Apple CEO Jobs Justifies Flash Ban

 
 
By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2010-04-29
 
 
 

In what amounts to a pot meets kettle moment, Apple CEO Steve Jobs has laid out a series of reasons why Apple does not support Adobe's Flash on its mobile platforms. 

In essence, Jobs said Flash is not fit for Apple's iPhone, iPad and iPod platforms, claiming that, among other things, Flash is not secure, reliable or touch-compatible enough and doesn't perform well enough to run on Apple's hot mobile consumer products.

But perhaps the boldest statement in Jobs' April 29 post was that he believes Adobe Systems is closed and Apple is open. If that is not the pot calling the kettle black ... Said Jobs: "Adobe claims that we are a closed system, and that Flash is open, but in fact the opposite is true."

Jobs further explained, "Adobe's Flash products are 100 percent proprietary." Indeed, they are. He acknowledged that "Apple has many proprietary products too." Then, setting the tone for his entire argument, Jobs added:

"Though the operating system for the iPhone, iPod and iPad is proprietary, we strongly believe that all standards pertaining to the web should be open. Rather than use Flash, Apple has adopted HTML5, CSS and JavaScript-all open standards. Apple's mobile devices all ship with high performance, low power implementations of these open standards. HTML5, the new web standard that has been adopted by Apple, Google and many others, lets web developers create advanced graphics, typography, animations and transitions without relying on third party browser plug-ins (like Flash). HTML5 is completely open and controlled by a standards committee, of which Apple is a member."

First off, neither has an "open" leg to stand on here. Both companies are closed, and as Bobby Brown said, that's their prerogative.

Jobs listed all the ways that Apple supports open standards with HTML5 and so on, and delivering the WebKit engine. And Adobe argues that Flash is not 100 percent proprietary because the Flash file format is available here. 

But the bottom line is this whole argument is about control. Apple wants and deserves control of its platform, and clause 3.3.1 of its iPhone 4.0 developer license agreement spells that out. That clause reads:

"Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited)."

Moreover, Jobs said: "Adobe has characterized 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."

Well, it is and it isn't. Indeed, there is merit to each of Jobs' technological claims about Flash. Practically every user has at some point had some kind of negative experience-such as a crash or other glitch-due to Flash or applications and Websites built with Flash. But this is still about control. Jobs can talk all he wants about video support, security, battery life and the like, but the key is Apple's control over the development process. Apple cannot and will not afford to let Adobe and Flash get in the middle of Apple's pipeline to its developers. And as his last, most cogent point, Jobs said exactly that:

"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."

Mike Sax, founder of Sax.net and an iPhone application developer, told eWEEK: "Steve [Jobs] is saying they don't want anyone to slow them down. Apple understands that developers drive the platform, and whoever owns the dominant development tool owns a big part of the value and the future of the platform."

Sax said he believes Microsoft and Apple both understand this very well but have very different approaches in dealing with it.

"Microsoft has invested tremendous resources and talent in development tools," said Sax, who also said he is interested in developing applications for the upcoming Windows Phone 7 platform. "They allow third-party tool vendors to do whatever they want (and even encourage them) but they compete with their own partners vigorously to make sure Microsoft provides the best set of developer tools."

However, "Apple has decided to kill the babies before they become strong," Sax said. "Unfortunately, they ignore [the fact] that tools like Appcelerator, Mono and Flash are becoming popular primarily because of developer productivity, not their cross-platform capabilities. Apple's mobile development tool set is lacking in developer productivity, with a unique language and no support for basic enhancements like garbage collection."

In a blog post entitled, "Thoughts on 'Thoughts on Flash,'" Adam Banks, an editor, writer and designer, said of Jobs' statement about being at the mercy of a third party:

"Sort of get that. Problem: at the moment, for the thousands of developers and creatives who do have the skills to use Flash but don't have the first glimmer of a clue how to code in Objective-C, none of the enhancements of the iPx platform are available. The platform isn't available at all. (I wrote about this in my reaction to 3.3.1.) And the only way it's ever going to be available is via some kind of third party tool. One with full typographical support. You know, like Adobe TLF."

Tim Bray, a Google engineer on the Android team, tweeted: "On Jobs' letter: Flash filled a need, there might not be one on mobile, but Apple [is] shortsighted in blocking it."

Meanwhile, Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC, called for a truce. Hilwa said:

"I think what everyone would prefer is that Apple and Adobe should be working together on this and not talking at each other in this way. Apple has to define what it means for applications to be compliant [with] its interface and other platform and development tools vendors should be given the chance to adapt. The translation layer argument is weak. Translated software or software that runs on virtual machines is not necessarily inferior and can be made to be effectively as good while offering specific advantages, namely being able to address multiple devices or platforms with one development effort, one team, one set of skills. We have to remember that some of the greatest innovations in languages over the last 15 years are virtual machines-based technologies such as Java and .NET that essentially translate in real time under the covers. While there may be legitimate technical concerns, technology partnerships are precisely for addressing them."

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