Apple looks ahead by ditching Flash

Farhad Manjoo

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: Not even mighty Apple could withstand the selling on Wall Street today. Shares of the music and gadget company gave up 3.6 percent this afternoon. Although it's a pretty safe bet that they will pop right back up as the release date for the iPad draws near.

But even Apple's latest toy isn't without controversy. Many of its hugely popular devices -- the iPhone, the iPod and the soon to be released iPad -- they don't run Flash. That's a Web tool that lets you run almost every bit of animation you see online -- videos, games, ads, all that stuff. Not using Flash does seem counter-productive. I mean, why would Apple want to make it harder to use the Internet, right? Commentator Farhad Manjoo has a couple of ideas on that.


FARHAD MANJOO: What was Steve Jobs thinking? Eight-five of the top 100 most popular sites use Flash to display content like videos or games or slideshows. If you go to those sites with the iPad, you're likely to see an error icon instead.

One explanation? Apple is just being smug, which is nothing new for Apple. Like the iPhone before it, the iPad will be completely locked down. Meaning it won't run any programs that Apple doesn't approve of. And Apple has said that Flash is riddled with errors. In other words, Steve Jobs isn't going to ruin his pristine machine just so you can watch Hulu.

But Apple could also be making a wise bet about the future of the Web. Many Web browsers are adopting a new standard to make Web sites interactive -- HTML5. That's the code that powers the Web, and the new version will allow sites to play videos without the need for any pesky plug ins. Several huge video sites -- including YouTube -- have embraced it. What's more, HTML5 video works just fine on the iPhone, and it'll work on the iPad too.

Jobs has a track record of knowing when technologies are on the way out. When Apple launched the iMac in 1998, it didn't include a floppy drive. The tech press cried foul. How could a computer not include a floppy? Jobs predicted we'd use the Internet to move our data instead. And he was right.

Steve Jobs is making the same kind of prediction now. He's guessing Web companies are going to ditch Flash in favor of HTML5. And if the iPad's a hit, Web sites will feel the push to become iPad compatible anyway. In the end, Apple wins: The company gets to keep its rivals' technology away from the iPad, and owners won't see all those error icons. So maybe Steve Jobs isn't that crazy after all -- just crazy like a fox.

RYSSDAL: Farhad Manjoo covers technology for Slate.

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