My Thoughts on Flash and Apple

I got off the plane a short time ago and found my inbox and voice mail were full of questions about the open letter Steve Jobs posted about Flash support on the iPhone and iPad. It’s a well written letter and outlines in the clearest and most direct way yet why there’s no Flash support on the iPhone or iPad. I suggest you read it yourself but it comes down to two issues, technical and business. Jobs lays out his case well although I’m sure there will be endless debate about each word used as folks attempt to read between the lines.
So, what does it mean?

1. Don’t expect Flash anytime soon on the iPad or iPhone. If that’s a deal breaker for you, than these aren’t the devices for you. Apple is going to preserve the app experience as they see fit as that’s a core differentiator for the platform. It was Steve’s last point and it’s the one that likely matters most.

2. Like Steve, I have not seen Flash work well on a mobile device. That doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t. Adobe needs to not respond to Apple with words but rather actions and showcase shipping devices and how well they can run Flash. I’m especially interested to see how Flash works on Tegra 2 based devices.

3. The digerati can debate open and close and Apple’s motives (and they will) but none of that matters. This is the age of the connected consumer and the mass market adoption. If enough of Apple customers are frustrated to the point of not buying Apple devices, perhaps Apple will reconsider their position. Fact is, the lack of Flash does not appear to have slowed down Apple sales in the slightest. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. Apple’s customers, being viewed as valuable, are causing major content stakeholders to re-tool their content to make it available on Apple’s mobile platforms.

32 responses to “My Thoughts on Flash and Apple

  1. I’m not an “Apple Fan Boy” I use an iPhone and a MacBook Pro, along with my Acer XP laptop, my Sony Playstation 3 and a Canon Digital Camera. Sorry just had to throw that out before leaving my comment.

    After spending a few minutes reading the good, bad and ugly about this open letter and the “WAR” between Adobe and Apple, I’ve got to say to all the people. YOU HAVE A CHOICE. Steve Jobs and Apple aren’t locking you down. The iPhone isn’t the only game in town. There are at least 7 other major platforms to choose from. 2 from MS, Palm/HP, 2 from Nokia, RIM and Android. Not to mention the other feature phone makers out there. What is all the fuss about. It’s not like the iPhone had Flash and then turned it off. Apple gets to decided what it wants to put on their phone. Us as the consumer get to decided where we want to spend our money. Apple hasn’t put a gun to your head. If in 13 days your don’t like what you purchased, bring it back on the 14th day and you get your money back. Also the fight about Open vs Closed is a bit lame. Why can’t I use Xbox discs in my Playstation machine. No one is bitching about that? Why not you ask? Simple…the consumer has choice.

    BTW great blog Michael. I found you via Daring Fireball



  2. It’s about time that people figured out to forget about the pipe dream of having Flash support on Apple’s mobil devices. I was one of the skeptics when the first iPhone came out and was hoping for Flash support to happen, but then something strange happened, about the time the 3G came out, I stopped caring. I think most of the world stopped caring too. It feels to me that the main people who are still making a commotion over this are Adobe and the people who are Flash developers. If they want to go with a different device that supports Adobe Flash, go right ahead. I’ll stick with Apple.

  3. what you don’t say at the end is that there are two reasons, if one is addressed solidly (flash support in a mobile device that works or a compelling business reason) and the other is mostly-addressed then adobe will have put apple in an interesting position.

  4. Yup. What Adobe needs to do is step up to the plate and actually deliver this so-called “full internet experience” (e.g. full Flash) on a mobile/touch platform. Something that can be seen. Measured. Benchmarked. Something where we can begin to analyze the UX of their mouse-to-touch translation layers.

    I find it telling that it was easier for Adobe to build a suite of translation libraries to port existing Flash timelines to a custom-built iPhone runtime than it was to deliver *Flash* *itself* on any shipping mobile device (iPhone, Android, whatever.)

    Brimelow must be apoplectic…

  5. I’m still on my first gen iPhone that I bought the day it came out and I’ve never wished that safari could display flash. When I come across a flash based website I don’t blame Apple, I blame the lousy webmaster for not thinking about me.

  6. You hit it: Adobe needs to show Flash running, and running well, on mobile devices. Words and promises are meaningless.

    They also should make Flash open source. It’s the only hope for the platform.

  7. Looks like Apple just made an informal proposal to Adobe….You want Apple to include you in our products, give me a piece of the pie. This really defines the meaning of nothing’s free in the world. Apple’s got a great strategy and hats off to Steve Jobs.

      • kilibee, what Adobe would do is set a deadline in which measurable targeted objectives would be obtained. Hit the deadline or beat it and beat the targeted objectives with enough room that they wouldn’t need to make any excuses. If they don’t make it, accept defeat. My opinion is Adobe knows they can’t do it having already missed many of their own targeted dates.

    • How did you infer that? If anything, Job’s letter makes it clear he wants nothing to do with Adobe’s pie, which is old and crusty and full of cholesterol.

      Apple Pie, on the other hand, contains only tasty morsels of nature’s goodness.

