iPhone

Steve Jobs pens Adobe missive: 'Flash falls short'

ZDNet Associate Editor Andrew Nusca takes a look at Steve Jobs open letter regarding Apple's reasoning for not supporting Adobe Flash on its devices.

This is a guest post from Andrew Nusca,, associate editor for ZDNet and SmartPlanet. You can follow Andrew on his ZDNet blog Between the Lines (or subscribe to the RSS feed).

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Perhaps bowing to increasing media criticism, Apple CEO Steve Jobs has penned an open letter explaining his company's decision to avoid using Adobe Flash on its mobile iPhone, iPod and iPad devices.

Jobs writes that not supporting Flash was not a business-driven choice to protect its App Store, but rather a technological one.

He outlines six reasons Apple refuses to use Flash:

  1. Openness: Flash is proprietary; web standards such as HTML5, CSS and JavaScript should be open. "By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system," Jobs writes. (He admits Apple, too, has closed parts of its business.)
  2. ‘Full Web' myth: Jobs says plenty of video content is available using the "more modern" H.264 format, and it's not all locked away in Flash. "IPhone, iPod and iPad users aren't missing much video," he writes.
  3. Reliability, security and performance: Jobs noted Flash for having "one of the worst security records in 2009," according to Symantec. Jobs writes that Flash "has not performed well on mobile devices."
  4. Battery life: Jobs writes, in so many words, that Flash cuts precious mobile battery life in half. "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," Jobs writes.
  5. Touch format: Jobs writes that, with rollovers and other features, Flash is made for a mouse-driven PC, and not Apple's touch-based interface. "Flash was designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers," he writes.
  6. Substandard development: A third-party, cross-platform layer will result in poor quality, Jobs writes. "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."

Here's Jobs in his own words:

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.

Jobs' letter is remarkable not for its argument, which has been elaborated on before by Apple and pundits alike, but in its very existence. It's highly unusual for the chief executive to respond to criticism in such a public and permanent way.

My take: Jobs has perfectly valid points, and expectedly skips over similar arguments those critical of Apple might make.

(Exhibit A: The fact that Apple mobile products can't play Flash games. "There are more games and entertainment titles available for iPhone, iPod and iPad than for any other platform in the world," he writes. That's the same argument Adobe has for keeping web video proprietary, only now popularity has tipped in Apple's favor.)

Still, it's a wonder that Jobs couldn't work this out behind the scenes, and that the clamor was so great that he felt compelled to write a public letter on the subject.

Surely the average mainstream consumer Apple user cares little about this B2B problem. So why publish this?

Are Apple's sales really taking a hit from flash-ready Android devices? If not, why bother addressing the issue?

Who is this letter actually for?

About

Andrew Nusca is the editor of SmartPlanet.

52 comments
Slayer_
Slayer_

Especially in our arcade on our forums. Sounds like a somewhat useless recreational device to me...

JCitizen
JCitizen

If Gnash can play flash, and do it better, so can Apple build a better flash player. I see many sites going back to WMP and doing a better job of streaming than flash. Flash can go to HELL as far as I'm concerned!! Who needs such a dodgy insecure POS!!!

mdesbiens
mdesbiens

Agree with Mr. Jobs. He has very valid points. People are happy with Macs because they cannot load (without hacking) any kind of garbage on our equipement. Result: A LOT MORE STABILITY and constant performance over the time. Three years ago, I switch to MAC for those reasons and as I'm concerned, FLASH is not missing.

retrofire
retrofire

The first Mozilla add-in I loaded was Flashblock. When I got the iPod touch I was bummed for about one minute -- and then I realized that all the "trash video" wouldn't be able to slow down my web viewing any more. Kudos to Apple for making a good development decision.

nixonie
nixonie

Imho, Jobs should adopt flash on apples devices simply because it is so wide spread, video included. Mice or no mice, battery or no battery, open or closed, everyone and everything already has or at least wants to have flash enabled on his/hers device except s.jobs.

