Steve Jobs just posted a long-awaited explanation of why the iPlatforms don’t (and won’t) support Flash. A few weeks ago, I wrote about Apple and their behavior as it relates to today’s web with regards to the recent Section 3.3.1 changes, and I’m tempted to just let those thoughts stand rather than rant again. But I just can’t ignore this, after reading what Jobs just wrote.

First, there’s “Open”.

Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. 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. By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system.

Steve continues on to admit that the iPlatform is also closed, but he claims that Apple is being open with their mobile strategy because they are encouraging open web technologies for their apps.

Oh really, Steve? So wait, lemme see if I understand this correctly. Because you have a web browser (and UIWebView) on the mobile device that can run open web technologies like HTML5 and CSS3, that means you’re in the clear? So, this must mean that Cocoa is completely open, right? Oh, and the Apple SDK for building Objective-C apps, this is completely open, too, right? Ummmm… no, no they are not.

You’re blaming Adobe for having closed flash “products” (I guess you mean the authoring tools) but completely ignoring the fact that Apple’s development tools/technologies are also closed. If all it takes to absolve you of this “closedness” is offering open web technologies in one of your applications (Safari/UIWebView), then Flash is also open because you can do html/css rendering (although obviously not as advanced) inside of special text boxes inside of Flash.

This argument Jobs is making is ridiculous. It sets the tone for the rest of his document. It’s completely short-sighted and deliberate spin ignoring obvious facts. Quite disappointing, I expected something much more logical and well thought out from Steve.

Second, there’s the “full web”.

Adobe has repeatedly said that Apple mobile devices cannot access “the full web” because 75% of video on the web is in Flash.

It is an undeniable fact that the web DOES have a lot of Flash still on it. Even if you ignore video and games for a moment, there’s still tons of websites out there which use Flash for animations, navigations, and other visual decorations. CAN these sites all convert that stuff to non-flash? Possibly. But that’s not the real point, Steve.

The real point is that today’s web has lots of Flash still in it. You’ve single-handedly decided that all of that Flash content, without exception, is outdated, bad for the web, and destined for failure. So you decided you would start a movement, and use your large market share combined with the mobile craze to kill off this technology.

Jobs goes on to say that a lot of people have validated Apple’s anti-Flash campaign by switching to non-flash video. Make no mistake: all those sites which have switched their content (mostly video) away from Flash didn’t do so purely on the merits of HTML5/CSS3, they did so because you forced them to by refusing to let their slice of the web be viewable in the most popular mobile platform. You may argue that you were simply just sensing the trend and led the charge, but the reality is, there was lots of good flash content out there which you choked out by refusing to let it be viewable on the iPlatform.

Admit it, Apple. You don’t like today’s web. Specifically, you hate that today’s web has so much Flash in it, so you’ve decided you are going to use your unique market position to do something about it. You can circularly justify your actions all you want.. the fact is, you are the causation (however reluctantly) for many sites finally having to bear the pain to abandon Flash.

Third, there’s reliability, security and performance.

Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. We also know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash. We have been working with Adobe to fix these problems, but they have persisted for several years now. We don’t want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods and iPads by adding Flash.

Hmm… I can’t really say much about this except: there’s two sides to this story. Adobe has repeatedly pointed out that they’ve tried to work with Apple to bring hardware acceleration (performance) into Mac-Flash, and Apple has refused.

Yeah, the Flash plugin on Mac may have lead to a lot of performance and reliability issues, and surely Adobe owns some responsibility for that, but it’s not all Adobe’s fault. It takes two to tango, and Apple has been equally unhelpful for years, probably because they’ve hated Flash for a long time, way before even the iPlatform was a twinkle in Steve’s eye.

I honestly don’t blame Adobe for de-prioritizing quality development on the MacOS Flash plugin in the face of repeated snubs by Apple. Adobe probably sensed the tide and decided long ago that it was a losing battle, and so they didn’t put as much effort into it. Was this the right move on Adobe’s part? Hmm, probably not. But I’m just saying, I don’t blame them.

However bad the MacOS Flash plugin is, I believe it’s pretty equal in responsibility between Apple and Adobe. Pretty unfair for Steve to put all the blame on the other guy. But again, not surprising, because clearly Steve is not being objective and fair in this manifesto. He’s all about self-justifying his company’s actions long after the fact.

