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April 29, 2010

Steve Jobs Killed the ActionScript Star

Posted in: Observations

Of course you’ve already read or heard about Steve Jobs “Thoughts on Flash” this morning, putting to rest any rumormongering about Apple’s intentions.

Wired’s tweet this morning captured it in a nutshell, “Steve Jobs writes about his beef with Adobe Flash. Still a little unsatisfying.”

My take can be summed up simply. The evolution of mobile computing — especially the emergence of rich and ubiquitous mobile browsing — is forcing the web to keep up.

1- Adobe asked for this kind of response. The Adobe Flash evangelists and the attendant Flash community can only take jabs at Apple for so long before Apple squelches the whining with some hard realities (and some unnecessary jabs). Adobe has let Flash rest too long on web-based video delivery to carry the Flash platform. Despite lots of pioneering in mobile and on TV, the Flash platform has struggled to stick on non-PC devices. Jobs’ point about .H264 is right on in the mobile context. Which leads to a second point…

2- Adobe has a solid platform because the development tools (the IDE) are so accessible. Yet, the platform sags under the weight of its age, and of the weight of the player on already constrained systems. Jobs’ comments about battery life, processor load are right on, making deployments difficult and requiring plenty of compromise. So, Adobe still carries this strength. Like any large company their struggle will be to update those tools quickly enough to become part of the workflow of mobile designers and developers. I would love to see that. I’m a huge fan of Adobe (despite my occasional rants about feature bloat). They’ve proven they get designers, they respect the design process and they understand workflows and managing design assets. Apple is not providing those tools so I don’t understand the somewhat disrespectful treatment from Cupertino.

Jobs asserts Adobe should focus on development environments (IDEs) for new technologies like HTML5. But, already Apple has said that apps created in Flash, and compiled for iPhone (no Flash player required!) are not allowed in the Apple App store. That hurts. There’s no need to be harsh if Apple really feels Adobe is the solid, long term partner as Jobs suggets.

3- The design once, deploy anywhere mentality has struggled to deliver. (And Adobe come closer to the design once part than J2ME did.) The sticking point is the deploy anywhere dream. In practice, deploying Flash anywhere means convincing chipmakers and OEMs to get on board, customizing Flash players for every device. And that player has to sit on top of the OS that has itself required the same custom fitting. That’s a heavy burden in the quick-turn world of deploying mobile devices.

4- The slow death of the Flash platform won’t be driven by resistance from mobile handset manufacturers like Apple or anyone else. If it comes to a demise it will be driven by web properties who retool their sites with rich, non-Flash interfaces (like HTML5) so they don’t lose traffic and relevance.

That’s the part I’m fascinated by, despite the pains for these companies along the way, it is the mobile computing context that is pushing innovation forward, if painfully. This whole scenario is driven more by the evolution of mobile computing (viva tablets!), that will unwittingly force the web to keep up. No, Flash is not dead. But the prognosis is not good if they can’t make it to the number one handset or the number one tablet. What sucks is the heavy-handed way it affects so many developers — snubbing an otherwise healthy developer community.

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