The iPad, Flash and Proprietary Integration

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 8:47 PM

CNet blogger and Canonical COO Matt Asay wrote an opinion piece today in which he applauds an earlier piece at sister publication ZDNet alleging Apple to be on an increasingly proprietary path. The quoted ZDNet writer Jeff Foremski writes,

Since the introduction of the iPod, iPhone, and now the iPad, Apple is becoming less and less open, is using fewer standard components and chips, and far fewer Internet technologies common to Mac/PC desktop and laptop systems.

The iPhone and iPad, for example, don't support common Internet platforms such as Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight. That means you cannot watch streaming video from Hulu, or Netflix.

And while iPhone chips are available from other manufacturers, the iPad runs only on the A4 processor—an Apple designed chip that no one else can buy.

Let's consider these claims. The Apple A4 processor that runs the iPad is based on the same ARM architecture pretty much everyone in the mobile space is focused on at the present time. While Apple certainly likes vertical integration — because it lowers its dependency on outside suppliers and drives down costs — to say that Apple is becoming proprietary because of an in-house chip design is absurd. An Apple A4 is compatible with other ARM processors. The iPad CPU does not make the iPad more or less compatible with other systems than the iPhone's chip; as a matter of fact, neither chip has any influence on Apple's devices being able to interoperate with competitors' devices.

Foremski's second claim that Asay quotes is that Apple is utilizing “far fewer internet technologies” (implied: “open internet technologies”). By this, he apparently means Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight, neither of which are open nor standards. Only Adobe Flash is even a de facto standard, albeit one conspicuously missing from most mobile devices at present. And since when does omitting two plugins become equivalent to supporting “far fewer internet technologies”?

Foremski's other mutterings about Apple in the piece Asay links to are similarly bizarre for someone writing at a quasi-respectable tech media outlet. He suggests Apple came to the PC side, for example, by supporting USB. He fails to mention Apple helped drive the adoption of USB, with the original iMac making waves via its USB-only approach. He also suggests Apple made its “disk operating system files compatible with the PC world,” but fails to explain what he means by that. He can't mean that Apple finally supported reading PC-formatted disks (Apple has supported reading DOS/Windows-based disks for decades) nor that Apple has switched to Microsoft's formats for native disks (it hasn't).

As much of a pain as it may be that Apple is refusing to support Flash on the iPad and iPhone, the company is right in saying that it is pushing for something far more open than Flash. Call that decision whatever you'd like, just don't call it “being proprietary.” Asay, who is a smart chap, shows poor judgment in agreeing with Foremski on this.

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