Apple and Adobe CEOs Spar On What ‘Open’ Means : All Tech Considered Steve Jobs kicked it off saying Flash wasn't built for a mobile world. Now the Adobe CEO responds.
NPR logo Apple and Adobe CEOs Spar On What ‘Open’ Means

Apple and Adobe CEOs Spar On What ‘Open’ Means

The exchange between Adobe and Apple continues to heat up. 

Yesterday, Apple CEO Steve Jobs mounted a full-frontal assault on Adobe’s Flash platform.  In his almost 1,700 word barrage, Jobs defends the company’s decision not to enable Flash on any Apple mobile devices.  The man who made black turtlenecks fashionable again says Flash was built for a PC world, not a mobile one.

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

Adobe Systems CEO Shantanu Narayen retaliated with a broadside of his own.  During an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Narayen voiced a rebuttal to the accusations Jobs leveled at Adobe. Narayen said he finds Apple’s assertion that Flash is a closed platform amusing and goes on to suggest Apple’s rigid requirements force developers into two tracks, one for Apple and one for everything else.


Apple’s stringent approval process for distribution in the App Store is well known. In one recent high-profile case, Pulitzer winning cartoonist Mark Fiore’s app was refused because it “ridicules public figures.”

For consumers, the impact of this debate will most likely to be felt in how they consume video online. 

Flash’s major selling point is its ubiquity.  Most sites wanting to play animations or embed video will use Flash and, thanks in large part to its adoption by sites like YouTube and many news organizations, including this one, most consumers have some version of the plug-in. Even Jobs admits 75 percent of web videos use  Flash.  For instance, the video above uses Flash.

However, Flash is not the only tool to play video online.  As Jobs points out, new web standards including HTML5 can supplant Flash. 

But HTML5 is new and adoption isn’t widespread, so iPhone and iPad users will have to keep staring at little blue boxes instead of Flash videos.

The irony is that both Jobs and Narayen are arguing openness is the key, but “open” seems to mean different things to the respective companies. 

As Narayen points out, "We have different views of the world."