This is a bit late, but I thought I’d throw my opinion about the iPad.
There’s been a lot of discussion about Apple’s iPad since it’s official announcement on wednesday and a lot of this discussion has centred on the issue of Apple not including any third party plugins with its version of the Safari browser, specifically Flash.
There have been a whole range of arguments about this issue, ranging in severity from “No Flash on the iPad makes it a completely useless device” to “Apple are saints – Flash is a blight upon the Internet and must be destroyed.” I subscribe to neither of these theories, but lie somewhere inbetween.
I actually don’t really care that much anyway as I have an iPhone, which fulfils much of what I would use an iPad if I had one. That said, it looks like a cool device and, while having Flash on it would definitely be nice, I can see a compelling reason for its omission – one that I haven’t really seen talked about at all – its control systems.
The argument over Flash on the iPad seems to revolve around Flash as if it was a single feature checkbox where it is either absent completely or the full Flash experience you get on a full operating system. I don’t think that’s necessarily true.
The iPad essentially has the exact same user interface as the iPhone – a touch screen and very few external buttons that have rigid roles within the OS and can’t be leveraged by any apps running. So essentially the touch screen is the only way the user can interact with web content (I know there’s the accelerometer too; I’ll mention that in a bit). There is, however, a big problem with this when it comes to using Flash content: basically all existing Flash content is designed with a keyboard and mouse in mind.
There are essentially four broad input methods for Flash currently:
1: Keyboard input
2: Mouse movement
3: Mouse clicks
4: Mouse’s scroll wheel (usually not used anyway)
Think about it.
Every single Flash application that uses keyboard inputs would be completely unusable on the iPad without some sort of virtual keyboard (and the iPhone app attempts at having virtual controllers to play games hasn’t worked very well, in my opinion). It’s my understanding that there will be a hardware keyboard available for the iPad, but that seems an inelegant solution that you can’t count on users to own anyway.
Every single Flash application that relies on mouse movements separate from clicking would be pretty unusable on the iPad. Imagine a menu bar that contains a number of headings – you move the mouse over these headings to make a submenu appear. On the iPad there’s no mouse cursor that you can move to open up the submenus. You could press the heading to make the submenu appear but you would click the heading at the same time. There isn’t really an elegant solution I can think of that can let the iPad use mouse movement input in the same way that a regular computer can. A menu bar is a very simple example, but there are loads of games that make heavy use of mouse movements in more complex ways. How would they work on the iPad?
Mouse clicks are fine, obviously, as a mouse click roughly corresponds with a finger press. The scroll wheel is right out, however.
Adobe has made a bit of a fuss about the millions of web pages using Flash that won’t be the same on the iPad, but I have to wonder how many of those pages would still be broken even if Flash was supported.
Of course, there’s a very good point to be made that Flash apps can simply be redesigned to work on the iPad and traditional operating systems, but that would require every existing Flash application that wouldn’t work properly to be redesigned, which is a foolish hope, yet would be required for everything to work smoothly. Additionally, making apps work universally would also dumb them down significantly for the desktop-using audience, ignoring interface features currently used that make things a lot easier. Anyone who has played Bethesda’s Oblivion for the PC can attest that its interface suffered greatly with it being designed to be the same on both the PC and the Xbox 360, when the PC can handle much more complexity.
You could design apps to have different interfaces if shown on a computer vs an iPad, but what a pain in that ass that would be to develop – essentially doubling the development time.
What I’m trying to say is that I love Flash and think it’s great, but I don’t think it necessarily has a place on every device.