Apple and Adobe Flash controversy

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The Apple and Adobe Flash controversy was a disagreement in the early 2010s between Apple Inc. and Adobe Systems over Adobe Flash technology, and specifically the Adobe Flash Player and its use on Apple iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

Flash Player[edit]

"Thoughts on Flash"[edit]

On April 29, 2010, Steve Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Apple Inc.,[1] published an open letter called "Thoughts on Flash" explaining why Apple would not allow Flash on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. He cited the rapid energy consumption, poor performance on mobile devices, abysmal security, lack of touch support, and desire to avoid "a third party layer of software coming between the platform and the developer". He touched on the idea of Flash being "open", claiming that "By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system".[2] Jobs tried to dismiss the idea that Apple customers are missing out by being sold devices without Flash compatibility. He quoted a number of statistics and concluded with "Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content."[2]


The letter drew immediate and harsh criticism, with Steve Jobs being accused of hypocrisy or of deliberately misleading.[3][4][5] Jobs' assertion that Flash is not open, or closed and proprietary, attracted a great deal of attention with references to open source projects that take advantage of Adobe making the Flash specification open for developers to build on.[6]

Adobe's CEO Shantanu Narayen responded by saying, "If Flash [is] the number one reason that Macs crash, which I'm not aware of, it has as much to do with the Apple operating system."[7]

Some members of the industry claimed that Steve Jobs rejected Flash on the iPhone for business reasons, rather than the technical reasons he mentions in his letter:

Some neutral parties agreed with Jobs but highlighted the hypocrisy in his reasoning:

Retrospectives following Adobe's withdrawal from mobile have tended to agree with Jobs on Flash's suitability for mobile devices:

iOS development[edit]

Adobe workaround[edit]

Adobe developed Adobe AIR, including the "Packager for iOS," which bundles the Flash runtime into a fully native iOS application. This allowed Flash developers to distribute any Flash application via the iTunes App Store as a standalone app.

Apple restriction[edit]

In April 2010, Apple modified its iOS developer agreement with version 4.0 of its SDK to limit the development of iOS apps to the use of a small set of Apple-approved programming languages and tools. Adobe's iOS packager was seen as the target of these new rules.[16] However, because the new rules were broadly written, and did not cite Adobe's iOS Packager specifically, they also potentially restricted the development of many popular iOS games and applications created using other non-approved application frameworks, such as MonoTouch (also known as C# Mono - cross-platform - iOS, Android, .NET), Unity, and Lua.[17]

The original iPhone OS 3 section 3.3.1 reads:

3.3.1 Applications may only use Published APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any unpublished or private APIs.[18][19]

The revised iPhone OS 4 section 3.3.1 reads:

3.3.1 – Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).[18]

Public reaction[edit]

Controversy over Apple's changes erupted after John Gruber's April 8, 2010 Daring Fireball blog post entitled, New iPhone Developer Agreement Bans the Use of Adobe’s Flash-to-iPhone.[18] Strong opposition to Apple's licensing changes spread quickly with bloggers and others. Others were quick to note that the language used in the agreement also banned other developer tools including MonoTouch, Lua, Unity, and many others.

The change was criticized for being anti-competitive[20] by disallowing use of Adobe Flash and other programs on the iPhone.[21][22][23] The New York Times quoted an Adobe employee alleging the policy to be anti-competitive.[21][24]

Steve Jobs posted a reaction to critics entitled "Thoughts on Flash", but did not directly address any third party development tools other than Adobe's Flash platform.

On May 3, 2010, Ars Technica and The New York Post reported that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) were deciding which agency will launch an antitrust investigation into the matter.[25][26]

Apple reversal[edit]

In September 2010, after having "listened to our developers and taken much of their feedback to heart",[27] Apple removed the restrictions on third-party tools, languages and frameworks, removing uncertainty from developers who used these third-party tools, and again allowing the deployment of Flash applications on iOS using Adobe's iOS Packager.[28]

Adobe abandonment of plugin[edit]

On November 8, 2011, Adobe announced that it was ceasing development of the Flash Player "plugin" for browsers on mobile devices, in an effort to shift its focus on using the ActionScript programming language and Adobe AIR to develop fully functional native apps for mobile.[29] Quoted from Adobe's press release: "Our future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores."


