Thursday, April 29, 2010

Steve Job's Thoughts on Flash

Today, Steve Jobs posted an open letter titled Thoughts on Flash, in which he lays out the reasons why Apple doesn't want Flash on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. It's Steve, so there's a little bit of RDF, but it's actually refreshingly straightforward and rational. It seems to be striking an almost conciliatory tone towards Adobe and certainly takes a far more mature tone than Adobe has taken toward Apple in their public grousing since the new SDK agreement came out.

Steve ends the letter by encouraging Adobe to do what I (and many others) have suggested they do, which is create tools for generating HTML5 content. There are some tentative first-steps towards that in Flash CS5 from what I understand, but the time for Adobe to strike and take ownership of HTML5 content creation is now, not two or three years from now when CS6 ships. If Adobe can get a kick-ass content creation tools that outputs open standards-compliant interactive content out the door, they'll have an instant runaway success on their hands. It's a market with huge potential and Adobe could own the space if they were to make smart decisions.

Willingness to foresee and change corporate strategy is vital to long-term success. Have you ever read the history of Reuters? Reuters started as a carrier pigeon company. When the telegraph came on the scene, they certainly could have whined and complained and even insisted that their customers continue using carrier pigeons, but they were smart enough to realize pigeons were an outdated technology that couldn't compete with the telegraph. Instead, they invested heavily in telegraph technology. As communication technology continued to change over the last 150 years, Reuters saw the changes coming, accepted them, embraced them and, as a result, they are still around today, bigger and stronger than ever.

Adobe needs to accept and embrace the fact that Flash has been supplanted by better technologies, especially when it comes to mobile and embedded devices. It doesn't mean they need to abandon Flash (though I wouldn't mind if they did), but they need to realize that it's moribund due to the fact that the embedded market has a very different dynamic and makeup than the desktop world did back in the late nineties when Flash was born. A single-vendor proprietary solution is untenable when you have as many different viable operating systems and hardware manufacturers as we do in the mobile space.

It's truly sad that Adobe is unable to see or embrace where the mobile web is going and continues to insist on trying to control where it does go. Adobe's failure to accept these things is preventing their developer customers from reaching one of the most profitable and desirable mobile markets. In fact, their decisions thus far have, in reality, prevented those customers from effectively reaching any mobile market yet. Despite several years of promises that ubiquitous mobile Flash was just around the corner, it hasn't happened yet. In the meantime, nearly ubiquitous adoption of HTML5 on smartphones has occurred. It's supported, out of the box, by every major platform except Windows Mobile, and Windows Mobile has dwindled down to single-percentage market share.



16 comments:

Dave said...

"It's truly sad that Adobe is unable to see or embrace where the mobile web is going and continues to insist on trying to control where it does go."

Care to explain how Adobe "controls" the direction of the web?

The only party trying to force the direction of the web in this debacle is Apple. Flash player is an optional install. You can block Flash content if you hate it so much. Give the users the choice and if Flash really does suck as bad as you and Steve claim it does then Flash use will decline on its own.

Jeff LaMarche said...

"Care to explain how Adobe "controls" the direction of the web?"

They don't, I didn't say they did. See that word "trying"? Yeah, it's actually part of the sentence I wrote. And they have "tried". They took a seat on the HTML steering committee, then proceeded to throw up obstacles to adoption. They keep pushing their proprietary solution for the mobile web and have worked against the open standards that threaten to obsolete their technology. They are not working for what's good for the consumer or the market in general, they're doing what is good for them. What they're doing is the equivalent of Reuters lobbying for laws to make telegraph pole illegal.

"Give the users the choice and if Flash really does suck as bad as you and Steve claim it does then Flash use will decline on its own."

I'm tired of this stupid argument. Consumers don't know or care how things are created, and they don't know who's to blame when stuff goes wrong. If Mobile Safari crashes, consumers are going to assume it's Apple's fault. Apple doesn't want that, understandably.

Users have choice - they get to choose their platform, and 90 million people so far have chosen a mobile platform without Flash.

If Flash sucks on mobile, Flash will not necessarily decline. That's been proven. Flash on the Mac is the single-largest cause of Safari crashes, yet Flash use hasn't declined at all because most people don't know that's why it's crashing. They assume it's Safari that's at fault, and they have no reason to think otherwise.

Apple isn't forcing anything with regards to the web except the creation, refinement, and adoption of open standards. Not supporting another company's proprietary technology is hardly "forcing" anything.

"You can block Flash content if you hate it so much."

I do, thanks. But it's not really about choice because most people don't know there's a choice to make. Lazy developers have continued to use Flash even when there are open alternatives because it's easier for them and they're comfortable with the old technology, not because it's better for consumers.

Dave said...

Very classy Jeff. A true professional. You can't even have a simple conversation without frothing at the mouth.

