Apple runs continuous development beta cycles for it’s Safari web browser running on macOS. In the latest build, Apple quietly revealed that it is killing Adobe Flash on the Mac. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise but it is notable. Just ten years ago this would have been almost unthinkable so lets take a quick look at how we got here.

2010: The beginning of the end for Flash.

In 2010 Apple announced a product that cemented a fundamental shift in how most of us browse the web. On January 27th 2010 Apple announced the iPad. Apple CEO Steve Jobs described a device that sat somewhere between a smartphone and laptop. More capable than a smartphone and more personal, easier to use than a laptop.

The iPad used the same operating system as the iPhone but ran apps designed for the large display area. With a larger display it made interacting with apps, particularly productivity apps easier and more intuitive. Apple chose the iPhone operating system (at the time called iPhone OS) because it was already designed for touch. Whilst Apple never admitted it, the first iPad simply wouldn’t have been capable of running a full desktop operating system either.

Apple did something special with the first iPad. They unveiled custom silicon, the Apple A4 chip. By designing processors specifically for Apple hardware and software, Apple created a competitive advantage that continues to pay dividends to this day. It allowed the iPad to run smoothly whilst carefully managing battery life.

Apple CEO showing off the first iPad. (Image credit REX Features).

Some in the tech journalism world criticised the iPad for being too much like an iPhone and not enough like a Mac. Justified criticism or not, the numbers don’t lie and the iPad went on to sell 15 million units in the first year of availability. Customers loved the product but some customers did miss one thing…..

April 2010: Thoughts on Flash

Back in 2010, much of the web relied on Adobe Flash. Adobe Flash is a web browser plugin that supports rich animations, web applications and embedded video. The iPad (and the iPhone and iPod Touch) omitted support for Adobe Flash. Apple had sound reasoning (and we’ll get into that) but for consumers, they just saw holes in websites. Video content that wouldn’t play. Graphics that either wouldn’t display or animate and in some cases websites that just didn’t work.

Apple became frustrated with the negative coverage of this issue in the press, much of which seemed to be generated by Adobe themselves. On April 29th Steve Jobs penned an open letter called ‘Thoughts on Flash’ that described the thinking behind the decision to exclude flash from the iPad. The main reason was that Apple had serious concerns about how resource heavy flash was as evidenced on Android devices.

Flash negatively impacted battery life, speed and performance and opened up exploitable security flaws in mobile web browsers in competing devices. Apple asked Adobe to get a version of flash running smoothly on mobile safari and show them (they never did). Adobe eventually conceded that Flash wasn’t a viable option on mobile devices and Flash was pulled from Google Play in 2012.

HTML5 and the death of Flash.

Apple favoured the use of HTML5 to support many of the features offered by Flash such an embedded video and animations. Working with JavaScript and other technologies, HTML5 does not require plugins and proved to be a much more secure environment than Flash. Eventually the web slowly boarded the HTML5 train and Flash development (and deployment) has gradually wound down. In 2017, Adobe announced that Flash would no longer be supported and development would cease in 2020.

The legacy of the iPad.

The iPad highlighted a fundamental flaw in the status quo of the internet in 2010. Apple was proved right by Adobe’s decision to pull flash in 2012 from Google Play and cease development in 2017. The iPad mean while has become the default tablet of choice for consumers and businesses alike.

Aside from Microsoft’s surface range (which is really a laptop), in 2020 the iPad has almost zero tablet competition. Google gave up development of Android on tablets. Developers were slow (understandably) to support the wide range of screen sizes in competing tablets. Consumers were tired of stretched up smart phone apps with tons of blank unused space. Apple’s strategy of simplicity and user experience has successfully replicated the success of the iPod. Apple’s makes the most tablets because they make the best tablets.

The end of Flash is nigh in 2020 as support winds down on the Mac and other desktop platforms. We have the iPad to thank for that. Happy 10th birthday iPad!

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