Apple and Flash
On the 7th of March 2011, Steve Jobs (Apple's CEO) published a open letter about the lack of Flash
support for the iPhone, iPad and the iPod. This paper combs through that letter and tries to
determine who might have the better point.
Who is more open?
Right at the beginning of the letter, Steve used the idea that Flash is a closed system and Apple was
a “almost” open system (although he did admit that the OS's used in the Apple range were propriety
). However, while the letter concentrates on Adobe's single product, Jobs uses HTML5, CSS and
Apple has many proprietary products too. Though the operating system for the iPhone, iPod
and iPad is proprietary, we strongly believe that all standards pertaining to the web should
Thoughts on Flash, paragraph 4.
The comment that Apple believes that all standards for the web should be open is perhaps a little
too long sighted. As a open source user, I am in favour of using open standards and Jobs does have
a point. Flash is not a open product and although there have been free programs that create imitation
Flash files (openSWIF1 being one), Adobe Flash is not. However, it is arguable that various
elements are open to the public (such as ActonScript). The reverse engineering and implementation
of that could constitute as a open source alternative but for this papers sake, Adobe Flash flash is
However, Jobs seems not to have a good comparison to Flash. He does mention HTML5, CSS and
movement, the comparison between a single tool and a entire spectrum of scripting languages and
specifications seems rather unfair. Also, as of writing this document (7-3-2011), the page that the
letter sits on does not pass as HTML5 standard (although it was only 1 error)2.
Performance and usage
From personal experience, viewing Flash animations can be a costly affair in terms of resources. I
can fully understand that not including a Flash plug-in will not present as big a problem with
resource usage when browsing the web but by denying a Flash plugin to its user base, Apple are
denying “the full web” to its users. The letter makes no gripe about this but when a company
prevents the usage of a specific product, how can this be the full web experience? Even the
alternative to Flash doesn't allow “the full web” to be viewed, as the letter explains:
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.
YouTube, with an estimated 40% of the web’s video, shines in an app bundled on all Apple
mobile devices, with the iPad offering perhaps the best YouTube discovery and viewing
Thoughts on Flash, paragraph 6.
Almost != All. I can appreciate that the average user may not see a noticeable difference, but
websites like Newgrounds.com may have a problem with this:
Another Adobe claim is that Apple devices cannot play Flash games. This is true.
Thoughts on Flash, paragraph 7.
A further gripe is that Jobs says that Flash doesn't support the touch screen interface. I can see
where he comes from, but surely a translation interface is not a idea too far? However, the letter
also mentions rollovers and yes, Apple is right. Without interpreting it as a gesture, a rollover idea
is not going to work on a touch screen since you can go straight to wherever you need to go on the
screen. However, any advancement comes with considerations of previous ideas (i.e. backwards
compatibility) and how applicable they are to the new advancement. However, the letter seems to
want to ignore this. Wherever or not this is the case is not apparent.
The final remarks from Steve Jobs details the following:
Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. […] But the mobile era is about
low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls
Thoughts on Flash, paragraph 13.
This is mostly accurate. Flash was indeed created during the “PC era” but surely the user must have
the option of being able to see Flashes on a mobile device (even if this would degrade the
performance and security of the device). In a liberal fashion, the choice must be the user's, not the
However, Jobs is right about the open standards of Flash (or rather, the lack of). Adobe do need to
make a better effort to be more open with Flash (and, indeed, more efficient with the playing of
Flash videos). Perhaps a more streamlined version of Flash with a small subset of functions could
be a way forwards to creating a open Flash product but this is only the authors opinion with a
distinct lack of business nous.
Finally, I end with this:
New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices
(and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the
future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.
Thoughts on Flash, paragraph 15
Ultimately, Apple are trying to rush things here. Development takes time and I certainly wouldn't
want to develop to develop tools based on a editors draft (as of writing3) as this could change.
3 http://dev.w3.org/html5/spec/Overview.html – 21.03.2011
Maybe Adobe should create great tools for open standards and even consider moving the business
model to a more open aspect, but Apple must realise that the Internet is not going to change
overnight and nor is a practice popular with many users of the Internet (i.e. creating Flash videos).
Perhaps (and almost certainly if the business is to survive) Adobe do need to evolve with the
Internet to continue making great multimedia tools for the Internet (open or otherwise), and Apple
need to support and learn from the past, not simply criticise it and block it.
Basis of paper: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/
Following the release of this paper back in March, Microsoft also announced that they'll drop Flash
support for certain upcoming Windows 8 OS's4. Perhaps this is a catchup move to Apple but I
would like to think that the consumer has a choice. While I note that Flash support is available on
the desktop versions of Windows 8, the concept of a choice is important.
In the blog post, Mr. Dean Hachamovitch (head of Internet Explorer development) and Mr. Steven
Sinofsky (attributed author of the post) made this comment:
Providing compatibility with legacy plug-in technologies would detract from, rather than
improve, the consumer experience of browsing in the Metro style UI.
Metro style browsing and plug-in free HTML5
This is a interesting remark but I am not entirely sure from what point this comes from. If someone
wants to use a Flash application, should a developer have the power to withhold access to that
particular technology, no matter how old or outdated it is? I don't agree with that at all.
We should largely try and understand why a consumer could need such a technology. If they do in
any sort of aspect, then developers should try to help that group. Only when it becomes a largely
redundant technology should we then try and support the people still on that technology to move,
4 http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2011/09/14/metro-style-browsing-and-plug-in-free-html5.aspx – 02.11.2011
not to simply barge people from one set to another. In terms of a transitional move could be the
example of HTML 3.2 to 4.0. In this move, some deprecated tags were allowed under the newer
specification to allow developers to move onto the strict specification when ready to work with
CSS. Wherever or not this was a good move is a matter of debate but this accommodation helped
people move from one set to another. In time, we will either see if Flash evolves into something
new or something like H.264 takes over as a dominant medium for this area.