My thoughts on Apple and Flash.

by , under personal, The Wired Mom

Okay, people. I’m a geek. I’ve been using computers since I was a kid and still remember DOS. I studied computer science in college. I’ve been designing web pages since 1997, though I still have a lot to learn about some of the newer changes (forgive me, two kids’ll knock you out of the loop).

So I’ve been very interested in this ongoing tech kerfluffle between Apple and Adobe over the iPhone/iPad and Flash. Steve Jobs posted this on apple.com today, explaining his stance on Flash.

I don’t own a Mac. I’ve used Macs since the early days, and if there’s one sound I grew tired of hearing at school, it was the Mac startup sound. I prefer to use PCs (used to denote a non Mac computer), only because I can customize it myself. I do believe that Apple has a wonderful operating system and puts out a nice product. But I don’t believe it’s the best. Apple does have standards in that they don’t release a computer that’s barely capable of running it’s operating system. Point to Apple for that. However, you can get a PC running Linux or even Windows and have a wonderful computing experience. Just make sure you aren’t buying the cheapest one. That said, Mac’s do crash. Under normal computing circumstances? Not very often. But if you’re using a memory intense program it will crash more often, just the same as with a PC.

I don’t own an iPhone. Once I saw it, I thought it was cool, but as with most things, I wait for second or third generations for the bugs to be worked out- as well as to see what the competition comes up with in response. A major problem that I had with the iPhone was it’s lack of multi-tasking, which they’ve recently fixed. However, there is still the issue of dropped calls within urban areas. Which I live in. There’s a lovely myth that it’s the AT&T network that’s to blame. I have a smartphone on AT&T, that uses the same network that the iPhone uses. Yet, I consistently get service in areas that my friends with iPhones don’t. So it isn’t the network (at least not entirely). It is a really neat gadget and certainly has changed the direction that cell phone design is taking.

As Alton Brown would say, but that’s another show. Back to Steve Jobs and Flash. Steve Jobs discussed many things about Flash. About it being a proprietary product, about it not being an open system. Then he went on to talk about how great Apple is and how they’re the very definition of open.

No, Adobe’s Flash is not open in the sense that it must be purchased, and is only purchasable from Adobe. However, it is open in that any operating system may access it through a browser and that how it functions remains consistent from operating system to operating system, from browser to browser. Which is precisely how Adobe meant it to be taken, and how Steve Jobs would prefer you not to see it. At a time when browsers still interpret CSS and HTML language differently, there are many applications where Flash is preferable. For online games and photo galleries.

I can fully understand Mr. Jobs’ logic in not wanting to integrate Flash into the iPhone. Memory usage is a big deal, especially in a small device. I dislike Flash for that reason. While I love some of the silly Facebook games I play, there are a couple that use up so much memory that I can really only play them on our brand new desktop computer- not on my older laptop. However, that’s not a problem with Flash, that’s a problem with the developers who are using it. I can point the finger at plenty of computer applications that similarly waste resources- and the problem there is with engineers and designers who take the quick way out without determining if it’s the path that is the most efficient, resource-wise.

However, where I completely differ from Mr. Jobs is that beyond the interface controls, he can determine how a user can experience his product. I can think of a dozen websites that I visit regularly (mostly photographers who use flash to protect their images from being stolen) that I wouldn’t be able to access on the iPad. And though I’d lose the touchscreen aspect and tilts ability, I’d be able to access them using a netbook.

Moreover, it’s Mr. Jobs’ assertion that it’s just too bad, that there are plenty of video games that I could buy from the App gallery. Yes, there are plenty. But that’s actually the larger issue I take with Apple. They’ve gone from the company who wanted us to break free of conformity and buy a Macintosh, to being the company who has set guidelines of what they deem appropriate for applications. In the last couple of years, I’ve seen iPhone apps denied because of objectionable content. One was a Nine Inch Nails app that was deemed offensive because it allowed access to their lyrics, when Apple sold all those songs on iTunes with an explicit tag. It was later approved, after it made the media rounds. Most recently, they denied (then made an exception for) satirist Mark Fiore on the grounds that his app made fun of public individuals. Only when several media outlets expressed their outrage that Apple was saying that political cartoons and animated satire were persona non grata in the App Store, did they grant the exception. Fiore pointed out that the only reason he received the coverage and was granted approval for his app was due to being well-known, and that it was sad that there could be an unknown but brilliant satirist that wouldn’t get their chance.

Yes, their platform might be open to developers, but it doesn’t mean that their product will ever be used. Which in the grand scheme of things, is my great disappointment. I can understand that Apple would like to provide a platform in which parents wouldn’t be embarrassed by something that their children could have access to, but isn’t that what parental controls for? Why not allow parents to make a master account in iTunes and the App Store, setting up subaccounts for their children, and letting them set limits for what their children can and can’t purchase. No violent games? Done. No games/music with explicit lyrics? Done. It’s a simple solution that would let developers create what they want, without compromising someone’s experience.

In the long run, the main reason I try to stay away from Apple is that it went from the home of freethinkers, to a legion of products that were developed with the belief that Apple knows what I want, and that I can’t possibly want anything other than what they deliver. I like to tinker with my computer, and upgrade components. I also like to know that developers have the freedom to create without discovering that Apple says they have no place for them.

This isn’t an argument about what’s a superior phone. It’s a question about where we want the computing/mobile phone world to take us, and if Steve Jobs is really going to lead us there.