Apple Defeats Adobe in Battle of Flash vs. HTML5 and H.264

The iPhone and iPad have been huge successes by any definition, but there has still been a significant complaint against them. Their Internet browsers have not supported the Adobe Flash format for video streaming, which has prevented their users from accessing the media on many sites on the web. This week at the National Association of Broadcasters Conference in Las Vegas, Adobe surrendered and declared support for the open HTML5 standard using H.264 video in its new Flash Media Server.

Despite user complaints and barbs from competitors like Android who pointed out that Android devices could access “the whole Web,” Apple has held firm that it won’t support Flash for several reasons. In Ars Technica’s report on Steve Jobs’ open letter to the world, the Apple CEO mentions Adobe’s proprietary vs. open format; the fact Flash is designed for mouse rather than hand gesture navigation; numerous, repeated security problems; and the poor performance of Flash and its effect on battery life.

It turns out that it wasn’t just stubbornness on Apple’s part. Android didn’t support Flash either in its first releases, and when they finally launched it so they could try to set themselves apart from Apple the results weren’t very impressive. InfoWorld said playback quality was “a little choppy,” “audio occasionally seemed slightly out of sync,” video “seemed to degrade in picture quality,” and “controls were almost impossible to activate, given the tablet’s touchscreen interface.”

The move from Flash to HTML5 began when Apple proposed the open standard to the Internet Engineering Task Force in 2009, gained speed when Microsoft added support for it to their IIS Media Services server (used for their Silverlight platform), and is likely now to become the widespread standard. As Ars Technica put it, “instead of trying in vain to persuade Apple to build Flash into iOS, or losing potential Flash Media Server customers to some other iOS-compatible solution, Adobe seems to be implicitly acknowledging that content publishers need Flash-free video streaming.”

Ultimately, the winner is the consumer. Once the move from Flash is complete, we won’t have to care about underlying technologies and which format is supported by which applications. We can simply browse the Web from all our devices and enjoy access to all we find.

Kevin Towes, “Sneak Peek: Future Adobe technology for HTTP streaming across multiple devices,” Adobe.
Jacqui Cheng, “Poll Technica: Steve Jobs’ letter on Flash,” Ars Technica.
Neil McAllister, “Flash on Android: Look, but don’t touch,” InfoWorld.
Chris Foresman, “Adobe throws in towel, adopts HTTP Live Streaming for iOS,” Ars Technica.