Had he come out with this rationale, clearly stated and open to feedback, before his company took such anti-Adobe actions, and let the whole of today’s web comment on it, we could fairly say that Apple was trying to be a responsible net citizen. But instead, they took all these actions then months and years later we get a feeble attempt to justify them? Poor form, Steve.

Fourth, there’s battery life.

To achieve long battery life when playing video, mobile devices must decode the video in hardware; decoding it in software uses too much power.

…Although Flash has recently added support for H.264, the video on almost all Flash websites currently requires an older generation decoder that is not implemented in mobile chips and must be run in software.

“Recently added H.264″??? Interesting Steve that you use the condescending “recently” even though Flash launched H.264 support almost 3 years ago. And on what statistics are you claiming that most Flash video is still in the older FLV and not updated to H.264? I’d argue it’s completely opposite — most Flash video out there now is .MP4 (H.264) encoded, with only the occasional older videos being in VP6/FLV.

Even if you have statistics to say that the current state of Flash video is actually still weighted heavily toward the old codecs, you certainly can’t be arguing that the vast majority of newly encoded Flash video content is in FLV??? No, clearly H.264 is a superior format for video on the web and most content producers have long since realized this. And Flash did its part 3 years ago to be part of that movement.

Had Adobe taken Apple’s approach, they would have stubbornly stuck to their FLV format and insisted that it was the future and that everyone should conform. Adobe could have waged a war against better web video, but they didn’t — they adopted the newer/better standard like they should have.

Fifth, there’s Touch.

Flash was designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers. For example, many Flash websites rely on “rollovers”, which pop up menus or other elements when the mouse arrow hovers over a specific spot. Apple’s revolutionary multi-touch interface doesn’t use a mouse, and there is no concept of a rollover. Most Flash websites will need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices.

OMG. This is the worst constructed argument I’ve ever heard Steve make. He’s really stretching here.

There have been many discussions about this point, and Steve completely ignores all of the valid solutions that’ve been proposed which don’t require much if any rewrite of Flash content… For instance, it wouldn’t be hard at all for Apple to work with Adobe to define a set of standard multi-touch gestures for each of the mouse-pointer paradigms of the desktop web. Press-and-hold-with-two-fingers for instance could easily be substituted for :hover.

If those could be agreed upon and rolled out by the iPlatform, then all of that existing Flash content could go largely unchanged and still be usable on the mobile devices.

Isn’t it interesting that Palm and Google seem to have no trouble or concerns over all the flash content they’re about to allow on their devices regarding usability? I think it’s because they rightly believe that bad content will phase out of the mobile realm via normal market influences without companies mandating such changes themselves. The content which is written well enough to be adapted to use with multi-touch gesture substitution will survive, and the stuff which only works with a mouse cursor will naturally fade away.

I still don’t understand why this argument even comes close to justifying why Apple should keep Flash off the iPlatform? Because they’re concerned that their users will have so much trouble interacting with it usability wise that they’ll just give up on the mobile device all together? Come on — it’s just plain ridiculous to argue that point.

Sixth, the most important reason.

…Adobe also wants developers to adopt Flash to create apps that run on our mobile devices.

We know from painful experience that 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.

…This becomes even worse if the third party is supplying a cross platform development tool…

Flash is a cross platform development tool…. It is their goal to help developers write cross platform apps.

There we have it. The real reason Apple won’t ever accept Flash. Read between those lines folks, it’s what many of us have been saying forever: Apple does NOT benefit if you can create compelling apps for anything other than the iDevices. This is control and market usurpation, plain and simple.

And even more bluntly: Apple is admitting that the Section 3.3.1 change was designed specifically to kill the Flash-to-iPhone compiler in Adobe CS5 — EVEN THOUGH SUCH APPS WOULD ONLY BE BUILT IN ANOTHER TOOL BUT STILL COMPILED TO NATIVE APPS. The performance and usability and reliability would have been identical to any other native app, but Apple didn’t want apps to originate from Adobe’s tools, so they shut them out.