John said...

And just think how Adobe's tools would take off if they lowered their prices and made them affordable for hobbyists and aspiring developers and designers. Instead, that whole market is being lost to Acorn, Pixelmator and other upstarts.

JayDizzle said...

>> "Consumers don't know or care how things are created, and they don't know who's to blame when stuff goes wrong. "

This!

**********

>> "If Mobile Safari crashes, consumers are going to assume it's Apple's fault. Apple doesn't want that, UNDERSTANDABLY."

Yep! Think of it as a "guilty by association" argument (can't think of a better analogy but you folks catch my drift)

**********

>> "They are not working for what's good for the consumer or the market in general, they're doing WHAT IS GOOD FOR THEM."

Same thing with Apple, Jeff.

**********

>> "Apple isn't forcing anything with regards to the web except the creation, refinement, and adoption of open standards. Not supporting another company's proprietary technology is hardly "forcing" anything."

Not supporting Flash limits developers' choices - hence it IS forcing it.

**********

The bottom line for me in all this is what Jeff said:

"Consumers don't know or care how things are created, and they don't know who's to blame when stuff goes wrong."

And because crashes lead to bad user experience, it really doesn't matter in the end what the culprit is. The majority of users will always put the blame on the thing that delivers that content, in this case, the browser (ergo Safari, ergo Apple).

I think Steve summed it up pretty well when he said this:

"We don’t want reduce the RELIABILITY and SECURITY of our iPhones, iPods and iPads by adding Flash."

RELIABILITY, RELIABILITY, RELIABILITY.

That's prime consideration for delivering a rich user experience.


********
PS: Dave, you're a lousy debater. You resort to "insults" (e.g. "frothing at the mouth") at the faintest sign of being outargued.

Seth Caldwell said...

This is a very one sided argument you have presented. I actually prefer flash because of its reliability; I don't have to worry that some OS/browser combo will render my page differently. Apple wants everyone to make apps that look nice in their devices, and doesn't care how those apps look (or if they work) on other devices. Bottom line they are playing a game against adobe here and instead of playing fair, they are simply ignoring adobe's hand and hiding it from everyone else at the table. This is immature and bad form. Why can't they just give adobe a few engineers to make a reliable flash VM on mac??!? Is it really that hard???

Rogelio GudiƱo said...

I completely agree with Steve Jobs, I think he really nailed it. Since the beginning of the year Apple has done great, there is no doubt Steve Jobs is on of the best CEOs out there, if not the best.

Erik said...

Seth, I think you inadvertently are clarifying a few things, though not in the way you intend.

"I actually prefer flash because of its reliability; I don't have to worry that some OS/browser combo will render my page differently." When I think of reliability, I think of users being able to use software without it crashing. You seem to be talking about something else – perhaps developer convenience.

"Apple wants everyone to make apps that look nice in their devices, and doesn't care how those apps look (or if they work) on other devices." I completely agree with you.

How does each company make money? Apple makes money by making devices that work so well people want to buy them. Adobe makes money by selling software that allows developers to create once and deploy to multiple operating systems and devices.

Is it any wonder Apple has a reputation for providing excellent user experience, while Adobe is derided for producing bloated, resource-hungry software?

thealpha said...

Flash has been one of the biggest knives in the back of web usability and user experience since it's inception, but was unfortunate "necessity" due to the lack of desired native browser functionality. However, that tide has been changing over the past 5 - 8 years with the strides made by Safari, Chrome, and FF. Adobe really should have woken up and looked at the future of Flash with the launch of javascript libraries: jQuery, MooTools, Prototype, etc. There speed, agile flexibility and feature sets are far better than Flash. Developers no longer need to relay on some proprietary software that sucked. In addition, due to the emergence of HTML5, Flash is just circulating the drain. Why would anyone invest in a third party software to run inside of a browser when they could choose native browser technologies.

Leo said...

Can anyone point me to some great examples of HTML5 applications?
I want to see how great they perform, and how accessible and reliable they are.

For example, what would be the HTML5 equivalent of aviary.com?

ambert said...

@Leo,

Ajaxian.com

I don't have a list for you off the top of my head since I haven't been too close on the html5 front, but ajaxian pretty much posts all the newest cool jazz that comes along

Jim Schmidt said...

I hate to be blunt, but, "rational"? Steve Jobs -- for whatever reason -- is refusing to deliver to his customers what they want. He is either intentionally deceiving (if this whole brouhaha amounts to a format war between Apple and Adobe), or he's deluded himself into believing that the issue is as complex as he has insisted on making it. The bottom line is that Flash has long been a part of just about everyone's Web experience; HTML5, on the other hand, doesn't even exist yet. Jobs and Adobe can play all the business games they want, but I'm afraid I've got to call a spade a spade: not including Flash in a Web browser is silly. Period.

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