It's the question that's divided the tech world into two feuding factions: Should a smartphone support Flash?
In many ways, the issue has come to represent the broader Android vs. Apple fanboy battle -- open support vs. one guy deciding what's best for your device -- but in this instance, most of the fighting words have been more about rhetoric than experience. Quite simply, the majority of people knocking Flash support for smartphones have never actually used a smartphone with Flash on it.
As the Android 2.2 upgrade makes it way to more and more devices (the Droid Incredible is receiving it as we speak and the Droid X should follow any day now), those of us who value choice in technology are getting the opportunity to experience the Flash-enabled mobile world first hand. Having spent some time using it and seeing how it performs, I have to say: Stevie J. and his legions of followers couldn't be more wrong.
The Android Flash Experience, In Reality
After installing Adobe's Flash Player onto my Android phone, the first thing I noticed was that I could suddenly access the entire Web. Say what you want about how Flash is dead, how better technologies exist, whatever -- the fact remains that a lot of Web sites utilize it, and not having access to it restricts what you can do.
I was certainly aware of that restriction before having Flash on my device; denying it is denying the existence of a large chunk of legitimate content. Whether it's exclusive videos on a band's Web site or features integrated into a page's design, anyone who spends much time on the mobile Web and says he's never encountered that little blue box isn't being very honest. Heck, even Steve Jobs' inaugural demo of the iPad highlighted this missing content issue, though Apple's marketing department later tried to "magically" make the problem disappear.
One of the biggest arguments against Flash support for smartphones is performance: Enabling Flash causes pages to load more slowly, some contend, or causes the phone's battery to drain too quickly. Lots of iPhone users who have never had Flash on their phones like to talk about these factors. The truth, of course, is that they're basing their arguments solely on something Steve Jobs said -- and we all know what it takes to interpret the real meaning of that man's words.
Flash on Android: It's All About Options
Having now extensively used Flash on my phone, I can tell you that I've had no problems with performance, stability, or battery life. The key thing many Apple bloggers fail to realize about a smartphone Flash implementation is that having Adobe's player on your phone doesn't mean you automatically load every piece of Flash material on every page. Obviously, if you were to download all of that additional data, more bandwidth would be utilized -- and thus a page would take longer to load. That's no surprise; the same thing would happen if you were to add an extra chunk of bandwidth to any page with any kind of content. But that's not how Flash on a smartphone actually works.
With Flash Player properly configured on a smartphone, you opt to load Flash content only when you want it. It's called "on-demand" processing, and it makes most of the arguments against Flash support invalid. Some Android browsers have the "on-demand" option enabled by default; with others, you can select it by looking for the plug-in settings within the browser's menu. With on-demand processing enabled, you see a small icon anytime Flash material is available. If you want to activate it, you tap it. If you don't, it never loads or affects your browsing experience in any way.
That brings us to the most important point about Flash support on a smartphone: It's an option. If I don't want to use it, I don't have to. I could opt to never activate the Flash content on the pages I'm browsing, or I could opt to uninstall Adobe's Flash Player altogether if I so desired. But I have that choice. It's my phone, and it's my decision.
The arguments against providing that option are getting increasingly silly. Do all Android phones support Flash right now? No, they don't. But with each passing week, more and more devices are being upgraded to offer it. When a device receives an Android upgrade is largely in the manufacturer's hands, so yes, there is some variance. But while some Android users may have to wait a bit longer, for the vast majority, the choice is on the way. That's more than can be said for a certain other mobile platform.
Flash on a smartphone may not be "magical," but it is practical. For those of us living in reality, practicality and the freedom to use our phones the way we want is worth everything.
This story, "Why Apple Fanboys Are So Wrong about Flash" was originally published by Computerworld.