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Jobs: lack of Flash is about technology, not control

updated 10:50 am EDT, Thu April 29, 2010

Steve Jobs posts open letter about Flash dispute

Apple chief Steve Jobs today posted an open letter explaining his company's reasons for not supporting Adobe Flash on the iPad, iPhone and iPod. He argued it had nothing to do with control at all but that it was instead "based on technology issues." Flash is too proprietary, prone to crash, a major security risk and not at all suited to touchscreens, he said.

While he acknowledged that Apple had many proprietary products of its own, it believed that the web had to follow open standards and that CSS, HTML5 and JavaScript were not only more universal but also ran better on Apple's devices. Jobs rejected Adobe's attempted appeal to popularity, in which it claimed that 75 percent of video on the web used Flash, since it still left most web video under Adobe's control and has often already been addressed by using dedicated Netflix and YouTube apps as well as switches by many sites to HTML5.

"While Adobe's Flash products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Adobe and available only from Adobe," Jobs said. "By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system."

He pointed out that Apple not only embraces existing standards but was responsible for WebKit, which is open-source and found not only in Safari but Google's Android and Chrome browsers as well as the Nokia, Palm and upcoming RIM browsers on their respective platforms.

On performance, Jobs confirmed many of the rumors surrounding his views on Flash quality. Adobe's plugin is the "number one reason Macs crash," he said, and while Apple has been cooperating to fix the problems, adding it now would only make iPhones and iPads unstable. Adobe has also repeatedly delayed mobile Flash 10.1 and has had problems proving that it could run well.

"We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now," he said. "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."

Among the problems was battery life. Jobs revealed that an iPhone can actually play video for up to 10 hours if playing H.264 video using its hardware acceleration, but only 5 hours if it has to use the main processor and chew extra battery life. Most Flash video still doesn't work with hardware acceleration and wouldn't be practical, and when it's encoded in H.264 doesn't need Flash at all.

Security was also a concern, and the CEO pointed to Symantec giving Flash one of the "worst security records" of last year.

Moreover, porting Flash wouldn't necessarily make it usable on an iPhone or any touchscreen device. It was based on the assumption the user would have a mouse and that they could mouse over an element without clicking on it. Touchscreens depend on tapping fingers and don't usually make a distinction between hovering over and selecting an object; most Flash apps would need to be rewritten regardless, he said, and at that point they may as well use HTML5.

The existence of more than 50,000 games on the App Store was more than for "any other platform" and reduced the need for Flash-based games on phones, he said.

Jobs rounded out the justifications by elaborating on his reasons for banning the Flash-to-iPhone tool for writing iPhone apps. Apple has a "painful experience" with letting third-party development tools dictate when and how apps launch, he said. Programmers not only have to wait for the developer to update their tools before they can support a new version of the OS but often end up producing a "lowest common denominator" app when they use a multi-platform tool or have to wait on new features.

"We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers," he warned. "We [also] cannot accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitor's platforms."

The executive didn't reject the notion of a cross-platform development tool on its face but noted that Adobe was one of the worst examples of the results stemming from dependence on cross-platform development. It has been "painfully slow" to add new features and only just produced a fully Cocoa-native version of its Creative Suite with the launch of CS5 -- almost 10 years after Mac OS X introduced Cocoa. Adobe is allegedly the last major third-party to make such a move.

Microsoft also encountered similar problems with Office for Mac, as its over-dependence on cross-compilers led both to the delays in getting a truly OS X-native version of Office as well as an Intel-native Mac version years later.

Keeping everyone to the most updated development tools will let them create the "best apps the world has ever seen," Jobs claimed.

He concluded by sympathizing with Adobe's aims but asserting that its current implementation is part of a different age and, right now, doesn't apply to the current wave of smartphones and tablets.

