Adobe's Flash is slow, drains batteries, isn't suitable for touchscreen devices and poses security problems, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in an unusual missive today. In a lengthy open letter titled "Thoughts on Flash," Jobs spelled out why Apple doesn't allow Adobe's popular technology on its iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads. Jobs' epistle is the latest in the quarrel between Apple and Adobe over Flash, bickering that reached new heights two weeks ago when an Adobe evangelist told Apple to "Go screw yourself."
Jobs' counter: Apple doesn't need Flash. "Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content," Jobs categorically stated. "And 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."
"This has been the big elephant in the room," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with the Altimeter Group. "Jobs has stated very eloquently why Apple doesn't want Flash on its platform. And for the most part, his reasons make sense."
Other analysts agreed. "[The letter is] unusual, but it's a strong move, leveraging Apple's control of the narrative," said Ezra Gottheil, analyst with Technology Business Research. "The audience is primarily content owners, and secondarily the developer community."
Jobs started by refuting Adobe's contention last week that Flash is an "open" platform while Apple's technology is "closed," and hammered the media format and its widely-used player for reliability, performance and security issues. "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," said Jobs. "By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system."
That was a direct rebuttal to comments made last week by Mike Chambers, the principal product manager for Flash developer relations, when Adobe announced it would stop development of a tool that lets programmers port Flash applications to the iPhone and iPad. Chambers had accused Apple of creating a "closed, locked down platform" with its iPhone operating system and associated App Store, and claimed that Flash was one of the "open platforms" that would eventually win out over proprietary technologies.
"Adobe has characterised our decision as being primarily business driven, they say we want to protect our App Store, but in reality it is based on technology issues," Jobs said.
"The open/closed issues surround the content owners' fear of lock-in," opined Gottheil. "It is, of course, a business issue, but it is based in technology. Apple isn't out to hurt Adobe, which is the accusation Jobs seems to be contradicting, but it wants to control the user experience."
Apple has made most of today's arguments before, but Jobs went into more detail than any company executive has done in the past. On Flash's performance, for example, Jobs blasted Adobe's inability to create a media player up to his standards. "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," said Jobs, adding that Adobe had first promised Flash suitable for smartphones in early 2009, but then delayed it several times. "We think it will eventually ship, but we're glad we didn't hold our breath," he said.
Jobs went to even greater lengths to explain the company's recent move to ban software built using Adobe's cross-platform compiler, and called it the most important reason why Apple can't stand Flash.
When Apple previewed iPhone 4, the next version of its mobile operating system, three weeks ago, the company changed the licensing language of its software developers kit, or SDK, to block developers from using rival programming tools, including one from Adobe that has been called an "end-around" Apple's ban of Flash, to create iPhone and iPad applications.
Last year, Adobe debuted a tool in Flash Professional CS5 that takes applications written in Flash's ActionScript and recompiles them to run natively on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Although most analysts and development tool vendors saw the SDK changes as aimed at Adobe, developer tool makers have struggled to determine whether their software will also be affected, and have gone to great lengths to calm their users' anxieties.
"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," Jobs argued. "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. We cannot accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitors' platforms."
"I don't know if it's the most important reason, but it's clearly the most important reason to them," said Gartenberg, referring to the tool issue. "Apple is worried that it could lose control of the user experience and that [cross-platform] apps will be the least common denominator."
Jobs continued to hammer at Flash's cross-platform compiler. "It is not Adobe's goal to help developers write the best iPhone, iPod and iPad apps," he said. "It is their goal to help developers write cross-platform apps. And Adobe has been painfully slow to adopt enhancements to Apple's platforms." As an example, Jobs noted that Adobe just completed its adoption of Apple's Cocoa development environment two weeks ago, 10 years after Apple launched Mac OS X. "Adobe was the last major third-party developer to fully adopt Mac OS X," said Jobs.
"He's laid out their argument fairly well," said Gartenberg. "But this will spark debate in some circles. Some will debate the granularity of these issues forever, but I think this is the last word on the subject from Apple."
Unless Apple's customers revolt, which they've shown no signs of doing because of Flash's omission, Jobs won't change his mind, said both Gartenberg and Gottheil. "The lack of Flash doesn't seem to be hurting the iPhone, the iPad or the iPod Touch, so Apple is winning," said Gottheil. "If lack of Flash support hurts sales, Apple will adapt."
Adobe did not respond to a request seeking comment on Jobs' letter.
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