Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs has taken the unprecedented step of writing a full letter explaining why the company is not putting Flash onto the iPad and future iPhones. The reason? He claims Adobe is too proprietary and isn’t giving web users a 100pc web experience.
Jobs said that Apple has had a long relationship with Adobe that goes way back. “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 20pc 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,” Jobs said.
Jobs, in an open letter entitled ‘Thoughts on Flash’, explained the reason Apple is not allowing Flash on iPhones, iPods and iPads is for technological reasons and is not a business-driven decision to protect the App Store.
Jobs on Adobe Flash
“Adobe’s Flash products are 100pc proprietary,” Jobs pointed out. “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.
“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.”
Jobs said Apple also creates open standards, providing the example of Webkit, an open-source HTML5 rendering engine that’s at the heart of the Safari web browser and is used in Google’s Android platform and is also used by mobile giants Nokia, Palm and RIM. In fact, the only smartphone web browser that doesn’t use WebKit, Jobs said, is Microsoft.
The ‘full web’
“Adobe has repeatedly said that Apple mobile devices cannot access ‘the full web’ because 75pc 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 40pc 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.”
Jobs pointed to another Adobe claim 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.”
Reliability, security and performance
Jobs pointed to claims by Symantec that Flash had one of the worst security records in 2009. “We also know first hand that Flash is the No 1 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?”
Jobs also addressed the issue of battery life, the bane of most iPhone users’ lives. “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 five 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,” Jobs said.
Jobs also said that because Apple has embraced touch technology, Adobe’s reliance on ‘rollovers’ more suited to a desktop experience is outdated.
The most important reason of all, Jobs said, for not including Flash is really about Adobe wanting developers to adopt Flash to create apps that run on Apple’s 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,” Jobs said.
Jobs said in conclusion that 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.
“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 criticising Apple for leaving the past behind,” Jobs said.
By John Kennedy
Photos: Apple CEO Steve Jobs (above), and the iPad (below)