"Flash was created during the PC era -- for PCs and mice," he said. "Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards -- all areas where Flash falls short... New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind."

by MacNN Staff



  1. slapppy

    Joined: Dec 1969



    All Apple has to do is create a creative suite of apps to rival Adobe POS, overkill bloated piece of suite.

    Comment buried. Show
  1. Jonathan-Tanya

    Joined: Dec 1969



    "Flash was designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers. For example, many Flash websites rely on “rollovers”, which pop up menus or other elements when the mouse arrow hovers over a specific spot. Apple’s revolutionary multi-touch interface doesn’t use a mouse, and there is no concept of a rollover. Most Flash websites will need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices. If developers need to rewrite their Flash websites, why not use modern technologies like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript?"

    Because a developer that knows Flash, can write another website in Flash, whereas, they may not be as efficient working with HTML5, CSS, and Javascript (learning curve).

    Because one is a minor fix, another is a complete rewrite.

    Many older HTML, CSS, and Javascript websites were also written with a mouse in mind - they have rollover events too... and this whole line of thought really has nothing to do with Flash vs. HTML5.

  1. WiseWeasel

    Joined: Dec 1969



    It's nice to get to hear this straight from the horse's mouth in such detail. As a user, I can say that Flash will not be missed at all. Good riddance to old, annoying, unstable, resource-hungry junk.

    One minor quibble, they're not called "BluRay DVDs"; it's just "BluRays" or "BluRay discs". I think Jobs might be giving us a glimpse of his unfamiliarity with the particular technology with that error; sounds like something a non-geek 'normal' would say.

    Comment buried. Show
  1. canonsucks

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Riiiight Steve...

    ...because we all know the iTunes Store, App Store, iBookstore, etc are all open....NOT!

    This "open letter" is nothing more than PR shtick.

    Flash is not at all suited to touchscreens? Interesting. Wouldn't Jobs be surprised to learn the company I work for has been developing Flash-based touchscreen kiosks used in museums, universities, libraries, etc for the past 10 year without any issues. And we're one of a handful of companies in this market.

    This is, always has been, and will continue to be all about control. Control of the device, the design, the development, and the delivery.

  1. WiseWeasel

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Re: Riiiight Steve...

    What Steve was saying was that while he acknowledged that the iPhone OS is a proprietary platform for native software distribution, he believes that web standards should be open. Native software is proprietary, but web software is open. No matter what, I agree that web standards should be open, and Flash should die as quickly as possible. As for the native software, it does make sense that cross-platform development environments, in particular those managed by a company as slow as Adobe, are a liability for the platform's success if they get any kind of traction with major developers. To have the flagship apps on the platform be not only available on competing platforms in the exact same form, but also missing potential platform-specific features would be bad for Apple, and ultimately for iPhone OS users as large developers choose not to leverage the platform's competitive strengths.

  1. maceuer

    Joined: Dec 1969


    @ insightful

    He's speaking about "players" and a BluRay player also plays DVD's !!

    To me the most funny part is the passage, to blurr the boarder and suggesting that Apple is open Wow I missed something here.

    Anyway, since I'm locking Flash out no longer do I have a Boeing on my lap, when using my wife's PowerBook or even my mother's in law PC.

  1. chris2519

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Canonsucks, do you really think that, from the Adobe side, it's not about control? There are many things about Apple that get on my nerves, and I think Jobs suffers from being myopic (though in his case it's as much of a gift as it is a flaw). But I have to side with him on his Flash position. It is a MISERABLE experience on a Mac. I very rarely have crashes or system issues with Apple products. When I do, Flash is almost always the culprit. I'm sure there are very successful implementations of Flash on PCs and custom and proprietary workstations (like the ones you have worked on.) But you guys have the expertise to build and maintain those, and work within (and around) the limitations of Flash. I sure as heck don't. (I wasn't trying to sound like Sarah Palin there, just didn't want to get flagged).

