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When the iPad launched the critics continued to lambast Apple for not supporting Flash, the technology that powers "75% of video on the web". This is considered one of the Appleverse's top 3 sins, alongside the lack of multi-tasking and the absence of USB ports. Speculation has been rife that this is part of a personal war Jobs is waging on his former ally and owner of the Flash standard, Adobe Systems.
Jobs' letter is a competent answer to the critics, though I suspect it will silence few. It's worth a full read here, but for those busy ones among you, he makes the following points:
- Although ubiquitous, Flash is a proprietary standard, owned and controlled by Adobe. Jobs admits Apple has many proprietary products, but always promotes open Web standards (like HTML5). The first part is clearly true -- the public often confuses widespread adoption with 'open'. Also explains why Adobe is fighting so hard to keep it everywhere.
- The implication that 75% of web video is not available to iPhone/iPad users is not true. Many of those sites also make video available in H.264, including YouTube and all the major media outlets, but notably not Facebook (?). I don't feel like I'm missing out on much in the way of Web video on my iPod Touch.
- Flash has reliability and security problems, especially on mobile devices. Flash has yet to be released for smartphones. Is that all true? That would be fair problem...
- Most Flash players use an old software decoder which is inefficient and drains battery life, while most modern devices (including iPhones, etc) use faster H.264 on the chip. Adobe has been slow to add support for H.264 to Flash. Possibly true.
- Flash was designed for PCs and mice, using the mouse 'roll-over' as a call to action, whereas the Appleverse is, of course, all about touch. I think Adobe better come up with a fix for this, seeing as the world is going all-touch very quickly.
- Finally, Jobs doesn't like the fact that Adobe wants developers to use Flash to create games for his devices. He says that this is because inserting a third-party development tool between the apps and the devices is unnecessary and makes the result less performant and stable.
There is a broader mobile video standards war brewing under the surface. Less than a year ago Google acquired On2 Technologies, and fueled speculation that it would open-source the video compression technology, which was already widely embedded in third-party devices. Two weeks ago, this rumour was confirmed and Google jumped right into the middle of the video codec wars.
Google is well-armed for this one: the distribution power of YouTube, Chrome and Android will go up against the rapidly growing army of iPod/iPhone/iPad wielders. Makes you feel kinda sorry for Adobe doesn't it...?