The Steve Jobs Blog: An Honest Statement or Just More Spin?

April 29th, 2010

The media woke up Thursday to what is being presented as a definitive statement from Steve Jobs about the controversial decision to block Flash from Apple’s mobile platform. No doubt Apple’s critics are busy dissecting what is a pretty straightforward post to find evidence of corporate spin and deception.

The problem, however, is that what Jobs says is basically true in every respect. He is very much repeating things that tech commentators have been saying for quite a while about Flash and its potential pitfalls on the Mac and mobile platforms. So from the start, it’s going to be hard to find points with which to legitimately disagree.

In his blog post, which you can find on Apple’s site, Jobs first recounts the company’s long history with Adobe, beginning when the founders, computer scientists John Warnock and Charles Geschke, invented the PostScript page description language that basically begat the desktop publishing revolution. As Jobs states, Apple licensed the technology for the original Apple LaserWriter. Having lived through that period, I can tell you that, were it not for Apple, Adobe may have remained in that garage, because the association between the two companies, which included a financial stake on Apple’s part (since divested), basically caused a revolution.

Indeed, the reason the Mac still exists and prospers today may well be because content creators embraced the platform in the early days as the result of its suitability for printing and publishing. I rather suspect I might be in a different business too, since I had been working with traditional typesetting computers in those days. Most of my former employers, in fact, have been out of business for years.

In any case, Jobs raises the well-known problems with Flash, which include its subpar performance on the Mac, and those notorious security issues. Says Jobs: “Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. We also know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash. We have been working with Adobe to fix these problems, but they have persisted for several years now.”

When it comes to the mobile version, Jobs claims that, because it uses software rather than hardware graphics and video decoding, it would cut the estimated battery life of an iPhone in half. Those of you who are already concerned about how often you have to locate a recharger can understand this dilemma.

Another significant issue is just as important, which is that Flash was designed to work with PCs and traditional input devices, such as a mouse or trackpad. It doesn’t understand touch, and therefore such common Flash features as mouseovers wouldn’t work. Worse, even if Adobe fixed all the performance and power management issues, millions of Webmasters would have to redesign their sites to be compatible. So Jobs concludes: “If developers need to rewrite their Flash websites, why not use modern technologies like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript?”

More to the point, there would be no power management issues, no performance, stability and additional security concerns. Any modern browser that works on a Mac, PC or mobile platform would be compatible. Jobs mentions, by the way, the fact that Apple’s own open WebKit engine powers the best mobile browsers not just on the iPhone, but on Android, Palm’s WebOS and even the forthcoming version of RIM’s OS for the BlackBerry.

The blog also addresses Apple’s concerns about cross-platform compiling tools. Jobs points out that the unique features touted by Apple help them sell more gear, thus earning higher profits. Nothing wrong with a company trying to be successful. Because they are designed to work with different mobile platforms, the cross-platform scheme may make it easier on the developer, at the expense of catering to the lowest common denominator. What Jobs doesn’t say, of course, is that this problem would impact any mobile platform. If Google wants to deliver unique features to Android, a development environment that doesn’t support the new features doesn’t serve their best interests either. Nor does it serve the interests of the software company that wants to build the best products it can to achieve the highest possible sales and, of course, profits.

In the end, Apple has the right to do what they want in the way they want. They don’t have to justify their decision not to support Flash or cross-platform methods to build iPhone apps. As far as I’m concerned, Jobs’ comments are written simply, with few flourishes and aren’t overwhelmed with corporate spin. As I said at the outset, many media commentators have already raised the same concerns about Flash that Jobs voices.

His post also serves as a clarion call for Adobe to move on and not expect Apple to budge from its decision. Adobe can still make great profits on its other content creation tools, although Web developers will not find it easy to ditch Flash. On the other hand, no other mobile platform generates near the Web traffic as the iPhone, so what choice do they have?

Predictably, Adobe’s response, calling the blog a smokescreen, resolves nothing.

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15 Responses to “The Steve Jobs Blog: An Honest Statement or Just More Spin?”

  1. DaveD says:

    I read the entire piece. To my surprise, it was a lengthy one. For all the talk of a brutal and tough personality, Mr. Jobs has a sharp mind. One thing that is clear, Apple is looking forward.

    My experience with web sites with flash is one of annoyance. The worst kind is the “land mines” on the web page. As I’m two-finger scrolling down reading, the cursor hits a “land mine” and out pops a flash dialog. My reading has now been interrupted as I need to close it because it is in my face. I learned to avoid this by placing the cursor on the scroll bar. Who ever thought that having “land mines” on a web page was a good idea.

  2. dfs says:

    Here, for what it’s worth, is the most thoughtful argument I’ve seen for the other side (Daniel Lyons, writing in Newsweek):

  3. Hairy Goomer says:

    Sorry, dfs, I don’t read Dan Lyons’ stuff.

    Adobe has been pissing on Mac users for at least a decade, and now they’re trying to force Apple to use godawful Flash on Apple’s mobile devices. I’ve had an iPhone since day one, bought an iPad on 3 April, and use ClickToFlash on my Macs. I don’t miss Flash one little bit.

    We will be doing everything in our power to avoid Adobe products.

  4. Andrew says:

    In my business (law) it is very difficult to avoid Adobe products. Acrobat professional is the standard for encrypted filings, and using anyone’s else’s PDF generator will usually cause a rejected filing and perhaps cause a client to miss a deadline and therefore waive important rights.

