Thoughts on “Thoughts”

Now that this site has been down for a month (Thank you, SARSxSW), I tried to see restart this blog with a deep thought.

I couldn’t come up with anything.

So instead, I’ll talk about the tech news. Recently a lot has been going on about Steve Jobs latest missive: “Thoughts on Flash” to which, Adobe’s CEO quickly responded to in the Wall Street Journal.

Instead of rushing to Apple’s defense here, I thought I’d provide some thoughts on these “thoughts.”


My first thought is Steve Jobs is a great communicator. That’s obvious to the point that books have (literally) been written about it, but people don’t realize that the vaunted Reality Distortion Field seems to extend to his writing also. Everything is easy-to-grasp even if you are non-technical and the argument is clear. Even though Jobs violates the Rule of Three, This allows him to weave an illusion of overwhelming evidence for why Apple is not supporting Flash in the iPhone or allowing cross-platform development.

My next thought was that the last time Jobs did this was three years ago with his “Thoughts on Music” and it’s instructive to look back at that article also. In that article, Jobs explained why Apple sells music with DRM, why Apple won’t license DRM to third parties, and posits a future where the end of DRM will be inevitable (which eventually happened).

The last thought is that most CEOs are horrible communicators. Or, more specifically, Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe, is a horrible communicator. It is confusing as he meanders from topic to topic and uses terms and concepts that are not instantly understandable. It is incomplete in that he doesn’t even address the “touch interface” argument. It is deceptive in that 100 Flash-created iPod apps is less than .07% out there and thus insignificant. It is even perhaps obviously wrong as any user of Adobe products knows that Flash uses a huge chunk of CPU/battery during video playback (especially of non-H.264 encoded videos). Even if some of Flash’s performance problems on the Macintosh are because Apple lags in exposing hardware acceleration APIs, people are simply not going to buy that Adobe shouldn’t shoulder some blame for crashing and sluggishness. Many people have used, Adobe Acrobat, Shantanu, and that shit you’re spewing doesn’t pass the smell test.

This must be especially frustrating because the basic thrust of the argument should be easier to argue for Adobe than Apple. After all, at the end of the day, what the consumer cares about when we refer to “open” is the power in the hands of the public or in the hands of the company. And, by that definition, in this case, Adobe’s Flash platform is “more open” than Apple’s iPhone/iPad one.

Here is a quick (10 minute) pretend attempt to address Steve Job’s argument if I were CEO of Adobe: (By the way, I side with Apple here. As long as the iPhone isn’t a majority share of the smartphone market, they are well within their rights to do whatever and exclude whomever they want. In a duel between two multi-billion dollar corporations, it’s hard for me to have an ounce of empathy for either. This is just a thought experiment on how I’d try to make a convincing argument if I were Adobe, instead of the PR disaster I just read.)

Thoughts on “Thoughts on Flash”

As Steve Jobs mentions, Apple and Adobe have had a long and close relationship formed over many years. Steve has already mentioned that this partnership has been instrumental in the creation of the desktop publishing revolution.  In the 90’s when not a month would pass by before some analyst was predicting the imminent death of Apple, Adobe remained committed to the Macintosh platform providing products like Adobe Photoshop® that performed just as faithfully on the Mac as on Windows. When it seemed that every user had switched to Windows, Adobe’s actions managed to keep half of the creative world still happy on their Macs. Indeed, even with the growth of the internet, Adobe Flash® has always remained a cross-browser, cross-platform solution for the web. Very few companies can claim this level of commitment, no other large software company can make this claim.

Moreover, Adobe has been tracking the iPhone with interest. We recently introduced Adobe Ideas for the iPad, to get our feet wet as a developer on Apple’s own platform. Our primary mission is to make tools that allow creative people to express themselves. And what our customers were asking for is how can I make iPhone applications as easily as I make Flash ones? Adobe made Flash Professional CS5 to address that need.

Now with the changes in licensing, Apple is making it impossible for application Flash Professional CS5 to create iPhone applications. It bears emphasis that there is no technical reason for this, only a licensing one that Apple has chosen to add at the last minute.

Overall, the article Steve writes intentionally confounds two things: Flash playback support on the Safari browser and Flash Professional CS5 to make native iPhone applications. It is because Apple choses, at the 11th hour, to prevent both when both technical hurdles preventing this have finally been removed that we feel the reasoning there was not technical one but solely a business one.

Now let us address the arguments, one at a time.

First there is “Open.”

Adobe feels that if the content that is created can be accessed on multiple-platforms such that no one but the creator has control of the content, then that is “open.” Apple feels that if it is built using an “open” standard then the platform is “open.” This difference is largely one of philosophy. At Adobe, we do not restrict what platform you use to create your content; we do not restrict what content you create; we do not restrict how you distribute the content. In this sense, we feel that Adobe Flash is “open” and the Apple iPhone is not.

