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Steve Jobs' Thoughts on Flash: It Sucks for Mobile

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 69 comments

Steve Jobs spends 1,700 words bashing Flash for mobile devices. Adobe's CEO isn't pleased.

It's no secret that Apple and Adobe are not the best of friends. In fact, Steve Jobs has said some things that would indicate that Apple doesn't like Adobe at all.

Today Steve Jobs posted an open letter on the Apple website explaining his (and by extension, the company's) view on Adobe Flash. In short, he doesn't have any good things to say about it when it comes to Flash on mobile devices.

Click here to read it or scroll down to the bottom of this news article to see it copied below.

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen spoke to the Wall Street Journal with his response to Steve Jobs' open letter. As expected, he's not pleased with the way that Jobs attacked Flash in a point-by-point manner. Read more about that here.

Thoughts on Flash

Apple has a long relationship with Adobe. In fact, we met Adobe’s founders when they were in their proverbial garage. Apple was their first big customer, adopting their Postscript language for our new Laserwriter printer. Apple invested in Adobe and owned around 20% of the company for many years. The two companies worked closely together to pioneer desktop publishing and there were many good times. Since that golden era, the companies have grown apart. Apple went through its near death experience, and Adobe was drawn to the corporate market with their Acrobat products. Today the two companies still work together to serve their joint creative customers – Mac users buy around half of Adobe’s Creative Suite products – but beyond that there are few joint interests.

I wanted to jot down some of our thoughts on Adobe’s Flash products so that customers and critics may better understand why we do not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods and iPads. Adobe has characterized our decision as being primarily business driven – they say we want to protect our App Store – but in reality it is based on technology issues. Adobe claims that we are a closed system, and that Flash is open, but in fact the opposite is true. Let me explain.

First, there’s “Open”.

Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. 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. By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system.

Apple has many proprietary products too. Though the operating system for the iPhone, iPod and iPad is proprietary, we strongly believe that all standards pertaining to the web should be open. Rather than use Flash, Apple has adopted HTML5, CSS and JavaScript – all open standards. Apple’s mobile devices all ship with high performance, low power implementations of these open standards. HTML5, the new web standard that has been adopted by Apple, Google and many others, lets web developers create advanced graphics, typography, animations and transitions without relying on third party browser plug-ins (like Flash). HTML5 is completely open and controlled by a standards committee, of which Apple is a member.

Apple even creates open standards for the web. For example, Apple began with a small open source project and created WebKit, a complete open-source HTML5 rendering engine that is the heart of the Safari web browser used in all our products. WebKit has been widely adopted. Google uses it for Android’s browser, Palm uses it, Nokia uses it, and RIM (Blackberry) has announced they will use it too. Almost every smartphone web browser other than Microsoft’s uses WebKit. By making its WebKit technology open, Apple has set the standard for mobile web browsers.

Second, there’s the “full web”.

Adobe has repeatedly said that Apple mobile devices cannot access “the full web” because 75% of video on the web is in Flash. What they don’t say is that almost all this video is also available in a more modern format, H.264, and viewable on iPhones, iPods and iPads. YouTube, with an estimated 40% of the web’s video, shines in an app bundled on all Apple mobile devices, with the iPad offering perhaps the best YouTube discovery and viewing experience ever. Add to this video from Vimeo, Netflix, Facebook, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ESPN, NPR, Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, People, National Geographic, and many, many others. iPhone, iPod and iPad users aren’t missing much video.

Another Adobe claim is that Apple devices cannot play Flash games. This is true. Fortunately, there are over 50,000 games and entertainment titles on the App Store, and many of them are free. There are more games and entertainment titles available for iPhone, iPod and iPad than for any other platform in the world.

Third, there’s reliability, security and performance.

Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. We also know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash. We have been working with Adobe to fix these problems, but they have persisted for several years now. We don’t want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods and iPads by adding Flash.

In addition, Flash has not performed well on mobile devices. 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?

Fourth, there’s battery life.

To achieve long battery life when playing video, mobile devices must decode the video in hardware; decoding it in software uses too much power. Many of the chips used in modern mobile devices contain a decoder called H.264 – an industry standard that is used in every Blu-ray DVD player and has been adopted by Apple, Google (YouTube), Vimeo, Netflix and many other companies.

