Steve Jobs pens Adobe missive: 'Flash falls short'

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has penned an open letter explaining his company's decision to avoid using Adobe Flash on its mobile iPhone, iPod and iPad devices.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Perhaps bowing to increasing media criticism, Apple CEO Steve Jobs has penned an open letter explaining his company's decision to avoid using Adobe Flash on its mobile iPhone, iPod and iPad devices.

Jobs writes that not supporting Flash was not a business-driven choice to protect its App Store, but rather a technological one.

He outlines six reasons Apple refuses to use Flash:

  1. Openness: Flash is proprietary; web standards such as HTML5, CSS and JavaScript should be open. "By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system," Jobs writes. (He admits Apple, too, has closed parts of its business.)
  2. 'Full Web' myth: Jobs says plenty of video content is available using the "more modern" H.264 format, and it's not all locked away in Flash. "IPhone, iPod and iPad users aren't missing much video," he writes.
  3. Reliability, security and performance: Jobs noted Flash for having "one of the worst security records in 2009," according to Symantec. Jobs writes that Flash "has not performed well on mobile devices."
  4. Battery life: Jobs writes, in so many words, that Flash cuts precious mobile battery life in half. "The difference is striking: on an iPhone, for example, H.264 videos play for up to 10 hours, while videos decoded in software play for less than 5 hours before the battery is fully drained," Jobs writes.
  5. Touch format: Jobs writes that, with rollovers and other features, Flash is made for a mouse-driven PC, and not Apple's touch-based interface. "Flash was designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers," he writes.
  6. Substandard development: A third-party, cross-platform layer will result in poor quality, Jobs writes. "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."

Here's Jobs in his own words:

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

Jobs' letter is remarkable not for its argument, which has been elaborated on before by Apple and pundits alike, but in its very existence. It's highly unusual for the chief executive to respond to criticism in such a public and permanent way.

My take: Jobs has perfectly valid points, and expectedly skips over similar arguments those critical of Apple might make.

(Exhibit A: The fact that Apple mobile products can't play Flash games. "There are more games and entertainment titles available for iPhone, iPod and iPad than for any other platform in the world," he writes. That's the same argument Adobe has for keeping web video proprietary, only now popularity has tipped in Apple's favor.)

Still, it's a wonder that Jobs couldn't work this out behind the scenes, and that the clamor was so great that he felt compelled to write a public letter on the subject.

Surely the average mainstream consumer Apple user cares little about this B2B problem. So why publish this?

Are Apple's sales really taking a hit from flash-ready Android devices? If not, why bother addressing the issue?

Who is this letter actually for?

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