Apple CEO Steve Jobs: Why Flash will not happen on the iPhone OS

Many critics have poured heaps of vile and vitriol on Apple when rumblings that they are resisting the use of Flash on their mobile iPhone OS system. For years now, the battle between Adobe and Apple raged on with Adobe playing the role of the ‘good guy’ and preaching to Apple to allow Flash to run on the iPhone OS, while Apple has stonewalled every single attempt, often not doing a great PR job of explaining why they don’t allow Flash to run on their device.

Most critics branded Apple for being a megalomaniac hell bent on keeping third party content developers out of the iPhone OS platform, as Flash is commonly used in advertising. They say that by retaining control on exactly how the iPhone OS will perform, they are quashing creativity and unfairly banning the competition from having their technology fairly represented (Flash technology forms a core part of the Internet for many years now, from Flash videos found in Youtube to user-navigation systems of most websites).

Well, Steve Jobs finally came out with an open letter detailing his ‘thoughts on Flash’, but mostly goes on to defend Apple’s action in disallowing Flash to run on their mobile operating system. And the arguments are surprisingly practical, if not convincing.

First, there is the problem of speed. Flash content, especially Flash video, relies on software to decode. The modern H.264 format is far more advantageous because most modern mobile devices, including the iPhone/Pod/Pad, come with a hardware chip dedicated to decoding H.264 format videos. Hardware decoding is far more efficient than using Flash video and thus can be very important especially in a power (both processing power and battery power) limited mobile devices. I have always believed this, but Steve Jobs claimed that a Flash video can only run for about 5 hours before the battery drains, while using H.264, 10+ hours of playback can be expected. This is certainly no trivial figure.

Second, Flash technology is designed around the PC, with many triggers for mouse roll-over and clicks. None of this is possible in a touch device such as the iPhone OS because there is no concept of mouse, hence most websites that rely on Flash for navigation has to be rewritten anyway. And Apple advocates that people move away from Flash and onto HTML5, which contains enough new instructions to emulate the smooth animations and menus reminiscent of Flash.

Steve Jobs goes on to detail a host of other flaws of Adobe/Flash, including security and the fact that by moving to Flash, it’s just moving to a different closed system, this time controlled by Adobe instead of Apple.

Whatever the case, I believe that there is real reason why Apple continues to fight Adobe by now allowing Flash to run on their device. By motivating people to move away from Flash and onto HTML5 (which is a true open standard), Adobe is certainly more at risk here. Well, whatever the case, at least now you have heard both sides of the argument.