Steve Jobs Thoughts on Flash Apple.com

Steve Jobs has posted his "Thoughts on Flash" up on Apple.com, and like his previous thoughts on (DRM) music, it's a fascinating insight into the mind and tactics of Apple's CEO. As background, this follows up iPhone, iPod touch, and now iPad shipping without Flash support, Apple's recent change in license to prevent the use of cross-compilers like Adobe Flash CS5's Packager for iPhone (which let developers make Flash apps and output iPhone apps), and Apple's recent addition of Mac APIs to allow hardware accelerated Flash on the desktop.

Jobs begins by stating how close Apple and Adobe were and how they've drifted apart. He then breaks down his case against Flash on mobile into 6 key areas:

  1. Flash is not open, it's wholly owned and controlled by Adobe. While Apple also has proprietary products, they believe the web should be open, and Jobs singles out Apple's support of WebKit (the rendering engine behind Safari, Chrome, etc.) as an example of this in action.

  2. Flash is not needed for the "full web" because H.264 is becoming the standard and as sites update to support H.264 they automatically provide video supported by the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. He lists Vimeo, Netflix, Facebook, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ESPN, NPR, Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, People, National Geographic as examples. Jobs also says Flash games aren't needed because the App Store has 50,000 games, more than any other platform in the world, and many of them free.

  3. Security and performance. Flash is increasingly an attack vector for malware, and Apple still claims it's the number one cause of crashes on the Mac.

In addition, Flash has not performed well on mobile devices. We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now. 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. Who knows how it will perform?

  1. Battery life, Jobs claims, would take a significant hit with Flash support. Since H.264 content already runs on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad natively and with full hardware decoding, that only leaves the older codecs for Flash, and these would require the much more "expensive" software decoding.

  2. The move to multitouch is not supported by a mouse pointer-centric Flash sites that use rollovers and other desktop behaviors and since these will need to be re-written anyway, Jobs believes they might as well be re-written in open HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript formats.

  3. Most importantly, Jobs says Apple doesn't want 3rd party cross-compilers sitting between developers and the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.

The third party may not adopt enhancements from one platform unless they are available on all of their supported platforms. Hence developers only have access to the lowest common denominator set of features. Again, we cannot accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitor’s platforms.

Flash is a cross platform development tool. It is not Adobe’s goal to help developers write the best iPhone, iPod and iPad apps. It is their goal to help developers write cross platform apps. And 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.

(Insert your Final Cut Pro jokes here).

Jobs ends with his characteristic "boom":

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.

After his "thoughts on music", we slowly saw DRM get dropped and iTunes music go "free". Will Jobs' "thoughts on Flash" cause a similar evolution of the open web?

[Apple]