Stop the Noiz

Apple vs. Flash: A Battle of Power and Perception

Frank Fox - 2010.05.17 - Tip Jar

There are two core facts we have to deal with in the mobile arena. First, Apple's enemies are legion. Everybody and their dog wants to crash Apple's party and steal its customers - or at least make something good enough for the rest to buy.

Apple fights this by working to create the perception that what it makes is better.

The second problem is more straightforward: battery power. Mobile devices have to operate for hours without being plugged in - the longer the better. Apple's improvements with power management contribute to the perception that its product line is better.

This is a basic win-win scenario.

Processing Power Perception

Power Mac G4 surrounded by tanksBack in 1999, when Apple was first selling computers with the G4 processor, it advertised the Power Mac G4 as a supercomputer on your desktop. Apple used an ad with tanks surrounding a G4 Power Mac, as if it was a military secret. Apple was trying to create the perception that it was more powerful than Intel-based PCs of the era. This was a battle of perception that Macs were better.

Around this same time, people loved to run benchmark comparisons. Aside from boring things like file opening times and calculations per second, people wanted to compare how fast real software ran. One obvious comparison program to check was Photoshop. Based on Apple's tests, it was 90% faster on a G4 than on a Pentium III. Other tests were less spectacular, but still in Apple's favor.

The Tide Turns

Then Apple moved to Intel chips in 2006, and the benchmarks turned against it (see Windows XP Is Faster, but Mac OS X Is Superior in Many Ways), and suddenly one of the Mac's premier applications (Photoshop) was running better on Windows. It is a big negative in the perception department to be slower than the competition. Clearly Apple was not happy about these results. Adobe Photoshop was slower on Intel Macs in 2006 because it was a version written for Apple's PowerPC Macs. Adobe didn't ship a version for Intel Macs until April 2007; until then, Photoshop depended on Apple's Rosetta technology, which converted PowerPC software on the fly so it would work with Intel CPU.

Thanks so much to Adobe for dragging its feet and creating the biggest smack down to the perception that Apple's new Intel-based Macs were as powerful as Windows PCs.

Flash vs. HTML5

In a battle of perception, it is better to match the competition than be behind them. That is why Apple likes HTML5. If it sucks, that's okay, because everyone will be comparable, and Apple can revamp Safari to make the most of the situation.

With Flash, Apple is out of luck waiting for Adobe (with a questionable history) to fix things. This is not a good place for Apple. Why buy Apple's "overpriced" stuff if it is slower than a Windows PC?

Battery Life Perception

In the perception game, Apple has come out with its own processor for the iPad. Apple lists very few specifications for its A4 processor.

Why? Because it doesn't have super duper specs. It is trimmed down to be especially battery saving. The processor is estimated to use as little as 1/2 Watt. Compare that to a notebook CPU, which can use 40 to 60 Watts - or a desktop that burns 120 Watts.

Selling energy savings is not as sexy as selling processing power, so Apple hides the low power nature of the device and lets battery life speak for itself.

Why No Flash for iPhone OS Devices?

Guess what? Apple has put itself in a spot for more negative comparisons. If Flash runs better on Android, Apple looks bad. Even if Android devices have terrible battery life and tons of other issues, the talking point turns against Apple.

Suddenly Flash support becomes more important than battery life. But Apple knows that the average customer wants mobility with a mobile device. It cannot let Flash dominate the product perception.

At this point Apple trusts no one but itself. It must maintain perception to have its products sell.

Adobe hasn't been the greatest at keeping support for Apple's changing standards up to date. Which would you chose in this situation? Adobe has been a good developer, but not good enough to trust you company's future with.

All the other things Steve Jobs said about Flash are true. What he didn't say is that Adobe is not going to be in control of Apple's success. LEM

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