Steve Jobs: Thoughts On Flash

Apple today published a letter from Steve Jobs aptly title “Thoughts on Flash“. What’s interesting isn’t so much what he said, but what he alluded to. This letter is about Flash, but it’s also about the future if the iPhone platform strategy. It also alludes to the future importance of WebKit and the open web. Lets walk through this. From his points:

First, there’s “Open”.

Steve is right. Flash isn’t really “open”. The iPhone isn’t either by any means. In fact it’s the most restricted computing platform in the world as far as I know. What he did note is that the iPhone uses WebKit and by proxy the web is the most open platform on the planet. That’s very noteworthy.

Second, there’s the “full web”.

Flash video itself isn’t that great by todays standards. That’s why sites like YouTube are serving HD video in H.264 rather than VP6. H.264, VP8 and Theora are the future. If all 3 or just one will survive remains to be seen. Regardless any of them can be played outside of Flash. The dependency on Flash to build a player is going away more and more each day.

Regarding games, this is a silly point. Almost all Flash games need a keyboard or mouse to work. They would never work with a touch screen. Nor would they scale to fit the screen. They would need to be significantly reworked/rewritten.

This is yet more alluding to WebKit and HTML5 where there are solutions already in place.

Third, there’s reliability, security and performance.

It’s pretty hard to dispute the reliability of Flash. It’s by far the driving force behind things like out of process plugins (OOPP) in Firefox among other browsers. It’s also been subject to lots of security vulnerabilities.

Fourth, there’s battery life.

The WSJ quotes Adobe’s Shantanu Narayen as saying the claims of Flash being battery draining are “patently false” but if you look at a CPU monitor while browsing a page with Flash, you can see the load increase quite a bit. Blocking flash on your browser does speed things up and keep your system cooler. I’m very suspect that Adobe has solved this in cell phones when they don’t even seem to have it under control in Windows.

Fifth, there’s Touch.

I already mentioned that mouse/keyboard interfaces just don’t work on the iPhone. No need to rehash that.

Sixth, the most important reason.

That’s actually a vague header. The reason is that they don’t want a third-party sitting between the iPhone API’s and developers. If that happens, developers are limited to what that third-party decides to implement. At the very most developers on the Flash platform get whatever is supported on all Flash platform (greatest common denominator).

That leaves Apple in a stupid position. They could implement killer features in the iPhone and create amazing API’s to take advantage of the features. But if Adobe doesn’t see a way to support things across platforms, or just doesn’t see the cost/benefit of implementing that feature, developers can’t use it. That marginalizes the product for Apple as well as developers.

Conclusion

I found this very interesting that he closed it like this:

New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

In February of 2007 Steve Jobs wrote another letter on DRM. It’s noteworthy because in January 2009 Apple launched the ability to buy non-DRM protected music. The letter was really a hint at where things were going. He’s repeating the PR strategy that he used then, make no mistake of it.

I have a feeling the day will come where the App Store is deprecated in favor of promoting HTML5 based Applications either directly off the web or packed similar to how Dashboard Widgets are done now on Mac OS X. The App Store will be around for quite some time, but it will eventually morph.

That is why WebKit is so important to Apple. They want to abstract their OS to the point where they can provide very high level hooks into features they want developers to be able to use. The current iPhone App SDK was a solution created by Apple as a way to let developers put applications on the iPhone as an afterthought. The moderation is so that they can keep their security record intact and could shut down a malicious app before trouble becomes rampant. That puts them in the position where they can either approve all content and be viewed as sleazy by more conservative folks, or they can let everything go and accept that reputation. They obviously made their decision. Developers and some geeks hate it, but 99% of the rest of the world doesn’t even know about the process. Nobody wants to know how sausage is made.

The App Store will likely morph to feature Dashboard Widget like applications (not to different from Palm’s WebOS). Apple will still be able to cash in via that distribution point since they can use DRM giving them the only way to actually sell a protected application. You can view them online via you’re browser.

That’s my prediction. The day will come when the iPhone SDK that we know today will be deprecated. WebKit and HTML5 aren’t there today, but the day will come when they will be the tier 1 development platform for the iPhone. Steve Jobs is just laying the groundwork today.

For desktops, other platforms and browsers it’s worth noting that there’s a lot to gain here.

MWSF 2009

This post is going to be a bit shorter than previous years. There’s really not that much to say here. I’ve been following MacWorld for the past decade or so, even before coverage was very good (now pretty much everything is live). Overall I’d rate this one a 5.

Phil Schiller

Phil did a decent job filling in for Jobs. It did sound slightly like the script was either written for Jobs, or he was trying to sound like Jobs. I’m not sure which. Overall he did pretty good. He’s not Steve Jobs, and expecting him to live up to that is not practical. He did better than most executives do at these events. It was obvious he worked with people who assist Jobs, and likely even got input from Jobs.

Software

A lot of software was released: iLife ’09, iWorks ’09. A few things impressed me, most of it was really not that remarkable. The camera stabilization stuff in iMovie will be welcomed by many, assuming it performs as well as it’s demoed. They didn’t say how well it will do with sub-SD (below standard definition) cameras like cell phones which are becoming increasingly popular. Facial detection in iPhoto is also pretty cool. The precision editor is also something that many people will be happy to see. I never saw GarageBand as more than an novelty app, so I’m not to wowed by the changes.

