When I wrote my first article on the Apple & Adobe feud, I planned to give my thoughts and move on to the next topic, but this morning when I read Steve Jobs public memo explaining his position against Flash, I felt the need to say something. If you haven’t read the memo, please do so by going here – Thoughts On Flash
First let me say, that Steve makes some good points, but if you are objective you quickly realize his memo is more about shaping public opinion than being truthful. An in-depth look at Steve’s points shows that while many are based on truths they are not entirely accurate, (which IMO are often the most dangerous kinds of truths).
First, there’s “Open”.
Second, there’s the “full web”.
The iPhone, iPod and iPad cannot view the full web, period. Steve has done his best here to make it sound otherwise, but there really is no intelligent argument that can be made here. In the case of video on the web, Steve suggests we leave the internet and launch a separate app to view YouTube content and recommends H.264 as an alternative (even though it is not open source) as a solution to all our internet video problems. I wonder which internet video player is best positioned to handle H.264 video content? I also wonder what market forces drove such high adoption of Flash as the video standard on the internet? Remember… Windows Media Player, Quicktime and Real Player have all been around for many many years and H.264 has been around for several years as well, showing that when given a choice developers and users have chosen Flash for video delivery. In the case of games, again Steve asks us to leave the internet (open source) and the games we love and instead play them as apps (closed and proprietary) on Apple’s iDevices. Next comes the most important aspect of the “full web” argument, which Steve purposely avoids. Flash is used for a lot more than just video and games, and to see this you only need to realize that over 33% of all websites utilize Flash. Steve provided an impressive list of websites that no longer need Flash for video, but the list of sites that utilize Flash for more than video is much larger and more impressive. Here are just a small handful… (Nike, Adidas, NASA, Chevrolet, Ford, Volkswagen, Audi, Disney, Hulu, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, ATP – Association of Tennis Professionals, Prada, Gucci, Quiksilver, SONY, CNN, Barbie, McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, Funny Or Die, NBC, ABC, Comedy Central, Iron Man 2, & Avatar).
Third, there’s reliability, security and performance.
Here I think Steve makes some good points, but also provides some misleading information. In regards to security, Steve points to a report from Symantec in 2009. Anyone paying attention knows that Symantec backed off that original claim – Symantec backs off claim, says current Flash Player safe from attack. For a smile, it is also interesting to note that Symantec publishes their regular ‘Threat Report’ in Flash – Internet Security Threat Report XIV | Symantec. When it comes to performance, I do think Steve has a somewhat legitimate gripe. Flash performance has been lacking and IMO Adobe did not shift their attention to performance early enough. This is now hurting them on mobile platforms where performance is key. Even so, it appears they have heard the call and have redoubled their efforts to play catch up. Flash Player 10.1 provides enormous performance gains and many of their initiatives now seem focused on performance.
In regards to Flash crashing the Mac, this certainly is true, but not for the reasons Steve is telling everyone. As the web continues to mature, websites are becoming more and more powerful. In fact, many people believe web based applications will replace desktop applications. Flash allows developers to create applications that are very powerful (similar to desktop apps), and for that reason Flash content is able to crash your browser just like a desktop application can crash your computer. No matter what technology you use, when that technology enables developers to do more powerful and more complex things you will run the risk of causing crashes, whether it is Flash, AJAX, JAVA or any other technology. The answer to this problem, is not to eliminate powerful tools from the web, but instead to leverage a solution Apple & Microsoft have already used on the desktop. Sand box each application so it is no longer able to crash the operating system. Google has already done this with Chrome, sand boxing each browser tab so a web page can not crash the whole browser. You can be sure that the next major revision of every browser will include the same functionality.
Fourth, there’s battery life.
Again, Steve makes an excellent point, but purposely gives misleading information. Steve is correct to point out that hardware video decoding is far more efficient and that most platforms are configured for H.264 hardware decoding. Where he is misleading is when he says, “Flash has recently added support for H.264”. Adobe added this support back in 2007, and it certainly has been around long enough for the new mobile iDevices from Apple.
Fifth, there’s Touch.
Sixth, the most important reason.
Steve is right, if everyone used the same tools and abided by the same rules, applications would be more stable, more intuitive, faster and probably more efficient to create. I agree, Apple’s ability to control every aspect of a product has lead to some really revolutionary and amazing products. But when those tight controls are pushed beyond Apple’s borders to the greater development community, problems are inevitable. Apple is able to push these tight controls on developers now because of the large amount of money that can be made developing for Apple’s iDevices, but these tight controls also mean lack of choice, lack of freedom and lack of innovation. Apple would never apply these same rules to Mac OS X application development, because developers would simply stop developing for the Mac and move to Windows.
I love Apple, and I have supported them since their early days, but if you’re not drinking the Cupertino Kool Aid, it’s easy to see Steve is not being 100% honest about his objections to Flash. I think it is more likely the case that Apple sees Flash as a strategic enemy to many of their objectives. Apple wants to see iTunes/Quicktime become the standard for video on the internet. Apple doesn’t want Flash as a competing development platform, where you can develop an app once and deliver it to every mobile phone… if you could do that then every phone would have 100,000 apps and a big reason to buy the iPhone would go away.
The future of the internet is being decided now, and Apple is doing their best to take control of it. Mobile devices and internet connected devices are on the rise, and Apple is very intelligently taking control. Apple is touting open standards, but pushing for closed platforms with truly unprecedented controls over developers. Be careful! Liberty is usually lost in just such ways… with people cheering for it!