Apple Waffling on User Experience

By now, we all know that Apple just straight up doesn’t like Adobe Flash.  It’s become something of a Hatfield/McCoy feud, with Steve Jobs lobbing bombs about how Flash is the root of all Internet evil, and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen claiming that Flash runs the universe.

As always, the answer lies somewhere in between.  Sort of.  Comments on blogs and anecdotal evidence seems to say that, yes, Flash does cause the majority of issues with Mac users and the Internet.  Yes, it does seem to sometimes eat memory like Cookie Monster hitting a bag of Oreos.  But at the same time, to discount it completely is foolhardy – Narayen points out correctly (albeit exaggeratedly) that Flash powers a very large portion of the Internet.

85% of the top 100 sites.  That’s the number Adobe cites regarding Flash proliferation.  And that’s probably true, if you include advertising, which is a large portion of Flash usage.  This past week, I’ve been running a spider written by Chitika’s own Gui Pinto to find out just how much actual Flash content was out there being completely unconsumed by iPhone (and future iPad) users.

The answer?  Well, it’s not 85%; of the top 500,000 sites, 21.45% are using Flash to provide content – actual, wanted, interesting (we assume) content designed to keep a reader’s attention.  The top 1,000 sites run Flash content at about a 33% rate.  Apple is blocking content on one in three major websites.

And herein lies Apple’s conundrum.  Their arguments against Flash have always been user experience based – the users will suffer with more crashes and slower load time.  This may be true, but on the other hand, user experience also involves what content the users are able to experience.  Apple, in my opinion, is making a mistake, sacrificing the content side of the UX for the sake of the reliability side.

We’d all have a great, clean, simple user experience if we just stared at a blank HTML template, wouldn’t we?  Sometimes content is poorly written.  That’s a blow to the user experience, so let’s block text.  Sometimes images are profane, so let’s block any .jpg or .gif on a page.

Overwhelming censorship for the sake of smooth browsing isn’t a positive step for user experience, it’s a definitive step backwards.  Apple needs to consider this and re-think blocking a third of the top sites’ rich media content.

And yes, Mr. Jobs, I’m well aware of the fact that HTML5 is nothing short of the bomb.  It’s the future of rich Internet browsing.  It’s poised to kill Flash once and for all.  In three years.

Right now, Flash is what people use for videos, games, and a good portion of interactivity on the present Internet.  Don’t deprive users of that because it may crash occasionally (unlike all those apps that never crash, right?).