Steve Jobs to Adobe: How Do I Hate Flash? Let Me Count the Ways


Steve Jobs and Adobe Systems (ADBE) entered another round of fisticuffs Thursday, with the Apple (AAPL) founder and CEO throwing repeated punches in an open letter explaining why Adobe's Flash will never make it onto the iPhone, iPad and iPod.

While some of the six reasons Jobs cited will resonate with third-party developers who are crunching code for the iPhone and consumers who are addicted to their Flash-based games, Jobs's lengthy letter also begs the question: Why even bother to write a four-page letter on the topic?

Apple has been able to sell a ton of iPhones without making Flash part of the picture, so from a business standpoint, the absence of Flash apparently hasn't hurt. It could be the letter was prompted not so much by the long-running battle between Apple and Adobe over this issue, but by Adobe's own one-two punch last week.

Adobe last Tuesday announced it would discontinue its efforts to create a way for Flash developers to move their work into applications that reside within the iPhone and iPad. That was followed the next day by a blog post from Apple's arch-iPhone rival Google (GOOG) proclaiming a virtual love fest between its Android mobile phone operating system and Adobe's products. According to the post, Adobe "engineering teams have been working closely to bring both AIR and Flash Player to Google's mobile operating system and devices."

So Jobs's letter could be a sign that Apple's iPhone is feeling the heat from Android-based phones, which are quickly gaining their fair share of the mobile market.

A Six Point Litany

In explaining why developers and customers can live without Flash on its i-products, Jobs cites a fairly compelling reason in the last entry of his six-point diatribe:

Besides the fact that Flash is closed and proprietary, has major technical drawbacks, and doesn't support touch based devices, there is an even more important reason we do not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods and iPads. We have discussed the downsides of using Flash to play video and interactive content from websites, but Adobe also wants developers to adopt Flash to create apps that run on our mobile devices.

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.

In plain English, Jobs wants to avoid a bottleneck. The faster outside developers can create new snazzy, must-have applications for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, the quicker Apple and these developers can generate revenues from Apple's Apps Store.

The mercurial CEO did agree with Adobe's claim that Apple's i-devices can't play Flash games. But his response was to invite users to try the more than 50,000 games and entertainment titles in its App Store, a number of which are free. However, that tough-it-out approach may not sit well with consumers when it comes time for them to renew their AT&T (T) iPhone contracts, especially when other options, like Android, are available.

In his parting salvo, Jobs offers up this advice to Adobe:

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.