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Jobs Pens Open Letter on Adobe Flash

In an open letter posted to the Apple Web site, Apple CEO Steve Jobs house outlined his company’s reasoning for barring Flash from the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, describing Flash as a closed technology originally developed for desktop computers with PCs and mice that is ill-suited to the software and hardware demands of mobile devices. Jobs also takes Adobe to task for claiming Flash-less devices can’t access “the full Web,” pointing out that most Internet video distributed via Flash is also available in H.264 format…which works perfectly well on Apple devices.

“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,” Jobs wrote in the letter. “Adobe claims that we are a closed system, and that Flash is open, but in fact the opposite is true.”

Jobs’s letter outlines six primary reasons Apple has decided to bar intermediary layers like Adobe’s Flash-to-iPhone capability, with the sixth reason called out as the most important: Apple does not want the iPhone/iPad platform held captive by a third-party developer’s tools. “If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features,” Jobs wrote. “We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.” In other words, if a large number of iPhone developers became dependent on Adobe tools to create their applications, it wouldn’t matter what features and capabilities Apple built into the iPhone OS: if Adobe didn’t provide complete and rock-solid support for that feature, it wouldn’t matter.

Jobs also took Flash to task as old-school technology developed for “PCs using mice,” noting correctly that on mobile interfaces that have no concept of “rollovers” and similar PC interface conventions the vast majority of Flash-enabled content on the Web needs to be rewritten for mobile devices anyway. Jobs also cites Flash’s poor performance to date on mobile devices, Flash’s poor security track record, and Flash’s video’s tendency to eat battery power for lunch—unless those videos use H.264, in which case Apple products can view them just fine without Flash. Jobs also took a shot at Flash’s famous lack of stability: “Flash is the number one reason Macs crash.”

When Apple officially unveiled its forthcoming iPhone OS 4 earlier this month, it also unveiled a new developer licensing agreement that requires applications for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad to be developed using native tools, not intermediary layers or compatibility tools. That might seem like a lot of technical mumbo jumbo, but it was bad news for tech giant Adobe which had been working feverishly on a Flash-to-iPhone capability that would let Flash developers create iPhone applications. After a rare public gnashing of teeth by high-level Adobe employees, Adobe has formally abandoned the capability to push Flash applications to the iPhone.

Jobs’s open letter isn’t quite unprecedented: he also penned an open letter in 2007 outlining that Apple would drop digital rights management software in its iTunes Music Store “in a heartbeat” is labels permitted it—and iTunes music has now been DRM-free for some time. Jobs also wrote an open letter in 2007 outlining Apple’s green technology and environmental initiatives.