  1. ^ "Apple - Press Info - Apple Leadership - Steve Jobs". Archived from the original on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2012-11-21. 
  2. ^ a b Jobs, Steve (April 29, 2010). "Thoughts on Flash". Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  3. ^ Jobs Lies in Thoughts on Flash, Blixt Systems
  4. ^ Decoding Steve Jobs’ Dressing Down Of Flash, TechCrunch
  5. ^ Steve Jobs Is Lying About Flash, Business Insider
  6. ^ List of open source projects built for Adobe Flash, OSFlash Wiki
  7. ^ Richmond, Shane. (April 30, 2010) Adobe hits back at Apple's 'smokescreen' – Telegraph Blogs. Retrieved on March 11, 2011.
  8. ^ Why Apple Won’t Allow Adobe Flash on iPhone | Gadget Lab. Retrieved on March 11, 2011.
  9. ^ Why Adobe Flash on mobile isn't dead – despite what Apple's Steve Jobs says Archived December 30, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.,
  10. ^ Why Adobe Flash on mobile isn't dead Archived September 6, 2010, at the Wayback Machine., page 2,
  11. ^ Pot, meet kettle: a response to Steve Jobs’ letter on Flash
  12. ^ Steve Would Be Proud: How Apple Won The War Against Flash
  13. ^ Adobe Had It Coming: The Long, Slow Goodbye of Mobile Flash
  14. ^ Report: Adobe Is Finally Pulling the Plug on Mobile Flash (Updated)
  15. ^ Adobe's Flash Surrender Proves Steve Jobs And Apple Were Right All Along With HTML5
  16. ^ Chen, Brian X. (April 8, 2010). "Adobe Apps: Easier to Pass Through the 'i' of a Needle?". Gadget Lab. Wired. Retrieved September 1, 2011. 
  17. ^ Gruber, John (April 8, 2010). "New iPhone Developer Agreement Bans the Use of Adobe's Flash-to-iPhone Compiler". Daring Fireball. John Gruber. Retrieved September 1, 2011. 
  18. ^ a b c New iPhone Developer Agreement Bans the Use of Adobe’s Flash-to-iPhone Compiler. 8 April 2010.
  19. ^ Original iPhone OS 3 Developer Program License Agreement
  20. ^ Adobe Systems' SEC filing alleging expected loss of ability to compete in the market because of Apple's position on Flash on the iPhone and iPad, Form 10q, March 5, 2010.
  21. ^ a b Brimelow, Lee (April 9, 2010), Apple Slaps Developers In The Face, TheFlashBlog 
  22. ^ Williams, Hank (April 8, 2010), Steve Jobs Has Just Gone Mad, Why does everything suck? 
  23. ^ Schonfeld, Erick (April 9, 2010), Is Steve Jobs Ignoring History, Or Trying To Rewrite It?, TechCrunch 
  24. ^ Worthham, Jenna (April 12, 2010), "Apple Places New Limits on App Developers", The New York Times 
  25. ^ Cheng, Jacqui (May 3, 2010), Apple iPhone OS compiler policy may lead to antitrust probe, Ars Technica 
  26. ^ Kosman, Josh (May 3, 2010), "An antitrust app", The New York Post 
  27. ^ "Technology News: iOS: Apple Eases iOS Dev Clampdown as Android Gains Ground". Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  28. ^ Sorrel, Charlie (September 9, 2010). "Apple Eases App Development Rules, Adobe Surges". Gadget Lab. Wired. Retrieved January 6, 2011. 
  29. ^ Flash to Focus on PC Browsing and Mobile Apps

See also[edit]