Steve Jobs Weighs in on Flash

Apple CEO Steve Jobs stepped up to offer his perspective on why Adobe’s Flash won’t be coming to the iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, on Thursday in an open letter on the Apple Web site. His take: Flash is old, proprietary, technology that’s unstable, has security issues and is too demanding for mobile device batteries.

Mr. Jobs’s comments echo many of the ideas that have been floating around the Internet and tech circles for several months. He starts off by weighing in on Adobe’s claims that Flash is an open system.

“Adobe’s Flash products are 100 percent proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc.,” Mr. Jobs said. “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.”

He added that Apple relies on open standards such as HTML5, CSS and JavaScript, and that those standards require far less power to implement compared to Flash.

On Adobe’s claims that Flash is necessary to experience the “full Web,” Mr. Jobs posits that most of the video content that’s currently available in Flash format is also available in H.264 — an open standard that Apple support. One of the benefits of H.264 support, according to Mr. Jobs, is that it uses hardware instead of software for video decoding, which has the benefit of offering better performance and lower power consumption.

Reliability, security and performance were issues that Mr. Jobs expressed concern about, too. “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.”

He also noted that Adobe hasn’t been able to show him a mobile device where Flash performs well. “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,” he said. “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.”

Flash also lacks a system for adequately dealing with touch-based interfaces. Roll-over effects, for example, don’t work with touch interfaces because you have to touch the device’s surface to register activity. In contrast, Flash relies on mouse pointers moving over an object to trigger roll-over effects, and that requires a more traditional computer.

“Even if iPhones, iPods and iPads ran Flash, it would not solve the problem that most Flash websites need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices,” Mr. Jobs said.

Mr. Jobs also shared his take on a current sore spot for Adobe and some developers: Why Apple won’t allow cross-compiled apps — in this case, apps that are developed in Flash and then compiled as native iPhone apps — on the App Store.

“If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features,” he said. “We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.”

Mr. Jobs also pointed out that since Flash is a cross-platform development tool, the people that create products with it will opt to code for the device that has the fewest features, leaving more capable devices with an inferior user experience. He added that Adobe is the last major company to fully adopt the Mac OS X platform, and it took the company ten years to make the transition.

“New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too),” Mr. Jobs said. “Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.”