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Apple's push to end Flash

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Apple's push to end Flash

Started by Colin Elliott May 28, 2010 - 8:17pm Replies (1)

I got a great email from Chris Manuel and he has let me re-post it here.  He points out many of the inconsistencies in Apple's push to put an end to flash.

Chris's email below.



"Flash" video supports three CODECs: Sorenson Spark, On2 VP6 and H.264. So Apple "crowning" H.264 over Flash video is like saying in a comparison of apples and oranges that oranges taste better than oranges: they're the same thing. 

As far as choosing a CODEC for the video tag in HTML5 there's no reason why both H.264 and On2 VP8 couldn't be offered. It's not a technical issue, it's a business decision. Apple shares in the licencing revenue for H.264 so every frame of H.264 video pays Apple a small royalty. The technical differences aren't huge: H.264 is more processor intensive than On2 VP8 (not VP6 as in Flash) and also requires a higher data rate but not by a lot (~20%). Image quality is excellent for both but H.264 is the first choice for Blu-Ray so there is a workflow at the major studios for quality H.264 encoding. On2 supports alpha channels and embedded cuepoints - unavailable in H.264 - which makes for better web video. With On2 and alpha channel support you can composite video over still backgrounds and get low data rate video with huge, high quality backgrounds. To do that with H.264 you have to add the backgrounds before encoding and the data rate would be much larger.

So each format has its advantages and disadvantages - again there's no technical reason why the video tag in HTML5 has to be just one format. When the next innovation in data compression comes along there's no way people are going to say "I don't want it because it's not in HTML5" so the standard will always be changing. 

As far as Adobe "open sourcing" things, they licence all of their CODECs so they can't open source someone else's CODECs. The swf format is already open - any developer can develop an application that writes .swf files. But the swf file is not source code, it's a file specification, so to say they should "open source" a specification is misleading at best. He probably means they should open source the Flash Player: another goofy idea. One of the main reasons the Flash Player has become ubiquitous is the ability for developers to concentrate on making the best application they can instead of splitting their efforts up between developing and then porting to different browsers. Open source the player and you open the possibility for new APIs that are only available in certain operating systems or certain browsers. That's what Apple wants - to be able to add APIs at will to make their environment better than competitors'. It makes perfect sense for Apple to want that but it's entirely self serving on their part and has nothing to do with improving the web. 

More on "openness" and Apple: they "own" the Canvas specification that they're so hot to push for in HTML5. They've agreed to offer it under a royalty free licence - but that is free, not open. Free to use does not mean free to modify, unlike "open source". Apple could decide at anytime to modify the Canvas spec to add new APIs and they would have no requirement to share the new APIs. Under that scenario access to the "best" web would require buying an Apple product. 


One of the reason's Apple is so down on Adobe and Flash Player is performance - because the Player has two entirely separate code interpreters and rendering engines. AVM1 supports Actionscript 1 and 2 and AVM2 supports Actionscript 3 exclusively. AVM2 and Actionscript 3 are so much faster and more stable than AVM1 that some code executes a thousand times faster in AVM2. I'm not saying a "thousand times" like a Ford is a "thousand times" better than a Chevy. I'm saying some code that required a second to run in AVM1, executes in a millisecond in AVM2. 

If Adobe were to offer a mobile Player plug-in that only supported Actionscript 3 I believe it would negate all of Steve Job's negative assertions about the current Player. In addition, in verion 10.1 of the Player they support video chip decoding of H.264 which would be the same as Apple's performance on the iPodPadTouchPhone - no more battery drain claims. 


It's interesting to take a different perspective on Steve Job's anti-Flash letter on the Apple website. It could be re-stated that Apple can't build a handheld device that can run Flash. If Acer can build a $400 netbook that can run Flash you've got to wonder who's the lazy one?

Rant off, feel free to share with others.