Adobe, Apple spar over Flash for iPad, Mac

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The lack of support for Adobe Flash in Apple’s newest shiny device has been, depending on who you talk to, a critical flaw in the device, or an “about time” decision to drop a dead weight. Flash and the Mac community have a long and complicated relationship, though, and the iPad is only the latest battlefield.

Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch weighed in on the situation in a blog post earlier this week, in which he pointed a finger squarely at Apple:

We are ready to enable Flash in the browser on these devices if and when Apple chooses to allow that for its users, but to date we have not had the required cooperation from Apple to make this happen.

A brief stir erupted last week when an Apple product video for the iPad showed it rendering a New York Times Web page that contained Flash, even though it notably failed to display the same content during Apple’s live presentation. The company quickly moved to update the video, which now shows blue boxes where the plug-in content usually resides.

Of course, the bone of contention between many Mac users and Flash is the latter’s lackluster performance and frequent crashing—to add anecdote to injury, just last night I was watching the last few minutes of the Lost season premiere on ABC's site when the video stuttered, froze, and I was presented with a familiar blue brick and a dialog box informing me that the Flash plug-in had crashed.

Apple has been slightly more oblique in its public castigation of Flash. At a shareholders meeting in March of 2008, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said Adobe’s mobile-oriented Flash Player Lite was too slow in terms of performance and that the company needed some sort of middle-ground product.

During the keynote at last year’s Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple senior vice president of software engineering Bertrand Serlet said that browser plug-ins—and it was pretty clear which plug-in he had in mind—were the leading cause of crashes on Mac OS X. Hence, Snow Leopard now runs plug-ins in a sandboxed mode where they crash without taking down the whole browser—a blessing, admittedly. More recently, Steve Jobs reportedly took a potshot at Adobe during a recent Apple all-hands meeting, where he is said to have called the company “lazy.”

While Adobe’s Lynch didn’t respond directly in his post to Jobs’s reputed comments, he did attempt to lay out the case for Flash’s continued importance, though that case is built largely on its current ubiquity. (Hey, it worked for Microsoft. Mostly.)

More interestingly, Lynch responded in the comments to object at Flash’s reputation as more crashworthy than a Toyota, and dish a bit on the forthcoming Flash 10.1, which he claimed would improve Mac performance.

In Flash Player 10.1 we are moving to CoreAnimation, which will further reduce CPU usage and we believe will get us to the point where Mac will be faster than Windows for graphics rendering. […] With Flash Player 10.1, we are optimizing video rendering further on the Mac and expect to reduce CPU usage by half, bringing Mac and Windows closer to parity for video.

That certainly sounds like a pleasant enough future, though I’m not sure it’s enough to get Flash back into Apple’s good graces—”too little, too late” comes to mind. And Apple’s not the only one for Adobe to worry about: Mozilla said on Wednesday that it was disabling plug-in support in the latest release candidate for the mobile version of its Firefox browser, due to poor performance from Flash. Meanwhile, MPEG-LA, the organization that licenses Apple’s Web video format of choice, H.264, has announced that it will continue to allow use of the format royalty-free through the end of 2015.

While Flash is far from dead, Adobe is going to have to work hard to defend its position as heavyweight champion of the Web from a bevy of young challengers.

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