    So, I use Acrobat professional on my Macs (version 8) and PCs (version 9).

    You know what? Its not that bad. Yes, there have been attack vectors through Adobe PDF, but I haven’t seen any problems. The software works smoothly and performs well on all of my Macs, which from an old Power Mac G5 running Leopard at the low end, to the latest Core i7 MacBook Pro at the high end. We also run Acrobat professional in Windows 7. Not a single compatibility issue or problem.

    Flash is evil, but I’ve been very happy with Acrobat Professional.

  5. MichaelT says:

    I like that version 8)

    Very cool.

    Gotta love those auto-emoticons, eh Andrew?

  6. Peter says:

    Yeah, I was trying to figure that one out, too. At least it’s better than version :-(. That one was a real drag.

  7. Steve W says:

    Adobe will be previewing Flash for Android next month, 19 months after the release of Android!

    Case closed.

    • westech says:

      @Steve W, Yeah, and six months or so ago Microsoft previewed Courier.

      Adobe hasn’t realized it yet but Apple is their customer, and they can’t win by pissing off the customer. Listen to the complaints and get out of denying reality.

      Case closed.

  8. Jase says:

    Ex-Adobe programmers comment on the Flash issue:

  9. Brian M says:

    I’m another that doesn’t miss flash, the only things that I tend to look at that uses flash is the occasional comedy video, maybe once every 2-3 days… and being video could easily be delivered with other technology.
    ClicktoFlash cuts down on loading times for at least a few web pages out there, and is even more useful on laptops to reduce CPU, ram usage and heat.
    (I don’t actually mind advertising itself, but slow to load flash ads do annoy me)

  10. Matthew says:

    I like Adobe’s products in general. I think they’re a great company. However, I don’t think they made a good version of Flash mobile. If they do make one, I could see Apple supporting it. Other than video (which can be done via other methods), all the flash-based sites I’ve seen rely heavily on mouseovers, which means they wouldn’t work on a mobile device at all.

  11. Richard says:

    Let’s face it, Steve has issues.

    He is a control freak who wants everything to be HIS proprietary system. Although Flash is far from perfect, it is everywhere and Steve is in denial. Without Flash the Apple products will not have access to “all the web” as Steve promised with the original iPhone. It might be one thing if Apple had cross platform applications in being that completely replaced Flash with a demonstrably superior product set that was easy to use and provided a transition mode from Flash, but that is not the case.

    One reason that Adobe has “dragged their feet” about development of software for the Mac is simple economics. The overwhelming majority of their business is for the Windows platform and they have allocated their resources and set their priorities accordingly. Steve has not helped the situation by his incessant attacks of Adobe. The Mac platform is again at risk of being marginalized.

    With the release of CS 5 the Mac platform is again competitive with the Windows platform in the Photoshop arena, but it remains to be seen just how many of the people who switched to the Windows platform because of the increased productivity of the 64 bit Window PS CS will return to the fold. If they do not, it will not be good in the long run. Apple is already de-emphasizing the Mac Pro lineup. Should they fail to keep timely development of it there would be a continued migration the other way.

    Apple is now a “consumer electronics company”, not a computer company and it remains to be seen just how much attention will be diverted away from the actual computer lineup.

    There is continuing speculation about who, if anyone, will purchase ARM. Now that Apple has purchased P.A. and is designing their own ARM chip it is only fair to compare it to others out there. Initial reports are not that favorable for the A4. One wonders why the soon to be released NVidia Tegra 2 appears to be so much better. Has Apple missed the design or are they simply pawning second class goods off on the public to be first to market? Timing is important.

  12. Brian M says:

    @richard: The last specifics I’ve seen on Adobe’s breakdown of sales, is that Mac versions of their software represent half of their income (This may have been last years stats, not sure if this years was the same). Go back to around 1999-2000 and it may have been different…

  13. Richard says:


    I am sorry that I do not have the link to the article about Adobe’s sales handy, but what I recall reading was that their Creative Suite, in particular Photoshop CS, sales have been declining for the Mac platform among the photography professionals. Professionals being the ones who either are doing PS “all the time” or may even have a PS guy they have hired to do it so that they can spend more time on the photography. This was accelerated when the 64 bit version for Windows came out and Steve and Adobe were in yet another spat about who was at fault for a change in the Carbon/Cocoa transition time table. Those users simply moved to the most productive platform. After all, it is just a tool. When or if these people will view it as being in their interest to return to the Mac platform no one knows. They probably do not yet know themselves as many are adverse to make changes which slow the work flow.

    You may recall that Adobe has been releasing the Windows version of most of their important software before the Mac version in recent years. That should tell us something.

    I certainly agree that things were different some years ago.

    As far as Flash goes, there was one photography web site which I recall said that they were in the process of setting up a mobile version of their site, sans Flash, to accommodate mobile phone users as well as the iPad, but most have not yet taken a position on moving from Flash (although Microsoft’s position certainly is a significant one). One of the most interesting uses for the iPad I have seen discussed is for the purpose of displaying images to clients…something I doubt even Steve envisioned. When used as intended the Flash issue will persist for some users and not for others. It all depends upon the web sites one visits. The simple reality is that there is a lot of Flash out there whether Steve cares to admit it or not.

    If/when Adobe gets GPU enabled Flash out the door some of the issues about CPU burdens may be answered, but we should remember that video in whatever format takes more ‘horsepower’ than simple text. HTML5 will be little, if any, different in this regard according to some sources.


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