Apple's misleading iPhone ad is a lesson for all

The UK Advertising Standards Authority has labelled a TV advert for Apple's iPhone misleading for claiming the device provides access to the full internet. But Apple's understandable misdemeanour is merely the tip of the iceberg and should act as a warning to other device vendors and operators when they sell mobile phone web access to consumers.

Two separate complaints highlighted the iPhone's failure to support Flash and Java as undermining the adverts claim that, 'all the parts of the internet are on the iPhone'. The advert has subsequently been banned.

In Ovum's view this is a good thing both for the industry and for consumers. The web is the web, whichever device is used to access it. But what constitutes a full web experience, in terms of technology support‾

HTML rendering is the bare minimum requirement for web access - it's necessary, but not sufficient. Any web-capable device must also support many other technologies to provide anything close to a complete web experience. JavaScript, in particular, is a key component of most websites today and is supported by the iPhone.

Java and especially Flash, however, are so widely used as to be considered integral parts of a web developers toolbox. But the iPhone features neither. Flash, for instance, underpins YouTube and many other Internet video and TV services. To leave out support for them can only ever deliver a partial web experience.

While workarounds can be made to obscure this (such as YouTube creating parallel universe versions of itself in mobile device friendly content formats), the fact remains that this is not the web as web developers or consumers know it,  even if most consumers don't appreciate the difference. This is where the iPhone advert has come unstuck.

Apple is not the only offender, here. Ovum has previously voiced discomfort with operators' launching mobile Internet services that profess to offer access to the full web. Many of these are similarly compromised through the selective rendering, removal or adaptation of complex content such as Flash and Java in the network into a form consumable by the device, but not necessarily representative of the web developer's full intent.

Undoubtedly this approach can and does deliver a decent web experience in many instances, but a good proportion of websites still fail to render properly or have been broken in some way that makes them unusable. This results in a poor user experience and ultimately to the perception that mobile web access isn't worth the bother.

The situations isnt anyone's fault, per se. The resetricted capabilities of devices, slow connections to the internet and a legacy of efforts to capture a web-style experience through the use of WAP continue to limit the ability of today's mobile terminals to render web content fully themselves.

It's reasonable to find fault with Apple for underestimating the importance of Flash to the web and to end users, especially given the fact that the iPhone is one of the few devices that really could support most web technologies. But Apple doesnt deserve to be hauled over the coals for what is essentially a result of a marketer being mildly economical with the truth (possibly unknowingly given the technical nature of the argument) if other original equipment manufacturers and mobile operators are let off scot-free.

Tony Cripps, Senior Analyst and Service Manager

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