Friday, April 30, 2010

Mr. Jobs's eras

Apple and Adobe have a long history together, as Steve Jobs points out in an explanation of why iPhones and their cousins won't run Flash. Good times, good times, he says, reminiscing about their shared past, and then goes on to give, in a cool and evenhanded tone, six fairly blunt reasons for the choice.

Now clearly, supporting flash or not, and choosing HTML5 and other standards in favor of it, is all about the web, but what jumped out at me was Jobs's contrast between the "PC era" and the "Mobile era", which would seem to be more about generations of hardware. Guess which era he puts Flash in. Give up? OK, I'll tell you (or rather, I'll let Jobs tell you):
Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.
There are several interesting implications in that one little paragraph. In particular, it would seem that mobile devices are in some way webbier than PCs. Even before the web, people were using PCs, to write documents, play games and whatever else. Sure, the web can enhance all that, but PCs were a success before the web ever came along.

The distinguishing feature of a mobile device is not just that you can move it around, but that it (generally) stays connected when you do. A good portion of the pizzaz of an iPhone etc. comes from its webbiness. Not only is there an app for that, you can get it right now, and chances are that app interacts with the web in some essential way.

Now, you can have mobile devices without the web. The first generations of cell phone were exactly that. Nonetheless, as Jobs asserts and I tend to agree, the real potential of mobile devices comes from their fit with the Web As We Know It. The tighter the fit, the better.

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