Don’t Like Apple’s “Censorship” of Apps Content? Use Your iPhone or iPad Browser!

by on July 5, 2010 · 5 comments

NY venture capitalist Fred Wilson notes eight advantages of using the iPhone’s Safari browser over iPhone apps to access content. Fred’s arguments seem pretty sound to me and help to illustrate the point I was trying to make a few months ago in a heated exchange over Adam’s post on Apple’s App Store, Porn & “Censorship”: Although Apple restricts pornographic apps, it does not restrict what iPhone (or iPad or iTouch) users can access on their  browsers. (And it’s not censorship, anyway, because that’s what governments do!)

As I noted in that exchange, the main practical advantage of apps right now over the browser seems to be the ability to play videos from websites that require Flash—which is especially useful for porn! Apple has rejected using Flash on the iPhone on technical grounds, in favor of HTML5, which will allow websites to display video without Flash—including on mobile devices. But once HTML5 is implemented (large scale adoption expected in 2012), this primary advantage of apps over mobile Safari will disappear: Users will be able to view porn on their browsers without needing to rely on apps—and Apple’s control over apps based on their content will no longer matter so much, if at all.

Of course, it may take several more years for HTML5 to really become the standard, but what matters is that all Apple products, including mobile Safari, already support HTML5. So it’s just a question of when porn sites move from Flash to HTML5. That seems already to be happening, with major porn publishers already starting the transition. The main stumbling block seems to be HTML5 support from the other browser makers. But Internet Explorer 9 supports HTML5, and is expected out early in 2011 with a beta version due out this August. Mozilla’s Firefox 4.0 (formerly 3.7) also promises HTML5 support and is due out this November. Since porn publishers have always been on the cutting edge of implementing new web technologies, I’d bet we’ll start seeing many porn sites move to HTML5 by this Christmas. And by Christmas 2011, as we all sit around the fire with Grandma sipping eggnog and enjoying our favorite adult websites on our overpriced-but-elegant Apple products loading in HTML5 in the Safari browser, we’ll all look back and wonder why anyone made such a big deal about Apple restricting porn apps.

Oh, and if you get tired of waiting, get an Android phone! Anyway, here are my comments on Adam’s February post:

I do understand why, as a practical matter, it’s a real inconvenience for a porn-lover not to be able to get a porn app on the iPhone. I think we can have a legitimate debate about what Apple needs to do to make this limitation transparent to its customers. But, as I noted above, users now have lots of choices for other platforms that either allow apps stores with porn (e.g., Google’s Android) or simply those that support Mobile Flash. Again, the practical importance of the apps store from a user interface perspective will diminish significantly when mobile Flash comes out this year for the various mobile OSes (except Apple, sadly) because users will be able to watch porn video through their mobile browser without needing a porn-specific app. (Of course, it’s still possible that an app might handle scrolling through photos better.)


Now, as a practical matter, it’s not easy to view porn on mobile browsers, especially since they don’t currently support Flash, so video playing is limited to videos you either (i) download or (ii) stream from the web in a special app, such as for YouTube. Since Flash is used by the vast majority of video streaming sites, including for porn, this means that the abundance of online porn isn’t particularly accessible on a mobile phone. Scrolling through images, pornographic or otherwise, isn’t terribly easy either, especially since even fast data networks suffer from much greater latency than fixed broadband services.

But Adobe recently announced that Flash 10.1 would be coming to Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile 7, Nokia S60/Symbian and Palm WebOS. While it appears that Microsoft won’t be rolling out Flash for Windows Mobile 7 anytime soon, it does appear to be planning to do so at some point in the near future, and Google is already hard at work on rolling out Flash for Android sometime soon. Once these platforms roll out Flash, the Apps stores will no longer have any meaningful “gatekeeper” control over easily accessing video content, since users will be able to view or stream whatever they like in the browser.

But today, the historical moment when restrictions on Apple’s app store had anything like the censorious effect claimed by Apple’s critics has passed (even assuming one believed “private censorhip” isn’t a contradiction in terms). Specifically, I’d say it passed sometime in the last year, when Android became a more viable option and, even more specifically, on this issue of mobile access to porn, on November 30, 2009, when MiKandi launched. Sure, it’s true, that Android users can’t access all their favorite porn sites, and MiKandi app offerings are limited, but more are coming—so to speak! And when Android phone gets Flash this year, this important distinction between mobile Internet browsing and desktop Internet browsing will largely disappear.

