Further thoughts about the iPad, Flash, and what Jobs said.

February 1, 2010 at 8:50 am 5 comments

They are lazy, Jobs says. They have all this potential to do interesting things but they just refuse to do it. They don’t do anything with the approaches that Apple is taking, like Carbon. Apple does not support Flash because it is so buggy, he says. Whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it’s because of Flash. No one will be using Flash, he says. The world is moving to HTML5.” (quote extracted from here).

I’ve always had a lot of respect for Steve Jobs.   If Jobs says something – I listen.  And so does the entire computing industry.

If Steve Jobs were to say something that challenged my world view – I wouldn’t get defensive or upset.  I would listen very carefully to the message.

I’ve said this before: I’m not a fan boy.  I think evangelism is unhealthy.  But I have tremendous loyalty to the Apple brand based on technical merit.

My other foot is firmly planted in the Adobe camp.  I’ve been dedicated and involved in the Flash Platform for the last ten years because I was excited by its ubiquitous nature, its consumer saturation, and its potential for mobile deployment.  ActionScript 3 is a joy.  Most of my waking hours are spent using Flex commercially or coding sophisticated Pure ActionScript.  (resolution 2010 – I really must get out more).

There are three parts to Steve’s message.

I fully agree with the first part of Jobs’ statement.  Think of it as a wake-up call.

I’m not going to talk about “Flash is buggy” accusation .  I think Flash on a Mac is better than it used to be.  There’s a lot of speculation elsewhere about this issue. I won’t add to the noise.

I don’t agree with the last part of Steve’s message.  I’ve heard all about the demise of Flash before.  I’ve seen Flash-killers come and go and fade into obscurity.  Flash has a strong legacy and following and I don’t see it disappearing.

Mac users have often been treated as second-class citizens by Macromedia/Adobe.  Initial releases of software such as Flex and ColdFusion were released for PC only.  I remember having to wait ages before I was able to obtain the first pre-release version of Flex that I could run on my Mac.

Yet, back in the pioneering days – I noticed something about the people who were getting most excited about using Flash to write applications.  Most were Mac users like myself.

The performance of Flash on the Mac has been an issue for all the time I’ve been using Flash.  It IS implementation laziness.  Every software development project I’ve worked on (both commercial and personal) has involved an optimisation phase to make things to run faster.  I do this a lot in Flex and ActionScript.  To improve the user experience on a PC as well as Mac.  Working on my code to compensate for the feeble Flash runtime, or Flex framework.  I wish Macromedia/Adobe had done more optimisation at their end, as it would have saved me a lot of work at my end.

I’ve heard the excuses.  That this is a consequence of executing something in a ubiquitous runtime rather than natively.  That Flash or Flex provide a higher-level authoring experience (compared to Pure ActionScript), so I must accept the consequences .  I don’t accept these excuses.

Flash was probably fast enough for “conventional” uses.  Banner animations, web-sites, e-commerce, simple stuff dragged together in Flex.  But now people are writing applications that resemble the kinds of applications that run on your desktop.  The bar has been raised.  Users expect capabilities more like they get on the desktop, and developers like myself want to be empowered by Flash more than we are currently.

As a developer, my intimacy and familiarity with the ActionScript classes provide me with a unique vision of what the platform is capable of, and what is lacking.  TLF textflows for example.  In 2003, I described this idea (except my name for them was “linked text boxes”).  For many years I was frustrated by the limitations of the TextField object and the lack of control over text on the screen, until eventually we got the flash.text.engine class.

I could mention numerous other examples of enhancements and capabilities that we waited too long to happen – but at least we got there in the end.  The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  What was the point of ActionScript 2? – superseded so quickly.  Or a bloated, slow, and badly conceived Halo Flex framework?  Every time that Adobe flounders – they weaken their competitive stance.  And that’s a pity – because I’m really on their side when they’re on-track.

I only wish that a little of Apple’s culture, attention to detail, boldness and vision could be injected into Adobe.

To develop AIR (or even browser) applications with Carbon-like capabilities would be incredible.  It’s an almost incomprehensible vision, compared to what’s possible currently – we’re still dragging our knuckles along the ground.

