The Internet has been abuzz with Steve Jobs’ statement about his views on Adobe Flash. Here are some of my thoughts.
As others have pointed out, the fact that H.264 is widely used does not make it open. It is patent-encumbered and requires licensed decoders. Steve makes the same point about Flash:
While Adobe’s Flash products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Adobe and available only from Adobe.
Yes, it is true that H.264 is supported by other hardware and software vendors, unlike Flash, but it is definitely not open. Apple has refused to support Ogg Theora in their HTML5 implementation on Safari. People claim that Ogg Theora does not match up to H.264 in performance and quality, and I tend to believe them, but adopting H.264 is not something that promotes openness. It is every bit as proprietary as Flash.
Patented Touch Technology
Steve Jobs claims that the PC and mice paradigm is a thing of the past and the future belongs to touch-based devices. Catering to such devices would require rewriting websites. What he doesn’t mention is that Apple owns a large number of patents related to gestures and touch-based technologies. Apple would like everybody else to step into their walled garden, or at least segment the web into an Apple and non-Apple world. Apple may claim that it is necessary to do so to provide a better mobile experience, but if Apple holds the patents to specific technologies that cannot be adopted by other manufacturers, and if they continue to sue them over it, the future of the mobile web purely belongs to Apple.
Steve says that the alternative to Flash games is the large number of games available in the App Store. The irony of this statement couldn’t be more crushing! In the same missive he talks about the open web and not letting one company control the web experience, he wants us to use his OS that is available only on his devices to play games that are available only on his App Store, which is governed by arbitrary rules and standards set out by him.
Both Apple and Adobe are companies built on proprietary technologies and both companies are interested in controlling every aspect of our computing experience. For Apple to claim that giving up on Flash and Adobe’s technologies is embracing openness is ridiculous and disingenuous. I own a Mac and I like using Mac OS because it gives me an opportunity to use a plethora of different applications from different sources. With iPhones, iPads and iPods and with the iPhone OS, I am limited to the applications that Apple thinks are OK for me to use. I cannot own my own hardware. I cannot extend the functionality of my own products because Apple will not let me. If that isn’t the most damning example of closeness, I don’t know what is.