Flash And Quicktime: Not Sitting In A Tree

In a recent piece, News Flash: No Flash, John Gruber writes that he finds it unlikely for Flash to appear on the iPhone any time soon. He’s right, as usual, but he’s got a few details wrong.

The single most popular thing people use Flash for is to watch YouTube videos, which you can already watch a subset of using the native Mobile OS X YouTube app. In short, is the lack of Flash keeping people from buying iPhones and iPod Touches?

Right, but wrong. Video is great, but the coming battle won’t be about video. I dare predict that Apple has a dirty secret in their pocket, a secret that’s ready to explode. A secret that’ll bring them head to head (more so) with Adobe, Microsoft and Mozilla. Possibly even Sony and Nintendo.

Flash and the future of Flash, is not only about video. Sure, video was what really got Flash to the mass-market via YouTube and the likes, but the true future of Flash relies upon a new Adobe technology called AIR1. AIR is something we’ll see quite a lot more of in the coming year. The idea is that HTML is too limiting for web-apps such as Google Docs, Flickr, Twitter and so on. Yes, it works, but could it work better?

Enter Flash. There’s good Flash and there’s bad Flash. For the last decade or so, we’ve mostly seen bad Flash. YouTube was the exception, so much that in mainstream terms, Flash is now about video, when in fact that’s only a tiny subset of what Flash does. Flash does RSS, HTML, app-scripting, fullscreen, video, mp3 and graphics with advanced filters including scalable vector graphics. Theoretically, you could rewrite Gmail in Flash and AIR to make it an offline application with functionality rivaling that of other email apps such as Outlook and Thunderbird. Did I mention Flash does games as well?

Of course this is when you should splash yourself with cold water, smell the coffee and so on. There’s a real good reason why only video has really succeeded for Flash. The bulk of the reason is lack of usability (and accessibility), the cherry on top being that Flash is really CPU intensive. But Adobe is working on that. Real, no-bullshit hardware acceleration could possibly solve many of the CPU problems that plague Flash and AIR is making headway with regards to usability and accessibility.

As such, I believe the next great Internet battle will surround offline applications. Adobe has AIR, Microsoft has Silverlight and Mozilla is positioning both Firefox 3, Mozilla Prism and Mozilla Weave. The purpose of each of these frameworks is to allow people to create widgets, applications, games, music and video that you can take with you offline and even to your cellphone.

Apples website shows no trace of Flash, even though it could be used for their videos, hardware presentations and interactive website elements. Things might even work slightly better than it does now. So why doesn’t Apple just use Flash? Because Apple wants in on it.

Apple makes widgets, applications, games, music and video. Right now you can take your music, video, and most recently, your games with you offline and to your iDevices. As Gruber mentions, the iPhone even has a great amount of really good HTML/CSS/JavaScript powered applications. The iPhone even does YouTube video without the use of Flash. Apple wants you to know that you really don’t need Flash, because their big dirty secret is that they’re going to position Quicktime as an alternative to Flash/AIR and Silverlight.

Think about it. Really get it in there. Quicktime is a widespread plugin. Maybe not as much as Flash, but spread enough. Add to that Apples hardware accelerated Core Animation technology, and you’ve got graphical prowess that matches that of both Flash and Silverlight. Combine that with HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and you’ll get video, music, games and applications through Quicktime. All of it, stuff we thought would be on either Adobes or Microsofts turf once the dust settled. With portable games, Apple might even face off with Nintendos and Sonys handhelds2.

Keep thinking about it. Apple has been real quiet about iPhone application SDKs. Very few games have been released. People are supposed to write applications using web-technologies (HTML, CSS, JavaScript). Why all the secrecy? Could it be that Apples engineers are hard at work combining Core Animation and Quicktime into a lightweight browser plugin? My prediction: yes. Count on it. In 6-10 months, Apple will unveil the new Quicktime, a browser plugin for Windows and Mac that brings Core Animation to the browser. Build your websites, movie-microsites, games, web-apps and play your videos directly in Coretime! Oh, and there’s one more thing. Once you’re done building: take it with you to your dashboard, your iPods and your iPhones.

  1. Not coincidentally, AIR is RIA a spelled backwards, RIA for Rich Internet Application  
  2. That said, they’ll probably go after Nokias NGage platform first and we all know how that’ll play out. Spoiler alert: Nokia doesn’t stand a chance.  

Responses to “Flash And Quicktime: Not Sitting In A Tree”

  1. lm says:

    great post !

    I think Apple can win the battle but only if Windows version of all Mac app appear. Otherwise Adobe is an ultimate winner again.

  2. John Dowdell says:

    Hi, the Adobe Integrated Runtime actually works with HTML and JavaScript — AIR is a desktop runtime for SWF, or for Ajax, with PDF support for both.

    (Rephrased, Google wouldn’t have to rewrite Gmail in another language to turn it into a desktop app. HTML/JS/CSS is fine, because AIR contains Webkit.)

    The goal with AIR is that common web apps, whether in SWF or HTML, can be developed to take advantage of desktop conventions (drag-to-desktop, local file access, system notifications, etc). Turning webapps into richer desktop apps… that’s the goal here.

    Mozilla’s Prism is a bit similar, but very different — a visitor to a webpage can wrap up a webapp as a standalone Firefox executable. It lets you get around browser crashes, but is more something a consumer does to an existing webpage, rather than what a developer can offer beyond a webpage.

    (Microsoft’s Silverlight is not in this discussion at all… it’s a browser plugin, and they haven’t even predicted offline data access yet. Different scope.)

    “There’s good Flash, and there’s bad Flash.” I’d agree… applies to text and images too.

    jd/adobe

  3. Joen says:

    Hi JD,

    Thanks for stopping by here.

    I hope you understood that the point of this article wasn’t to bash Flash, but rather to give predictions that Apple wants to enter the RIA market.

    (Rephrased, Google wouldn

  4. John Dowdell says:

    Oh, no worries on any “flash bash” — I was more concerned about “AIR extends Flash” rather than “AIR extends either Flash or Ajax”.

    (For what Apple might want to do in this area, I have no idea… I can’t read the levels of secrecy involved there. I embrace my limitations. ;-)

    If Google wanted to redo the Gmail interface, then they could do things like replacing HTML components with SWF components, agreed. You can also wrap up pretty much any JavaScript app you make in a desktop wrapper… that’s a simple, easy win for Ajax with AIR. But where it gets really interesting is modifying an existing Ajax app to take advantage of the cross-platform desktop APIs available to JavaScript in AIR… a little more work, but a lot more payoff.

    Some of the above scenarios would provide incremental change, but extending existing webapps with desktop abilities — that could provide big disruptive change, regardless of whether the guts are in Flash, Ajax, or a combination of the two. Fun times…. :)

    jd/adobe

  5. T says:

    I’d say they’ll take Silverlight…