Steve Jobs on Flash: Astoundingly Hypocritical

By Mike Schuster  APR 29, 2010 2:45 PM

Apple CEO criticizes Adobe for being closed and overcontrolling. Pot, meet kettle.


This morning, the Grand Poobah of Apple (AAPL) took time from his busy schedule bashing Adobe Flash (ADBE) to, well, bash Adobe Flash. But instead of his curt jabs at the platform during Q&A sessions and email exchanges with developers, Steve Jobs posted a lengthy open letter that covers Apple's reasons for keeping the ubiquitous platform off its mobile devices.

Titled "Thoughts on Flash," Jobs' letter addresses the six major issues the company has with Adobe Flash and, in doing so, obliterates his credibility with unbelievable hypocrisy.

Jobs opens his letter with a brief history of the relationship between the two companies and mentions they have drifted apart. He then attempts to rebut Adobe's claims that his company's opposition toward Flash is not about business or App Store protection but about technology -- a stance he contradicts a few paragraphs later.

But Jobs' biggest folly is to kick off his six points by labeling Adobe Flash as a "closed system." He writes:
Adobe's Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. 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.

Oh no, he di'n't!

Insert "Apple" in place of "Adobe" in that excerpt and see if any inaccuracies pop up. None do.

Jobs even admits to Apple having "many proprietary products," but qualifies Apple's "openness" by mentioning the company's adoption of HTML5, CSS and JavaScript.

Great. So explain iPhone's inability to install apps not found in the iTunes Store. Elaborate on how Apple purposely and continuously blocked non-Apple devices like the Palm Pre (PALM) from syncing with iTunes. Enlighten us as to why Apple booted Google's (GOOG) Voice and Latitude apps to the curb. And, refresh my memory, why is the USB port on the Apple TV locked from use by the legal owner?

And hey, Steve, the overall argument to keep software away from a device under any circumstance -- even as a selectable option -- is the very definition of a "closed system!"

He continues with his second point:
Adobe has repeatedly said that Apple mobile devices cannot access "the full web" because 75% of video on the web is in Flash. What they don't say is that almost all this video is also available in a more modern format, H.264, and viewable on iPhones, iPods, and iPads.

Jobs notes that, along with YouTube, Apple mobile devices are able to access video from many other providers including Vimeo (IACI), Netflix (NFLX), ABC (DIS), CBS (CBS), CNN (TWX), Fox News (NWS), MSNBC (GE), etc. Of course, many of these can only be accessed in app form, not by a Web browser. So Jobs' "Full Web" argument -- which, curiously, is more of a defense of Apple rather than an argument against Adobe -- isn't very sound.

Only in his third point does Jobs hit upon a valid reason: "Reliability, Security, and Performance."
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.

Users may have some time before Flash arrives on Android and BlackBerry (RIMM) devices, but as it stands, its performance is adequate at best. And admittedly, unlike Windows (MSFT) systems, Flash is extremely taxing on a Mac. Add to it the frequency of crashes and security issues, and Jobs would've been best to base his entire argument on these issues.

However, Apple's new video acceleration API, which takes advantage of an Apple unit's GPU, will drastically cut down on the CPU drain a Flash video or game will have on a Mac. While it may not directly translate to an iPhone or iPad, considering the speedier A4 chip and improvements in the Flash platform, is a ban still perfectly reasonable in perpetuity? In his fourth and fifth reasons, Jobs cites battery life and mouseover controls as perfectly logical reasons why Flash doesn't cut it.
Although Flash has recently added support for H.264, the video on almost all Flash websites currently requires an older generation decoder that is not implemented in mobile chips and must be run in software. 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 five hours before the battery is fully drained.

Most Flash websites will need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices. If developers need to rewrite their Flash websites, why not use modern technologies like HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript?

Basically, Jobs is splitting one point into two: Because of existing Flash technology on websites, the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch won't run too well when accessing them. He is urging Web developers to change the interface to work with the devices or suffer the drop in mobile traffic. In other words, he's asking Web developers to completely drop Flash and revamp a service into using a HTML5, CSS, or JavaScript platform -- rather than simply change one or two compatibility issues.

Which brings us to his final point.
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. 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 be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.

Note Jobs' last sentence. Apple doesn't want third parties dictating when to make features available or choosing when to fix the broken ones. This coming from the company that needed an extra year to implement 3G network access and GPS, two years for Cut & Paste, Voice Control, and MMS, and three years for multitasking. The iPhone may be the industry leader and all, but some very basic functionality wasn't present for a ridiculous amount of time.

Do you honestly think app designers weren't frustrated because of that?

Denying developers from using cross-platform tools like Flash is severely limiting the breadth of innovation and, as developer Greg Slepak puts it in an email to Jobs, "creativity itself." Keeping Flash out of the picture is undercutting many of the same developers whose apps Jobs touts by number almost every time he opens his mouth. In his last email to Jobs, Slepak wrote:
The Mac has only been helped by the fact that Firefox, Ableton Live, and hundreds of other high-quality applications can run on it thanks to the fact that developers have a choice as to what tools they can use on it.

Jobs didn't have a reply for that.

Apple isn't lacking in its share of supporters who also oppose Flash implementation. They have their reasons, and many of them are valid. However, Apple is preventing every iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch owner from the option of ever switching it on. Jobs is highlighting the fact they don't truly own or control their device. Consumers hate the notion of control and inaccessibility once they legally buy a product, and Jobs' letter is just salt in the wound.

Jobs' deceitful, self-righteous letter against Adobe proves he's no longer the champion for the customer, a rebel against the elite. He's a politician using false premises and straw-man arguments to defend a point that's rendered false by his own words. Adobe was right: It's all about keeping the App Store safe from competition.

But hey, what do you expect from a closed system?
No positions in stocks mentioned.