Monday, January 25, 2010

Apple, Flash (OLPC)

Two innovative platforms challenging the long established personal computer paradigm came out at roughly the same time a few years ago: the iPhone and the OLPC XO. Comparisons between to two in general and in detail provide lots to chew on. Flash (as in Adobe, not memory) support is one interesting topic. Apple seems to have gotten away with forbidding it from the iPhone entirely. The XO shipped with an annoying, unreliable, confusing implementation. I don't know if this is a problem with the XO's target audience in the developing world, but I know it caused a lot of consternation from G1G1 users.

I've sometimes wondered why Apple's strategy was apparently more successful.

In an excellent post on the whole subject of Apple's relationship with Adobe Flash, John Gruber cites one relevant anecdote:

Here’s an email I got from a DF reader:

I was in line waiting for a coffee on Christmas day. In front of me was a kid, about nine or ten, who had an iPhone. He clearly had gotten it that morning. He was pushing frantically at a white box on a web page with the broken plug-in symbol. He was squeezing it, swiping it. He was frustrated and on the verge of getting pissed with his new toy. It seemed like he was trying to hit an online game page, probably one he was used to playing on the family PC. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I leaned over and said, “It won’t load Flash. It won’t play your Flash games.” His mom, ignoring him up to that point, was triggered by a stranger talking to her kid. “That’s okay honey,” she said, “we’ll get you a game from the App Store. His response to this? He started working that device even harder. He didn’t want an App Store game; he wanted his Flash game. And that iPhone suddenly took a huge dive in value to him.

Like it not, Apple needs to come to terms with this. If only for the kids.

I think this anecdote, and this reader’s takeaway from it, accurately captures the feeling behind much of the “Apple has got to bend on this eventually” sentiment that’s out there.

But think about it from Apple’s perspective. How do you think this situation turned out in the long run? Do you think the kid told his mom to return the iPhone for a refund? Or, do you think they went home and started buying games from the App Store? That there was a period of initial frustration due to Flash games not playing doesn’t change the fact that they (a) bought an iPhone and (b) were set to buy games from the App Store.

This suggests to me that Flash is a more important feature for kids than adults, but that no Flash is better than bad crashy Flash.


Gary said...

My understanding is that Flash is a power-sucking demon that would drain the iPhone battery even faster.

Tom Hoffman said...

Yes, that too.

Mark Ahlness said...

Perhaps if that frustrated kid had an alternative to bashing his iPhone, like actually being able to make it play Flash by brainstorming, collaborating, innovating...

My XO's play flash - because people have been allowed to work the puzzle. And share.