More thoughts on Apple and computers

I got asked this question on Formspring, and thought the somewhat unrelated answer warranted a quick blog post. Yeah, I’m silly like that. So here you go, thanks to the anonymous person who asked the question, and I hope you enjoy the answer.
And please don’t hesitate to let me know exactly how full of crap I am in the comments! 🙂

Do you think Apple may be just setting itself to be shanked by a Google/Adobe alliance on the mobile device front?

This doesn’t have an easy answer.
I think Steve Jobs is doing what he thinks is the “best solution”. The Mac has been built in that spirit, but it didn’t become the dominant platform because he was trying to make simple something that couldn’t be really simple (a computer).
With the iPhone and iPad, it’s different: they aren’t really computers per se, they are electronic “tools”. And he might succeed where the Mac (sort of) failed. The Mac is not a failure by any stretch of the imagination (although it did almost die when Jobs wasn’t at the helm), but these devices have an even wider potential. I believe the “dream” is to make iPad-like devices a lot more widely spread than today’s computers somewhere down the line, and I think it does have that potential. In that sense, Steve Jobs might realize his *real* dream, which is to really bring computers to the masses.

He wants people to not have to wonder at a screen that offers to install a security update, and then to not be yelled at by their nephew because they *didn’t* install said security update. He wants people to just push a button, do what they wanted to do in the first place, and then go about their business. It’s not really possible with a “computer” today. It might be with a iPad-like device at some point. At what point? My guess is this:
– Once Apple has set up their data center and starts offering a comprehensive cloud solution.
– Once Apple has enabled a real transparent file managing system on the iPhone OS. Meaning you can save / load / share documents between apps, without having to go back to the complexity of a traditional hard drive / file structure. iPhone OS4 is taking steps in that direction.
– Once, with these two elements, the iPad has become more autonomous and won’t require a connection to a PC or Mac to be set up. That day is coming, and it’ll change everything…

But to answer your question more directly, I personally believe that Flash on a mobile device is a mistake. Not only is it too resource intensive, the idea that it will allow you to access the “full web” is a fallacy: the really important things we want flash for are the video services, which can (and will) be available in better form on the iPad (and iPhone, even if it’s less important). In the long run, HTML5+H.264 is winning. Flash is still relevant for things like animation (annoying commercials easily replaced by annoying ads/iAds), and flash based games, which are done better with dedicated programming on one hand, and rely on user interfaces that do not make sense on a touch screen anyway on the other hand (mouseover, etc).
Either way, the Flash enabled web does not make sense on mobile devices, and it won’t be a determining factor once geeks have played with it for a couple of hours and realized it sucks. Kind of like physical keyboards: when the iPhone first came out, everyone bemoaned the lack of physical keyboard. Then Android phones WITH physical keyboards came out, and no one used them anymore… Most of these phones don’t have physical keyboards now, and most people who swore they needed them don’t really care. And I believe that Flash is the same: once geeks can try it on Android phones, they’ll geek out for two months and realize it’s not what they had hoped.

In the grand scheme of things, Flash (or USB ports and other crap like that) really really don’t matter. The real battle will be played in other arenas. I’m not saying Google / Adobe or someone else won’t win in the end, but I believe that Apple is the only one that has a chance to win with something different, and they are the only ones crazy enough to do something that actually pushes things forward.

We’ll see…

April 30th, 2010