mattohare
mattohare

Everyone uses dodgy banks, so lets keep them. Everyone abuses credit cards, so keep pushing them on people that don't know better. I don't buy it. If something doesn't work (especially when something else is there and it does work), don't prop up a bad product until it improves. At least Apple is big enough to push back.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Do you remember polling peripherals? Are you happy with interrupts? I think this is a similar thing. All greed aside Jobs may also feel that Flash is in the way of something more clever. Death to the Flash, long live the New Flash... or something.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I totally agree! I'd lay odds that Jobs has an alternative up his sleeve, or perhaps he is just trying to get Quicktime a chance in the market. Lately I've been getting better performance from Quicktime and even WMP than flash!

dogknees
dogknees

To me, the standard for all video is at least 720p. Nothing less. It doesn't matter how mobile it is, or how sexy the device is, I'm not prepared to trade off quality. It's not negotiable. I want to see progress. That is higher resolutions, higher frame rates, more content. Not, less resolution, slower frame rates and only part of what's out there. Just like "video on demand". Unless it's (all) as good or better than what I'm looking at now, it's a non-starter.

masterurmind
masterurmind

FLASH is done, just like turkey at Thanksgiving. Every one of us wants MORE openess - not less. MAC included. One down and more to come. FLASH needs to get with the times - it is a lazy dog at best who's days are well over......lets move on.

JCitizen
JCitizen

and even Windows Media Player does a better job on streaming media than flash! That should be a point of shame for Adobe - or at least the implementation of such.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Jobs is just protecting his business - no matter how valid some of his points are. He claims Flash is for PCs [I'll assumingaimed at Windows] and yet it is on Macs. So why are Macs using proprietary software then? Meanwhile, name the company that has banned cross-compiled software for the iPhone. Anyone? Isn't iTunes [and by extension the App Store] proprietary? One of the worse security records in 2009? Just like iTunes/Quicktime! Or Safari!

JCitizen
JCitizen

you don't have to wait two months for a patch on QuickTime, whereas with Flash this has happened more than once, within the last year.

MarkinMD
MarkinMD

I'm an end user of the iPhone 3G. I got it not for the music capabilities, which are nice, or for the phone (which lacks several common basic features, what's his rationalization for no voice dial?) but because I needed a mobile e-mail / web device and wanted to be able to run some apps as well. Overall, it's been handy. And, when I got it, it beat anything else on the market hands down for my purposes in spite of poor battery life, a second rate network, and the lack of Flash. My overall take on the Jobs missive as an iPhone user is that Jobs must live in a fantasy world. He has missed some important points. In fact, from a business perspective, they're the only points that matter. These points are that the end users determine where their money goes, and if the product offered does not meet the end users' desires better than other products, the money will go to those other products. As an end user I find it extremely annoying to get an e-mail with a flash video attached that I cannot fully view on my e-mail device. Flash is everywhere on the web as well, so surfing on my mobile web device without Flash is both a pain and a disappointment. I don't care that some video may be available in another format on another site...I don't want to have to wait for ATT's pathetic network to send another web page to me another time, I want to see it on the site I went to!!! I've been a mobile phone user long enough, and been mobile enough, to know that Apple's choice of ATT was short sighted...compared to the red competitor, in most areas, the ATT network has less voice coverage, less 3G coverage, and (most of the time) poorer throughput when you do have 3G coverage due to network congestion. As more iPhones hit the network it only got worse. This doesn't help Apple sell more phones. A lack of Flash doesn't either. Bottom line is that if something else isn't king of the hill yet it's only a matter of time. Therefore, I took my profits and cashed out my Apple stock. I know the iPhone can't carry the company much longer, and I don't see that the iPad is anything other than an oversized iPod...not a major step forward. Jobs needs to act like a businessman instead of a prima donna and make sure the users get what they want instead of what he feels they should have.