Although Flash has recently added support for H.264, the video on almost all Flash websites currently requires an older generation decoder that is not implemented in mobile chips and must be run in software. The difference is striking: on an iPhone, for example, H.264 videos play for up to 10 hours, while videos decoded in software play for less than 5 hours before the battery is fully drained.

When websites re-encode their videos using H.264, they can offer them without using Flash at all. They play perfectly in browsers like Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome without any plugins whatsoever, and look great on iPhones, iPods and iPads.

Fifth, there’s Touch.

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?

Even if iPhones, iPods and iPads ran Flash, it would not solve the problem that most Flash websites need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices.

Sixth, the most important reason.

Besides the fact that Flash is closed and proprietary, has major technical drawbacks, and doesn’t support touch based devices, there is an even more important reason we do not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods and iPads. We have discussed the downsides of using Flash to play video and interactive content from websites, but Adobe also wants developers to adopt Flash to create apps that run on our mobile devices.

We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the 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.

This becomes even worse if the third party is supplying a cross platform development tool. The third party may not adopt enhancements from one platform unless they are available on all of their supported platforms. Hence developers only have access to the lowest common denominator set of features. Again, we cannot accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitor’s platforms.

Flash is a cross platform development tool. It is not Adobe’s goal to help developers write the best iPhone, iPod and iPad apps. It is their goal to help developers write cross platform apps. And Adobe has been painfully slow to adopt enhancements to Apple’s platforms. For example, although Mac OS X has been shipping for almost 10 years now, Adobe just adopted it fully (Cocoa) two weeks ago when they shipped CS5. Adobe was the last major third party developer to fully adopt Mac OS X.

Our motivation is simple – we want to provide the most advanced and innovative platform to our developers, and we want them to stand directly on the shoulders of this platform and create the best apps the world has ever seen. We want to continually enhance the platform so developers can create even more amazing, powerful, fun and useful applications. Everyone wins – we sell more devices because we have the best apps, developers reach a wider and wider audience and customer base, and users are continually delighted by the best and broadest selection of apps on any platform.

Conclusions.

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. 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.

The avalanche of media outlets offering their content for Apple’s mobile devices demonstrates that Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content. And the 200,000 apps on Apple’s App Store proves that Flash isn’t necessary for tens of thousands of developers to create graphically rich applications, including games.

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.

Steve Jobs

April, 2010

Discuss
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Top Comments
  • 28 Hide
    matt314 , April 30, 2010 12:53 AM
    Sigh....Oh steve, when will you learn that you are not a god?
  • 21 Hide
    Shadow703793 , April 30, 2010 1:17 AM
    Talk about being a hypocrite.
    OSX != Open
    Apple's latest limitation of software devs != open
  • 20 Hide
    SAL-e , April 30, 2010 1:03 AM
    Mr. Jobs,
    When the H.264 had become open web standard?! Last time I check H.264 requires licence fee and Open Source Vendors can't get licence if they want to implement it as Open Source Library. There is free as beer and free as liberty codec called Ogg Theora, but Apple don't support it either. Not only that but the Apples is using their membership in W3C to block the adoption of the Ogg Theora as part of the HTML5 standard. In fact this is the main reason why the the HTML5 was delayed so long.
    Corporate hypocrisy.
Other Comments
  • 28 Hide
    matt314 , April 30, 2010 12:53 AM
    Sigh....Oh steve, when will you learn that you are not a god?
  • 4 Hide
    cadder , April 30, 2010 12:54 AM
    I have my own thoughts about Steve boy but it was interesting to read where other people thought this was a pretty good talk by him but certainly involved "RDF".

