Steve Jobs goes off on Flash during visit with the Wall Street Journal

Fri, Feb 19, 2010


A few weeks ago, Apple CEO Steve Jobs reportedly made a trip down to New York City where he hobnobbed with executives from both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal in an effort to further highlight the potential of the iPad as just the device to save print media.

While we’re obviously not privy to the precise details of what went down, Valleywag is reporting that Jobs used his time at the WSJ newsroom to launch a full out assault on Flash, which the Journal uses quite frequently for video playback and multimedia content like slideshows and interactive infographics.

Citing people familiar with the meeting, Valleywag writes that Jobs pulled no punches when talking down Flash, pointing out that Flash is buggy, is responsible for crashes, is a CPU hog, a source of security holes, and in a final nail in the coffin, Jobs labeled it a dying technology.

“We don’t spend a lot of energy on old technology,” Jobs reportedly stated. Jobs, however, wasn’t finished, and went on to compare Flash to a number of other dead or dying technologies that Apple had no problem abandoning – i.e the lack of a floppy drive on the iMac, Apple’s own Firewire technology on its MacBooks, and CCFL backlit LCD screens.

Jobs went on to point out that the iPad’s impressive 10 hour battery life would magically shrink to 1.5 hours if “it had to spend its CPU cycles decoding Flash.”  To be fair, this seems to imply that the iPad can support continuous video playback for 10 hours without Flash – color us skeptical.

Next, Jobs opined that abandoning flash would be a trivial, yet strategic, move for the WSJ, while also suggesing that the paper use the iPad compatible H.264 codec for video playback. Valleywag astutely points out, however, that it might not be as trivial as Jobs suggests.

But we assume Jobs didn’t mention that H. 264 is patented, privately licensed and could get expensive fast.

Even setting that aside, H. 264 does not fully replace Flash. While it can handle video, it does not comprise a system for the rapid development of interactive graphics, as Flash does. Yet Jobs also reportedly said Flash would be “trivial” in this sense, as well — that it would be “trivial” to make an entire copy of the Journal website with the non-video Flash content also redone.

That’s just not right; even assuming the Journalcould duplicate its Flash slideshows, infographics and other news apps using iPad-friendly technologies like Javascript, it would take a decidedly nontrivial amount of time and effort to create or acquire such a system, hire staff who understand it as well as Flash, train staff on how to use it, and integrate it into the Journal‘s editorial workflow. It might be a great way to advance web standards like HTML5, and a great way to get the Journal on more devices, but it would hardly be “trivial.”

The crusade against Flash is underway, and Steve Jobs and co. are clearly leading the charge.


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3 Comments For This Post

  1. william Says:

    Didn’t H.264 announce recently that they were extending the no-charge, zero fee, for their technology for the next 5 years?. That “cost-issue” might be a “non-issue”.

  2. Peter Says:

    Remember that all things are simple to those who don’t have to do it. Steve is not a developer.

    Steve’s probably right about battery life. However, Adobe is able to access the GPU in order to decode video on Windows. However, Apple blocks direct access to the GPU on Mac OS X (and, I would assume, iPhone OS X) and will not give it to Adobe. So if Steve allowed Adobe access to the GPU, it wouldn’t have to use the CPU and would be able to provide better battery life.

  3. james Katt Says:

    Flash is dead like the floppy disk.

    H.264 doesn’t cost anything for the user. It is the web-browser developer who paid for it. For example, Firefox recently bit the bullet and paid for H.264 compatibility. Users of Firefox and websites that contain H.264 files do not have to pay anything for it.

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