Apple CEO Explains Flash Ban

Steve Jobs cites security, poor performance and no support for touch-based interfaces as problems with Adobe's cross-platform browser plug-in.

Antone Gonsalves, Contributor

April 29, 2010

4 Min Read

Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs, defending the company's controversial decision to keep Flash off the iPhone and iPad, says the Adobe technology for playing multimedia is a relic of the PC era that offers only technical headaches for mobile device makers.

In a rare open letter posted Thursday on Apple's Web site, Jobs took on critics, and Adobe, by citing the problems he sees with Flash, including security, poor performance and no support for touch-based interfaces.

"Flash was created during the PC era -- for PCs and mice," Jobs said. "Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards -- all areas where Flash falls short."

Jobs' letter marks a major offensive against Adobe, which has said that Apple's Flash ban reflects a "disturbing trend where Apple is starting to inhibit broad categories of innovation on their platforms." Apple's motivation, according to Adobe, is purely business: The computer maker wants "closed" systems where developers pay an "Apple Tax" to offer software for its devices through the company's online App Store.

However, Jobs said "technology issues," many of which Adobe has already refuted, were the real reasons behind Apple's decision.

Among the issues listed was security. Quoting security vendor Symantec, Jobs said Flash had "one of the worst security records in 2009."

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"We also know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash," Jobs said, referring to the company's desktop and laptop computers. "We have been working with Adobe to fix these problems, but they have persisted for several years now. We don’t want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods, and iPads by adding Flash."

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Besides security and reliability, there's the issue of battery life, according to Jobs. Apple prefers to use a video decoder called H.264, which is in the chips of the company's mobile devices. Besides offering better performance, this can almost double the device's battery life, when compared to using software, such as Flash, to decode video.

In addition, Flash doesn't support touch-based interfaces, which are key to interacting with the iPhone and the iPad. "Flash was designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers," Jobs said.

Rather than Flash, Apple is requiring developers for its platform to use Web technologies, such as HTML5, cascading style sheets (CSS) and JavaScript, as an alternative. The use of these open standards addresses a key objection Jobs has with Flash, beyond the technological issues: Placing a third-party software maker between developers and Apple's platform.

"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," Jobs said.

The CEO argued that such a scenario means new features added to a platform can't be accessed until the third-party software maker gets around to supporting them. This could take far too long when the software maker, such as Adobe, is supporting several platforms at once.

"We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers," Jobs said.

While Jobs may not have the last word on the controversy, his position indicates its unlikely Flash will be added anytime soon, if ever, to Apple's mobile devices. Therefore, it appears Adobe made the right decision this month when it stopped development of its Flash-to-iPhone technology, and would focus on smartphones based on Google's Android operating system.

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