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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

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