Who Can Do Something About Those Blue Boxes?

Robert Scoble has a good analogy:

Let’s go back a few years to when Firefox was just coming on the scene. Remember that? I remember that it didn’t work with a ton of websites. Things like banks, e-commerce sites, and others. Why not? Because those sites were coded specifically for the dominant Internet Explorer back then.

Some people thought Firefox was going to fail because of these broken links. Just like Adobe is trying to say that Apple’s iPad is going to fail because of its own set of broken links.

But just a few years later and have you seen a site that doesn’t work on Firefox? I haven’t.

What happened? Firefox FORCED developers to get on board with the standards-based web.

The same thing is happening now, based on my talks with developers: they are not including Flash in their future web plans any longer.

Regarding those blue boxes that indicate embedded Flash content in MobileSafari, think of it this way: Who can make them go away?

  1. Adobe can’t. They can’t put Flash Player on iPhone OS on their own.

  2. Apple could, but they won’t.

  3. Users could make Apple change its mind by refusing to buy iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads because they don’t support Flash. That does not seem to be happening. In fact, iPhone sales are accelerating.

  4. Web site producers could do it, by replacing or providing an alternative to the Flash content on their sites.

Adobe’s initial reaction to the iPad seems to be geared toward #3 — emphasizing publicly that iPhone OS devices are not capable of rendering the (admittedly, substantial amounts of) Flash content on the web today. Good luck with that.

Adobe’s fear, of course, is that #4 is what will happen. And with good reason, since I think it’s fair to say that we’re seeing this happen already. Flash evangelist Lee Brimelow made his little poster showing what a bunch of Flash-using web sites look like without Flash without actually looking to see how they render on MobileSafari. Ends up a bunch of them, including the porno site, already have iPhone-optimized versions with no blue boxes, and video that plays just fine as straight-up H.264. iPhone visitors to these sites have no idea they’re missing anything because, well, they’re not missing anything. For a few other of the sites Brimelow cited, like Disney and Spongebob Squarepants, there are dedicated native iPhone apps.

Kendall Helmstetter Gelner put together this version of Brimelow’s chart using actual screenshots from MobileSafari, the App Store, and native iPhone apps. The only two blue boxes left: FarmVille and Hulu.

The explanation is simple. Web site producers tend to be practical. Those that use Flash do so not because they’re Flash proponents, but because Flash is easy and ubiquitous. Few technologies get to 100 percent market penetration; Flash came remarkably close. A few years ago you could say that, effectively, Flash was everywhere. It made total sense for sites like YouTube and Hulu to go with Flash.

Flash is no longer ubiquitous. There’s a big difference between “everywhere” and “almost everywhere”. Adobe’s own statistics on Flash’s market penetration claim 99 percent penetration as of last month. That’s because, according to their survey methodology, they’re only counting “PCs” — which ignores the entire sort of devices which have brought about this debate. Adobe is arguing that Flash is installed on 99 percent of all web browsers that support Flash, not 99 percent of all web browsers.

Used to be you could argue that Flash, whatever its merits, delivered content to the entire audience you cared about. That’s no longer true, and Adobe’s Flash penetration is shrinking with each iPhone OS device Apple sells.

What’s Hulu going to do? Sit there and wait? Whine about the blue boxes? Or do the practical thing and write software that delivers video to iPhone OS? The answer is obvious. Hulu doesn’t care about what’s good for Adobe. They care about what’s good for Hulu. Hulu isn’t a Flash site, it’s a video site. Developers go where the users are.

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