Who speaks for Steve Jobs?

Well, no one does, most assuredly not me… but in this case, I feel I can come close by saying this is what I think Steve might agree with if he were still with us today….

Ok, so one of Adobe’s flash engineers, Mike Chambers, blogged about, among other things, the decision by Adobe to stop Flash development on mobile devices.  Mike’s out there more or less blaming Apple… several times in his post… as the primary reason Adobe nixed mobile Flash.  That’s a big line of shit.  For starters, while it’s true Apple was in no hurry to let Flash onto iOS devices, Flash would have had a chance if Mike Chambers (and the rest of the Flash development team) would have addressed the technical reasons pointed out by Steve Jobs back in April of 2010.  In a nutshell… from the open letter from Steve Jobs:

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. We have been working with Adobe to fix these problems, but they have persisted for several years now. We don’t want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods and iPads by adding Flash.

In addition, Flash has not performed well on mobile devices. We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now. We have never seen it. Adobe publicly said that Flash would ship on a smartphone in early 2009, then the second half of 2009, then the first half of 2010, and now they say the second half of 2010. We think it will eventually ship, but we’re glad we didn’t hold our breath. Who knows how it will perform?

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. Many of the chips used in modern mobile devices contain a decoder called H.264 – an industry standard that is used in every Blu-ray DVD player and has been adopted by Apple, Google (YouTube), Vimeo, Netflix and many other companies.

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.

When websites re-encode their videos using H.264, they can offer them without using Flash at all. They play perfectly in browsers like Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome without any plugins whatsoever, and look great on iPhones, iPods and iPads.

Touch.

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?

Even if iPhones, iPods and iPads ran Flash, it would not solve the problem that most Flash websites need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices.

Now, Steve didn’t really beat around the bush here, he stated simply, and truthfully that Flash lacked the reliability, security, and performance required by Apple to even consider putting Flash on iOS.  What Mike’s missing here is that just because Flash has major penetration on desktops/laptops, that doesn’t mean that Flash gets a free ride on whatever other platforms come down the pike.  It’s clearly the fault of the engineering team in charge of Flash development at Adobe that wouldn’t, or couldn’t produce a product tailored to the needs of a mobile device.  Now maybe the folks at Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG, and Huawei don’t seem to think battery life is an issue, but at the end of the day, you have millions of Android handsets out there with owners who bitch about poor battery life.  At the same time, Apple (driven by Steve Jobs’ leadership) put battery life high on the list of what’s important.  Their products show it too… Apple is constantly improving operational time on their devices by A) The physical approach… bigger, better built, higher density batteries, and B) Smart coding.  Pressing the coders to think of ways to improve battery performance though the use of hardware when possible, and simpler, straightforward things like not allowing “live” wallpapers.

At the end of the day, it’s the name on the phone that determines who gets the blame when a phone doesn’t perform as expected.  If my “Acme” smartphone crashes all the time, gets hacked, and eats the shit out of my battery because of Flash, it’s not Adobe, or Flash that gets blamed, it’s “Acme”.  Why?  For one, people are stupid, and they look at the Phone, see “Acme” and associate “Acme” with a piece of shit smartphone that is busy crashing or being hacked when it’s not draining the shit out of the battery.

It is my firm belief that if Adobe would have addressed the many issues Flash faced on mobile devices, that in the end Apple would have ultimately had to allow Flash on the iOS bus because penetration would have been high already due to acceptance by Android, and if the performance issues were addressed, there would have been no reason (at least from a performance standpoint) to keep Flash off of iOS.  However, Steve Jobs had no qualms telling it like it is… and had the balls to say no, the Emperor has no clothes… not to mention reliability, security, or conservative power usage, and was willing to roll the dice that iPhone and iOS backed by a better alternative… HTML 5 would be a better choice for Apple, and Apple’s large base of satisfied customers, who like their efficient running, non crashing iPhones and iPads, not to mention the sales figures, and returning customers, to prove that Steve was right all along.  The difference is that Steve Jobs wasn’t intimidated by large, dominant forces.  He held his ground and maintained the guiding principles, the “Prime Directive” at Apple to set the bar high, and set ground rules that cannot be bent.  That’s why Apple sometimes makes decisions that may seem odd or even bad decisions at the time, but, in the end, you look back and realize they were right.

So, to you, Mike Chambers, don’t blame Apple for the death of Flash on mobile devices, hell, don’t even blame yourself.  Put the blame where it most sits.  The fragmentation issues faced by Android are probably the biggest contributing factor.  It’s just not good business sense to continue to invest money to support Flash on “the many faces of Android” and so even if Flash executed flawlessly on all platforms, was rock solid secure, and charged the battery instead of drained it, then it still is probably not a good bet due to the investment needed to keep up with the lack of uniformity on Android.  Still, some of the blame should fall on the team that dropped the ball… The Flash development team seemed to not even try to address the issues that, to this day, plague Flash on both desktops and mobile devices.

At the end of the day, it was your bosses, not Apple who killed Flash on mobile.  I wonder what they think about you getting out there publicly to blame a dead guy for your inadequacies, and I wonder what they think about you.  I also wonder if you’re concerned over your employment status in the near future.

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