alan.tamm
alan.tamm

I think flash should be banned forever. I personally do not want that crap hogging my systems CPU/MEM resources (in Web browser fore/background proccesses -- tabs/windows) to a point where my brower simply gives up (crashing). Why should one need to deal with blocking that crap when browsing? Apple let's me to simply opt out which is great (Way to go)! Flash free Internet would be a (lot) better Internet!

jacobus57
jacobus57

More Jobs arrogance. Personally, I think most of whay Adobe pushes on the market is substandard--just look at the security issues with Reader (I use FoxIt, and don't install any toolbars with it--a superior reader all around). But the underlying message in this screed is "Apple is perfect." Where do I begin...iTunes not ported to Linux (and yet their kernel is based on it). Crappy HDDs in first and second gen iPods. The iPhone's inability to attach pictures to an sms txt message until very recently, and a huge persistent problem managing the address book. And talk about closed systems! Until Jobs gets off his gargantuan high horse to address issues with his products, he has little right to gas on about the deficits of other offerings.

Brenton Keegan
Brenton Keegan

Coming from a software businessman's standpoint, porting anything to Linux is not really a lucrative option at all for a couple reasons. First of all, support would be a nightmare. Secondly (and more importantly). The general impression is that Linux users aren't inclined to purchase a lot of software because they are going to favor the open-source (and free) software. So there is a high cost in order to properly port to Linux with not a lot of payoff.

gavin142
gavin142

iTunes is given away for free for the other platforms because they have no intention of making money off it that way. They make their money off of using it as a sales conduit for their content, so yes, while it might be expensive for them to port it to the major linux lines (which I doubt), they've already got their money-making side of it in place. (you can't make me believe they'd not sell a single mp3 or video to the linux fanboys).

pr.arun
pr.arun

I think this only makes one statement, that Apple is working on a Flash alternative. And Adobe better watch out.

Brenton Keegan
Brenton Keegan

You are right. Apple's flash alternative is called Canvas. It's patented by Apple and Apple is trying to get it put into HTML5. The W3C won't approve it though because it's has patented technology. In response to this Apple, Mozilla and Opera have formed an alternative standard group called WHATWG. Microsoft plans to release IE9 with HTML5 support, however it won't be supporting Canvas. Frankly I think all the ingredients are present for another browser war.

Reading the Field
Reading the Field

There has to be a better comment format that reads/scans like a discussion -- rather than non-communicative, incomplete capsule headlines. The Flapping Wings Forum -- an international community of flight engineers -- used to have such a format and it was fascinating disussion. Then they went with a forum format similar to the above -- with a bit more content under the headlines. This format doesn't work for readers. Why does it persist? Just saying --

rbuyaky
rbuyaky

...the arrogance of him basically declaring the end of the 'PC era' is astonishing. Furthermore, the new Skyfire browser (for Android) plays flash video while overcoming several of Jobs' objections. It apparently converts flash in the cloud, so the phone doesn't actually have to support flash to view flash content. Why can't iPhones do something similar?

jwhite1202
jwhite1202

I agree with some other posters, that Jobs made some valid points, but none of those are points that cannot be overcome. One of the main reasons I now have an android based phone instead of an iPhone was the promise of Flash support. Jobs can rationalize this all he wants, but at the end of the day, he has got to learn how to work with Adobe, even if he considers Adobe the enemy, if customers are clamoring for Flash then give them Flash, or be prepared to lose at least part of his customer base to the company that will provide Flash (in this case Droid). Imagine Microsoft if they refused to let Windows o/s run Oracle? Jobs is truly cutting his nose to spite his face. Personally, I think this open letter is about maintaining the iPhone faithful from defecting to Droid when their next contract is up. Apple has given competitors an "In" now. It seems if someone else can offer Flash support and have a comparable phone experience to the iPhone, then there's a good chance you can (no pun intended) eat into Apples profits.

