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Did Steve Jobs’ Adobe-Rage Help Flash More Than Hurt It?

Steve Jobs directed righteous anger at Adobe this year, because Flash on iOS devices became a hot issue in the media. Then Apple backtracked, and now a Flash developer’s thanks has highlighted one surprising side-effect of Job’s tirade: Flash may have gotten a boost.

Flash Jobs

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Steve Jobs directed a lot of righteous anger at Adobe this year, all because the lack of Flash on iPad and iPhone became a hot issue in the media. Then Apple backtracked a little, and now a Flash developer’s thanks has highlighted one surprising side-effect of Job’s tirade: Flash may have gotten a boost from the flap.

Jobs’ criticism of Flash on mobile devices has been debated all over the Interwebs, mixed up with a ton of opinion (both pro and con), but it boiled down to a short list of five problems:

  1. Adobe had been lazy for years, and had failed to keep developing Flash to keep up with trends in general computing, and particularly the burgeoning smartphone market.
  2. Flash is a proprietary standard, potentially holding back Web innovations.
  3. Flash on mobile devices is clunky, awkward and eats processor cycles so that the overall smartphone UI experience is lessened for consumers.
  4. Flash on smartphones eats battery life due to its processor hunger, damaging phone performance.

Adobe responded angrily, Jobs notched up his complaints … and the battle intensified. Apple then went one step further, banning even transcoding using Flash products, meaning some developers building Flash apps and converting them to be iOS compatible were shut out. Then iPhone competitors trumpeted their “full Web Experience” OS’s that supported Flash. Though the main difficulty faced by the pro-Adobe side is that Jobs was undeniably right, and early Android phones that supported Flash did indeed exhibit all the problems Jobs indicated they would.

Then Apple backtracked on the transcoding decision, surprisingly enough (and has possibly even enabled Web flash on the iDevices … no one’s sure yet). This move has led to a flood of warm sentiments toward Apple, but now Flash developer Prabhakaran has made an interesting point: Apple’s anti-Adobe moves caused the firm to get off its lazy arse and actually build Flash 10.1 for smartphones, which is a far more computationally efficient version that doesn’t kill phone performance as much as earlier versions of Flash would have.

It’s also stirred the Flash community into a sense of brotherhood that may not have been the case otherwise. In a post titled “thank you Steve Jobs!” the cheeky Flash developer sets out his arguments so simply that it’s prompted us to briefly ponder if Adobe hasn’t now beaten down many of the points on Jobs’ criticisms list.

But only briefly, because despite Prabhakaran’s fervent insistence that “Flash is not there to die. It will grow from strength to strength. It is ruling the PC world and it will soon capture the smart phone market too” there are still many issues with smartphone Flash. It is still processor hungry. It is still proprietary–despite Adobe’s insistence that it isn’t. It does still eat battery life. And the final criticism, not mentioned by Jobs and conveniently ignored by Prabhakaran, also still holds: Flash has critical design components that are based on a windows-icons-mice environment, and will not translate to a touchscreen UI at all, rendering many Flash games and “rich internet applications” partially unworkable or actually crippled. 

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What we actually expect to happen now is simple: Flash will rattle on for a while yet on the Web, but open-standard next-gen Web protocols (like HTML5) will supersede it. Smartphones will support it for a while, to varying extents, and their ever-increasing performances will obviate Flash-induced slowness. But then Adobe will let Flash fallow, and concentrate on its core business of selling e-publishing software to the industry, content that the resulting products can be simply transcoded to work on Apple’s iOS gear.

To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.

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