PocketNow aftereffects

Big furor yesterday over one particular first-blush report on mobile Flash… Brandon Miniman of PocketNow.com tried a few random sites on his updated Google Nexus One, and made two videos of his surfing.

The worst problems he found were nominal… if you load a page with rich content, this takes longer to load than the same page without rich content… if you’re decompressing video in the central processor, then this competes with other uses of the CPU, such as scrolling… if you’re multitasking with background apps, that’s more of a load than if the browser runs alone. Nothing unexpected here.

But the furor… that was something else. After a weekend of great reports on mobile Flash in the wild, some of the Monday morning headlines on Techmeme were horrid: “Flash Kills Browsing”, “Flash Bogs Down Android”, “It Is Terrible” and more. This cluster was started by the usual set of Apple-oriented sites crosslinking to push something into Techmeme, and then once this cluster was established, Monday morning commercial blogwriters linked into it for the hits.

Damaging in the short term, but negligible in the long term… once large numbers of people actually start viewing today’s web on pocket devices, they’ll put such alarmism in its place.

I don’t hold Brandon responsible for this — he’s enthusiastic and just said what he saw, which is legit. I can understand the need for Apple sites to link to it with negative headlines — they’ve seen the central part of their business knocked out by superior performance and need to compensate somehow (even if foully). And I can also understand the clickbloggers making dramatic headlines — “if it bleeds it leads” still fits. They’ve brought about needless and useless perception damage to Flash, but I can understand the motives that drove it.

This issue was particularly difficult to counter, in large part due to the format… the original commentary was a pair of videos, ten minutes each… no text abstract of the findings, just watching someone click among sites. This gave subsequent headline writers carte blanche to give us their feelings of the story, without needing to back that up with data. No “there” there, nothing to grab onto.

But Brandon’s initial tests showed that the more content you load, the longer it takes — certainly true. A device that cannot play today’s web video won’t have to download and render it. And software-based decoding does remain a tax upon the processor. This will likely have bigger implications for Apple-style video than for web video, at least until advocates tack and recommend a “Click-to-HTML5” application.

There are some other implications of these quick tests. Most desktop-style webpages are too piggy. Much of today’s web will likely cause needless strain to new pocket-sized devices. PocketNow.com’s own front page has over 250 HTTP requests, notifying over a dozen different web-beacon domains when you arrive. Even abnormal Flash use will only be just one more challenge in porting today’s web to smaller devices.

The bigger and more important challenge may be for us readers, to discount bogus stories which are pushed repeatedly at us. Particularly after recent elections, there are proven techniques to gain short-term advantage in mass belief. But as George Orwell said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”… and truth does out in the end.

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