Brenton Keegan
Brenton Keegan

Apple and Adobe have been longtime partners. It was Adobe's software that actually made the Mac a worthwhile platform back in the day. I sincerely believe that Apple is shooting themselves in the foot here. Not just on the user end with the lack of flash support but also their 'no flash' stance for developer (the actual EULA is much broader than that) but they are presently targeting flash. Such alienation of developers is going to cause them to develop for Apple's competition. Soon the next killer app will be for a different platform. It will be just like desktop computers. Most software out there was built for Windows. Apple antagonized the developers so everyone made their stuff for Windows. Sure maybe Windows wasn't as sleek or stable as Mac OS but it ran tons more programs. This is why historically Mac only had 10% of the market share. This is adobe's response: http://blogs.adobe.com/conversations/2010/04/moving_forward.html Apple antagonizing another developer and you can see clearly that Adobe has decided to go with the competition.

Ajax4Hire
Ajax4Hire

Oh waaaaa. I don't like having to jigger my web pages to render correctly for IE from Microsoft but I do. Apple is big but not big enough for "force" Adobe "out-of-business" which is the only way that Flash will die. This is a dangerous battle that Apple is taking on. Imagine Microsoft trying to force their own Web Interface, wait, that is called Silverlight. Imagine Microsoft throwing their support behind Adobe/Flash. Apple is either a company in the business to make money or it is a charity. You don't fight the wave, you ride it.

chrisj979
chrisj979

How long had he been going after Adobe to get FLash, but since they won't do as HE says suddenly he has a list of why he don't want it. LMAO I'm sure the real problem was Jobs saw something Flash would enable people to do that Jobs didn't think you should be able to do. Typical Control Freak.

mattohare
mattohare

I do wish I could get rid of Flash and PDF on my systems with all their issues. It seems I have to restart my computer frequently for their updates. They're always littering my desktop with their icons. Some of the 'upgrades' try to push toolbars on me. I don't care if the license is free. They cost a lot in time and patience. If we could only get the sales types to use open standards-based applications, we could send Adobe packing.

chrisj979
chrisj979

?IPhone, iPod and iPad users aren?t missing much video,? he writes so now he knows the videos I care about and according to him I'm not missing much. Cause he knows all I want flash for is Videos. Typical Jobs controling thought process. "Lock it down, lock it down, I'll tell you what you want to use the device for"

cttechie
cttechie

I can't run Flash 10 on any computer that's more than 3 years old. And I'm not about to drop $2000 on a new Mac just so I can run Flash videos. Flash has been buggy for YEARS now - as has most of Adobe's products. Personally (and as someone who supports more than 50 Mac users at work), I'm tired of them doing "just good enough" on their products. And Instead of releasing fixes, they just release new PAID upgrades every year. Gotta love it

JCitizen
JCitizen

Flash is definitely worthless as far as I'm concerned; it doesn't run worth squat on a brand new Windows machine either! I think a lot of the problem is networking, probabley, but who cares? The security problems alone are enough to get me to switch to ANYTHING, even if it only works half the time, which would be better than flash!! I hope Apple comes out with a new version of Gnash, which many folks say, plays flash files just fine, and without error. Or better yet a cross-platform version of Silverlight. After all, both Microsoft and Apple are in each other's back pocket anyway!

rtillotson
rtillotson

Because of Adobe's monopolistic attitude towards us all, which appears continuously in its poor customer service, inferior user manuals (e.g, the "Classroom in a Book" series are painfully unrealistic)and extensive software defects, they fit the mold of a "conditioned medocrity." That is, their employees who strive to provide better service are a threat. Mediocres are OK.

buchanan_david
buchanan_david

Steve, you miss the whole point. It's all about the end user's experience. By taking away choice, it has affected your bottom line. The prevalence of web sites using Flash media simply cannot be ignored. Love it or hate it. I purchased an iPhone 3GS without realizing it did not support Flash. This lack of support drove my purchase decisions for my wife and daughter's phones. They are now happy Android users.

JonGauntt
JonGauntt

Obviously you haven't read much on the subject. One of the chief reasons Apple does not support Flash anymore and quit working with the company was the amount of crashes that Macs have because of flash. And it's not just Macs that have trouble with flash. If Adobe would keep PDF reading/editing and the publishing/editing suites and dump flash, I would be much happier with them. And Macromedia did a better job with Shockwave as well...