Jobs thinly veils this argument by saying that the third-party tools and “layers” will abstract away all the coolness from the iPlatform’s features and prevent developers from taking advantage of them because the third-party will be slow to adopt them.

Hogwash, plain and simple. Steve, whatever happened to free market where the best and most compelling apps all compete against each other, and the weaker apps just become irrelevant? What about the AppStore approval process, where you guys exercise gestapo-like control over what can and cannot come onto the device? Why isn’t that process more than sufficient for you to filter out any bad Flash-originated (or other third-party tool built) apps?

You built a complex process for keeping bad apps off the device (a good move, btw), but you don’t trust that process to filter out bad third-party-built apps? Yeah, right.

Conclusions

No, clearly Steve, you just don’t like Flash, and this entire post from you is full of circular reasoning, deflecting, avoiding the facts, and sssstttreeetchhhing to find some sort of plausible justifications. Big fail, Steve. Your entire post is one big iFail.

This entry was written by getify , posted on Thursday April 29 2010at 09:04 am , filed under Misc and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

16 Responses to “Thoughts on Apple’s “Thoughts on Flash””

  • Matt Johnson says:

    A. you’re wrong
    B. you’re wrong
    C. you’re wrong

    Want to re-roll?

  • getify says:

    Hmm, thanks Matt. That was very insightful and productive. I should solicit Apple fanboy’ism responses on my blog more often!

  • Micheal J. says:

    My only points of contention: there is no shipping full version of Flash yet. On one hand how can Apple support something that hasn’t even been released, and which is supposed to resolve the technical difficulties that made Apple avoid it in the first place. Apple’s personal little train has left the station without Flash and sees no reason to go back and pick it up.

    The whole paragraph about “recently adding H.264″ at best sounds like a generalization on the wrong side of the facts. That said any Sorenson Spark or On2VP6 encoded video won’t play on an iPhone/iPad.

    “Press-and-hold-with-two-fingers for instance could easily be substituted for :hover.” – I for one would never use such a gesture, it complicates things unnecessarily. For a touch screen, things should work without :hover. Apple would be the one to get the blame if it didn’t work here.

  • Brian Egan says:

    I pretty much agree with a lot of your points, but I still think the battery life issue is something that Jobs got right, even if he made a stupid point about Adobe “recently” integrating h.264, I don’t think you really addressed his main point from that section.

    I guess my concern comes from this article: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2783/4

    The graph shows that the battery life on the macbook pro went from 8.13 to 6.48 hours when Anandtech browsed sites with Flash. It seems like there’s some good evidence that Flash would eat up more CPU cycles and therefore battery.

    I’m not saying Adobe couldn’t adjust. Nor am I arguing that Apple isn’t being closed and fairly douchey — I think that’s pretty obvious in this case. I just think that his actual bullet point, that Flash would probably suck for battery life, is probably valid (although poorly argued).

  • James says:

    People like you ranted the same rants when Apple excluded the floppy drive from the iMac. And now look. Have you used a floppy in the 5,6,7 maybe even 8,9 or 10 years?

    The same will happen here. People aren’t going to like it, but in a few years time, they’ll look back and say “Ha! Remember when we relied on plugins to be able to just watch a video?”.

  • Jake McGraw says:

    Re: “Open”

    Jobs is addressing the belief that Apple’s policies are draconian and secretive, and Adobe’s are somehow “open”. He’s simply reminding us that “Hey, Adobe ain’t no Saint, neither,” and he’s right. Adobe is no David to Apple’s Goliath, contrary to the clamor from the blogosphere.

    What I think everyone is missing here is the fact that Apple is creating a fully curated experience in the iOS devices. That requires an unprecedented amount of control, control that has never been attempted on a personal computer, but, if my memory serves me correctly, was totally normal on mobile computing devices since their inception. Just because you can do more with an iOS device doesn’t mean it isn’t still a fairly limited device. IMO, I don’t think it is ridiculous that Apple is producing a totally closed device, much like the iPod and cell phones before it. Consumers want a product that A. Works B. Is simple to use, Apple is providing just that.

  • getify says:

    @MichaelJ —
    agreed, it sucks that the mobile version of flash for WebOS and Android have both been challenged and delayed. But do we really think it’ll never happen? I for one am sure it will eventually happen, for both platforms (and others). Maybe a month from now, maybe 4 months from now.

