Test Results Published Show Flash Is Not a “CPU Hog” Like Apple Claims

There's been a lot of discussion on the blogsphere over the last few weeks due to Steve Jobs being quoted as saying one of the reasons Apple won't support Flash video on the upcoming iPad was due to Flash being a "CPU Hog". Apple's workaround to Flash video is to use HTML5 and that encouraged some to even suggest that HTML5 would kill off Flash, which couldn't be further from the truth.

But rather than debate this topic, Jan Ozer, a technical writer for StreamingMedia.com and encoding guru, decided to spend the time to actually test Flash versus HTML5 and published all of his testing methodology and results on his blog. While you should check out his entire post to see all the details, here are some of the highlights of what he says.

When it comes to efficient video playback, the ability to access hardware acceleration is the single most important factor in the overall CPU load. On Windows, where Flash can access hardware acceleration, the CPU requirements drop to negligible levels. It seems reasonable to assume that if the Flash Player could access GPU-based hardware acceleration on the Mac (or iPod/iPhone/iPad), the difference between the CPU required for HTML5 playback and Flash playback would be very much narrowed, if not eliminated.

Overall, it's inaccurate to conclude that Flash is inherently inefficient. Rather, Flash is efficient on platforms where it can access hardware acceleration and less efficient where it can't. With Flash Player 10.1, Flash has the opportunity for a true leap in video playback performance on all platforms that enable hardware acceleration.

Apple complaining about Flash being a CPU Hog while not exposing "the appropriate hooks" to enable Adobe to access hardware acceleration seems disingenuous at best. To be fair to Apple, though, the iPad related timing was unfortunate, with the bulk of the development work done under the shadow of Flash Player 10.0, which didn't offer hardware acceleration other than full screen on any platform and was clearly less efficient than the HTML5-based approach Apple adopted. Now that Adobe has proven the concept on Windows, perhaps Apple will cooperate with Adobe to make hardware acceleration on the Mac, iPad and future devices happen. If they choose not to, however, they should quit pointing fingers at Flash.

You can see all of the testing results and numbers on Jan's blog here.

  • Walt French

    These Windows- and Mac-based tests are of limited applicability to the smartphone marketplace and the conclusions are overly broad— probably incorrect, I’d argue, although I have only general support for justification.
    My current MacBook has a graphics processor that consumes up to 75 Watts of power—over twice that of the CPU! And that CPU is the most powerful in a Mac laptop, a speedy laptop in any comparison. Running full out, as it might while playing video, the graphics (GPU) chip alone would drain my iPhone’s battery in somewhere around 5 minutes.
    The published test results show only the CPU utilization, which of course would be quite low if the plugin cleverly lets the GPU do most of the work. And both Apple and Microsoft have put much of their system development into helping applications exploit the GPU as much as possible. Specifically, the recent interface provided by Apple to Adobe does JUST that.
    Many smartphones have rudimentary or non-existent GPU capabilities and use the CPU. Apple’s GPU is built into the A4 CPU. While the tests do not show Flash usage of the smartphone CPU, they absolutely do not support the headline claim here. And any software engineer in this area would easily point out that graphics are very processor-intensive, no matter whether CPU or GPU. Many gaming machines have huge graphics cards costing many hundreds of dollars for exactly that reason.
    Ergo, point number one: the test does not address graphics processing, the critical functionality intended. Flash is NOT shown to be abstemious of computing resources.
    Smartphones have extremely limited CPU capabilities. My laptop, for example, cranks along about 10 times as fast as my iPhone. (Comparably-priced desktops are even faster.) Many other phones feature even slower CPU chips than the iPhone 3G’s, to keep costs low and allow longer battery life. If Flash uses 12% of my laptop’s total capability (one of the better implementations shown), it would be trying to get 120% or more of my phone’s capability: dropping frames, stuttering or even crashing on a mid-range smartphone.
    The Google Nexus is a high-end, pricier smartphone, and runs nominally 2.5X as fast as my phone. Adobe has committed to putting Flash on the Nexus and has shown various demos using the Nexus. However, even though the Nexus is 7 months old — a lifetime in smartphone years, as Google is already deprecating it and directing interested parties to the HTC incredible — Adobe has yet to release even a general beta. YouTube (a Google company!) features videos of their demos crashing. Adobe has said they will NOT attempt Flash on many current smartphones, very likely because they simply lack the resources, or Flash would torch the batteries.
    Ergo, point number two: Adobe’s engineers will have to make Flash run MUCH MORE EFFICIENTLY on smartphones than it does after extensive tuning for Windows or Mac desktops. The problem is that Flash, not necessarily a resource hog on the desktop, is a resource hog for smartphones.
    A related issue: not only has Adobe failed to get Flash onto its poster-child (but sadly, out-dated) Nexus, it has not put full Flash onto ANY smartphone. Others cite Adobe’s corporate culture or business plans, but I think Flash is very important to Adobe, and I hear they have fine engineers, so it reinforces my belief that Flash is near-hopelessly hungry for smartphone-class resources, whether CPU or memory: a “hog.”
    Ergo, point three: Assuming Adobe is not hopelessly incompetent, Flash is too much of a hog to work well on even the most powerful of today’s smartphones.
    Thank you for your consideration!

