Steve Jobs pens public thoughts on Flash

Lex Friedman
30 April, 2010
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In a rare public posting on Apple’s Website, CEO Steve Jobs has posted a piece entitled “Thoughts on Flash”. In it, Jobs wrote about the companies’ intertwined histories, before diving into his discussion of “why we [Apple] do not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods, and iPads.”

It’s not the first time Jobs’s taken to the pages of Apple.com to share his insights on the technical issues of the day — he’s written about DRM and going green. In this latest post, Jobs denies that Apple’s ban on Flash for those mobile devices is a business decision. Rather, he says, it’s a technological one.

First, Jobs writes, “Flash is a closed system.” While he acknowledges that the iPhone OS is similarly closed, Jobs argues that “all standards pertaining to the Web should be open” — referencing Apple’s now-familiar preference for HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript-based technologies. And of course he points out that Apple’s own open-source WebKit project — with its HTML5 rendering engine — is used by Google’s Android browser, along with Palm, Nokia, and a forthcoming Blackberry browser alongside Apple’s own Safari browser.

Jobs then takes issue with Adobe’s claim that 75 percent of video on the Web is Flash-based, since “almost all this video is also available in a more modern format, H.264, and viewable on iPhones, iPods, and iPads.” Since more and more sites are embracing Flash alternatives for video — and Jobs rattles off nearly 20, including heavyweight YouTube — he argues that iPhone OS-device wielders aren’t really missing out.

On the topic of Flash games, Jobs is curt: No, they don’t play on the iPhone or iPad, but the App Store includes more than 50,000 games — more titles, he says, than there are available “for any other platform in the world.”

It’s around this point in Jobs’s note that the gloves come off. He attacks Flash as being vulnerable to exploits, crash-prone, and incapable of performing well on mobile devices. He writes “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.”

He also criticises Flash for its unpleasant affect on battery life, saying that hardware-decoded H.264 video can run for 10 hours on an iPhone, while software-decoded video runs for just half that time.

Jobs then points out that even if the iPhone OS supported Flash, many Flash-based Websites and interfaces would be near impossible to use, since Flash wasn’t built with a touchscreen interface in mind.

Finally, Jobs spends a lot of time discussing why Apple will no longer allow apps compiled with Flash to run on the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. He echoed points John Gruber made earlier this month, in stating that cross-platform development tools like Flash aren’t focused on creating the best iPhone OS apps; they’re instead focused on creating software that, written once, can run anywhere. Apple, Jobs says, wants developers creating apps that leverage every advantage the iPhone OS offers.

Jobs concludes by stating that HTML5 will prevail on mobile devices — and desktop ones too. He wraps-up with this stinger: “Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.”

Update: Adobe CEO, Shantanu Narayen, has responded to Jobs’ thoughts.

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