    Apple may not want to “go back” and embrace flash once it finally is proven as a viable mobile technology, but you can’t ignore the fact that apple could have been a huge force for good in getting flash right on mobile and instead they shunned it. they own some responsibility for why flash-on-mobile hasn’t happened yet.

    my point with the gestures was that there’s bound to be some gesture substitute which makes sense in place of :hover. We have “tap” for “click”, and a dozen other gestures which replace complicated UI controls, so why couldn’t we collectively figure out an acceptable gesture for :hover? I don’t agree that touch has to exclude :hover — it’s a useful UI state paradigm.

  • getify says:

    @BrianEgan — yes, battery life is a concern. any technology which takes more CPU power to work is going to suck more life. take flash out of the equation for a moment — any sufficiently advanced 3-d game is going to take up more CPU than the simple text-message app.

    my feeling is, consumers will quickly realize that flash takes up more CPU and will simply adjust and learn that they have to make the choice between viewing flash-based content (and trading battery life for it) or avoiding such content. this is already true of the non-flash iPlatform, so i don’t see why adding flash to the mix would be that much different?

  • getify says:

    @James — if html5/css3 were already (and had been for years) a completely superior in all ways alternative to flash, your argument might hold some weight.

    however, html5/css3 still has a long way to go before it achieves the same ubiquity and user-experience that flash has. apple’s trying to get the web to ditch flash when there isn’t yet a viable fully cross-browser alternative.

    and btw, they’re doing it with completely biased motives, as I pointed out.

  • getify says:

    @Jake — Apple and Adobe are probably roughly equal in openness (or non-openness depending on perspective). So the point is moot in Jobs’ argument against their technology. Steve goes far beyond “hey, us too” to “we’re superior to them and that’s why they suck”.

  • Brian Egan says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful rebuttal! But here’s my real problem: Safari. Right now, you don’t have to worry about Flash rendering and eating battery life within Safari. If flash was enabled, I would have to find some ad or flash blocker (only currently available to Jailbroken iPhones) to combat flash so I could surf while keeping my battery life.

    Maybe I could “adjust”, but I don’t see why I should avoid reading the sites I want because I have to take Flash eating CPU cycles into account within Safari.

  • getify says:

    @BrianEgan — if Apple were to approve Flash on the iOS, couldn’t they similarly approve a flash blocker type setting in mobile safari that let *you* control when and if you ever want to see flash? That doesn’t seem that hard at all.

  • Brian Egan says:

    I thought of that as well while writing my post, wasn’t sure if it was a bit too speculative (although given Jobs’ outlook, I’d suspect your more right than I am on that count).

    The more I think about hitting the right balance between features and battery life, just seems like really hairy debate with a lot of scenarios to consider =) Thanks for taking the time to discuss it a bit with me and making me think about the whole thing a bit more!

  • Bejeezus says:

    Oh YES! A thread full of Apple Fanboys.

    Just sit down a second. Please. Put your butt in the seats. Relax. Take a deep breath. Now lean towards me and listen very, very carefully. Hey! You! In the back! That goes for you too. Shut up and listen. Sit down. Quietly everyone. Did I get everyone’s attention? Lean closer. Now listen. You stupid, ignorant Apple arses; get the f*ck out and stop evangelizing this crap. No it’s not good. No Apple is not great. Apple sucks big time. There, I said it. And that’s from an iPhone user and Macbook owner.

    F*ck off.

  • a linux user says:

    same about Java. Java does have a lot of potential, but apple wants to keep up it’s proprietary cocona crap….
    but still everyone is running around and proud if it’s stinky iThing

  • Englishbydesign says:

    OK so I admit, there is something going on here that is NOt being aired by either side. They have issues without doubt. Who does not?
    What I can’t let you get away with is how Apple are dealing with the issues Steve has outlined in his article. Its not good to have one technology dominant on an open ever changing environment, be that adobe, Apple PC or any other controlled technology. It stops things moving and makes everyone else a subject in the universe of that technology.
    Also, if you were Apple what would you do to make sure you had a clear road ahead of you?

    Hi Bejeezus,
    Grow up.

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