Thoughts on Flash is an open letter published by Steve Jobs, co-founder and then-chief executive officer of Apple Inc., on April 29, 2010. The letter criticized Adobe Systems' Flash platform and outlined reasons why the technology would not be allowed on the company's iOS hardware products, specifically iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. The letter drew immediate attention, with Adobe's CEO Shantanu Narayen firing back at Apple, stating that one of the issues in the criticism was due to Apple's own operating system rather than Flash technology, and that other criticism was false. At the time, various media publications had different opinions on the topic, with some citing business motivations rather than technological, hypocrisy in the letter despite agreeing with Jobs, and outright accusations of lying. However, retroactively, more publications have agreed with Jobs, with notable mentions of poor performance of Flash on Android devices.
That month, Apple had revised its iPhone Developer Agreement, adding new developer restrictions, particularly that only "approved" programming languages would be allowed on App Store. The change impacted a number of companies that had developed tools for porting applications from their respective programming languages into native iPhone apps, with one prominent example being an Adobe-developed "Packager for iPhone" tool. The policy was criticized as anti-competitive, and in May 2010, there were talks about which US government agency would launch an antitrust investigation into the matter. The following September, Apple again revised its policy, removing restrictions on third-party development tools. In November 2011, Adobe announced that it was ceasing development of its Flash Player plug-in for mobile web browsers, and instead shifting its focus towards building tools for developing applications for mobile app stores. The company announced in July 2017 that it would discontinue Flash altogether by the year 2020.
"Thoughts on Flash" open letter
On April 29, 2010, Steve Jobs, the co-founder and then-chief executive officer of Apple Inc., published an open letter called "Thoughts on Flash" explaining why Apple would not allow Flash on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. He cited the rapid energy consumption, computer crashes, poor performance on mobile devices, abysmal security, lack of touch support, and desire to avoid "a third party layer of software coming between the platform and the developer". He touched on the idea of Flash being "open", claiming that "By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system". He tried to dismiss the idea that Apple customers are missing out by being sold devices without Flash compatibility by quoting a number of statistics, concluding with "Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content."
The letter drew immediate attention. In response to Jobs' accusations, Adobe's CEO Shantanu Narayen described the open letter as an "extraordinary attack", and, during an interview with The Wall Street Journal, called the problems mentioned by Jobs' "really a smokescreen". He further fired back at Apple, stating that computer crashes were due to Apple's operating system, and that allegations of battery drain were "patently false". Various publications had different opinions on the topic. Wired's Brian Chen had in a 2009 article claimed that Apple would not allow Flash on the iPhone for business reasons, due to the technology being able to divert users away from the App Store. John Sullivan of Ars Technica agreed with Jobs, but highlighted the hypocrisy in his reasoning, writing that "Every criticism he makes of Adobe's proprietary approach applies equally to Apple". Dan Rayburn of Business Insider accused Steve Jobs of lying, particularly the sentiment that most content on the Internet is available in a different format.
Retroactively, more publications have agreed with Jobs. Ryan Lawler of TechCrunch wrote in 2012 that "Jobs was right", adding that Android users had poor experiences with watching Flash content and interactive Flash experiences were "often wonky or didn’t perform well, even on high-powered phones". Mike Isaac of Wired wrote in 2011 that "In [our] testing of multiple Flash-compatible devices, choppiness and browser crashes were common", and a former Adobe employee stated that "Flash is a resource hog [...] It’s a battery drain, and it’s unreliable on mobile web browsers". Kyle Wagner of Gizmodo wrote in 2011 that "Adobe was never really able to smooth over performance, battery, and security issues".
In April 2010, Apple announced changes to its iPhone Developer Agreement, with details on new developer restrictions, particularly that only apps built using "approved" programming languages would be allowed on App Store. The change impacted a number of companies that had developed tools for porting applications from their respective languages into native iPhone apps, with the most prominent example being Adobe's "Packager for iPhone", an iOS development tool in beta at the time. The New York Times quoted an Adobe supporter alleging the policy to be anti-competitive.
On May 3, 2010, New York Post reported that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) were deciding which agency would launch an antitrust investigation into the matter.
In September 2010, after having "listened to our developers and taken much of their feedback to heart", Apple removed the restrictions on third-party tools, languages and frameworks, and again allowing the deployment of Flash applications on iOS using Adobe's iOS Packager.
On November 8, 2011, Adobe announced that it was ceasing development of the Flash Player plug-in for web browsers on mobile devices, and shifting its focus towards building tools to develop applications for mobile app stores. In July 2017, the company announced its intention to discontinue Flash altogether by the year 2020.