    (check what Wikipedia has to say about "RDF":
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality_distortion_field
    )
  • 7 Hide
    Zoonie , April 30, 2010 12:54 AM
    LOL @ the evil pic :D 
  • 15 Hide
    dantheman1001 , April 30, 2010 1:02 AM
    As much as I dislike apple for proprietary software, I think he may have a point... at least I'm getting the new droid, which can do flash AND everything else.
  • -8 Hide
    chickenhoagie , April 30, 2010 1:03 AM
    the only legit reason i see Steve has, is the fact that because there is no mouse/rollover concept on the iphone, then most flash would have to be rewritten to fit the iphone standards. but, i still think the iphone needs to find a way to work with flash. I honestly believe that is the #1 most important thing that is holding the iphone back from being the best phone on the market for many years to come.
  • 20 Hide
    SAL-e , April 30, 2010 1:03 AM
    Mr. Jobs,
    When the H.264 had become open web standard?! Last time I check H.264 requires licence fee and Open Source Vendors can't get licence if they want to implement it as Open Source Library. There is free as beer and free as liberty codec called Ogg Theora, but Apple don't support it either. Not only that but the Apples is using their membership in W3C to block the adoption of the Ogg Theora as part of the HTML5 standard. In fact this is the main reason why the the HTML5 was delayed so long.
    Corporate hypocrisy.
  • 10 Hide
    dxwarlock , April 30, 2010 1:04 AM
    DXwarlocks Thoughts on Steve Jobs/Apple: It Sucks for Mobile
  • 10 Hide
    dxwarlock , April 30, 2010 1:04 AM
    "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."

    so isnt that a flaw of the OS not having the concept of a rollover, and not flash for having that feature?
  • 19 Hide
    Anonymous , April 30, 2010 1:07 AM
    hahahahahaha open... as long as it's an open standard created by apple.......
  • 6 Hide
    orionantares , April 30, 2010 1:13 AM
    DXWarlock"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."so isnt that a flaw of the OS not having the concept of a rollover, and not flash for having that feature?


    I don't get that one because JavaScript supports rollover and he specific says they accept JavaScript...
  • 4 Hide
    mrhappy50 , April 30, 2010 1:14 AM
    maybe it isn't that apple is to good for flash, its that flash is to good for apple.


    TAKE THAT SOCIETY!!
  • 21 Hide
    Shadow703793 , April 30, 2010 1:17 AM
    Talk about being a hypocrite.
    OSX != Open
    Apple's latest limitation of software devs != open
  • 10 Hide
    WHComp , April 30, 2010 1:20 AM
    (check what Wikipedia has to say about "RDF":
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality_distortion_field
    )

    I had never seen this before. It is exactly what I have been saying about apple for the last 5 years. Why are people still buying into this propoganda.
  • 4 Hide
    Pyroflea , April 30, 2010 1:21 AM
    Oh quit your complaining; just because you use HTML5 and CSS doesn't mean you're any better than Adobe. Have you not noticed how well Flash has caught on, and how widely it's been used, despite it's downfalls, for a decade now? How many articles has there been saying that Steve Jobs doesn't like flash. 3, 4 now?
  • -9 Hide
    UbeRveLT , April 30, 2010 1:22 AM
    digiexWhat the man said is probably right.

    You are correct. Although people will flame his views, if they bothered to read it and understand it for what it is and not let their 'i hate apple' views get in the way, they will realise that what he said is very correct, although there is a little marketing in there :p 
  • 7 Hide
    frostyfireball , April 30, 2010 1:28 AM
    Steve jobs is so full of garbage it's not even funny, starting with "Adobe claims that we are a closed system, and that Flash is open, but in fact the opposite is true." The entire article jobs wrote is a pile of crap.

    Apple: Redefining hypocracy daily.
  • 3 Hide
    nforce4max , April 30, 2010 1:29 AM
    Old big Blue is taking notes....

    If I ever get my own company started up if the banks and the retards in Washington don't mess things up more than they are I wont be supporting any thing Apple based. Its the software and their increasing worsening ethics. I don't like how they treat their customers. I don't like how they treat their employees. I loathe the products and how they think they know what every one wants, no need for citation past articles on here are more than enough. Over all Apple is a company to do business with from a consumer stand point and from a corporate stand point. Eventually their fan base will get bored and discover Linux knowing how windows isn't that much better than osx. The only thing I can had to them is aesthetics and their products are idiot proof. That is why pre schools use macs from pre-k up till 4th grade and windows from there on up till 12th grade.
  • 0 Hide
    ptroen , April 30, 2010 1:30 AM
    Flash's Rival. Mono and .NET.
    http://www.mono-project.com/Main_Page

    Face it it's easier to write a .NET application then write a flash application.
  • 0 Hide
    zachary k , April 30, 2010 1:39 AM
    the next day Steve Jobs declares he is god, then is killed by lightning. apple stocks skyrocket.
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