Apple's iPad marketing sparks complaint

A consumer said he told the agency Apple is falsely advertising that the device supports Flash

Apple's iPad, announced Wednesday, has already led to one complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in which a consumer charged Apple with false advertising by showing Adobe Flash working on the device.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad to a waiting world this week after months of speculation and rumors about the slim tablet computer, and Apple's marketing machine has continued to roll since then. At its launch event in San Francisco, Apple showed a video of people using the device, and a series of images of the iPad dominates the company's home page.

But those promotions are misleading, according to Paul Threatt, a Web and graphic designer who lives near Atlanta. Both show the iPad displaying elements of the online New York Times that cannot be viewed without Flash, even though the device apparently doesn't support that software.

"I don't hold anything against them for not supporting Flash," Threatt said. "It'd be great if they did, but what I don't want them to do is misrepresent the device's capabilities."

Flash is used to deliver multimedia, games and other content on many Websites. In fact, Adobe says more than 70 percent of all games and 75 percent of all video on the Web uses Flash. But it appears that the iPad, like the iPhone and iPod Touch, doesn't support that format.

In a live demonstration at Wednesday's launch event, icons that show a missing plug-in popped up on the iPad's screen when Jobs was showing off the Web front page of the New York Times. Adobe was not approached by Apple before the product was announced, Adobe spokesman Stefan Offermann said, indicating Flash is probably not in the works for the shipping version of the iPad, due to hit stores in about 60 days.

However, some of the same New York Times content that wouldn't display during the live demonstration shows up just fine in a promotional video and one of the pictures on Apple's home page, Threatt pointed out. A collection of still images halfway down the Times front page, which represent segments on the site's video section, need Flash to appear but are visible as a user looks over the front page in the Apple clip.

Likewise, a slideshow of images accompanying the article "The 31 Places to Go in 2010" require Flash, yet one of those pictures shows up in the promotional video and an image of the iPad on Apple's page. (In another twist, in the video, the slideshow begins at what appears to be the 14th image, even though on the Web it starts with the first picture.)

Threatt said he was clued into the discrepancies by a Friday post at the AppleInsider blog. He was aware of the FTC's online Complaint Assistant, because he had used it before.

"Whenever the urge strikes me and I feel like someone is being deliberately misleading, I go to that site," Threatt said. "I never know if I'm screaming into the void or not, but it makes me feel better."

In his complaint, Threatt briefly explained the technologies to the FTC, and then summed up the problem.

"In several advertisements and images representing the Apple products in question, Apple has purposefully elected to show these devices correctly displaying content that necessitates the Adobe Flash plug-in. This is not possible on the actual devices, and Apple is very aware of that fact. ... This constitutes willful false advertising and Apple's advertising practices for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and the new iPad should be forcibly changed," Threatt wrote, in part.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The FTC was not able to give details about the complaint or how it would respond.

Threatt wasn't an obvious candidate to lodge the complaint. He described himself as a longtime Apple fan who used to work weekends at the Apple Store in Tyson's Corner, Virginia.

"I'm big into Apple, and I always liked helping people learn Apple stuff," Threatt said, adding that it pains him to turn against the company.

As for the iPad, Threatt said he would love it as a step up from his iPod Touch -- if only it had a video camera.

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