Steve Jobs

Jobs’ vision for iOS devices and the wider web has been vindicated by Adobe’s abandonment of further development of its Flash plug-in for mobile devicesPhoto: CNET Asia

Apple’s Steve Jobs continues to cast a long shadow over competitors and customers, says Seb Janacek.

Just over a month after his death, Steve Jobs is still having an impact on the technology world.

First, there was the wave of excitement and speculation raised by the statement in his posthumous biography that he had “finally cracked” the Apple TV issue. Talk was rife of Apple dominating the living room.

Then there was the astonishing admission of defeat from Adobe. It is abandoning further development of its Flash plug-in for mobile devices and focusing instead on the emerging HTML5 standard.

Writing on a blog, Adobe’s VP for interactive development said: “HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices, in some cases exclusively. This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms.”

Adobe will continue to support licensees but it is effectively game over for the proprietary technology. The announcement signalled Apple’s victory over Flash and ratification of Jobs’ vision for iOS devices and the wider web.

The news also kicks away a marketing prop for iOS competitors, which have made Flash compatibility and access to the full web a key selling message.

In truth, Flash may have worked better in marketing than on devices. Flash movies requiring user interaction seldom performed as they did on the PCs in my experience. I have no experience of using a tablet other than an iPad for any length of time but Flash is a processor hog on Macs, with my MacBook Pro fan whirring into overdrive on Flash-laden pages. Goodness knows what it did to tablet and smartphone batteries.

In his 2010 missive Thoughts on Flash, Jobs wrote: “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.” The chances are we may never now.

The publication of the Jobs biography has provided some insight into what motivated his treatment of certain companies and technologies.

An earlier incident with Adobe also provides another example of why Apple now absolutely insists on managing the user experience it wants on its own hardware.

According to the biography, Jobs also felt deeply aggrieved by…

…Adobe’s refusal to bring certain products to Mac OS X – Kindle location 6578 or page 380 if you prefer carbon-based reading material – after he returned to Apple’s helm.

The move infuriated Jobs who apparently “never forgave” Adobe. Entering into a head-on conflict with the company some 10 years later must have been easy, driven as he was by personal enmity towards Adobe, as well as by the reasons laid out in Thoughts on Flash.

“My primary insight when we were screwed by Adobe in 1999 was that we shouldn’t get into any business where we didn’t control both the hardware and the software otherwise we’d get our head handed to us,” he told his biographer, Walter Isaacson.

He outlined a slightly more sanitised version in Thoughts on Flash: “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.”

In this situation, users suffer, developers suffer and, of course, Apple suffers. All intolerable.

That Adobe is instead turning its focus to develop mobile applications using Apple’s language of choice, HTML5, is also good news for developers and users as it pushes the mobile web and, by default, the web towards compliance with standards.

The HTML5 standard, which will subsume previous versions of HTML, XHTML and other web technologies – most notably JavaScript – has yet to be ratified but publishers and developers are already using it enthusiastically.

While Apple itself operates within the confines of its own so-called walled garden of software and hardware, the web content and the platform it called for was open.

Following the Adobe announcement, reports appeared suggesting Microsoft’s due-to-be-launched plug-in, Silverlight 5, could be the last to come from Redmond. Could we be heading for a truly standards-driven web?

If so, there’s little doubt that the success of the iPhone and the determination of Jobs and the rest of the Apple board will have had a significant effect in creating a level playing field for developers, designers, publishers and users.

What begins on the mobile web, given the vast increases in mobile web browsing thanks to smartphones and tablets, will gradually become prevalent across the wider web.

According to a March 2011 report by Cisco, worldwide mobile web usage tripled between 2009 and 2010. Furthermore, the report predicts mobile web traffic will have increased by a factor of 26 by 2015.

As Apple dominates mobile web traffic. According to Net Applications, Safari Mobile, the default browser on iOS devices, accounted for 62.17 per cent of the mobile browser market share last month.

Any technology inoperable with that, including Safari and Sliverlight, would end up being marginalised.

In closing his Thoughts on Flash in April 2010, Jobs rounded off with the following two sentences.

“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.”

If you ever wanted a definition of a prophetic statement, that was it.