Brenton Keegan
Brenton Keegan

I've said this several times before. While performance issues is defiantly part of it, I believe the underpinning reason is that Flash competes with one of their products. Apple has a history of being anti-competitive; just look at the Google voice fiasco not too long ago.

rluck57
rluck57

If what YOU say is true, why didn't Mr. Jobs mention that in his letter. (Just another Mac Kool-aid drinker). My wife had so many complaints about PC's, I bought her a Mac 4 months ago. She is even more unhappy, due to most of the sites she visits use flash. We have I phones and she is not happy with that, for obvious reasons, but we are locked in for 2 years. Hopefully, they will make it happen in that time. I will not switch to Mac until they settle this feud.

jasondlnd
jasondlnd

Flash is supported on the Macintosh platform and runs just fine. It is not supported on the iPhone or iPad. The iPhone and iPad are the latest in a long line of mobile web browsing devices that do not support flash. The main beef people have with it is because they want to replace their desktop computers with an iPad or iPhone. This simply can not be done. The iPhone and iPad are designed to supplement the desktop computing experience, not replace it.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Not at all.

Ian Wright
Ian Wright

The HTML standard is open. Full stop. Whatever Apple's role in the development of the standard was, does not alter that. Flash is not open. Go easy on the conspiracy juice, GMan. You seem to drink too much of it at times.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Even though Apple owns patents that are involved in the HTML5 spec it wants to replace Flash with? Look up your facts....

GSG
GSG

The problem is that it's use is so prevalent. It's not just there so I can watch a video. In fact, I just got done playing with a non-apple device that does not support flash and was surprised at the number of things I was unable to do, or had to find a workaround for, because flash was not supported. Again, this was not an Apple device, it's web browsing is in Beta, and it's slow anyway, but there are some things I'd like to do, that I can't, and the sole reason is the lack of flash support. You could say that the quality of the pavement on the roads in my town falls short (it does), but that doesn't mean that I don't need to use them.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

When A is used by all, it's ubiquitous. When A is used by many, but no longer by all, then the obsolescence shoe-horn comes in play. Force enough people to stop using A, until suddenly, nobody's using A. It's then obsolete. Jobs is hoping that Flash is obsolete and just doesn't know it yet. It's a gambit.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I get so sick an tired of the security vulnerabilities, and the on and off performance online. When it first came out it was oooh! and ahhh!; but now it is, "when are they going to get rid of this cr@p that doesn't play!!!" X-(

lord_lad
lord_lad

You can't deny its impact in getting the full web experience. It might be okay for the iPhone/iPod Touch but for the iPad, a device Apple is championing as a portable media and web device, it NEEDS to have it. Or at least give ppl the choice of having it. Example, only enable flash when the iPad is power plugged in.

RobertQ
RobertQ

FLASH all the way! I think that Apple could have come up with a better plan to intergrade flash into the system and control when and were it would run. Steve has great points but on the other side some people like to use flash when creating videos and games. Apple lock those users out befor they had a chance.

Ian Wright
Ian Wright

The whole piece is about why Apple has chosen not to support Flash. To then turn around and say 'some people like to use flash...." as some sort of counter argument is nonsense. He's just told you why not. (Disagree with the arguments if you like...).

Eddieescandon
Eddieescandon

the Fact that some (A crap-load even) of people use flash counters directly and correctly Mr. Jobs argument that apple users " don't miss much" video, I'm sure Mr Jobs has a similar argument about how At&ts' service "only sucks a Little bit.

QAonCall
QAonCall

of course. Watch this post, simply stating an informed opinion, will be demonized!

Ralph Wells
Ralph Wells

Just asking. Talk about one busted-a$$ POS.

JCitizen
JCitizen

which is better than Adobe has done in the last year. I bet their have been at least four months of known vulnerabilities sitting there waiting for Adobe to respond; I'm just sick of it. And no performance either!

Editor's Picks