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Updated: Steve Jobs Publishes Open Letter Attacking Flash

Gordon Kelly


Updated: Steve Jobs Publishes Open Letter Attacking Flash

The gloves are off...

After many years of taking subtle and not so subtle digs at Adobe, Apple co-founder and super guru Steve Jobs has finally come out and said what everyone suspected: he really doesn't like Flash. In an open letter entitled "Thoughts on Flash" Jobs levels six key arguments at the format he has blanked throughout development of iPhone OS:

  • It isn't open. In fact "Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary"

  • Flash formatted video is also available in H.264 so "users aren’t missing much"

  • Flash "has not performed well on mobile devices" and is insecure and unreliable (surely that's three points?)

  • Flash affects battery life

  • Flash websites "need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices"

  • And finally "The most important reason": Flash based app development doesn't create the best apps because developers "only have access to the lowest common denominator set of features... It is not Adobe’s goal to help developers write the best iPhone, iPod and iPad apps"
Jobs sums up by saying "Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice... But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short."

Furthermore "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... {so} Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind."

What do we make of this? Well he has some good points: Flash has been slow to evolve, has suffered security problems and instability and is proprietary. That said, it also shows what a funny place Steve Jobs' mind is because Apple has built its mobile business on proprietary, sandboxed environments - users aren't even allowed to unlock their devices! On top of this forcing developers to make H.264 based apps in order to run on iPhone OS isn't exactly the same thing as saying Flash isn't necessary.

Even Jobs himself admits "75% of video on the web is in Flash" and just because it can be converted doesn't take into account whether it should need to be converted. After all, I can rip my CD collection to MP3 or lossless, but it doesn't necessarily mean that because this is an option I should be denied the convenience of playing a CD directly.

Like it or not Flash is a necessary evil for now and it will take many years for that to change because HTML5 isn't even a finished standard, let alone one the majority of companies have been convinced to rely their business model upon. Furthermore, many sites have huge archives of Flash video content and not everyone has the resources of YouTube to re-rip the entire lot into H.264 and build an app just so it works on an iPhone.

Flash may not be the best choice for online video and I am certainly no fan of the format, but it is established and - whatever Steve says - we should have the choice to watch what we want to watch, how we want to watch it. That is the true definition of 'open'...

Update: Adobe has responded to Jobs' open letter saying, while it was convinced it "could provide a terrific experience with Flash on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch" Apple's stance means it will no longer look to develop Flash support for iPhone OS. Instead it will bring "Flash Player and AIR to all the other major participants in the mobile ecosystem, including Google, RIM, Palm (soon to be HP), Microsoft, Nokia and others." This will begin with Flash Player 10.1 for Android in May.

Jobs clearly doesn't agree, but I think this is a major blow to all iPhone OS based Apple products.

Update 2: Now Microsoft has weighed in also putting the boot into Flash, but given a) Windows Phone 7 won't support it out the gate and b) Microsoft is pushing Silverlight, it's own Flash alternative, we shouldn't really be surprised should we?


Steve Jobs Open Letter


April 30, 2010, 4:40 am

Personally, I think Steve Jobs is a moron (a very rich one though).

I cannot understand why so many people swoon when they see an apple product. Many of their limitations are incredibly stupid and unnecessary.

Take the iphone for example - brilliant design and interface. However, one cannot change the battery (please don't defend this this - people who have had to have their battery replaced know what I am talking about) or add a memory card. Why? Can't think of even 1 good reason.

I had the first iphone shipped over from the states. One fine day, when syncing my music with itunes, it locked the iphone - aka bricked. Why? This was a legit product made my Apple. They profited from it, so why lock it? If they refused to support it, I can understand that, but what gives them the right to brick it?

Similarly, when using the iphone, you're locked in to using itunes. Itunes is great for music, but it truly sucks as a personal information manager - period.

Mark my words, Apple is the current bad boy in town - not Microsoft.


April 30, 2010, 5:22 am

Weak photoshopped image. Photography been one of your strong fields, I am pretty sure there is more creativity flowing over there..like good ol'Steve with a flash logo for a light bulb or just a red flash nose(lol).

On a different note, Steve Jobs really needs to stop trying to make decisions for everyone that uses a mobile phone, infact a computer. Let the technology stand the test of time, it will surely be out phased should a better alternative be widely adopted.

