So why aren’t we seeing Flash-enabled browsers on tablets? Plenty of manufacturers have announced Flash capability but we’ve seen little evidence of it running well. Unfortunately, it turns out that Flash Wars is more than just a bit of industry politicking: there are some very tricky technical problems to implementing Flash on an embedded processor – and it’s not going to be solved by locking programmers into a room and yelling “fix it!” at them.
Flash was designed in the mid-90s for PCs and the new Internet era to display multimedia content in a web browser. It decodes video in software, combines the video and graphics in software, synchronizes the video and audio in software, handles Internet dropouts in software, and copies the results as fast as possible into the web browser. It relies on the CPU being fast and handling RAM accesses very quickly.
Getting Flash to run on a tablet efficiently means that the video must be handled by a hardware video decoder, like the digital TV set-top box does. And indeed, Apple’s iPad can do 720p HD video decode without breaking a sweat (as anyone who has used an iPad to watch movies knows – it hardly dents the battery at all).
Unfortunately, we are only just now seeing embedded processors with this kind of video handling hardware coming to market and Flash needs to be adapted to use this hardware.
I can’t see how we are going to see tablets that can do a good job of showing HD video from Flash web sites until we get tablets with embedded processors that are up to the job and the system software developed to use that hardware properly. If anyone tells you they have a tablet that does Flash video really well, arch your eyebrow in a Spock-like skeptical manner and ask to see it.
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