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I'm one of those people who like to sit back and look at interesting tech industry drama's from a distance, preferably from a comfy chair with a cold drink, and look at the bigger picture. Normally due to the speed of the tech industry, I don't really get much of a chance, but over the last couple of months the rise of the Flash v HTML5 question has given me plenty of comfy chair time.
With a rare moment of scripted openness, Apple's Steve Jobs posts his "Thoughts on Flash" wherein he steps out the reasons for Apple's move away from the format. Worth a read regardless of which side of the fence you're on. I wonder if, when the decision not to support Flash was made, if Apple thought it would cause such a stir? Well, to add to Adobe's woes, Microsoft have uncharacteristically drawn an early line in the sand announcing HTML5 as the future of the web and support for HTML5 video steaming in IE9.
I have already posted about my thoughts regarding the demise of Flash, but I would like to step back a bit to ask the questions - was Flash on its way out before Apple made its stand? Does Apple have the power to force these decisions upon the industry with just a couple of devices/services? Or was Apple just ballsy enough to say and do what the industry was thinking, but couldn't work up the courage to do?
The question about the future of Flash could be summed up with the old "Well, everything dies eventually" argument. But the Internet is kind of reinventing that a little. Due to the size of the user based web technologies, if they can keep up, you could in theory live forever if they catch on well in the beginning. And Flash was going to be the poster child for the theory if they had been able to keep up, or had read the play better.
Here's the alternate future. Though HTML5 looks to be the winner, there are still a lot of things to work out, for example, the standard video codec. There is just a huge can of worms when you look to de-throne a king. If Flash had continued to develop and moved earlier to lower power platforms and driven the field, rather than just being the default, they could be have been seen as the future rather than the roadblock. They could have lived on driving the video streaming and content creation market. If Flash ran well on mobile devices, and for that matter on the computers in general, do you think Apple would have bothered keeping it out of the iPhone/iPad? Flash had the opportunity and botched it, pure and simple.
So back to the other questions, is Apple the game changer or was this going to happen anyway? Flash had the opportunity, but held on too long before doing anything about it. So as we can see, with the rush to HTML5 by the industry, and the public support from Microsoft and Apple, that in this case, Apple was just the first high profile company to draw the line. You might say that only Apple would ever draw the line, but Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 isn't launching with Flash either.
I would go so far as to say that Apple devices have sped up the adoption. You drop a million Internet devices into the market in 28 days that don't support Flash, then you get a lot of web developers buying "Learn HTML5 in 24hrs". The funny thing is that, when the iPad launched, Flash developers, in an effort to dis the device and Apple's stance on Flash, publicly outed sites that weren't going to work on the iPad, I wonder how many still don't?
To be successful and innovative in tech, whether in manufacturing or the web, you have to be able to predict the future and also pick which of the possible future's may come true with enough support and users. In the old days, that had a lot to do with features and listening to the customers. But now we are working with generations that have been professionally advertised to. So it seems that you need to be different, you need to be Facebook different, or maybe Google different, or as in this case, Apple different. Flash wasn't different enough.
...if it isn't Broken, just rewrite the rules, the rest will argue the rules while you kick the goals. It's a business thing.