Re: Steve Jobs’ “Thoughts on Flash”

Steve Jobs recently posted the following article on Apple’s website, presumably to speak to the masses of people asking why the company is refusing to entertain support for Adobe’s Flash plug-in on their mobile devices. You can read the article here:, and then feel free to come back and read my thoughts…on his thoughts.

I’ll address the points in the article in order, so first I’d like to speak to Mr. Jobs’ point about “Open”. Yes, everyone knows that Flash is a proprietary, plugin-based platform and that it is not “open source”. Yes, Apple has adopted open source standards such as HTML5, JavaScript and CSS, this is not debated. However, the fact that there is so much Flash based content on the web makes Flash an accepted standard, and the fact that Apple mobile devices do not support it makes them less open from a CONSUMER standpoint. Bear in mind that most consumers don’t care what technology is used to build the site they are viewing…but if they go to say on their iPhone while they’re standing in front of the dealership trying to decide which car to buy ( is an entirely Flash built site…I should know, I built it) and it won’t render on their iPhone, that consumer is going to be upset. It is for this reason that I would say that, while from a development perspective Apple has adopted the open standards, from a consumer perspective they are picking and choosing what web content the consumer can and can’t access on their mobile device, which is decidedly NOT “open”.

About the “full web”. Yes, this is the reason people are saying that Apple’s mobile devices are not “open”, but videos and banner ads are not necessarily the concern here…nor are games. Flash and Flex are used to create a plethora of web-based applications, including full-scale websites, to micro-sites, to movie EPK sites. The reason it is used for these things is because it can do things from a user experience perspective that no “markup” language will ever be able to do…not the least of which being seamless transitions. For example: has an HD video background that is constantly moving throughout the experience. On top of that it is a site with sections, and sub-sections, and sections below that. When you switch sections on, the video background doesn’t have to stop and reload, because all these moving parts exist within the same application. Instead, the background continues to play AS the current section animates closed and the next section animates open. This provides a COMPLETELY seamless user experience which, by the way, is fully bookmark-able to the user as well, thanks to Asual’s SwfAddress (which IS “open-source”, btw). An HTML site cannot provide this type of seamless transition simply because each page is…well…a separate page that gets loaded into your browser independent of your other pages. It’s the nature of a markup language, and no one’s bashing it…it simply can’t do the same things that Flash can. So yes, Mr. Jobs has addressed video and games, but what about the many companies that use Flash for their websites? What if you’re in front of a movie theater trying to decide which movie to see, but you can’t see the EPK site on your iPhone? 99% (maybe even 99.9%) of movie EPK sites are built in Flash or Flex…perhaps something to keep in mind.

Steve’s third bullet-point was security and performance. Ok, so Flash does have some issues, and I would understand if it didn’t come PRE-INSTALLED on Apple mobile devices…however, why would you not give your users the OPTION to use this technology? You could even put a disclaimer as they’re installing it: “Apple does not take responsibility for the effects of this plugin on the performance of your phone”…how do you lose on this one? Not only that, but Google is working hand-in-hand with Adobe to OPTIMIZE Flash for Android…why can Apple not do the same?

The fourth point about battery life, I have the same opinion as point #3: choice. Users should have a choice to drain their battery as fast as they want, by using whatever plugin they want or playing whatever game they want, regardless of whether you think they are stupid for doing so.

Ahh, touch…the fifth point. Yes, a lot of Flash sites use the rollOver event to add visual cues to their UI. However, the lack of this event because of their being no mice on a touch screen will (about 80% of the time) not render the site functionless by any means. For the most part, rollovers are used for visual and audio effects on menu items, and so the site performance, while it would suffer a bit perhaps visually and audibly, would not suffer in a functional way because menu item SELECTION is still click based, and a mouse click is the same as a finger tap. Now as for the 20% of people or companies who do use rollovers functionally in their site (again, the main menu items use rollover to display the sub-navigation), let’s address them for a minute. Would they rather hire the developer that built their site originally to create a slightly modified version of their site where the first click or “tap” opens the sub-menu (thus making it touch-friendly) and the second actually navigates you, and then create logic to read the user-agent and render out the “touch” or “mouse” version of the site accordingly (probably about a week or two worth of work in most cases), or would they rather rebuild THE ENTIRE site from scratch (for reference, was a 9-10 month build), using a technology they are being forced into? Knowing most clients I have worked for, they a) do not like being “forced” into anything, and b) if they’re choosing between 1-2 weeks of a single developer’s time to achieve a similar result of a 9-10 month multi-developer build…you guessed it, they’ll go for the cheaper option.

Also, on a side note, Flash is also used to build standalone interactive kiosk displays, most of which use touch-screens…this has been an application of the software for quite some time now, so I think the “no support of touch” argument is a little bit moot.

As for the sixth argument about allowing Adobe to release an iPhone app compiler, I have to say that Steve is probably correct on this one. Adobe probably won’t support every single feature available to a developer using the iPhone SDK…so on this point I defer to him. That being said, say you are a Flash developer who just wants to release an “app” version of your game…this may not require every single feature available in the SDK…and maybe you only need the basics. It might be nice to have a choice of whether to use the full SDK or be able to code basic apps via Flash, but that is strictly conjecture…the way I see it, if Apple wants to maintain their SDK as the only way to release iPhone/Pad/Pod apps, then I believe that is reasonable.

As for the other points, it’s all about choice guys. It would be fine if Flash did not come “with” Apple mobile devices, and even that if (when) a user installs it, they get a glaring disclaimer that you don’t approve, battery-life will suffer, etc… but at least give your users the option of using whatever technology they want. The lack of choice is what is leading people to call Apple a “closed” mobile platform, because these people are consumers, and for the most part, they don’t really understand “open-source”. All they understand is that they want to be able to see “x”, “y” and “z”, and Apple devices only support “a”.

And those are my ramblings on Mr. Jobs’ “Thoughts on Flash”.

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