One of the big problems with the world’s “best browsing experience” on Apple’s new iPad is the complete absence of Adobe Flash support. Shailpik Biswas wrote about this specific point here earlier, which frankly is a biggie for a great many people. But there’s also another question, as an internet device, will the iPad (and similar systems such as Android which will be appearing on many clone devices) stifle innovation on the world-wide web?
Some time ago we reached a point where the hardware we were buying was able to do things far faster and more powerfully than we need, at least with society the way it is today. But with browser-based devices the technology will always be ahead of the things we use them for, they have to be.
The lack of support for Flash is just a small part of this but the hardware that these devices run on is also another factor. You see while hardware may generally be ahead of what we need, in order to reach the magic price/performance mark, manufacturers such as Apple have to make compromises.
This means that web-apps have an upper limit of what resources are there for them to use in the browser. While this isn’t a problem while web developers are constantly innovating, limiting the available hardware like this might stifle much of that.
While this system was in beta, and called Avalon, Microsoft had grand plans for it. They wanted to allow people to build interactive web-apps with effects such as transparencies, 3D, reflections and depth all being rendered by Windows itself. The aim was to allow people buying, for instance, a pair of shoes to examine the shoes in their browser in an interactive 3D way, just like they were in the shop holding the physical item. All this would have required the minimum bandwidth because all of the work would have been done on the client computer, without needing to be processed in the clouds and sent frame by frame. This is very similar to what Flash and Silverlight do but would have worked directly with existing HTML and XML code.
When it was dropped, some of those features were subsumed into Silverlight and some will find their way into Internet Explorer 9, which will use the graphics processor on your PC to render web graphics.
The lack of support for not only Flash, but Silverlight on the iPad will act as the biggest possible barrier to this type of web innovation ever taking place. It simply won’t happen unless companies build in both the hardware and software support.
Avalon created a huge amount of buzz and excitement in the web community and left a lot of people disappointed when it was pulled. Essentially we’re still left, possibly permanently, with the existing way the web works. Flat two-dimensional list-based sites with Amazon being a prime example.
Now we’ve got netbooks and low-capability devices such as this new breed of tablets, are we forever, or at least for the next few years, waving goodbye to this new way of interacting with the internet? Certainly if the processing and graphics power required for this type of new web experience isn’t available on every net-connected device (mobile phones possibly excluded as they have their own mobile sites anyway) technology companies will have no reason to innovate and something like Avalon might never appear again.
It’s a shame really, though one that processors such as Intel’s new i3 and i5 line, with their integrated graphics chips, might start to redress. We can only hope that similar processors begin to find their way into net-connected devices soon.