Lack Of Flash On The iPad Is Not Due To Any “Shortcomings” With Flash, Blame Apple

In my post yesterday entitled "Many Content Owners Can't Afford To Make Their Videos Available For iPad", many readers left comments making it clear that they blame Adobe for the lack of Flash video support on the iPad. Too many simply want to disregard the additional costs a content owner has to support the iPad by blaming supposed shortcomings in Flash, even though we've seen data from tests to show that these shortcomings do not exist.

Reading many of the comments on my post it's clear that some just want an excuse to bash Flash, yet if my content was in Silverlight, I don't think they would be saying the same thing. If someone does not like Flash, that's fine, they have every right to. But their dislike for a platform gives them no grounds to stand on to say that there are no additional costs to content owners to support video on the iPad.

Yes, Brightcove and other online video platforms can re-encode the content for free, but only has that option because Brightcove nicely gave us a free account years ago. Before that, we had to encode our content like many content owners do, without using a video platform, which is the way a lot of content owners still do it today. None of the folks who commented addressed any of the additional hosting costs that can be associated with video for the iPad. They imply that it's easy and cheap to re-encode, yet many, but not all, video platform providers charge content owners based on the number of assets in their system at any given time. So in many cases, content owners would be paying for 2x the number of video clips each month.

And for those that said I can just hire someone some college kid to re-encode the content for cheap, that's my point, I still have to hire someone to do it. Even if I only paid them $10 an hour, how many hours will it take to re-encode thousands of clips? It's not cheap no matter how you slice it.

Too many people also have this notion that "open standards" exist with video, which is flat our wrong. H.264 is not open as it is owned by MPEG LA and encoders and decoders require licensing which is something no one seems to talk about when browser support is debated. To imply that there is no cost to a content owner or that converting lots of videos for support on the iPad is easy, quick or cheap is ignoring the facts.

If Safari on the iPad supported Flash, as a content owner I would have ZERO costs. As one person said in the comments, "to purposefully want to break the whole web for your gadget is absolutely disingenuous just to stick it to Adobe." And they are right. Apple wants us to believe the reason they don't support Flash is because it's a "CPU hog", yet based on testing we've seen, that's not accurate.
This is simply Apple's way of trying to deflect the issue to Adobe when
it's has nothing to do with Adobe, the problem lies with Apple.

Yet some want to agree with Apple and complain about how "poor" Flash is by talking about CPU issues, call it "bloatware" or complain about security patches. As a Mac only user, how often does Apple put out OS X security updates? Very often. But I don't see them complaining about that. Many of these folks are probably the same people that have said that the growth we have seen in the industry over the past few years has been thanks in part to Flash and sites like YouTube. So they are quick to say how seamless Flash has made viewing video on the web, but then want to take Apple's side as to why the iPad should not support it.

If you don't like Flash, fine, don't support it and don't use it. But as a content owner, when Apple comes along and says they will keep their ecosystem closed, not allow any third party platforms and force content owners to jump through hoops just to have the "privilege" of having their content available on the iPad, that's wrong. That's not good for content owners, nor is it good for the consumer and it contributes to a poor user-experience with the device. Content owners should not be letting Apple get away with this. They should have a choice to support multiple platforms if they want to, yet no choice is given.

Without content, the iPad is useless. Yet many content owners are so quick to bow to Apple's demands and fall all over themselves just to be on the iPad that they don't look at the bigger picture of what this means for the rest of the industry. They are setting a really bad precedent.

  • HmmConvenient

    Dan not to troll on this article but could not the SAME argument be made about Silverlight? What about back in the day when most media was in a Real Player and/or Windows Media format? I understand that the volumes of content have changed in the past decade, but the industry has often jumped from one video technology to another to achieve distribution goals.
    For small content owners, a strategic decision must be made on how to best utilize a platform like the iPad. The one advantage the iPad has over the web is that it is building a consumer culture of transacting for media, which the web largely lacks. On that premise, I can foresee many more successful digital P&Ls based on the iPad than the traditional dot com based business.