    Comment buried. Show
  1. facebook_Joel

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Apr 2010


    It's All About Arrogance

    While I love the hardware and software for desktops/laptops, Apple still has a LONG way to go to catch up to the innovation present in devices like Droid and other mobile platforms. They may have been the first to innovate the smart phone, but unfortunately they've reached a point of arrested development.

    As for Flash, Steve Jobs seriously needs to get over himself. Flash is an amazing platform whose market share alone says all that needs to be said. There are a number of things that will crash a mac, the least of which are Flash (try NFS on a laptop sometime.)

    To Steve: Dude, stop being a pompous a** and provide users with what they WANT, not what you THINK THEY SHOULD WANT.. You'll see the effects in your bottom line, I promise. Oh and while I'm at it.. GET OFF YOUR a** on 3D gaming... Seriously, the last great innovation in platform support for desktops/laptops was Direct X on Windows XP for pete's sake. You guys have your head so far up your own a** with your app store that you can't see that when a person gets home from work, and they want to blow up stuff, they want to do it on a BIG a** SCREEEN with zero lag time... STFU and Get BUSY!

  1. iphonerulez

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Why does Steve Jobs even waste his

    breath trying to explain to a bunch of dickwads his motives behind anything he does. No matter what he says, he's going to be branded a liar and tyrant. Steve has spent all his life trying to build products that consumers want to use and if his vision bothers some people, that's too damn bad. If all these haters looked at their own lives they'd see they come up rather short. Steve Jobs takes risks, he stands up to what he feels is right and doesn't back down. How can any changes ever be made by being a p****? If things don't work out, well, at least he tried and shouldn't have any regrets.

    It's almost impossible to build a company that size by trying to please everyone or quitting just because a few visionless idiots say something can't be done or can only be done a certain way. If consumers stop buying Apple products because they lack Flash, well, then I guess Steve will be wrong. I say at least 50% of consumers won't give a damn about not having Flash support and that's enough to make advertisers start moving to something else.

    If people want to use Flash that's up to them. I personally don't see what's so damn great about it. I don't care much for fancy Flash sites at all but that's just a personal preference. Even if Steve Jobs didn't say Flash wasn't up to spec. I still don't care for it. And I'm not looking for HTML5 sites that try to replicate Flash-laden sites, either. I just want content, not all the crappy animations with music and fades and c***. I want to know who the h*** passed a law that says every website has to be Flash-powered and nothing else is allowed.

    Look, fine if you want to use Flash on kiosks powered by some plugged-in desktop PC, but keep that c*** away from battery-powered mobile devices if it truly does tax less than 1GHz ARM processors and batteries.

    Anyway, Steve should say nothing since it will only fall on deaf ears and narrow minds.

    Comment buried. Show
  1. ggirton

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Steve must be feeling heat

    Steve must be feeling the heat, to go on and on about Flash.

    I have a bunch of Apple products, I think they're great. I've seen
    the Adobe-to-phone converter that is in CS5. It is so lame that
    no one would really use it. Maybe a couple hundred apps, but the
    performance is not good enough, and you don't get critical features,
    like Access to Camera, and in-app sales. Can't do it! You want all the
    phone features? Use Objective C, duh!

    The older phones -- about 20 percent of all phones -- would c*** out
    trying to run flash player. But so doodley-squat what? Mr. Steve is so
    fearful of anything tarnishing his wonderful little closed system, that he
    doesn't want the market to decide. And if the phones are too slow now,
    in 2 years, they'll be fast enough. Just put a checkbox "no flash player" in
    phone preferences, and let them check it on or off. They'll check it off,
    believe me!

    Web developers will do what they do -- flash, CSS, HTML5, javascript -- they use
    it all now, depending on what has to be done. Most of the people slamming
    flash have no idea what websites use flash/flex, and which ones don't.

    Not sure why Steve has made the web technologies that developers use for pages
    his big concern. Maybe he thinks criticism of others will sell more products
    than just saying why his products are good, and leave it at that.

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