  • If Apple tried to just fix the issue they would probably have even more followers but they are trying to own the market once again which ultimately is the demise of any large corporation. Greed always kills the market. Just look at Microsoft; they’re trying so hard to reinvent and rebrand themselves to get new users or get their old customers back. It’s only a matter of time that an opensource program like Android will capture Apple’s market share.
    Peter Marino
    Senior Partner and CMO

  • Those of you who have been in IT for 20 years like me, will remember that Apple survived the 90s only thanks to 3 products: Adobe Suite, Quark XPress and Avid. They should respect Adobe, which kept the Apple corpse alive during the years Windows was the king. Apple shouldn’t cover their marketing decisions with technical excuses.
    I love Apple hardware, but they are becoming a post-modern fascism icon. They do censor applications now, soon censor books?
    Are we still human beings, capable of critical thinking, or just consumers? I ask this questions not to Apple products estimators, but to all those Apple fans and supporters, which acritically marry any word from Apple inc. and its scary CEO.

  • The truth is that I wonder the result we achieve Jan Ozer on testing its Flash VS HTML5. I’m a fan of Apple but sometimes it is because they can not begin to be compatible with all CPU platforms as there are several programs that I use regularly that I can use in my mcbook.
    Maybe it’s time to rethink Apple make their products 100% compatible with the other interfaces and thus gain a greater share of market.

  • upbids

    Apple is great, they have come out with amazing products recently. thanks for the blog.

  • Damion Drake

    I say shame on Apple for this decision. However I don’t think in the end it will effect sales as much as some think. The problem is that businesses and advertisers have had a history of working around rules and regulations from big giants like Apple. Just look at Google. 80% of a business’ ad income goes towards “working around” Google’s almost fascist laws.
    I do think the loser in all of this however is the consumer. Apple can most certainly make flash available, but because the numbers don’t seem to add up they are tossing it out. Bad decision.
    They are trying to save pennies now which will eventually lose them dollars.

  • In my experience, as a provider for streaming wedding videos, the majority of the technical complaints I get is from the iphone/ipad users. I have yet to receive ONE complaint from any of my clients who use Flash as their primary viewing platform. As far as I’m concerned, the consumer dictates what I put my resources into. I make all of the videos I host available for those who want to view or download them with the iphone/ipad, but Flash continues to be king.

  • Lee

    I seriously doubt that the test took into account the full interoperability of legacy PCs. When I disable my Flash Shockwave player my desktop-PCs performance improves by 40%. My older systems have less than 500-mb of RAM and they crash less when the flash player is switched off in some memory hungry browsers. Here’s a simple test you can do to prove Steve Jobs theory. Firefox->tools->Add-ons->Flash_Shockwave-(disable). I toggle this button when I actually want to watch a flash presentation. I chose to disable it to limit the amount of adverts sent to my screen. I agree with Steve Jobs i think HTML-5 is the future.


    When you have a streaming video paused and your CPU is still pegged at 100%, you just might be Flash Player, the resource hog.

  • OB

    This is all irrelevant: Here are the factors that nobody wants to address.

    1) HTML5 does not animate consistently and smoothly. The browser’s garbage collection routines continuously interrupt HTML5 animation and there is *no way* around it. For all intents and purposes, HTML5 is not a valid animation environment for commercial applications. Might it be someday? Let me answer that bluntly: That question does not ever matter in technology. It works now or it is vapor. Period.
    2) HTML5 is not protectable. Like it or not, the software business is a business that is rabid about protecting IP. You will not get broad based adoption of a platform which produces unprotectable assets.

    CPU hog? Who cares. First off, we know it’s nonsense, because CPU’s were running Flash seamlessly in 1998 and the requirements have not escalated significantly. But more importantly: Flash is the premier multimedia development environment on the Web. Go ahead. Name another, and make me laugh. Go to Kongregate and look at the incredibly active games dev community and show me anyone seriously making games in HTML5 (If you attempt to answer that question you clearly do not play games).