  8. There is ONE thing Adobe could do: Make a Flash player for jailbroken iPhones. If enough people who use iPhones jailbreak their iPhones just to get Flash, Adobe would be in an excellent position to prove to Apple that Flash is important. Apple would be forced to allow Flash on their mobile platform.

    The problem is that the iPhone OS is over three years old and in those three years, Adobe has done nothing in the way of developing a Flash client. If Adobe had developed a decent Flash client for the iPhone, they might of had a chance to get it on the iPad. Or, maybe display Flash’s prowess on Android which had its first official release over 18 months ago.

    Instead, there is no mobile version of Flash on any platform.

    Actually, there’s one mobile platform that has a Flash client — the JooJoo tablet. And, Flash runs so poorly on that device and drains the battery so quickly that Adobe has officially distanced themselves from JooJoo’s implementation of Flash.

    • jailbroken phones make up an insignificant amount of the total iphone population.

      flash crashes safari on my mbp at least once a week. there is no way on earth i want that on my iphone.

      the iphone/ipad presents a different paradigm and people need to adopt a new philosophy.

  9. I will be happy to leave Flash behind IF someone can come up with an elegant way to stream audio from a web page without it…one where the player can be skinned to match the design of the site and the user doesn’t need to leave the page to hear the music.

    I’ve scoured the web looking for a decent solution. Please advise if you know where I should be looking!

  10. Well stated point of view. I still struggle with Flash on my Mac, watching incredulously as the CPU usage approaches 80% of both cores. Flash games have caused my son’s cheap PC laptop to overheat and shut off. Maybe this was a great innovation many years ago. Then again, so was the floppy disk.

  11. I want to point out to anyone complaining about the lack of Flash on Apple’s devices that there is currently NO smartphone device that has Full Flash ( I think we can all agree the Flash Lite doesn’t count). Setting aside the fact that Apple doesn’t want to allow a third party between their platform and their developers, even if they wanted to include full Flash on their devices, they couldn’t. Until Adobe actually ships something, all of these arguments for or against Apple( or recommending an alternative platform for those who want Fash) are moot. None of them have Flash and that’s no ones fault but Adobe’s.

    • Is that really the Woz? Either way, he is right. There’s more to Apple’s designs than consumers will ever realize. Maybe they eventually will when they try to sync 10G of music or download NFS on their competing devices, not that EA is going to develop big ticket games for everyone else.

  12. I think Adobe should shut up and make noise about Open vs. Closed. In the end, it is the consumer who decides. Even my laptop consumes more power when I come across a website with lots of Flash. When an entity is about to die it shouts the loudest i.e. Adobe Flash.

  13. I run a company in the online learning space (my company’s products are used in colleges and high schools). Schools and colleges around the US will not all stand up at once and require iPads and iPhones for every student, while computer access is a given. So releasing an education product dependent on the iPad/iPhone for delivery is a non-starter for an education company. Using the Web/browser combination is the only option.

    Almost every learning company delivers a lot of content as interactive animations, with Flash (and perhaps Silverlight) as the only option for delivery. Apple/Jobs has no answer for this type of educational media. Being an Apple fan (got started in HyperCard), if they did, I would seriously consider adopting their development tools and browser-based media delivery software. Apple treats Flash as if it is all about video: but in education it isn’t, not even close.
    Apple’s/Jobs’ answer to games (and he means interactive animations too here) is to write a separate iPad app to handle this interactivity. But we are back to the issue described in the first paragraph above. There simply is no good developer tool/software for creating rich interactive media in HTML5. I have seen the HTML5 animation examples on the Web: they are poor, limited in interactiviey, and likely took the developer 50X longer to do than one of my Flash developers could do in Flash.

    I hope that there are many things afoot that will quickly change the landscape for Adobe on mobile devices. Hopefully things will change when Amazon (Kindle), HP, Dell etc. all have competing products that do run Flash. If these devices fail to provide a good experience for users running Flash, or Adobe fails to provide a workable solution for those devices, then Job’s stance will be proven sound. However, Apple can easily take this position while they have little competition for this unique and revolutionary device.

    Furthermore, processors keep getting faster, and batteries better. The performance issue will become less of an issue as new devices come out.

    • “There simply is no good developer tool/software for creating rich interactive media in HTML5”

      JWC take a look at RunRev. Its a modern version of Hypercard that will quickly build web or platform native apps with all the bells and whistles you want.


  14. @ myonlinelifenow
    “I’m not an “Apple Fan Boy” I use an iPhone and a MacBook Pro, along with my Acer XP laptop, my Sony Playstation 3 and a Canon Digital Camera. Sorry just had to throw that out before leaving my comment.”

    No you didn’t. It’s so sad that we now have to first say that we are not a ‘fan’ of some product or technology and then list our owned devices and their manafucturers before we dare to even enter a discussion. All in fear of either getting flamed or being accused flaming.

    This attitude is poisoning almost every single discussion on technical issues such as these. It’s childish, demoralizing and utter fail.

    It doesn’t matter, make a good point or not. Ignore people that have nothing meaningful to add.


    • Hey Mike, You’re totally right..Force of habit I guess. Never know who’s going to slam your option.


