The iPad: Flash killer?

Farhad Manjoo, one of my favorite tech writers, has an interesting article over on Slate.com entitled Will Apple’s iPad kill Flash? In it, he discusses the glaring absence of Flash support on the new iPad. The lack of Flash is not a huge surprise, since neither the iPhone or iPod Touch support it. But somehow the idea that a device which aims to be “the ultimate web browsing device” would fail to support such a pervasive technology is a little more jarring.

My personal theory has been that Flash support would make it too easy for developers to simply build browser-based apps in Flash while bypassing Apple’s App Store. Why give up a cut of your profits to Apple if you can run your own web-based service? But Manjoo has a different idea: Steve Jobs is betting on the rapid adoption of HTML5, and is hoping to render Flash irrelevant.

There’s plenty of evidence. Manjoo points to reports of a tirade in which Jobs called Adobe lazy and its programs too buggy for Apple to support. And Apple’s pioneering support of HTML5 in Safari 4 shows the company’s belief in the technology. They’re not the only ones, either. Google’s HTML5 implementation of Google Voice was developed after Apple rejected the iPhone version from the App Store, and YouTube recently launched a Flash-free HTML5 beta version.

I wish Jobs all the best. I’m no fan of Flash, and can’t wait until I’m able to heavily incorporate HTML5 and CSS3 into my work. The potential is enormous. But as someone who knows the realities of this business, I take a skeptical view. Millions of users still browse the web with Internet Explorer 6, a horrific dinosaur of a program that PC World named one of the ten worst tech products of all time. Even with browsers like Safari, Chrome, and Firefox beginning to offer decent HTLM5 support, it will be many years before it can be relied upon to replace Flash for video and interactivity.

In the meantime, it remains to be seen how the Apple/Flash battle plays out. Adobe offers an iPhone “packager” that converts a Flash app to an iPhone app. It seems likely that an iPad version with be coming soon. I fully expect many sites to develop HTML5 versions in the near future, and I truly hope that the iPad will speed its mainstream adoption. But in a world dominated by Microsoft browsers, I’m not holding my breath.