But if Flash is still dragging it’s knuckles along the ground, then conventional web technology “standards” (canvas, javascript, etc.) have hardly evolved from single cell organisms.  JavaScript!??  Don’t make me laugh.  While I admire the tenacity of developers who’ve created powerful applications in JavaScript (particularly Google’s applications) – I’ll stick to the powerful real language capabilities of ActionScript 3, along with the powerful libraries and complimentary technologies that Adobe have released over the last few years.  (Derrick Grigg has cited some examples of what AS3 can do that JavaScript can’t)  I’m not even sure that an application like e2publish, with its control over text formatting, is even possible in JavaScript.

So despite my frustrations as a developer about the limitations of Flash – it’s still better than the web standard alternatives.  In fact, Adobe shouldn’t even be competing with these lesser technologies.  They’re unworthy adversaries.  Be like the Samurai.

Instead, I wish that Adobe could raise its sights to see the potential of Flash in a similar way to how Steve Jobs sees the potential of Flash.

Unfortunately, Adobe sees the world very differently to Google or Apple.  I notice this every time that Adobe runs a competition, derby, funding scheme or incentive to support developers.  It’s always too much about image and eye-candy and not enough about functionality.  Sometimes, Adobe throws its support and money into a mediocre idea, and biasses the playing-field against much more ambitious visions.

Adobe is an eye-candy company.  Apple is much more about functionality – yet they always present it beautifully.  That’s an important difference.

I wrote something else here.  But I deleted it.  What I had to say would have seemed too much like Kanye West (Gay Fish) at an awards ceremony.  My comments may have upset another developer – and I didn’t want to do that.  Suffice to say that Adobe have often supported ideas or developers that demonstrated very little merit beyond an initial and very superficial “wow” factor.

It’s no wonder that the “web standard” fan boys think they have a shot at the title.  The real capabilities of the Flash Platform are Adobe’s most closely guarded secret.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

On a related issue:  I mentioned how the RIA bar has been raised.  As developers, we’re increasingly aiming for a user experience that resembles the slickness of applications that run on the desktop, rather than the primitive tables, buttons and forms of a traditional web application.

I watched the iPad keynote presentation.  I was so blown away (uh oh, I’m starting to sound like Steve Jobs now) by the iWork demonstration that it almost made me weep.  Not because it was impressive.  Indeed it’s very impressive.  But it’s so impressive that it raises user expectations.  Our Flash based applications will be expected to compete with this level of experience.  That’s daunting – almost defeating.

The part of the video where the text wraps around the giraffes head was particularly daunting for me.  Actually, I know how to do this.  I know exactly how I’d implement that in ActionScript.  I’d love to bring that feature to e2publish.  But that would take time, and divert me from my commercial Flex work that I get paid for.  So that feature probably won’t make it for a while.

While I have lofty ambitions about pushing the envelope of what can be achieved with the Flash Platform – the downside is that I don’t really have the time to realise my vision.

(I tried to embed a link to the youtube video.  It didn’t work, probably because it’s the beta test HTML5 youtube service.  Try part 3 of 4 here.)

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Entry filed under: Adobe AIR, e2publish, iPod/iPad/iPhone, Pure ActionScript, Text Layout Framework.

Beta testers needed! Adobe Refresh Roadshow tomorrow in Brisbane

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Andrew Morton  |  February 1, 2010 at 11:23 am

    I have to say that this one of the most well balanced opinion I have read so far about the whole debate of Adobe vs Apple.

    Until a few years ago, Adobe was a very similar company compared to what it is now Apple, every new application or version was kept secret until it reached the shelves (no electronic delivery yet…), there were no Creative Suites, no ultra-bloated applications, everything from the first line of code down to the icon was crafted with perfection and thought.

    The Adobe I see today is made of announcements made years before something is available (like Flash Catalyst) but always giving the impression that will be available tomorrow. Software that is clearly unfinished, versions that just consist of icons and windows re-flushed just for the sake of doing it, hugely overlapping functionalities over clearly differently purposed applications, constant relying on end user to perform beta testing, applications that become usable after a year of electronic updates and still show a plethora of problems (the disaster of CS4 speak for itself, yet it was promoted as a packet that could improve productivity by up to 48%, I always wondered how they measured that percentage).

