Wednesday, August 27, 2008

When is the Internet not the Internet?

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) of the UK has this week decided to ban Apple from showing an advert “in its current form” which claims that “all parts of the Internet are on the iPhone”. This is an interesting conclusion. Apple should have expected controversy, but by the same token, the ASA ruling was by no means a given and Steve Jobs’ merry-band have the right to feel more than a little aggrieved with the ruling.

A lack of support for Flash and Java were cited by the ASA as reasons why the claim is not reasonable, but the truth is that the Internet is complimented by a myriad of plug in technologies and I don’t think it is reasonable to assume that all of them, or a major subset of them, must be available to a browser for it to be considered capable of accessing the Internet in its full glory. I won’t get really pedantic and highlight the difference between the web and the Internet, and therefore what I consider to be the even greater folly of the ASA’s actions.

The custodians of the Internet, the W3C, define standards for distributing hyperlinked webpages. The iPhone can handle those standards. Proprietary add-ons are considered beyond the remit of the Internet standards and are subject to natural market adoption patterns. Therefore, I would say that it is reasonable to claim that the Internet, as defined by the W3C, is available for browsing on the iPhone. Otherwise, where does it stop? RealPlayer? PDF readers? XML/XSL? Who is the authority who decides if it is not the W3C?

The ASA have set what I consider to be a dangerous precedent. In assuming that Flash and Java are de facto technologies of the Internet, rather than optional, they are undermining efforts to make the web more accessible through the promotion and adoption of standards by web browsers.

Apple has so far been silent on the ruling, but don’t expect it necessarily to lie down and accept this without clarification. Perhaps it will see the irony and make counterclaims based on any browser which doesn’t support its video player technology, QuickTime?