Steve Jobs: Thoughts on Flash

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In a distinct break from terse messages sent from his iPad, Steve Jobs has posted a 1,700 word missive on his Apple’s website. Broken into six sections, the essay explains Apple’s stance on Flash in detail.

Jobs attacks Flash for being closed, crash-prone, and battery draining, while defending Apple for supporting open standards and trying to create the best user experience for mobile devices. All that may be true, or not, but what this really about is control.

Countering complaints against iPhone OS being a walled garden of an operating system and development platform, Jobs argues that Flash is “100% proprietary” because development is controlled by Adobe. In contrast, Apple fosters “open standards” like HTML5 and technologies like WebKit, even though iPhone OS itself is admittedly proprietary.

Jobs then attempts to counter the argument that a device without Flash denies users the “full web” experience. He notes that H.264 is an alternative format that makes video available from a long list of sites that does not include Hulu. As for the lack of Flash games on Apple devices, Jobs admits that’s true, but argues there are more “games and entertainment titles available for iPhone, iPod and iPad than for any other platform in the world.” That may be true, but all those games require an iPhone OS device, locking out tens of millions of people with nothing better to do than play Farmville at work.

Turning to “reliability, security, and performance,” Jobs slams Flash for security and reiterates that “Flash is the number one reason Macs crash.” He then points out that, despite promising a mobile version of Flash, Adobe has repeatedly failed to deliver. Jobs notes that “We think it will eventually ship, but we’re glad we didn’t hold our breath. Who knows how it will perform?” Ouch.

That leads into complaints about battery life, the example being ten hours of iPad video with H.264 versus five hours with Flash. Regarding the Flash interface, Jobs complains that Flash is designed for mouse input, not touch. Since most Flash websites would have to be redesigned to incorporate touch input, “why not use modern technologies like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript?” Ouch, again.

Finally, there is “the most important reason.” Cross-platform apps result in the “lowest common denominator set of features.” Taking a another dig at Adobe for needing 10 years to develop a fully Cocoa version of Creative Suite, Jobs declares that Apple wants developers to use the best native tools to create the best user experience in applications. That way “everyone wins,” well, except for Adobe.

Really, it’s about control. Couching it in terms of the user experience is fine, and true, in my opinion. However, as is made clear repeatedly in the essay, Apple is determined to remain in complete control of the development of its mobile devices, from the hardware to the operating system to the application development process. The question then becomes whether Apple will be able to do so.

With the statement by Google that Flash will be included as part of Android, and Microsoft signaling that Flash will be a part of Windows Phone 7, though not the first version, it’s essentially Apple against the rest of the world. Apple may indeed succeed in “leaving the past behind” with Flash and ushering in the era of HTML5. However, should market pressures ultimately force Apple to allow Flash, it will be because the lack of Flash has hurt the viability of iPhone OS. The “past” may yet catch up with Apple, but that has yet to stop Steve Jobs and company from looking towards the future.

Modified image courtesy of Flickr user plasticbag

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