updated 10:50 am EDT, Thu April 29, 2010
Steve Jobs posts open letter about Flash dispute
Apple chief Steve Jobs today posted an open letter explaining his company's reasons for not supporting Adobe Flash on the iPad, iPhone and iPod. He argued it had nothing to do with control at all but that it was instead "based on technology issues." Flash is too proprietary, prone to crash, a major security risk and not at all suited to touchscreens, he said.
"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," Jobs said. "By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system."
He pointed out that Apple not only embraces existing standards but was responsible for WebKit, which is open-source and found not only in Safari but Google's Android and Chrome browsers as well as the Nokia, Palm and upcoming RIM browsers on their respective platforms.
On performance, Jobs confirmed many of the rumors surrounding his views on Flash quality. Adobe's plugin is the "number one reason Macs crash," he said, and while Apple has been cooperating to fix the problems, adding it now would only make iPhones and iPads unstable. Adobe has also repeatedly delayed mobile Flash 10.1 and has had problems proving that it could run well.
"We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now," he said. "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."
Among the problems was battery life. Jobs revealed that an iPhone can actually play video for up to 10 hours if playing H.264 video using its hardware acceleration, but only 5 hours if it has to use the main processor and chew extra battery life. Most Flash video still doesn't work with hardware acceleration and wouldn't be practical, and when it's encoded in H.264 doesn't need Flash at all.
Security was also a concern, and the CEO pointed to Symantec giving Flash one of the "worst security records" of last year.
Moreover, porting Flash wouldn't necessarily make it usable on an iPhone or any touchscreen device. It was based on the assumption the user would have a mouse and that they could mouse over an element without clicking on it. Touchscreens depend on tapping fingers and don't usually make a distinction between hovering over and selecting an object; most Flash apps would need to be rewritten regardless, he said, and at that point they may as well use HTML5.
The existence of more than 50,000 games on the App Store was more than for "any other platform" and reduced the need for Flash-based games on phones, he said.
Jobs rounded out the justifications by elaborating on his reasons for banning the Flash-to-iPhone tool for writing iPhone apps. Apple has a "painful experience" with letting third-party development tools dictate when and how apps launch, he said. Programmers not only have to wait for the developer to update their tools before they can support a new version of the OS but often end up producing a "lowest common denominator" app when they use a multi-platform tool or have to wait on 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," he warned. "We [also] cannot accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitor's platforms."
The executive didn't reject the notion of a cross-platform development tool on its face but noted that Adobe was one of the worst examples of the results stemming from dependence on cross-platform development. It has been "painfully slow" to add new features and only just produced a fully Cocoa-native version of its Creative Suite with the launch of CS5 -- almost 10 years after Mac OS X introduced Cocoa. Adobe is allegedly the last major third-party to make such a move.
Microsoft also encountered similar problems with Office for Mac, as its over-dependence on cross-compilers led both to the delays in getting a truly OS X-native version of Office as well as an Intel-native Mac version years later.
Keeping everyone to the most updated development tools will let them create the "best apps the world has ever seen," Jobs claimed.
He concluded by sympathizing with Adobe's aims but asserting that its current implementation is part of a different age and, right now, doesn't apply to the current wave of smartphones and tablets.
"Flash was created during the PC era -- for PCs and mice," he said. "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... 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 criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind."