Today in Apple history: Flash controversy results in banned iPhone ad

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First gen iPhone
The internet wasn't quite so seamless on the first-gen iPhone.
Photo: Traci Dauphin/Cult of Mac

August 27: Today in Apple history: Flash controversy results in banned iPhone ad August 27, 2008: The U.K. bans an iPhone ad for apparently misleading consumers.

The misleading bit? The ad overhypes the iPhone’s internet-surfing abilities. It does this by not mentioning that the device doesn’t support Adobe Flash — which is vital to internet surfing in 2008. How times change, eh?

A misleading iPhone ad

“You never know which part of the internet you’ll need, which is why all the parts of the internet are on the iPhone,” the ad voiceover said.

However, the Advertising Standards Authority received complaints that Apple was misleading customers.

Apple argued that the ad merely claimed the iPhone could access all websites. (Rival internet-browsing phones could only load Wireless Application Protocol, or WAP, versions of these sites.)

Unfortunately, Cupertino’s claims got shot down.

As a result, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the “ad gave a misleading impression of the internet capabilities of the iPhone.” Apple is barred from running it again while making the same claims.

Things have changed

In some ways, today’s “Today in Apple history” is a minor chapter in Apple’s past. But I thought it was worth singling out because it highlights how much has changed in a decade.

The internet looked a very different place in 2008. Flash was everywhere. PCs were still how most of us accessed the web. And smartphones were still a novelty.

Steve Jobs ultimately laid out his reasons for not supporting Flash in an open letter to customers in 2010. Reasons included security, battery consumption and its inability to work well with mobile devices. He wrote:

“We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now. We have never seen it. Adobe publicly said that Flash would ship on a smartphone in early 2009, then the second half of 2009, then the first half of 2010, and now they say the second half of 2010. We think it will eventually ship, but we’re glad we didn’t hold our breath. Who knows how it will perform?”

Instead, Apple stuck to its guns — and gradually the world realized Cupertino was correct. In 2017, Adobe announced that it was winding down the use of Flash — with open standards like HTML5, WebGL and WebAssembly now offering most of the same functionality, without the minuses. Today, mobile devices are the main way most of us access the internet.

To put it another way, Apple may have lost this battle — but sure as heck won the war.