Jobs Lays Into Flash

David Murphy

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has published an open letter outlining the problems the company has with Adobe’s Flash platform.

Jobs points out that the two companies used to have a good relationship, noting that Apple owned around 20% of Adobe for many years. He then talks about Apple going through “its near death experience”, while Adobe was drawn to the corporate market with its Acrobat products, but says that today, apart from the fact that Mac users buy around half of Adobe’s Creative Suite products, there are few joint interests.

Then the fun starts. The rest of the letter is a summary of why Jobs, and Apple, don’t like Flash. His first point is that it’s proprietary. Jobs concedes that the OS for the iPhone, iPod and iPad is proprietary, but goes on to point out that Apple has also adopted open standards such as HTML5, CSS and JavaScript.

His second point is that the H.264 video format negates the need for Flash for watching video on mobile. His third is that, according to Symantec, Flash had one of the worst security records in 2009 and that: “We also know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash.” Jobs goes on to say that Apple has been asking Adobe to show the company Flash performing well on a mobile device for “a few years now”, then adds: “We have never seen it.”

Battery life is Jobs’ fourth target. He says that Flash drains batteries on mobile devices. Next up is Touch. Flash, says Jobs, was designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers, so 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?” Jobs asks.

Finally, and most importantly, says Jobs, Apple does not like the idea of Adobe encouraging developers to adopt Flash to create apps that run on its 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,” he says. “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.”

In a scathing summary, Jobs concludes that Flash is a format created during the PC era and that in the mobile era, it “falls short”. He says: “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 ... 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.”

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