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.
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.