What do the numbers say about Flash?

A look at Jan Ozer's tests of HTML5, Flash

You won’t have to search long to find pro-Apple blog posts that claim Flash creates a huge battery drain on Apple’s mobile devices, crashes Macs and — perhaps worst of all – — is a CPU hog.

You’re right if you think “CPU hog” sounds like something you wouldn’t want to be called — on a playground or anyplace else. It means that they think Flash demands too much attention from of the central processing unit, or CPU, leaving the CPU with fewer resources for other work.

Flash defenders blame it all on Apple. They claim the only reason Flash is on the needy side on the Mac OS X/Safari platform is that Apple, by not allowing Flash to access the hardware it needs to be thrifty and ease up on its CPU demands, did not permit Flash to perform well. Some have also claimed Apple’s motivation to block Flash on Apple devices like the iPad, iPod and iPhone really stems from its desire to protect its iTunes store. After all, why buy video if you can watch streaming content for free (albeit with ads in many cases)?

At many points in the debate, each side has been long on criticisms and claims and short on actual data to support their ideas. But streaming video expert Jan Ozer, a tech writer for StreamingMedia.com, stepped into the fray by running tests in February. Ozer has written more than a dozen books related to the field of video and video compression techniques.

(Admittedly, Ozer’s work did not comprise a huge testing field with hundreds of machines. Still, it was a carefully designed, simply executed series of tests.)

Using a MacBook Pro and Hewlett Packard mobile workstation, Ozer found that if you want solid video playback, you’ve got to be able to key into hardware acceleration to manage the CPU load. When Flash had the ability to access the hardware it needed, it offered up efficient video playback. The magic formula for good video playback was dependent on the matchup between operating system (Mac or Windows), the browser (Safari and Google Chrome) and the playback (HTML5 video or Flash video). On the next page are some of the results.

Apple declined requests for an interview and referred to an Apple.com post from Steve Jobs, “Thoughts on Flash,” which doesn’t site any specific research to support his critique of Flash.

It is important to note that in May, Apple made it possible for Adobe to gain hardware acceleration from within Flash. Maybe we should look for “Thoughts on Flash: Part 2” sometime soon. –

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