Steve Jobs has written a letter titled 'Thoughts On Flash' and placed it on the Apple web site. The letter appears to be an attempt by Steve Jobs and Apple to clarify its position with relation to Adobe Flash. Those looking for reconcilliation, however, may need to carry on looking: the letter elaborates on why Apple does not, and will not, include Flash in its mobile devices.

Apple and Adobe's relationship has been rumoured to be strained after Apple refused to allow Adobe's Flash player technology to be integrated into its Safari web application provided in the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad devices. In February it was reported that Steve Jobs told Apple employees "Adobe is lazy."

Later it was reported that Steve Jobs told representatives from the Wall Street Journal that Adobe Flash was "a CPU hog".

Apple's stance has prevented owners of Apple mobile devices from viewing content created in Adobe Flash, including Flash-based video and from playing Flash-based applications (mostly games). Recently Apple went as far as to ban apps that were originally created using the Adobe Flash Professional creative application, and re-coded into iPhone apps using technology found in Adobe Flash CS5.

The letter starts by recognising the "long relationship" between Adobe and Apple. Steve Jobs says: "we met Adobe’s founders when they were in their proverbial garage. Apple was their first big customer, adopting their Postscript language for our new Laserwriter printer. Apple invested in Adobe and owned around 20% of the company for many years." He then cools somewhat: "Today the two companies still work together to serve their joint creative customers – Mac users buy around half of Adobe’s Creative Suite products – but beyond that there are few joint interests."

Steve continues: "I wanted to jot down some of our thoughts on Adobe’s Flash products so that customers and critics may better understand why we do not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods and iPads. Adobe has characterized our decision as being primarily business driven – they say we want to protect our App Store – but in reality it is based on technology issues. Adobe claims that we are a closed system, and that Flash is open, but in fact the opposite is true. Let me explain."

Jobs then outlines six reasons why the company has taken the decision to oppose the presence of Flash on its mobile devices. They are:

1. Open
Steve Jobs states: "Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc…" He does note that Apple has "many propriety products too" but these are not web-related. "we strongly believe that all standards pertaining to the web should be open. Rather than use Flash, Apple has adopted HTML5, CSS and JavaScript – all open standards."

2. Full web
"Adobe has repeatedly said that Apple mobile devices cannot access 'the full web' because 75% of video on the web is in Flash," says Steve Jobs (we have to admit, this is a claim by Adobe that is somewhat borne out in our own experience).

"What they don’t say is that almost all this video is also available in a more modern format, H.264, and is viewable on iPhones, iPods and iPads. YouTube, with an estimated 40% of the web’s video" continues Steve Jobs. At this point he seems to lose us. What he appears to be saying is that Adobe Flash powers a lot, but not all, of web video content and that this is changing to the more modern format H.264. Our take on this is that, yes, a lot of video is moving over to H.264 content but this is because of Apple's opposition to it - rather than a reason for Apple not to include Flash in the first place.

The letter then states: "another Adobe claim is that Apple devices cannot play Flash games. This is true. Fortunately, there are over 50,000 games and entertainment titles on the App Store".  While we're hardly enamoured by the thought of playing thousands of Flash games on the iPhone it seems rather beside the point. Unless the point is "we're limiting choice by provide an alternative that we control". We can't help but note that the App Store isn't one of Apple's "open" products that Steve Jobs outlines in point 1.

3. Third, there’s reliability, security and performance.
'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" says Steve Jobs. A point  that is hard to argue with, after all, Flash is probably the number one reason our Web browsers crash as well. Although we're not completely sure about the security aspect, our Mac's seem pretty secure with or without Flash, at least from virus and malware. It's hard to imagine Flash running in anything other than a closed environment on Apple's mobile devices.

4. Battery life
"To achieve long battery life when playing video, mobile devices must decode the video in hardware; decoding it in software uses too much power." note Steve Jobs. "Although Flash has recently added support for H.264, the video on almost all Flash websites currently requires an older generation decoder that is not implemented in mobile chips and must be run in software.  The difference is striking: on an iPhone, for example, H.264 videos play for up to 10 hours, while videos decoded in software play for less than 5 hours before the battery is fully drained." As we've never run Flash on an iPhone we'll have to take his word for it. But we know Flash is a power hungry format and it's not hard to imagine it draining battery life. Mind you, there are lots of things we do on an iPhone that drain battery life - playing Real Racing, for example, surfing the Web all day with 3G enabled; capturing video on the iPhone 3G S. Battery life is an issue for the iPhone, but so is consumer choice.

5. Touch
Steve does make an interesting point about touch-screen displays. "Flash was designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers. For example, many Flash websites rely on “rollovers”, which pop up menus or other elements when the mouse arrow hovers over a specific spot. Apple’s revolutionary multi-touch interface doesn’t use a mouse, and there is no concept of a rollover. Most Flash websites will need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices. If developers need to rewrite their Flash websites, why not use modern technologies like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript?"

Our take here is that some will, some won't. Why not enable a device to take advantage of those. Again this seems more like Apple trying to force the market down its preferred route than offering a key benefit to the end user.

6. "The most important reason"
Steve states that "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."

This gets to the heart of the matter, and perhaps expands on the e-mail Steve Jobs sent to a Apple customer that briefly said "We’ve been there before, and intermediate layers between the platform and the developer ultimately produces sub-standard apps and hinders the progress of the platform." Here Steve Jobs states: "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."

Steve Jobs writes up a conclusion that we've reprinted here. It's worth a read:


Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. 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.

The avalanche of media outlets offering their content for Apple’s mobile devices demonstrates that Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content. And the 200,000 apps on Apple’s App Store proves that Flash isn’t necessary for tens of thousands of developers to create graphically rich applications, including games.

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."

Click here to read the full text of Steve Jobs' letter.