(I only hope the wireless data networks are prepares for the upsurge in video streaming on their networks that will, to be sure, be driven largely by mobile-browsing porn sites.)

So… who really cares what Apple does with their app store? Yes, I understand some app users with long-term contracts may be itching for porn right now, and don’t to pay an early termination fee to jump to Android but, well, too damn bad! You may have a right to access porn if you want to, but that certainly doesn’t give you a right to force Apple to offer it to you in the most convenient way possible.

Finally, it’s worth noting here that Apple has not removed sexually-oriented social networking apps, such asGrindr, a mobile gay-cruising app from the iPhone store. I’d be a little more concerned about Apple removing such apps, whose functionality is harder to replicate from the browser, than simply removing apps for viewing pornography.


  • leviramsey

    Of course there are two different “flavors” of HTML5 video out there… theres H.264 which Apple and Microsoft support but which Google, Mozilla, and Opera don't and VP8 and/or Theora which Google, Mozilla, and Opera support and Apple and Microsoft don't (you can make desktop versions of MSIE and Safari support the other flavor, but it's unlikely that the iPhone/iPad browsers will ever support VP8/Theora; similarly while someone will almost certainly make an H.264 decoder for Android (though Google might not allow it to be distributed through the Android Market due to patent concerns), it will likely be less stable/consume more power/etc. than the native browser). It looks very likely that there will be a long-term format war between the two camps (which are of roughly equal size in the desktop and in the mobile spaces). Given that websites can choose flash and reach everyone but the iPhone/iPad users, HTML5 video may well never supplant flash due to the extra work involved in encoding to two different formats (youtube manages to do it, but that gives you an idea of the computing power required to do a ton of transcoding).

  • Berin Szoka

    Thanks, Levi, for the technical background! I appreciate your reasoning for thinking Flash will continue to be the least common denominator for video, and I certainly don't pretend to any expertise in this area, but… it seems a bit hard to imagine that two standards could persist for so long with neither achieving sufficient critical to allow publishers to confidently make the jump to using one or the other.

    Isn't this what the W3C is supposed to resolve by 2012? I'm eager to learn more about the details of this increasingly important standards squabble.

  • piratebrido

    I agree with much of your points, and I am more interested in what Levi points out. In regards to your own points, I agree with you in terms of that if people don’t like the way Apple work, don’t use them. I don’t, so I bought an HTC Desire which runs android. Jobs can knock back as many apps as he likes, it is up to Apple after all. I feel Apple tell you how to use their hardware and software, and you must do it their way. Some people love this – it makes things easier and very reliable – but I don’t like that method where you are more of a consumer than a contributor. It’s personal preference though.

    What I don’t like it the way Apple seem to be trying to bully standards they have adopted on the web. The web is built on open standards, yet they push for the patented H.264 standard for HTML5 video, completely rejecting Theora. It wasn’t until recently that I could join YouTube’s HTML5 beta using Firefox as they only ran H.264 video, though Google has stepped up with WebM, which Firefox and Opera now support and is license free. H.264 users have to pay license fees to MPEG LA, (nothing to do with Moving Picture Experts Group), unless they say so, but then they still hold the patent and call the shots. Seems Apple is refusing to support anything but H.264 in Safari though. As I mentioned, the web is built on open standards, and should remain so. Apple seem to be digging their heels in and trying to break up the party. I agree with them on Flash, Flash is buggy, and worse than that it is proprietary, which is one of the things Steve Jobs criticised them for in his frankly hilarious letter he wrote about Adobe. Pushing for a licensed video standard though for HTML5 is wrong though.

  • Berin Szoka

    Hey, looks like YouTube already works beautifully inside Safari–even better than the Apple-created app—just further illustrating the potential of browser-based video on mobile devices:

  • piratebrido

    Is that their site? I haven't tried it in andriod yet, might give it a bash at lunchtime. Andriod had a youtube app as well, but to be honest I very rarely used it. Browser would definately be my preference.

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