Why Doesn't the iPad Do Flash?

Popular Web software unavailable on Apple's mobile devices

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Apple's iPad doesn't do Flash.

    A day after Apple unveiled its iPad tablet computer, there are plenty of complaints: No camera. An awkward keyboard. And software that only handles one task at a time.

    But the strangest thing about the iPad, a device meant to surf the Web, is its lack of Flash.

    Flash, the video-and-interactivity software made by San Jose-based Adobe, is practically ubiquitous on the Web, according to Adrian Ludwig, group manager for the Flash platform. YouTube runs on it, as does Hulu; it powers everything from online ads to Flickr slideshows to mortgage calculators. It's also increasingly common on smartphones and other mobile devices.

    Apple itself describes Flash as the "standard for delivering high-impact, rich Web content" that can be "deployed immediately across all browsers and platforms."

    All platforms, that is, except Apple's iPhone -- or the new iPad, which runs similar software. That omission led to an embarrassing moment when Apple CEO Steve Jobs demonstrated the iPad's Web browser, and quickly encountered an error message where a box of Flash content should have appeared.

    Why?

    "Apple doesn't want it there," said Ludwig.

    Really?

    Really. It's not a money or technology issue: Adobe freely licenses Flash to device manufacturers like Apple, and Ludwig says Flash runs well on similar devices.

    But Apple's terms of service for software that runs on the iPhone -- software that's also compatible with the iPad -- expressly forbids the kind of free-form interactivity that Flash allows. iPhone apps can't be a platform for other apps -- and that's exactly what Flash is.

    Adobe has a workaround: Its Packager software takes a Flash app and recodes it to be an iPhone app. But, as Ludwig points out, Apple still has to approve that app before iPhone users -- or, soon, iPad users -- can download it. And Apple strictly controls which apps go onto its App Store.

    Right now, anyone can write a Flash app, publish it on a website, and let users run it anywhere.

    Preventing that kind of end run around its App Store may be the real reason for Apple's aversion to Flash.

    Silicon Alley Insider speculates that Apple may want to also control which ads appear on its iPad. Flash is a popular format for online ads -- but Apple recently bought Quattro Wireless, a mobile-advertising startup, and may want publishers to be forced to go through its service for ads on its devices.

    Apple may well be shooting itself in the iPad, though. Users may have been willing to put up with the occasional Flash error on the iPhone, which can surf the Web but isn't really designed for surfing regular Web pages. The iPad, on the other hand, is meant to be a Web-friendly device. "It's like holding the Internet in your hands," said Apple CEO Steve Jobs in Wednesday's announcement.

    Some of the Internet, at any rate. Adobe's Ludwig points out that 85 of the 100 most popular websites incorporate Flash.

    Until Apple changes its mind on Flash, that's a lot of broken Web pages.

    Image via Engadget