    The Adobe that was, wasn’t competing with the very same customers that bought their tools, didn’t have a consulting company to build services and custom applications, the one of today does it constantly and I’m always surprised when developers are cheering at the fact that AIR has been used to make the NYT application by nobody else than Adobe itself. This is the problem with Adobe today, if they need to modify the tools or the runtime to achieve something they can do it, nobody else can. Biting the hand that feeds you is a dangerous thing to do.

    And finally, the Adobe that was, didn’t had an army of emotionally reacting so-called “evangelists”, which go down the street every time they believe their “credo” is in danger. That Adobe probably was able to speak, deal and collaborate with Apple. The one of today has lost this ability.

    Speaking of iPad, I still don’t understand what kind of Flash Player it was supposed to have, Flash Play 10.1 for mobile is still in beta, not released, not tested, not seen anywhere else except adobe dev Labs and a few videos where even their product manager says “you can finally see all the banners advertisements where content producer can monetize their web site”… DOH!

    As you rightly put it, they still count heavily on the WOW factor, saying that pretty much the rest of the world is with them in terms of Flash Player, yet a single vendor that doesn’t seem keen to use it, creates all this mess and cry fouls, something doesn’t smell right at Adobe….

    Reply
  • 2. Teddy Matayoshi  |  February 1, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Balanced and well delivered. As a Flash Animator I would really like Flash. on the iPhone and iPad but until Adobe steps up and cleans up their platforms I don’t think it’ll never happen bot in the very near future. The age of eye candy is almost over, ushering the era of elegant functionality.

    Reply
  • 3. Hassan  |  February 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Rightly said. I confess that when the IPad was announced, Adobe and Google are the two companies that came to my mind. Adobe not because of Flash (whether it is on IPhone or IPad is for me no issue in the way it is for others, and it should not be an issue for Adobe too – unless they have some Apple stocks) but because of the potential they have. They have the tools necessary to build eye candy experiences similar to those showcased on the IPad, or even better; from word processing, pdf to data visualisation and video control. If getting into the hardware business will help, then why not do it (like Google did). If there is a future for tablets like IPad then there is a future for lightweight operating systems (that is how i see the future). Adobe Air is such a peace on which other experiences could be built (browsing, word-processing, video manipulation..).
    I think that IPad is a reaction to the danger from Google (the way Nexus was Google’s reaction to the IPhone). Google placed its bet on the internet and experiences around it and a tablet like IPad is the suited physical form – there is no need for heavyweight laptops nor heavyweight OS’s. With Nexus I thought : you cannot beat a leader with a copy of his product (how fancy it may be, Nexus is not original nor revolutionary in the sense IPhone was). With IPad I thought : If that’s how revolutionary Steve Jobs can be, then there is hope for Google and others to impress.

    Reply
  • 4. Ray " jobs search "  |  February 2, 2010 at 3:58 am

    I wanted to thank you for this great blog!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

    Reply
  • 5. gorjan  |  February 6, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Well said indeed. Steve Jobs’ statements are often on the money – but not always. I too have heard many “experts” predict the demise of Flash for years. But it looks like Steve is going back to what held Apple back for years – proprietary hardware AND software. When he started using intel on iMacs, sales exploded. Now it’s going back to the 70s, 80s and 90s, with the proprietary iPad cpu. In the same way, although he is correct to say that Adobe are lazy (and so were Macromedia), that did not prevent Flash from growing and becoming a de-facto standard.

    I completely agree with the statement that Adobe are an eye-candy company. I think this must’ve been inherited from Macromedia and from Adobe’s traditional line of business. Apple is about functionality, and elegance. But it has been proven time and again that in this world, closed standards, patents, and anything that goes against sharing and leveraging skills ultimately fails. That’s why Adobe opened up the Flash platform.

    Hopefully, though, with the introduction of Catalyst there will be more focus on separating eye-candy from functionality, and hopefully some focus on elegance in code will emerge.

    Reply

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