Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Mimsy Were the Technocrats: As long as we keep talking about it, it’s technology.

Flash on iPhone not in anybody’s interest

Jerry Stratton, February 13, 2008

I generally agree with John Gruber on why adding Flash to the iPhone is not in Apple’s best interest. But I’d go a step further and say that it isn’t in the iPhone consumer’s best interest either. The only people clamoring for Flash on the iPhone are hidebound designers who still think that pixels matter. People who want to take the browsing experience away from the viewer and control it as much as they can.

Flash is just another (more successful) entrant in a line of tools for forcing web visitors to do things one way only, usually for no reason other than that the designer wants to spend more time making their pages less accessible.

These are people who really honestly want to write their web pages once for every piece of technology they support, and if they don’t write a web page for a specific product they don’t want people with the product viewing their web pages. Do a search for “you must use…” firefox, internet explorer, even netscape and you’ll still find pages that say this in their Google search results; or “requires javascript”. These are designers who refuse to even let you try viewing their pages unless you use a browser they’re comfortable with.

It’s obvious that that’s not an environment that’s good for a company who is making new browsers, such as iPhones. But it’s almost as obvious that that kind of environment is not good for consumers either.

I have the latest version of Mac OS X with the latest version of Safari and the latest Flash player that came installed on it; it’s only a few months old as I write this. And I’m already getting messages saying I need a newer version of the Flash player to view some Flash-based sites or Flash-based videos.

One of the points I try to make whenever people talk about “optimizing” for a specific browser (usually a euphemism for “writing just for” that browser) is that the number one browser people use to view our web pages is neither Explorer nor Firefox. It’s Google. Few people get that, even when I point it out on our web stats pages.

At the university where I work, we initially design pages to be flexible. But administrators viewing those pages freak when they discover that different users are seeing the same page in different ways. They want to force the web page to always be a specific pixel width; then they want to be able to increase the text size inside that pixel width; and then they notice that the text starts wrapping oddly around images when they increase the text size due to the locked-down width, so they want us to lock down text size to points. You know, if it hurts when you do that, you might stop doing that.

They’ll go into IE 6, discover that their web site doesn’t look exactly the same as it does in IE7 and Firefox, and freak out. God help us if they ever take a look at it in Netscape 4. It’ll be perfectly readable, but it won’t be pixel-identical, and they won’t be able to handle that. They’ll probably suggest moving to rendering the text in images; it’s hard enough to keep them from rendering headlines as images.

They forget that the web design they’re replacing needs replacing precisely because of that mindset. People hate the web site now but loved it in 2000 when it came out. And the reason it was great then and it hurts now is that it was designed for 2000’s browsers.

Designing for specific browsers will always hurt tomorrow when people start using new browsers and new devices.

  1. <- Auto-Reply Obsolete
  2. Stupid Password Recovery ->