Moreover, just like Photoshop can create a proprietary file, it also creates many file types (like JPEG) that can be interchanged in a non-proprietary, open manner. Similarly, this is our vision for Flash. What could be more aligned with that concept openness than the ability to use Flash to create an application native to the iPhone that has no Flash in it? As HTML5 evolves, Adobe will support that too and is looking at HTML5 development with great interest and excitement. If HTML5 has not replaced Flash, does the blame lie with Adobe or does it lie with with browser manufactures who have been unable to provide a consistent platform for supporting it and softare tools makers that have been unable to build developer tools that come close to what Adobe has done with Flash?

Adobe products compete on an open market. Images, video, and documents created using the Adobe products compete against others of the same nature. Similarly, as HTML5 evolves to cover some fraction of what Flash is capable of doing, Flash applications compete with HTML and Javascript ones in an open market. Indeed, they already do and have for many years. Because of this Adobe Flash has interacted with Javascript and Adobe Photoshop has had full Javascript support (and HTML export) for years. For content related to production of documents specifically, Adobe PDF is an open standard adopted by all comers. In fact, it, with no restrictions, forms the basis of all graphics on the Apple’s Macintosh since 2002!

Second there is the “full web.”

What Apple fails to mention in their argument is that most of the 75% the video on the web encoded in H.264 is video encoded for Flash-based players.

What Apple fails to mention in their explanation of 50,000 games and entertainment titles is many of the best, like Sally’s Spa for instance, appeared as Flash applications on the web long before they came to being in the iPhone. In many ways, the reason for the explosion in iPhone games is to the extent that this is directly descendent of entertainment perfected on the Web, almost all of it in Flash.

Third, there’s reliability, security, and performance.

There is some truth to thes and Adobe is working hard to correct this. Perhaps the most exciting thing in the introduction of CS5 is the strides Adobe has gone to make Flash reliable, secure and performant.

But shouldn’t this be a decision that the user makes? In the open market, if we do not work hard to make Flash be reliable, secure and performant, then wouldn’t the user naturally opt for HTML5 and native application downloads? The crescendo of Apple’s customers demanding Flash on the iPad and iPhone speaks volumes about why HTML5 and native application development hasn’t met the customer’s demand yet.

Adobe desires to make content as open and accessible as possible. If we have a way of providing this on the mobile phones the same way as on desktop web browsers then shouldn’t Apple want this? Apple’s stated goal with the iPhone was to create a phone capable of having the same browsing experience as on their computer. One of those components is Flash.

Adobe is working to address the issues Steve mentions. We have finally, after many years, accomplished this to the point that the Android smartphones will be rolling out with Flash support. After all this work done by us, why should Apple reject it, sight unseen?

Fourth, there is battery life.

To pardon the pun, Steve compares apples and oranges here. First, he is comparing Flash video encoded using older algorithms to H.264-encoded video, second he is comparing video decoded using an early version of Flash not suited to mobile devices and with no access to hardware acceleration to a native hardware-decoded solution. When you consider H.264 video with the latest version of Flash on a platform that allows hardware acceleration, CPU usage of Flash compares very favorably to any other solution. In fact, the latest Flash has recently been tested by 3rd parties as beating the native HTML5 playback in Internet Explorer on Windows.

In other words, the Flash that Steve is talking about: the Flash that would be deployed on the iPhone playing back the 75% of the video on the internet that Steve mentions, Flash would not drain battery significantly more than others. As for the remaining 25%? Well some playback is better than nothing, is it not? And how about the Flash content on the web that isn’t just a video?

Fifth, there is Touch.

The obvious reality is the internet development has standardized “rollovers” to not be an essential affordance, so this argument is an exaggeration at best. Right now, many websites today are already modified to support special features in the iPhone interface and some have recoded special versions of their website to cater iPhones specifically. The question is should they be “forced” to do this or not? We prefer to let the content creator decide how much recoding they should do. If iPhone had Flash-support, most would not need to do any. What made the iPhone revolutionary compared to any smartphone before it was its ability to show the web as it “it is” as opposed to a dumbed down version of the web. The only piece missing was Flash. Now that it is ready, Apple has decided to do without it.

Sixth, and most important, the software development argument.

Many of the most popular titles on the iPhone, the titles that have made the most money for iPhone developers, were Flash applications that were rewritten as native applications for the iPhone. What Flash Professional CS5 represented is the opportunity for developers to end this redundancy.

If it is true that this would create substandard applications, then shouldn’t those applications be allowed to fail on their own merit?

While Flash applications form the basis of many of the best titles on the iPhone, applications actually coded in Flash represent less than .07% of the iPhone application market. If actually sees a future where Flash represents even 1% of that market, then how can that share be achieved using a platform that caters to the “lowest common denominator?” Does Apple honestly feel that Adobe Photoshop caters to the “lowest common denominator” among graphic design tools?

Apple wants to ensure that the iPhone is both the most advanced and innovative platform there is. We at Adobe feel that they’ve gone a long way to doing this and wish to add Flash playback and Flash development to make it even better. If the website uses Flash or that developer used flash shouldn’t that website or application be rejected on their own merit—what they have (their content, performance, etc) and not how they were created?

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on “Thoughts”

  1. The website doesn’t appear right Safari ( it’s possible it is just me) however the article flows over on top of the comment forms textbox which means you have txt ontop of other words

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