On Flash vs. Javascript and how to change the game

I was just reading this:

Daring Fireball Linked List: Gawker Publishes Pro-Flash Comments From Anonymous News Publishers

Where Gawker (via John Gruber) posts some arguments, in my opinion partially valid, in favor of Flash.

The world needs a top-notch authoring environment for Javascript-based web apps.  A Flash Professional that isn’t Flash.

One could argue whether Flash Professional is or isn’t “top-notch” but it’s good enough to be widely used.  Adobe puts a lot into it simply because the more folks use it, the more Flash gets shoved onto the web, and the more the web becomes locked into the Flash platform.  Javascript doesn’t have an “owner” in the same way.  No major company that will live or die on the future of Javascript.

Funny enough, Apple has what I always think is on the brink of being that product.  I’m referring to Dashcode.  It’s not close to being a Flash Professional for Javascript – please don’t think I’m making that argument.  But the groundwork has been there for years.  I’ll watch the annual WWDC session on Dashcode’s newest features, and am always wowed by its progress but it’s never quite enough to do anything I need done.  Originally created to author simple Dashboard widgets it can do a whole lot more.  It’s powerful and as easy to use as Flash Professional.  And standards-based (with some obvious Apple focus).  And free.

Any web publisher (or user) thinking Flash is important for simple video, still-image slideshows, or fancy menus is living a decade behind the times.  But Flash is still quite justified, on the development side, for rich web application elements like interactive graphs and complex video interaction.  All these things are quite doable in standards-based Javascript but at a far higher cost of development time.  In Flash, one designer with moderate programming skills can create some really nice stuff.  It may require a proprietary plugin and kill your battery, but I can see where the cost/benefit analysis goes the Flash way.

Here’s how the world can put a serious dent into these areas where Flash is still justified.  First, pick a good Javascript framework – probably jQuery.  Bake it into Webkit.  Seriously.  That ends the need for the user to wait for the framework to download.  Users without it – on non-Webkit browsers – would still retrieve it.  This isn’t just for time savings (which would be minor for most users) – the main reason is it then becomes a widely used “standard” rather than a bolt-on.  Psychologically important if nothing else.  Enhance, significantly, the ability for Javascript to interact with HTML5 video, also with a baked-in framework.  In summary – make Javascript behave like a higher-level language for these purposes.

Then pump up Dashcode or something similar with these things built in, with less of an Apple-specific slant – additional templates for non-Apple devices, or at least a way to create and distribute said templates.  Basically, make it a Flash Professional for this “new” variety of Javascript.  Don’t give it away for free – sell it, promote it, use it, and support it.

Bottom line – quit trying to get the world to stop playing Adobe’s game.  Play Adobe’s game, under non-proprietery rules, and swing the cost/benefit math back towards the public good.

Tell me then, what justification would remain for Flash?

Starting a rumor – Apple to buy SanDisk?

I was just reading this:

AppleInsider | High prices make Apple reluctant to strike longterm NAND flash deals

and began to think about Apple and their thirst for flash memory.  Every iPhone and iPod with the exception of the iPod Classic uses flash (“NAND”) memory for storage.  The MacBook Air has it as an option.  Even the XServe has an optional flash drive for booting.  Apple has given every indication flash memory is their way forward.

Flash memory isn’t just important to Apple – it’s critical.  If Apple couldn’t get their market-leading supply of the stuff, they’d be dead.  Apple integrates the memory into the iPhone and other units; no external memory slot.  So Apple needs their memory early in the manufacturing chain, and can’t make changes as quickly or easily.  Many other smartphones take a different route.  The NexusOne, for example, has next to no built-in memory but includes a 4GB microSD card.

I think Apple’s approach is much better – the full memory is available to applications, nothing to drop out or lose, and even the low-end 8GB iPhone is plenty large for most users.  But if HTC has a hard time getting 4GB microSD cards they can easily find other sizes from many manufacturers at any point in the manufacturing process.  Apple’s integration costs them that flexibility.

Apple prevents supply constraints by working out long-term deals with flash memory manufacturers.  Apparently they mostly use Samsung, Toshiba, and Hynix (but I’m no expert).  I haven’t seen them working with Sandisk, a major player in the game.  This could be because Sandisk makes the Sansa MP3 player, a direct competitor to the iPod, but it’s apparently only a small part of their overall business.  Again, I’m no expert.

But I was thinking – if Apple wanted to shore up a guaranteed supplier of flash memory, why not just buy Sandisk?  They have a market cap of $7.7B, so Apple could buy a majority stake for $4B.  Apple has the cash.  The other companies mentioned above are all larger and in other businesses.  Sandisk does nothing but Flash, and holds some key patents on the stuff too.  Apple would likely need to sell the Sansa business to someone else to please the FTC, but it’s of no use to them anyway.

To be honest I think it’s a pretty dumb idea.  Apple has stayed out of the manufacturing business for good reason.  They can play companies against each other, and who wouldn’t want Apple’s business these days?  It would be a massive defensive play.  If someone with deep pockets wanted to hurt Apple they could offer a premium to the manufacturers and buy more than they need.  Apple’s market share would drop considerably if they can’t get the parts.

SanDisk is perhaps a bad acquisition for other reasons.  Much of SanDisk’s business is in retail memory cards – not something Apple would care about.  So really this was just me thinking about a potentially critical problem and finding a really bad solution to that problem.

If it did happen, Apple could also control the design of another critical component.  That’s right up Apple’s alley.  Is there a PA Semi of the flash memory world?  I don’t know, but if so that’s more Apple’s style.

I hope (and expect) Apple’s top brass is smart enough to avoid the need to dive back into manufacturing, but if it happens you heard it here first…

iPad – is it April 3rd yet?

Apple offering pre-ordering of the iPad is interesting.  Surely easier for everyone, but loses the news coverage and excitement of everyone lining up at Apple stores.  My gut feeling is the lineup won’t be as it was for the iPhone (a new product category – more on that another day).  Anyway, I was among the thousands in the virtual line this morning.  I’ll be very busy on April 3rd so home delivery is perfect for me.

I ordered the least-expensive model; 16GB, WiFi-only, $499.  My rationale: I’m interested enough in the iPad to get one, sight-unseen.  I’ll be asked many questions by clients and around town, thus some expense is justified in being educated.  16GB is enough for moderate media storage.  I made do with an 8GB iPhone for two years.  I don’t expect to store much music on the iPad, and that’s the majority on my current 32GB 3GS.

The 3G was a tough call.  I don’t think I’ll need it – at least not much.   Like most people I don’t know how exactly I’ll use the iPad beyond showing it off.  I can see uses, but how many require live internet access anywhere?  With the 16GB model, the 3G option carries a near-25% premium on the hardware.  That’s a lot for a feature I’m not sure how often I’ll need on a device I’m not sure how I’ll use.

And the last factor – the iPad is new, thus a risk.  It may succeed.  I give it better than 50/50 odds it will.  In which case a new model will be out no later than this time next year, and then I’ll certainly buy a higher-end model.  If it’s a failure, I’ve only lost $500 on the deal which isn’t so bad for new technology.

I’ll post my regrets, oh, mid-May…

[Edit: I also bought Apple's case and dock (without keyboard).  The case looks really nice.]