What's Behind Apple's Clash With Flash? Apple CEO Steve Jobs released a letter explaining why he isn't a fan of Adobe Systems' Flash. The missive could doom what has become the dominant multimedia technology. It's not the first time Apple has taken aim at mainstream technologies to improve the user experience on its products.
NPR logo

What's Behind Apple's Clash With Flash?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/126420286/126443938" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
What's Behind Apple's Clash With Flash?

What's Behind Apple's Clash With Flash?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/126420286/126443938" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

GUY RAZ, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

If you're sick of hearing about the iPad or the iPhone or anything with a lowercase I in front of it, well, apologies, because this next story is kind of about that.

People who surf the Web with these devices sometimes come across huge chunks of empty space where a video or a game should go. It's because Apple's mobile products don't support Flash. That's the technology that powers those parts of the Web.

Now, Apple's CEO Steve Jobs hates Flash, even released an open letter Thursday explaining why. And because his i-devices don't support Flash, he's got some of the Internet's most popular destinations The New York Times, Facebook, even us at npr.org working to strip Flash away from their websites.

This isn't the first time Apple's taken aim at a mainstream technology, and Leander Kahney has chronicled that history. He is the author of a number of books about Apple, including the Steve Jobs' biography, "Inside Steve's Brain." And he runs the website, cultofmac.com.

Leander Kahney, welcome.

Mr. LEANDER KAHNEY (Author, "Inside Steve's Brain"; Editor, Cultofmac.com): Thank you very much for having me.

RAZ: So, why doesn't Steve Jobs at Apple like Flash? What does he have against it?

Mr. KAHNEY: It's purely technical. It's not a very good program for mobile devices. It's a CPU hog and it drains battery life very quickly, so he doesn't want it on it.

RAZ: I mean, let's just put it into perspective: Flash is the dominant multimedia technology out there right now, right?

Mr. KAHNEY: Absolutely, yeah. It has amazing penetration. You know, three-quarters of all the video on the Net is encoded in flash. Almost all of the games, all the casual games especially the really popular games like Farmville on Facebook they're all encoded in Flash. Almost all of the technology world is embedded with Flash. Almost all of it. It's kind of remarkable.

RAZ: Now, if you go to the NPR website, for example, on your Internet browser, the videos that you might see there, or the New York Times website, for example, are made using Flash. But if you use your iPad or your iPhone, you can still see the videos. NPR has essentially removed Flash for those mobile devices. I mean, that seems like Apple has a lot of power to push these kinds of changes.

Mr. KAHNEY: Absolutely. Oh, absolutely, yes. It really does have a lot of power. It's quite remarkable. I spoke to one expert and he said that six months ago, he thought Flash was the future. He thought Flash had a, you know - was the future of multimedia on the Net. He says these days, he thinks it's doomed.

RAZ: Apple is often credited with being one of the driving forces, you know, sort of popularizing new technology, like the mouse, but also helping to kill off other technologies. What are some other examples of things that Apple has sort of basically moved away from that have then gone off to die?

Mr. KAHNEY: The floppy drive was a good example. In the late '90s, when Steve Jobs introduced the first iMac, it came without a floppy drive. It had this new thing called a CD drive.

RAZ: And that was the end of the floppy drive.

Mr. KAHNEY: It was, yeah.

RAZ: People stopped using those.

Mr. KAHNEY: Yeah, it was definitely the end of the floppy for most people.

RAZ: And of course, iTunes and the iPod are effectively, if they haven't already, basically killed the CD.

Mr. KAHNEY: Right, absolutely. And another good example is even Blu-Ray. There have been a lot of controversy about the lack of Blu-Ray drives in its Macintosh computers. But Apple says you can already get a lot of really hi-def content streaming over the Internet. And of course, this is where, you know, everyone knows that this is where it's eventually going to go, but they're pushing that envelope already.

RAZ: Is there anything about this that suggests it is about power?

Mr. KAHNEY: I don't think so. Jobs has - is a very curious character because he is so private. A lot of people love to think of him as a sort of cat-stroking villain in a volcano lair who is hatching evil plans. But I think he is genuinely interested in crafting technology that is easy to use for consumers, and Flash wrecks that experience or has the potential to wreck that experience. And so, it's gone. He is just extremely ruthless about that.

RAZ: That's Leander Kahney. He runs the website, cultofmac.com. We spoke with him from KQED in San Francisco.

Leander Kahney, thanks so much.

Mr. KAHNEY: Thank you.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.