  15. My point:

    It was a strategic blunder of Adobe to invest in tooling support for the iPhone. I think a better decision would have been to spend those resources on HTML5 tooling support. I once read that John Nack, program manager for Photoshop, was investigating demand for iPhone specific features in Photoshop vNext. I believe that is in the same category of fail. Many reactions on his blogpost were from disillusioned Fireworks users that tried to explain him that Adobe already has a great tool for iPhone app designers. It seems to me that Adobe needs a clearer strategic vision.

  16. No one likes to be made obsolete, but Flash is absolutely not helping the web to advance. What’s more annoying than finding that a site you actually need information from was buil using Flash?

    I do use the web for entertainment, but almost never as a toy. Flash is great for building toys. I say this as someone who once built sites in Flash, and later had to admit to clients I had made the wrong call.

    These days, when I see a heavily-Flashed site, I think “well, somebody’s nephew needed summer work.”

  17. Hey, Adobe! Flash = Floppy drive. Served a purpose, now obsolete. Get over it and update your web design apps!

    I look forward to not installing any plug-ins when I get a new computer. I stopped installing RealPlayer. I don’t want to install Flash. Hopefully I won’t be installing Window Media stuff on my Mac in the near future either.

    Good riddance!

  18. @Jay
    But well, people are going to do the same in HTML5/canvas. Look at sites like, it’s a lot like experimental Flash sites from back in the day. HTML5 pieces that resemble Flash routinely get the most attention (exploding videos, games). Banner ads will be done in canvas eventually. There’s a certain demand for “flashiness” and toys if you like it or not. It’s part of the web.
    And to be fair there’s still a few things Flash does that HTML5 doesn’t, like P2P video (think live streaming), webcam/microphone access, sound manipulation, efficient binary objects…

    Adobe seems to get lost a bit in “Apple screw you” rants instead of promoting its product’s merits.

  19. “If enough of Apple customers are frustrated to the point of not buying Apple devices, perhaps Apple will reconsider their position.”

    How would Apple be able to guess the cause? “Me not buying an iPhone/iPad because of the way they’re handling the dev/AppStore experience” looks exactly the same to them as “me not buying an iPad because it doesn’t have Flash” or “…because it doesn’t have a webcam”? (Exactly one of these is true.)

  20. > The digerati can debate open and close

    What’s amazing is some people are so anxious to Apple bash that we see Linux users defending Flash. There isn’t even a Flash authoring tool for Linux, it’s Mac/Windows only.

    HTML5 is the most open API ever implemented. There’s no rational way to argue that Flash is more open.

  21. I agree with the sentiment that Adobe needs to demo Flash working well, with minimal resource consumption on a mobile device.

    The other place Adobe needs to step up, which many have already noted, is in creative frameworks for HTML5 based graphics and video…they are more qualified than anyone, yet nothing.

    BUT, on the other hand… Apple is not green in the creative software department either (see Final Cut, iPhoto, Aperture, GarageBand, etc). They can lead here too, and it can’t hurt their platform or cause.

  22. I believe flash has always been a pain , becoz it was never as smooth as video should be , there technology needed revival but i think Apple made good choice , Apple wants users to use smoother systems , which are not for a bad user experience , HTML5 what more you need , did you see new iAds ? they dont need flash at all , creative content who says only flash can do creative animated content ? flash can definitely do a substandard version of what HTML5 or Java can do , Adobe instead of lip profession trying to defend your old jaggy Flash technology , Update it for the future , Don’t Blame iphone OS , it is smooth as butter it is just you Flash who is lagging behind , and moreover people who think flash is a must have , good luck to you guys i am outta here , by the way did anyone miss flash on their iphone ?

  23. Everyone says Apple has to step up and allow Flash but in reality it’s entirely up to Adobe to prove Flash belongs on the iPhone in the first place. From my point of view, there are a couple problems that Adobe needs to consider:

    1) Flash performs poorly on everything but Windows PCs. Try Flash on any Mac and you’ll understand why most Apple fans don’t like Flash; it’s slow, unstable, kills the battery, runs the RAM hard, and is generally painful to use. It seems to me that if Adobe wants to intice Steve Jobs to allow Flash on iPhone, they might want to retool it so that it actually works properly on Macs.

    2) Flash is proprietary, and does not conform to (or even attempt to conform to) web standards bodies by open sourcing itself. If Adobe wants Flash adoption to be ubiquitous, it should release Flash as an open framework. The fact that it refuses to do so means it’s just another proprietary software vendor, or rather, a proprietary plugin. Apple has no more reason to support Flash than it does Silverlight, Active-X, or any other plugins.

    As others have said, I think it’s up to Adobe to prove it wants Flash to be ubiquitous. If it wants to be included in the “real internet” then it has to open itself up as an open source technology. Otherwise, it will never be anything more than a proprietary extension.

    Moreover, as others have also noted, Adobe ought to be investing in developing killer HTML5 toolsets. Flash as a programming language is on the way out; Adobe as a brand associated with creative development on the web doesn’t have to be.

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