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Reading between the lines of “Thoughts on Flash”

Steve Jobs lays out six reasons why Apple is not supporting Flash in one of his rare direct communiqués on Apple’s Web site.  Jobs says that Adobe has portrayed Apple’s reluctance to a business decision but that the reasons are mostly technical. The essay reveals it to be somewhat of a mixture although it boils down to semantics. Reasons such as impact on battery life, performance and optimization for touch are mostly technical. Jobs also notes that Adobe has not shown Flash running well on any mobile device.

As I noted in my Volume Up column for CNet yesterday, “Until now, for all the controversy about the iPhone’s lack of Flash support, it’s effectively given Apple a directional, rather than actual, disadvantage with respect to competitive phones.” The column also discussed how, according to NPD (my employer), only 14 percent of those who are not interested in the iPad cite Adobe Flash as an inhibitor.

The first reason given, openness (and I think there is more debate to how open Flash is, or is becoming) is a mix of technical and business reasons. And the last reason, the one that Jobs says is most important, is about attracting the best and perhaps exclusive apps to the iPhone. That’s more of a business consideration than a technical one, although I would argue that most (or at least smaller) Flash developers interested in using a cross-platform tool are not using it instead of Apple’s tools. They are either using Flash or not supporting the platform. Furthermore, there are plenty of uninspiring apps created with Apple’s tools.

While the essay lays out what is a rational argument, there are several instances that could be interpreted as Jobs, who has noted that he believes in karma, sees the turn of events as a natural consequence of  the companies’ courses. In the first paragraph, he draws the contrast,[t]he companies have grown apart. Apple went through its near death experience, and Adobe was drawn to the corporate market with their Acrobat products.” In other words, Adobe left Apple behind. And later he notes how Adobe hasn’t embraced changes in Mac OS, “Adobe has been painfully slow to adopt enhancements to Apple’s platforms. For example, although Mac OS X has been shipping for almost 10 years now, Adobe just adopted it fully (Cocoa) two weeks ago when they shipped CS5. Adobe was the last major third party developer to fully adopt Mac OS X.” That said, it has come to light on Twitter that some of Apple’s own apps, including iTunes and Final Cut Pro, are still Carbon, and not Cocoa, apps.

In any case, while there are still fundamental differences in Apple’s and Adobe’s motivations, and the note portrays Apple as trying to move toward the future, one comes away thinking that there could be more room for the companies to work together if Adobe could overcome these technical limitations and is serious about making Flash a credible way to develop great mobile experiences.

One Comment

  1. Stephen Stephen April 29, 2010

    All this discussion is enlightening but in the end the day, needing Flash for viewing video on the web is coming to an end. There is no way website owners will ignore using web standards over using a proprietary plugin. This is not Apple”s fault no more than it was when they dropped the floppy from their computers before most other vendors. Why in 2010 is it still needed to use a plugin at all for viewing video.

    As far as being open, Flash is proprietary controlled by one single company. This is NOT a standard any more than claiming Windows is a standard, just because they have a lot of users.

    Adobe has yet to deliver Flash working well on any smart phone yet. When and if they do, than maybe Apple will reconsider I am sure. Time however is running out for Adobe.

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