His approach to making the iphone/apple products the catalyst just labels him as the bad guy.


April 30, 2010, 5:44 am

"...we should have the choice to watch what we want to watch, how we want to watch it. That is the true definition of 'open" --- Key point, I agree, but since when has Apple been about choice. The only way it is going to make it open is when it is unprofitable to make it closed....the same argument against tabloids like the sun and daily mail....they will stop spewing out nonsense, hype and hatred when we stop buying them....vote with your wallets ppl if you want flash. I for one, cant wait until HTML5 is going to be the standard. (writing this on my mac with an iPhone next to me)


April 30, 2010, 8:09 am


Totally agree. Never understood what Apple is good for.

Microsoft is much better than Apple but not good. I always vote for freedom, advanced technology and Linux.

Robert Elliot

April 30, 2010, 10:48 am

Flash is a red herring. Apple are entirely within their rights not to have it on the iPhone, it's a bit of a gamble for them, may or may not pay off - nice differentiator for their competitors. Few tears from me if Flash goes the way of the Dodo.

What's much more serious is the new clause preventing development in 3rd party development tools and languages other than C, C++, Objective-C and JavaScript. That's a massively damaging and regressive move that could potentially genuinely harm progress in computing generally, particularly if they are successful in this attempt and other companies join them.

One of the joys of computing is that programming languages are for human consumption, and only once they are compiled are they in computer language. That effectively means that it should be irrelevant to the platform which language you happen to choose to write in, so long as there's an adequate compiler to translate it into bytes the platform understands. That frees developers up to program as they are most comfortable and most productive, and since it's just a bunch of text files they are making then they can use whatever dev tools make them most productive, too, resulting in competition and advancement in those tools. Programming languages are endlessly innovating - those Apple allows are all relatively old ones, with newer, potentially more expressive and hence more productive ones coming down the pipe. The attempt to kill all that is really bad news.

All explained very well in this post:


Robert Elliot

April 30, 2010, 10:57 am

@stranded - while my previous comment should make it clear I'm no fanboy, Apple are good for several things. They have the only professional Unix based operating system, which is in my experience much more reliable and predictable than Ubuntu whilst not being Windows (though Windows 7 with cygwin might tempt me back...). The iMac is the only all in one with desktop level processor and graphics, if that's something you value (I do). And the iPhone OS remains the best touch touchscreen UI as well as being the reason others are catching up.

Pendejo Sin Nombre

April 30, 2010, 11:19 am

"That said, it also shows what a funny place Steve Jobs' mind is because Apple has built its mobile business on proprietary, sandboxed environments - users aren't even allowed to unlock their devices!"


He makes the point himself though, but also makes the distinction between them, whereas you're conflating the 'players' and the 'playground.'

I have a choice between competing mobile devices to get on the web. If I don't like Apple's approach I can try another like Google/Android, or another, but unlike the above I've only got the choice of one web and at the moment an awful lot of it, or at least my interaction with it, is directed by one company no matter which device I use. As much as I rely on and enjoy using Adobe software for my job I don't want them exerting the sort of influence they do at the moment on the web. I like it no more than I did a few years back when site after site seemed targeted solely at IE and any other browser be damned. For the latter scenario I thank the deities of web browsing that Firefox came along and changed the landscape enough that that writing sites with IE only in mind looked like laziness rather than pragmatism.


April 30, 2010, 11:44 am

You can smell the fear, can't you? Given the iPhone accounts for about 40% of Apple's profits now and the market has caught up and arguably overtaken them (HTC Desire, Legend and Incredible) I think he realises that stock bubble is in danger of going pop.

mike 8

April 30, 2010, 12:46 pm

So Gordon, why are you so anti-Flash? I'd be interested to hear your issues with the platform.


April 30, 2010, 12:47 pm

The thing is consumers do have a choice and it's called voting with your wallet: don't buy Apple products! If they don't do what you want them to, buy something else. It's not that difficult really and you can save yourself the grief of having to moan about it on 'forums' like these.


April 30, 2010, 1:04 pm

Initially when the whole Adobe/Apple issue was made public, I had sided with Adobe.