I’m not sure what to think of this Mac Box Set. The price is decent, but I think almost anyone who is interested in upgrading iLife and iWorks already has Mac OS X 10.5. Those that don’t either don’t care about the latest and greatest features (that’s most of them), or can’t because they use something else that doesn’t work with 10.5. Regardless, I’m not sure how many will really appreciate Mac OS X 10.5 being in the bundle.

17″ MacBook Pro

The 17″ MacBook Pro was obvious since it was a glaring omission last time Apple released the new MacBooks. I’m curious to see the dissection pictures that someone will post over the next few days to see that battery up close. While not “removable” I hope it’s “serviceable” so that you can buy a 3rd party battery online and install it yourself if you don’t want spend so much money and time having Apple do it. Don’t let 1,000 charges fool you. 1,000 charges is actually pretty good, many laptop batteries don’t fair to well at that amount.

The $50 anti-glare option is totally worth it. It’s a shame they don’t offer that on the other models. I think it would be a popular upgrade. I’m not a fan of the glossy displays as I find the matte displays much easier on the eyes.

iTunes

DRM free finally. That’s not a free upgrade though, it will cost you $0.30 per song. No word what percentage of that Apple gets, and what percentage goes to the record labels.

Pricing is now tiered to $0.69, $0.99, and $1.29. Lastly you can now download music over the 3G network on the iPhone. You can also download over EDGE, but that’s unadvertised. I presume the 10MB limit doesn’t apply to purchased music as it does to podcasts and apps, but I’m not sure.

Missing iPhone Firmware Update

Apple promised push messaging would launch in September 2008. Now January 2009 and there’s no word on a completion date. I previously suspected Apple would at least comment on this delay in hopes of keeping customers and developers from getting to go nuts. Push messaging was being seeded to select developers in the summer. It was originally in the iPhone OS 2.1 beta update but pulled before it went final. It’s allegedly still in the works. John Grubber notes that there haven’t been betas of 2.3, which suggests that the next version will be iPhone OS 3.0. That could still be months away. This could get interesting.

MacRumorsLive.com Hack

It was obvious they got hacked ASAP. It was also pretty obvious that it was some folks at 4chan pretty quickly.

Overall

Lots of software, predictable hardware. This was an evolutionary keynote rather than a revolutionary one. There’s a lot of stuff Apple is overdue to update including the Mac Mini which is painfully outdated, Apple TV, iPhone OS among other things. There’s also Snow Leopard which hasn’t been shown off to much yet.

It wasn’t the keynote itself that was a bore, it was the product lineup wasn’t that of previous years. It’s not to say they are bad products, but that they aren’t revolutionary must-have products.

Walmart Blocks Other Browsers/Platforms

Walmart Video Downloads blocks all browsers but IE on Windows. I tried it from Safari on Mac OS X 10.4 and still wasn’t able to get in (they wanted me to still download IE 6). As noted by TechCrunch, initially it looked like someone didn’t include the stylesheet correctly. Now it’s blocked with a formal error page. Initially it worked with a reload, now not at all. Spoofing the UserAgent let me in, and revealed only a small CSS goof with the header. Didn’t try a purchase since there’s nothing there I would really want. I guess this could be considered a feature: My browser prevents me from downloading You, Me, and Dupree.

Apparently they use Windows Media Player for the DRM. I’d be surprised if it didn’t function properly in WMP when downloaded with Firefox. Thus far I haven’t seen any real difference between Windows Media Player 11 on IE and Firefox. It’s a great thing that Microsoft has drastically improved support.

I’m surprised they didn’t just redirect to a more compatible store.

There has been a fair amount of improvement in website compatibility with Firefox and Safari over the past 18 months. Unfortunately this isn’t an example of that.

Apple and DRM

As many sites are reporting (I’ll just link slashdot), DRM has been found in the new Intel Macs. So what? It doesn’t really say much. Mac OS X has always been tied to Mac hardware (with a small window for clones during the 90’s). It’s a little premature to assume that it will be used all over your computer. It’s likely because of this that those Mac_OS_X_10.4_Tiger_x86.iso‘s haven’t made it onto the net yet. There’s no way they would work without DRM. The good thing about DRM is that just because it exists, doesn’t mean it has to be used. Apple has been locking hardware with exclusive ROM’s, and special motherboards. Now they replaced all that with 1 chip. IMHO that’s just consolidation. If anything, it’s opened up a few doors. Now perhaps software manufacturers can allow us to activate software from the privacy of our own computers without phoning home (something that always bothered me a bit). Why do I have to tell Microsoft that I installed their software? Isn’t it enough I bought it? Do I actually need to call them up and tell them? I’d rather the DRM chip so they can preserve their licensing, and I can preserve the right to not initiate an electronic conversation with them to let them know I installed Windows XP (and obviously give them my IP address).

Interestingly, it’s said that DRM is only invoked when running Rosetta. Very likely done as part of a licensing agreement to keep Transitive’s QuickTransit on only those systems designed for it.

I don’t quite get the fuss. IMHO DRM by computer chip is much less invasive than most DRM methods currently around (product activation). Why are we upset about things that potentially shield us from more privacy invading techniques?