Apple's 'New Kettle' Not Yet Holding Water

Swedish grandmothers have a saying, "don't throw out the old kettle until you're sure the new kettle holds water." This proverb encapsulates a time-honored approach creative technology companies take regarding the adoption of new technologies particularly with respect to rich Internet application development.

iPad does not support Flash, which leaves content providers, and developers with several options. HTML5 is an extremely promising "new kettle" but there are implementation details to work out and forty-five percent of web surfers use browsers that don't currently support the new standard. A shorter term option is classic CSS, JS and XHTML which is a good cross-platform solution but doesn't have the production values Flash delivers. "Wait and see" is also an option particularly for companies facing the considerable expense of recoding lots of existing web content.

The Flash debate isn't new; for years, detractors said Flash wastes CPU power (a claim cast in doubt with recent benchmarking tests), and that it's too proprietary; proponents point to the fact Flash is currently unmatched for cross-platform ubiquity, animation, vector graphics and video. With emerging HTML5 related technologies like Canvas and VP8 these advantages may become less pronounced but for now they're critical factors for brands with specific timely marketing goals. Whatever side you're on, it's hard to ignore the fact Flash is an extremely pervasive software platform and going cold turkey isn't a comfortable option. As Vic Gondotra (formally with Microsoft now VP of Engineering at Google) stated in a recent keynote address, Google supports Flash because "It turns out that on the Internet, people use Flash."

We will never know all the thinking leading up to the current dustup but Apple's preeminent, subtractive design culture is probably a factor. Apple has a long history differentiating products, creating excitement and sparking debate not only by being the first to add features, but also by being the first to take them away. For example, in 1998 Apple decided floppy disks (old kettle) were obsolete and shipped the iMac G3 with successful CD-ROM drives (new kettle) instead. In 1983 Apple took a calculated risk and sold a computer without a fan. It was amazingly quiet but prone to overheating and unfortunately had to be recalled. The elegant Macbook Air is an envelope-sized monument to subtractive design that ships without a removable disc drive or even a second USB port. I'm typing on one now and think it's a great device (not everyone agrees). The iPhone eliminated the physical keyboard and it's one of the reasons many high school students are migrating to Blackberry which does a better job satisfying their voracious appetite for texting.

Here's the twist. When Apple takes away fans, floppy drives and keyboards it's a hardware decision that doesn't have a big impact on content providers. Flash is different -- this time, Apple took away very popular software. For iPad users and content providers who think it will be at least eighteen months before new kettles like HTML5 hold water, the conclusion is plain: there's a dearth of Grandmotherly advice in Cupertino.