However, now I can see where Apple is coming from and they have at least one critical point in my view. Battery life. My MBP runs at full tilt when I play Flash based media thereby dramatically reducing my battery life. I have a big problem with this. 5.5 hours battery becomes 3 (maximum) and it is uncomfortable to lay the MBP on my lap and type on it. It's an unacceptable user experience from my point of view.

The rest of Steve Job's main points don't impact my daily life so I won't judge them other than to say that they seem a little hypocritical given how much of an island Apple has become. Jonas has already pointed this out and I agree.

The real issues here are two things:

1. Adobe and Apple not being willing to solve the limitations of Flash together

2. The usual web based critics of Apple muddying up the water for everyone else with their irrational emotional based bias towards the big guy at the top. In the past it was MS, today it is Apple, tomorrow I don't care.


April 30, 2010, 1:09 pm

OSX is a truly great piece of software. No two ways about it. I love it. After playing on a friends Mac, I brought an I-Pod. Was miffed that I couldn't change the battery, and it just kept freezing. I-Tunes drove me up the wall when it told me that tracks I had brought could no longer be played. I canned it and brought a Sony Walkman post ATRAC. Not as sexy, but sounds better and more reliable (though still can't change the battery). A while later, I had forgotten my I-Rage, and brought an I-Phone 3GS. Slightly annoyed that I had to install I-Tunes again just to get the damn thing on the network (and yes, I am aware that it needs to registered so you have an account for I-Tunes),Slick as you like. Really loved it. After messing around with settings, turning off push, etc, got a decent battery charge out of it. In the end I took it back. I didn't like the fact that you couldn't have multiple apps open simultaneously, that it just looked the same as everyone else&#8217s (Ironic as proper Apple fan boys and girls seem to think apple makes you more individual. Nope. Only really slick marketing makes you perceive that) and I couldn't tweak it bar jail breaking it, and I just felt, well hemmed in. I can't explain it any better than that. So that went back as well. And now with the advent of Win 7, my Core-i7 64 bit Wintel box just fly&#8217s along. It's not that I prefer anyone over Apple. I just feel like I have less room to move within apple. It feels almost stifling. These are after all just my thoughts, but I have been keeping an eye the p*ssing war between Apple and Adobe. Neither of them really have a leg to stand on. All very handbags at dawn.


April 30, 2010, 1:30 pm

The key point of the letter is this:

"It is not Adobe&#8217s goal to help developers write the best iPhone, iPod and iPad apps. It is their goal to help developers write cross platform apps."

This is the whole thing - that Adobe wants people to be able to develop easily for multiple platforms. Steve wants it to be very annoying and costly to do that, so that many companies will just decide to only develop for the biggest platform: Apple.

Basically, he's exploiting a vastly dominant market position, just like his enemy of old.

As bad, if not worse, than any of the shenanigans that Microsoft was up to in the 90's. The one hurt worst by this behaviour is the consumer.


April 30, 2010, 2:10 pm

Yes flash performance is poor and yes it sucks battery life but it should be my choice whether I use it or not. Why not disallow push email because it kill's battery? Or multi taksking? (oh wait you did!). Or data altogether? Without that my phone would last for days. Some of his points are fair enough but they are his opinion which he enforces on others through his ridiculous policies. Yes you can vote with your wallet and I do.

The real motive behind all this is to cripple other mobile OSs by not allowing cross platform development. Using native tools isn't a guarantee of quality. Lots of great apps use now frameworks that are now restricted. He's just trying to make sure that developers stick to the iPhone by making it harder for them to develop for other OSs simultaneously and so limit their app stores.

There's a great Ars Technica article on it here: http://bit.ly/d2tPTm

Apple are only interested in the success of their own platform and profit. Of course there's nothing at all wrong with that (although the methods are slightly dubious) but don't then patronise people by suggesting you're doing this for the greater good.


April 30, 2010, 2:21 pm

I'm not a fan of Flash, it has the power to bring quad core PC's to the knees. How silly is that!!, the sooner flash is dead the better. IMHO. And maybe it needs a company as big as Apple to start the fight!! and rid this menace forever.


April 30, 2010, 3:39 pm

ravmania : "Apple are only interested in the success of their own platform and profit. Of course there's nothing at all wrong with that but don't then patronise people by suggesting you're doing this for the greater good."

