In a letter heard round the Web yesterday, Steve Jobs posted what sounded like a break-up letter to Adobe. Its specific purpose was to explain the much-debated refusal of Apple to allow Flash-based products on its iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch platforms. But it sure reads like a steadfast note written by a former lover that both reviews and buries a relationship. "We met Adobe's founders when they were in their proverbial garage," Jobs recounts. Apple invested in and eventually owned 20% of the fledgling company. "The two companies worked closely together to pioneer desktop publishing and there were many good times. Since that golden era, the companies have grown apart."
There is a hint of the great spurning that still burns. When Apple had its "near-death experience," Adobe lost faith with their partner and pursued with Acrobat "the corporate market" (a.k.a Windows). "Today the two companies still work together to serve their joint creative customers ... but beyond that there are few joint interests."
They keep things civil and adult for sake of the kids?
Against the claim that 75% of Web video is in Flash format, Jobs counters that YouTube and most of the major TV networks and news outlets actually have alternative formats that do support his devices. He also reels off the security issue, that Flash is "the number one reason Macs crash," and the ongoing missed deadlines for a Flash for iPhone. The Adobe plug-in sucks battery life and CPU cycles. And the touch-screen interface on iPhone OS devices is not in synch with the rollover menus and activations that have become commonplace in Flash interfaces.
Jobs says his biggest gripe, however, is the problem of having a third party software layer "come between the platform and the developer." Jobs takes issue with the sluggishness of Adobe's development cycles, that developers and the ultimately the quality of the apps for an entire platform are dependent on a single companies' ability to update tools and development libraries. By emphasizing its cross-platform chops, Adobe's Flash follow a lowest common denominator approach to deploying new features to make sure the apps work everywhere. Adobe's goal is not to create the best iPhone/iPad apps but to ensure cross-platform compatibility.
Questions about motives may be moot at this point. Have suspicions about Microsoft or Google's nefarious plans for world dominance really helped us much over the years? Have either really proven true? Developers I have spoken with on both sides of this argument pretty much agree that Apple is determined to stay its course, so they will have to play along. Media company developers bemoan the fact that their internal Adobe-reliant workflow is disrupted and fragmented in order to support Apple devices. And my initial conversations with people in the print industry suggests that Apple's stance does make them more determined to see alternative tablet platforms like Android compete effectively.
Jobs' letter didn't really settle anything in this debate, except make clear that he is not negotiating. There won't be any counseling for this relationship. He wants a divorce.