  • I’ve got self-interest here, but… thanks, Dan. 😉
    For sustainabile initiatives it’s essential to reconcile the self-interest of _all_ participants in the ecology… not just consumers, not just creators, not just manufacturers, not just service providers or toolmakers… to find ways that _all_ participants feel they’re getting a square deal.
    Reaching such consensus can be a tricky, messy process. But it tends to last longer than any one group imposing its will on another.
    tx, jd/adobe

  • @ HmmConvenient: That’s a fair point you raise but I think the difference is that Real got out of the business of being a format for the web and stopped supporting content owners, content delivery networks, hardware manufactures etc…. So content owners had no choice but to pick a new platform since Real was changing their business to become a content company. Adobe on the other hand is still supporting Flash.
    Also, when content owners had to convert from Real to Windows Media or to Flash, the content works in every browser, across nearly all PCs. The cost to change was worth it as the audience size was huge. That’s not the case with the iPad.
    The “culture of transacting for media” is an interesting point and one to watch. I think the key to that being successful is how many devices are in fact sold over time and what consumers will actually pay for the content. Apps like the WSJ are expensive and while the app from MLB is $14.99, they have made it so that the experience is completely a new one when compared to the experience on the PC.

  • A Thought

    Dan, not quite sure if the facts all align here. “Flash” is not a “format” per se, but rather there is the Flash Runtime and then the codec/wrapper combinations supported in the Flash Runtime. Most recent content has been encoded in either h.264/aac or On2VP6/MP3 from a video/audio codec perspective, and has been wrapped in either an FLV or MP4 container.
    All of that technical jargon aside, if content owners have encoded content in h.264/aac in an MP4 container (for PLAYBACK in the Flash runtime), then there is NO COST to playing this content back on the iPad using progressive download HTTP as the delivery mechanism (and a native app or HTML5 as the presentation layer).
    If content owners had encoded content as h.264/acc but had put it in an FLV wrapper instead of MP4, then they would simply need to re-mux/re-wrap the content (MUCH faster than re-encode and no video quality changes).
    If the content owners have encoded content using proprietary codecs and wrappers that only the Flash runtime can play back like On2VP6 (codec) and FLV (wrapper), then yes, there would be a conversion cost. But this would be expected, as the content provider had chosen to use a format that is only recognized/supported in Flash (same as choosing any other proprietary format).
    For content owners looking to use Apple’s Adaptive HTTP spec, if they had already created the necessary different bitrate versions in h.264/aac in MP4 format, then they could use Apple’s “free” (to iDevice developers @$99) segmenting tool.
    Not sure where the “big” costs come in… Apple is simply going with standards based video on their devices.

  • Bobby

    I hate to say this, Dan, but you’re missing the point COMPLETELY. One of the PRIME reasons for no flash on the iPad, or iPhone & iPod Touch, is because ALL the apps, including most video players, have to be rewritten to allow for the fact that none of these has the ability to do hover-over actions without a mouse and frankly, the Flash development community doesn’t know how, at this point, to deal with the UI that this new computiing environ presents. A little research in this regard would totally explain the real reason that there won’t be flash on this platform. If you think you have a big bill facing you to re-encode your content to h264, then think about how much money it would take to recode all that flash so it doesn’t have to have mouse actions to work! BTW- have you given any thought to using Squeeze for re-encoding your content. Think about their action folders, this might be a good solution for you.

  • @ Bobby: The problem with Flash on Apple devices has nothing to do with “hover-over actions”. That’s a poor excuse considering Adobe came out a few short months after the iPhone was released and said they could make Flash video work on the iPhone, which means they could do it on the iPad as well. It is not a technical problem that prevents Flash from working on Apple’s products, it’s a business decision made by Apple.
    It should also be noted that the video tag limitations in HTML5 removes the ability to do things like customization of players or controls.

  • James

    “Reading many of the comments on my post it’s clear that some just want an excuse to bash Flash, yet if my content was in Silverlight, I don’t think they would be saying the same thing.”
    Yes they would. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Flash or Silverlight – many, many web users want open web video without plugins. I think the real issue here is that you misunderstand your audience. Rather than being a follower, be a leader. Make video content available now using open, royalty-free technologies. It’s all available for you to use, you just need the will to execute it.
    “If you don’t like Flash, fine, don’t support it and don’t use it.”
    “Content owners should not be letting Apple get away with this. They should have a choice to support multiple platforms if they want to, yet no choice is given.”
    No one’s forcing you to support the iPad. It seems to me if you’re going to be consistent with “if you don’t like Flash, don’t use it” you should conclude that “if you don’t like iPad, don’t support it”. You do have a choice. You can choose to not support it. I won’t be supporting it because it doesn’t currently use open video formats.
    My observation on the whole HTML5 video versus Flash issue has been that Adobe and many video sites have said “HTML5 video is not a substitute for Flash video. Relax!”. Now it seems they’re saying “HTML5 video is a substitute for Flash video! Panic!”. Please, don’t fight HTML5 video. Embrace it with open video on the web.