Like all dictatorships and their prophets, they probably believe these two concepts go hand in hand - that their ultimate global domination IS for the good of the people. I actually back their war against Flash, but it is always on my mind what kind of technology market we'd live in if Apple really did become Microsoft. I sure wouldn't like to be left with ZERO budget computer options and the entire universe having to be synced through v51-point-stillcrap iTunes. (Typed on an MBP.)

Gareth Compton

April 30, 2010, 3:40 pm

"Even Jobs himself admits "75% of video on the web is in Flash" and just because it can be converted doesn't take into account whether it should need to be converted. After all, I can rip my CD collection to MP3 or lossless, but it doesn't necessarily mean that because this is an option I should be denied the convenience of playing a CD directly."

The fallacy of this argument is that using the same analogy - you *cannot* play your CD on your Ipod - it's not a CD Player. therefore you have one format for your stereo (physical media) and another format (Mp3 etc.) for your portable media player of choice - i.e. you have both. Flash works on the desktop, but not on your portable web browser - an alternative format needs to be supplied.

Not forgetting that a lot of Flash is nothing to do with pure video, it's interactive - which as Jobs pointed out, doesn't translate to a touch-based UI...


April 30, 2010, 3:47 pm

There's only one way to settle this... FIGHT!


April 30, 2010, 4:33 pm

I can kinda see where he's coming from. From my own experience with my Hero, and from reading reviews of the Desire and Incredible, it seems that Flash support on the current crop of phones is, well, unfinished. Performance is lousy, videos will rarely play smoothly and sometimes it just doesn't work at all. I can see why Jobs would want to keep that kind of negative user experience away from the iPhone. Most iPhone users wouldn't draw the distinction between a lousy Flash experience and a lousy iPhone experience.

That said, many of his arguments here seem a bit wonky, as mentioned in these comments.


April 30, 2010, 5:06 pm

@AndrewCB: I know exactly what you mean about the iPhone. I played with a friend's iPhone when the 3GS had just come out - the photo effect apps were loads of fun and very tempting, but I felt too restricted by the interface (email attachments are a nightmare, forced to sync each app separately), and the killer was when I discovered it was impossible to transfer a file we'd be working on on a laptop to the iPhone and email it out. I can understand exactly why the thing is selling like hot cakes, but I perfected my working style a little too long ago and the iPhone simply isn't for people like me (and looking at Android's popularity, there seem to be plenty of people like me).


April 30, 2010, 6:10 pm

This is one of the responses from Adobe ->

He added that if Flash crashed Apple products it was something "to do with the Apple operating system".

Or it could be Flash is the biggest bloatware plugin on the planet. I'm a software developer, if my application crashes it tends to be my fault, not Microsoft's etc. So stop blaming other people for creating sub standard, resource hungry plugins. Microsoft have recently learnt you can't just rely on hardware to power you way out of bad/lazy programming, so start training your programmers how to optimize code will you. Oh, and by the way Adobe your PDF reader seems to be getting worse too, scrolling up and down a document shouldn't peg a CPU core to 100%.

I don't hold much hope for Flash working too well on any smartphone let alone the Iphone, they can't even get Flash working in Linux on an ION/Atom based PC, machines that will play 1080p video without breaking a sweat.


April 30, 2010, 6:25 pm

@Keith: Sure, everyone can agree that flash is awful but the point is that you get rid of it by offering a better alternative, not dropping it while it's still used.


April 30, 2010, 6:26 pm

Does this man look in the mirror at all other than to adjust the collar of his polo neck?

@Keith: Hardly surprising comments coming from you. Explain to me why flash doesn't crash my Windows system. Or why it doesn't do the same to my Symbian smartphone?


April 30, 2010, 7:14 pm

@Xiphias: Well there are plenty of alternatives, you certainly don't need to use Flash to play video for a starters.

@ffrankmccaffery: Good for you, with your superb Flash/DRM ridden setup, why not try this site -> http://flashcrash.dempsky.org/ ,oh and while your at it try googling "Flash High CPU usage" that might keep you quite for a while.


April 30, 2010, 7:16 pm

@Keith If Flash is as bad as you make out why is it used so much?

The only other plugin I have seen that has come close to the power of Flash is Microsoft's Silverlight. Flash maybe buggy but even non programmers can do exciting things with it. Apple with all its resources should be helping Adobe get it right for all its systems.

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