Safari and HTML5. Suggesting that the experience and capabilities between a native application and a web based one are equivalent is just wrong.

Yes, Mobile Safari leads the pack but it still lags behind where it could be. Touch support for anything other than pinch to zoom is a joke. I am sure the faster processor on the newer iPhones and the iPad hide the disparity but there is a gap in performance between HTML5 based web applications and native applications. The crappy multiple tab support is in no way comparable to a full application that gets its own process and OS resources. When iPhone OS 4.0 comes with whizzy multitasking (ripped off of Android’s design for 3rd party multitasking), the gap will become all the more apparent.

Apple would fix this if it was serious about web applications. The full version of WebKit is exploring better compartmentalization and multiprocess support for web applications. Some version of that in Mobile Safari would go a long way. Or allowing web pages stored as icons on the home screen to launch separate browser instances would be an even easier hack to make the web better situated in comparison to native applications. Maybe now that Opera Mini is available for the iPhone, it will urge Apple forward but I doubt it. Opera’s desktop browser strikes me as pushing the envelope but I was less than impressed with Mini when I give it a go on my iPod Touch. I think it would take a more competitive mobile browser, like Fennec. Mozilla saved Jobs’ the task of rejecting Mozilla’s offering by refusing on principal to port it to the iPhone, not that I blame them in the slightest.

I would like to see Flash die the incendiary death it deserves as much as the next morlock. The enemy of my enemy here, though, is not my friend. I resent Apple’s smug semi-truthful defense of its own hatred of Flash. As much as I hate the closed and controlled nature of Apple’s mobile offering, I’d respect them more if they skipped this unnecessary letter or cut it down to the quick and just admitted they loathe Flash as much as anyone else who works with technology and has to bear close and repeated witness to Adobe’s crown jewel spit up all over itself.

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