Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Apple had no transition plan when it created the iPad

It is 2013, and the iPad still cannot be used to access some of the best websites in the world. The mobile revolution in computing is here, but we can’t fully take advantage of it. Education as we know it will change when (a) every teacher supplements their teaching with high quality, engaging instructional materials, and when (b) every student has a mobile device to access those materials and lessons.

And this is where Apple has let us down. The iPad cannot access many valuable video resources because it does not run Flash, which is needed to run nearly half the videos available on the Internet. Apple decided to wait for the next generation of video players to arrive. Unfortunately, we are ALL waiting for that moment to arrive.

Flash is used on computers and other devices to run video, animations, simulations and games. Three years ago Flash was the standard in Internet video playback. So why did Apple reject Flash? The main reason is that running Flash can cut the battery life of an iPad in half from ten hours to five hours. Flash uses extra power to run videos, and mobile devices are built to use as little power as possible.

What is the replacement for Flash? It is called HTML5, which will soon be the common standard for creating web pages. HTML5 allows videos and animations to be built right into the system which uses less power. It is a key component of the next generation of the Internet and it will make online content available on cell phones, tablets, computers, and pretty much anything else that can access the Internet. HTML5 is the future... it just has not arrived yet. Similar to how DVDs still outsell Blu-Ray discs ten years after the Blu-Ray arrived, websites built on Flash are still out there and will remain for years to come.

HTML5 is the new standard for building web pages, but it will not become the official standard until 2014. That’s still one year away! Some web designers are ahead of the curve and have already begun to create pages using HTML5, but more than 1/3 of all pages being created today are not using HTML5. You also have to take into account all of the websites that were built before today - many of them will need to be converted to HTML5. Some will never be converted. It takes time and it takes money to re-write those web pages - a LOT of time and money. Companies can handle the cost, but not the physics teacher who built an awesome website used by hundreds of thousands of people. He has content - great content - but he does not have the time to rewrite his entire site.

Apple is not a content provider (unless you include iTunes, which is not affected by a new Internet standard). It did not cost Apple money or disrupt their practices by switching to HTML5. They had no skin in the game by forcing an end to Flash on mobile devices. The problem I have with Apple is that they had no transition plan. Yes, Flash was going to go away. Yes, HTML5 was going to be the new standard. But what was the plan for getting from A to B? There was no plan.

Apple could have done two things to help make the transition from Flash to HTML5 smoother. First, they could have adopted Flash. Yes, they could have but chose not to. The battery life on an iPad would be cut to five hours, but isn’t five hours still better than the life of a laptop battery? Of course it is. Second, Apple could have developed their own app for delivering Flash content on the iPad. They could have built their own work-around. How many times have you heard someone say, “there’s an app for that!” Well, where’s the app that runs Flash?

Some mobile devices handle Flash including the Nexus 7 and the Microsoft Surface. It shows that we do have a choice for buying a device other than the iPad. So if Apple won’t choose to allow a Flash-like experience on their device, then we (as consumers and teachers) need to consider choosing another device that can meet all of our needs.

It’s now been three years since Apple declared Flash to be a product of the past, and it will be at least one more year until the future fully arrives. Four years without a plan for bridging the gap. That’s where my disappointment lies. Apple makes a great product, but it could have been better if they listened to their customers.  While the benefits of the iPad outweigh its detractions, it could have been better. We'll wait and see what the iPad5 brings.

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