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A Jobs well done?

Any enthusiast worth his salt will already be painfully aware that Flash as a platform is CPU intensive – so much so that ATI and Nvidia have worked with Adobe to accelerate the content in their driver directly to the graphics hardware. If you have ever spent time with a low powered netbook and surfed youtube you will realise that the CPU takes a hammering – this not only heats up your lap, but it destroys battery life and means that multitasking is extremely difficult. Sure, this isn't a big deal if you are lucky enough to be using a new Quad Core CPU from either AMD or Intel, but for the mobile platform it can be an issue. Jobs said: “Flash has not performed well on mobile devices. We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now. We have never seen it. Adobe publicly said that Flash would ship on a smartphone in early 2009, then the second half of 2009, then the first half of 2010, and now they say the second half of 2010. We think it will eventually ship, but we’re glad we didn’t hold our breath. Who knows how it will perform?

He added: “Although Flash has recently added support for H.264, the video on almost all Flash websites currently requires an older generation decoder that is not implemented in mobile chips and must be run in software. The difference is striking: on an iPhone, for example, H.264 videos play for up to 10 hours, while videos decoded in software play for less than 5 hours before the battery is fully drained.”

This is not really breaking news to most of us and while many Apple haters will jump on the point that they need to adopt Flash because its an industry standard, perhaps he has a point. After all, one of the nets biggest flash based websites, Youtube has a fallback system of utilising H.264 playback. This means if you are using an iPod, iPhone or iPad, then you will still be able to see all the content.

Jobs was keen to point out security issues with Flash: “Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. We also know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash. We have been working with Adobe to fix these problems, but they have persisted for several years now. We don’t want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods and iPads by adding Flash.”

While deliberately controversial in his wording, Jobs once again has the backing of many industry experts who have been stating for a long time that hackers have been having a field day with Flash. “We're spending a lot of time researching the vulnerability of Adobe Flash because we foresee the problem getting worse before it gets better,” Holly Stewart, threat response manager at IBM Internet Security Systems' X-Force research team said in March last year. Independent research has proved that 15-20 percent of all malicious links were to Flash movies containing Malware. While a portion of this is due to sloppy and lazy software updating from many end users, it is a well known topic that Flash is a prime target for hackers – The controversial Clickjacking attacks affecting flash player itself were well documented.

Therefore we can see that while Flash is seen as an industry standard by many – I would take an educated guess and say that the majority of people reading this hate flash advertisements, flash popups, flash ads with sound and even flash websites. I don't make this statement lightly either, when I was running one of the net's most successful technology based websites I frequently received hate mail and comments on our forum for the heavy use of flash content throughout our network. Flash has its uses, for sure – but I honestly do feel it is becoming such an overused form of media that people are becoming numb to it …. the plethora of flash/advertising blockers available for all platforms would certainly go some way  to confirm my own findings. I asked a close friend of mine recently if he was annoyed with the lack of flash support on his 32gb Ipad, his answer ? “Not at all, I don't have to view all the annoying flash ads on websites and youtube works fine. I always avoided flash interface websites anyway – I don't want flash at all”.

In summary we can either take the view that Steve Jobs is being stubborn and unjustified in his comments with his enforced ‘anti Flash' stance or we can look a little deeper and begin to realise that a large portion of what he is saying actually does have merit. It is clear that Apple mobile users will have to make do with ‘fallback' flash methods of streaming H.264 content to their machines, an effective method that Youtube have utilised for many months now. Adobe might not be that affected right now by Apple's stance but some very well respected industry experts believe that this could actually be the death blow for Flash – after all, when Apple removed the floppy drive in the first iMac the rest of the industry adopted this stance. This signalled the end of the floppy drive – so is Flash next or has Jobs miscalcuated the average consumers demand for pure flash content?

UPDATE: It seems that Adobe don't have as much control over the media market as many people might think, an issue which will only get worse with Apple publicly stating they will not support it in the future – TechCrunch have reported the following: “So how much video exactly is available in H.264? I asked Encoding.com, which has encoded 5 million videos over the past year for a variety of Websites and customers including MTV Networks, WebMD, Brightcove, Nokia, MySpace, and Red Bull. President Jeff Malkin sent me the chart above, which he believes is representative of the Web in general, including mobile. As the chart shows, in the past four quarters, the H.264 format went from 31 percent of all videos to 66 percent, and is now the largest format by far. Meanwhile, Flash is represented by Flash VP6 and FLV, which combined represent only 26 percent of all videos. That is down from a combined total of 69 percent four quarters ago. So the native Flash codecs and H.264 have completely flipped in terms of market share (Flash also supports H.264, however, but you don’t need a Flash player to watch H.264 videos)”

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