HP Slate vs iPad: it's all about Flash

With the iPad presale beginning in the US this morning, and the clock ticking down to the much-anticipated Apple tablet finally hitting the streets, HP launched a renewed campaign for its Slate tablet PC debuted at the 2010 CES by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Each platform has pros and cons, but so far the debate seems to center entirely around support for Adobe Flash.

The HP Slate--almost by default--stands out as a more business-oriented platform, if for no other reason than its ties to the Windows 7 operating system. The iPad, which comes across more like an iPod Touch with a thyroid disorder, can certainly be used in some ways within a business context, but it is clearly designed for delivering entertainment media and information to consumers.

Comparing the HP Slate against the Apple iPad based on Flash support is like comparing a Jeep Cherokee to a Chevy Camaro based on which one supports Sirius satellite radio. In both cases the comparison is between objects with completely different audiences, based on a proprietary technology that doesn't fundamentally impact the function of the object itself.

As PCWorld's David Coursey illustrates, "The Slate and other Windows 7 devices support Adobe Flash and AIR, Apple's iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, do not."

On one HP Slate video, Adobe's Alan Tam shows how the HP Slate "will access the full web, and not just a part of it." Tam demonstrates streaming video from a Web site using Flash from within the browser, Flash-based games and applications, and Web-based photo editing based on Flash. He also shows Pandora running on Adobe AIR as a standalone app.

It is accurate to say that the Apple devices do not support Flash, but rather than compelling me to forego the Apple iPad and wait for the HP Slate--which is not expected any time soon, it leads me to ask the question: "who cares?" You may have noticed that Apple has done quite well with the iPhone and the iPod Touch without Flash support. Why should the iPad be any different?

In the HP Slate video, Adobe's Tam explains that 85 percent of the top 100 Web sites (according to Alexa.com) use Adobe Flash, and that 75 percent of all video on the Web relies on Flash technology. Those are impressive statistics, but they don't change the fact that iPad users will be able to watch Youtube videos, listen to Pandora music streams, and interact with the Web just as iPhone and iPod Touch users have done for years--and nobody is really complaining.

As much as Adobe might appreciate being the center of attention in the battle for tablet supremacy, the fact is that Flash is largely irrelevant. As a platform for multimedia content on the Web, Flash has definitely served a purpose and it's hard to argue with how ubiquitous Flash is on the Web. Just try to browse the Web without installing a Flash plugin and you will see just how much Web sites rely on the Adobe technology.

However, that is not necessarily a good thing. HTML5 is establishing itself as a vendor-agnostic standard capable of delivering much the same experience users have come to expect from Flash. Web content based on a free Web standard makes much more sense than multimedia content requiring proprietary software to create it, and requiring users to install a proprietary plugin to be able to interact with it.

Both the Apple iPad and the HP Slate appear to be very capable devices. The two devices have some overlap in functionality--both with each other, and with other devices like the Kindle or Nook, or MP3 players, etc.

However, the devices are not defined by their overlap. Each platform has a unique functionality and a different target audience--neither of which really needs Flash in order to find value in the tablet device itself.

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