Steve Jobs Flashes Adobe


The war of words between Adobe and Apple took on new urgency with what appears to be a dire turn for the Flash maker, thanks to an open letter posted by Steve Jobs himself earlier this morning.

Apple iPad
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Apple iPad

A little background: Adobe unleashed a strange and very publicly venomous attack against Apple that became unusually personal.

Adobe is angry that Apple won't support Flash on its iPhone and iPad devices, with one Adobe evangelist proclaiming "Screw Apple!" on his blog.

The stakes are enormous; with more than 75 percent of online videos running on flash and the software is installed on about 98 percent of PCs connected to the net. Flash is also on more than 800 million handsets manufactured by 19 of the 20 top makers. That 20th company, by the way, is Apple.

Apple has remained largely silent amid a growing torrent of blogosphere chatter and the escalating rhetoric from Adobe, until this morning, when Jobs posted a rare "open letter" to the Apple community, which you can read here. In his letter, he makes the case that Adobe's Flash falls woefully short both on the technical and security fronts. Adobe and Apple have "few joint interests," says Jobs, and he wants to convince developers to come up with ways around Flash to create for Apple's eco-system.

He brings up three key points: "The mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short." He also says, "The avalanche of media outlets offering their content for Apple’s mobile devices demonstrates that Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content." And he addresses developers specifically by adding, "The 200,000 apps on Apple’s App Store proves that Flash isn’t necessary for tens of thousands of developers to create graphically rich applications, including games."

(That 200,000 number is news, by the way. The most recent apps estimate on the Apple App Store was "more than 185,000.")

I miss Flash on my iPad. I do. It's so prevalent out there in the web world and not getting access to it is noticeable. But YouTube is a worthy alternative and more sites are moving toward Flash alternatives.

Apple relies on HTML5 as the standard, with Jobs saying that technology is "completely open." No third-party plug-ins are necessary, and that's key for Apple and Adobe for that matter. This is potentially a big problem for Adobe, especially as iPad gains momentum, and Apple continues to enjoy enormous marketplace success for its iPhone. Jobs himself has begun referring to Apple as a mobile technology company. Apple as a niche player may have been a company that Adobe could afford to overlook but Apple the mobile powerhouse, firing on all cylinders and seeing its mobile momentum only accelerate, becomes a hugely important customer for Adobe.

Adobe rolled the dice, relying on its Flash success and marketshare to try to publicly pressure Apple into a change of heart. Jobs' argument is that Adobe's dominance rests on an era quickly passing by, and that a new frontier lies ahead. That frontier, Jobs seems to indicate, will be dominated by Apple and it will be Apple that gets to call the shots. By calling Adobe out, highlighting its technical and security shortcomings on such a giant platform, this might become a PR nightmare for Adobe from which the company will be unable to wake up.

Still awaiting word from Adobe. Some kind of reaction. Anything.

I think the Steve Jobs note took everyone by surprise, including the folks at Apple. For Apple, Jobs' thoughtful answer to the Adobe attack after so many weeks of silence was probably a welcome surprise.

Down in San Jose, at Adobe headquarters? Not so much.

Questions? Comments?