  • @ James, it’s not about needing “the will to execute”. I don’t need the will, I need the time and money to make it happen, that’s my point. And since I don’t have the time and won’t be given the budget to make it happen, I can’t support it.

  • Travis Linhoffer

    Dan, I doubt if any of these people commenting on this topic are even content owners which means they don’t know the real costs. My company is preparing to make more than 1,000 instructional videos available for the iPad by this weekend and it’s taken a team of four people nearly a month to make that happen. Encoding is not hard and not expensive when using a video platform service, but it is very time consuming, requires a lot of management of the associated data that goes along with the videos, not to mention all of the HTML5 coding and lots of testing to make sure you get it right. It’s not something you bang out in a day.
    While it is not hard to do, it is time consuming and there is a direct cost involved. Having four employees work on it for a month cost money!

  • Barry Bowen

    I think two points should be made.
    1) Flash 10.1 for smart phones hasn’t been released yet. Once it is avalable we should be able to test for incompatibilities on different mobile platforms.
    2) Apple has been doing a lot of experimentation with their movie trailer website recently and could have bigger ambitions with web video than their competitors realize.
    Apple recently rebranded the trailer section of their website. It is now called iTunes Movie Trailers.
    Watch trailers for the movie Why Did I Get Married Too? and you will see something unusual. I don’t know what to call it. Not an overlay … maybe it should be called an Underlay. Apple could start displaying ads below the video controls. These ads would not obstruct what people are watching like typical overlay ads do.

  • Apple not allowing Flash on it’s phone and tablet device has NOTHING TO DO WITH TECHNOLOGY. It’s all about business. Period.
    Bob Donlon
    General Manager, Adobe TV
    Adobe Systems, Inc.

  • LoydB

    When you made your choice of a proprietary video format you wanted to use for your content, you made essentially made a bet. Sometimes bets work out, some times they don’t.
    You don’t want to spend any of *your* money to support other formats, but you want Apple to spend a bunch of *their* money supporting a crappy plugin so that *your* stuff works. /boggle
    Yes, it’s going to cost you $$$ to convert now no matter what. Hopefully you’ll go with something less proprietary next time.
    And yes, I’d say the exact damn thing about Silverlight.

  • @LoydB: Define “crappy”. Better yet, prove why, when it comes to video, it’s crappy. Why do all of the major broadcasters, MLB and many of the top video sites on the web use Flash. Folks can complain all day about Flash, but they can’t argue with the fact that most video is in Flash these days. That’s reality.
    Yes, I do want Apple to spend their money to support Flash because they are selling me, the consumer, a device that does not access nearly all of the videos on the web. They can’t say it’s a great device for watching video, but then have less than 1% of all the videos on the web available.
    Apple set that expectation, but the user experience does not back it up.

  • Isaac

    The iPad is a very nice device, so also the iPhone but we can never deny the fact that they are limited. Millions of sites will be broken by this device, sho where’s the openness? For Apple to be open, it’s simple: Support HTML5 for those that want to take that route and never force anyone, support pluggings like Silverlight, Flash, Java etc, then we can say we have a TRUELY open system.
    Apple’s denial of Flash on their devices has nothing to do with HTML5 or open standards; what about other things that Flash does? how do you do socket connections on html, how can you capture video on user’s webcam via safari? how can you deal with data at byte level within html tags? All those are shelved simply because of this: If you allow flash or silverlight on iPhone/iPad, then i can simply develop a flash wrapper as my game shop and serve millions of users thousands of different games free or charged without going through Apple. Yes with Flash, all you need to do is load up another swf and the games starts. Same goes for web, too much content will be consumed without ever going through Apple’s closed gate. That’s the nature of Flash.
    It’s never an issue of Flash’s bugginess; Quicktime sucks on Windows, iTunes lacks simple roll-over states, this week alone, I had to shut it down 3times. No software is perfect but we need to support each other rather than throw them out.
    We just have to live by it or wait for other companies to come up with better technologies that are more liberal and open. For now, I see none and this is challenge.