Should Apple support Flash on the iPhone and iPad?

by Haider

in In the News

Last month, Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple, Inc.) announced the reasons why “we [Apple] do not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods and iPads,” which got me thinking about whether Apple should support Flash or not, and what my reasoning for such a decision would be.

Before I offer my personal take on the issue, let me present the main reasons given by Jobs. You can read the entire letter at Apple’s site.

  • The reason behind the decision is technical, not business-driven
  • Flash is a closed system, available only through Adobe Systems
  • Apple believes that “all standards pertaining to the web should be open,” which is why Apple products support HTML5, CSS and Javascript
  • HTML5 offers many advanced graphics that were once available only through Flash
  • Apple contributed WebKit, an open-source HTML5 engine that many mobile devices use, which demonstrates Apple’s commitment to open technologies
  • Flash videos from YouTube and other major video sources are available in open standards as well, which means that “iPhone, iPod and iPad users aren’t missing much video”
  • Apple’s App Store offers “over 50,000 games and entertainment titles… and many of them are free”
  • Flash videos have security vulnerabilities and reliability issues
  • Flash videos can drain battery life, because they place a heavy demand on software to run
  • Flash “was designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers,” creating usability issues for Apple’s users
  • And the most important reason given by Jobs: “Adobe also wants developers to adopt Flash to create apps that run on our mobile devices”

Jobs ends his letter by offering Adobe a piece of advice:

“Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.”

As you can see, Jobs presents a number of reasons why Apple’s handheld devices don’t support Flash, but none of his reasons are convincing. He begins his letter by claiming that Apple’s decision is based on technical issues, then ends the letter with the most important reason: a business one.

The real reason why Apple doesn’t want Flash-based apps on the iPhone and iPad is so that the App Store doesn’t face any competition on Apple’s own devices. Jobs makes it sound as though Apple’s main concern is the quality of the apps being created on its platform, when Apple’s main concern boils down to protecting its monopoly on the applications created for its devices.

The reason why I disagree with Apple’s decision is that it doesn’t put the interest of its users as the primary criterion.

All the technical issues that come with Flash can be resolved by giving users the choice on whether to run Flash or not.

Making the decision on behalf of users leads to a negative user experience.

Even if 90% of all videos on the web are available on Apple’s devices, why prevent users from accessing the other 10%?

Shouldn’t users decide whether they want to run Flash videos or not, without having Apple make that decision on their behalf?

What are your thoughts on the issue?

Should Apple support Flash on the iPhone, iPod and iPad?


1 Fate May 6, 2010 at 11:10 am

Very interesting as you say at least users should get the option. Main reason why I would not be getting the ipad is because it does not accomodate pdf files.

Interesting. Thanks for sharing

2 Haider May 6, 2010 at 11:39 am

Hi Fate,

Thank you for your input.

You might be pleased to know that the iPad will be supporting PDF files, and there are several apps available for this purpose. An example is GoodReader.

I already have an iPhone, and if I’m going to upgrade to the iPad, I’d probably go with this: iPhone-to-iPad Upgrade. 😛

3 MBH May 6, 2010 at 1:00 pm

I expected your take on this to be more in depth, but anyway, Apple’s interest was always its monopoly and not the users. Proof? It took apple at least 3 generations of iPhone to present copy/paste!

Jobs’s argument that Flash consumes a lot of CPU resources is applicable to both Apple products & Linux, because Flash isn’t able to access the graphics card for accelerated processing, which is done on Windows.
Apple is due to release an API that enables such an integration with the GPU, and Adobe already announced that it intends to take advantage of that, which means enhanced performance.

Also, seems that Jobs believe that the web consists of Flash only on Youtube, forgetting many a site with Flash-based menus, intros and games that are being ignored forcefully for hypocritical reasons.

I’ve been watching The Godfather triology, and it’s easy to notice the resemblance between Steve Jobs’s actions and the Mafia!

4 Haider May 6, 2010 at 4:28 pm

MBH, thank you for your more in-depth take on the issue. 🙂

The idea that Flash is for videos only is ridiculous. But he presented his letter in a way that would make sense, given Apple’s stance. I don’t think it worked that well.

5 MBH May 6, 2010 at 6:40 pm

I’ve always hated Apple for its over drive in monopolizing its offerings and then some more. They were the reason Amazon got pushed by publishers to raise ebooks’ prices to a margin where it doesn’t make sense to buy ebooks anymore.

And Apple always followed the trend of enforcing its ideals on what its users should be able to do with the hardware and software they bought! You’re not allowed to share files through bluetooth. You’re not allowed to tether. You’re not allowed to create directories to sort your stuff. You’re not allowed to stream audio through bluetooth.

You’re a slave and you love it. That’s the kind of message Apple keeps delivering, yet people are subjecting themselves willingly to some eye-candy. It pisses me off.

It is as you said: Let the users choose whether they want flash or not. You’ve got no business forcing your crummy sadistic business ideas over them.

6 Haider May 7, 2010 at 4:36 am


“You’re a slave and you love it” appeals to those who want to belong to a cult and be told what to buy and when. This works for Apple, business-wise. They have faithful followers, so they don’t need to satisfy the demands of the masses. That’s their business model.

And while I don’t believe you need to fulfill every whim your customers can have, supporting Flash (and all the examples you gave) should be considered basic functionality users deserve to have, not have to demand.

7 Bashar May 7, 2010 at 9:27 am

This is typical Steve Jobs but only taking it to the next level. It’s obvious Mac and Safari face problems with Flash, hence the start of the hatred. You know how you call physics and math stupid just cause you can’t digest them?

The second main reason is if people use flash to develop iPhone apps, then adobe would be making profits of the iPhone platform, without any control or guarantee for profit on apple side. Add to that it will strengthen their position in the market. And what’s worse for apple is that those games that used to be iPhone only will now easily be imported to other platforms.

I’m really not a big flash fan and I would vote for HTML5. But truth is, flash has made it extremely easy to build rich graphical sites apps n games. My kid could spend hours on the net jumping from one game to the other. And those official movie n game sites all take great pride in their content. I know it’s possible to replicate using HTML5. But how easy is it really? If it was so easy, why aren’t people flooding over it? Flash is much easier to build such content and that’s not soon to change

what really surprises me is how the apple fanboys all of a sudden took sides with apple and turned flash over night into the evil enemy. If that was Microsoft we would be hearing same hatred monopoly talks all over. Where is it now? And why isn’t anti trust being enforced on apple I’ll keep wondering

8 Haider May 7, 2010 at 9:34 am

Bashar, HTML5 looks very impressive and would vote for a transition to it. But it’s still a new technology, and established Flash developers have a lot to offer before we can see a big move towards HTML5.

And, as you know all too well: Apple fanboys will remain Apple fanboys. 😛

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