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“no pleasure endures unseasoned by variety”—Publilius Syrus

Smoke + Mirrors: Adobe CEO
Shantanu Narayen Responds to
Steve Jobs’ Position on Mobile Flash


Guess what? My Mac’s Safari browser just crashed while watching a Flash video on The Wall Street Journal (scroll down to watch it). The subject? Adobe’s response to Steve Jobs’ recent arguments agains using Flash on Apple mobile devices. But let’s put that aside for now. In my last post on this debate, I did my best to be humble; to refrain from partisanship as much as an Apple fanatic is capable; and to give any of you the opportunity to fill in the gaps in my knowledge on this subject.

When I read Steve Jobs’ Thoughts on Flash, I noted how struck I was by what seemed like Steve’s relatively dispassionate position on this subject. Maybe my vision is blurred while reading between the lines, but Jobs’ arguments were not delivered with his typical bravado (i.e. arrogance). It seems to me that point by point, Steve proposed lucid, practical reasons for not embracing Adobe Flash’s on Apple mobile devices. Maybe that’s just me. But:

What was glaringly obvious to me during Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen’s rebuttal was his delivery of the same lame corporate marketing bromides you hear at every mid-level management meeting across America: “value proposition.” “world vision.” “delivery mechanism that allows us to amortize investment.” Who is us? Whose investment? Click for the official site.

The interviewer points out that Steve’s response seemed “personal” and “nasty.” It’s no secret Mr. Jobs can be an arrogant ass and a real tyrant. But you don’t see many titans of industry adopting the genteel protocol of Victorian drawing rooms (nor the watered down language of corporate marketing). Asshole he may be, but he delivers innovation like no other technology company in recent history and does it with a confidence and panache that comes from nowhere if not straight from his heart. Even with all his faults, his recent response did not feel like the tantrum of a man that is used to having his way. I detected no belligerence or defensiveness in the tone of his language. More importantly, I felt informed by Jobs’ response. In contrast, Adobe’s response felt like a sales pitch worthy of an alternate Glenngary Glenn Ross script.

I was sincerely hoping to hear countering arguments that completed the picture for me. I have no interest in debunking Adobe in favor of my beloved iPhone. I simply wanted facts, straight up. I wanted specifics that would enable me to defend either side of this debate with informed intelligence. Unless I forgot to take out my earplugs (I did not play my drums last night), I couldn’t cobble together a single lucid piece of information from the smorgasbord of Narayen’s clichéd language. He even uses the word “factoid” to bolster his own weak arguments. Consumers, and certainly technology professionals, are not interested in something as politically slanted as a “factoid,” which is defined as “a brief or trivial item of news or information. An assumption or speculation that is reported and repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact.” Seems like Mr. Narayen needs to polish his rhetorical skills if he hopes to present viable arguments to this debate.

Narayen uses the word “smokescreen” multiple times to describe Steve’s “allegations”. That’s where this man’s credibility completely fell apart for me. The interviewer repeatedly asked him to respond to the specific points in Jobs’ agenda. He responded to none of these in any substantive, factual manner, choosing instead to continue using corporate platitudes to deflect pointed questions. Wait a minute. Isn’t that a smokescreen? His whining tone, flimsy language and closed body language tells the real story.

Narayen goes on to state that “technology is not the issue.” Do what? Ok, you lost me with that one, sir. Then he goes on to mention that InDesign, a print application, can bridge a development gap for an interactive platform? C’mon.

There’s plenty more in this interview that I could dissect and debunk. But I have little interest in tearing down a company that has gifted the world with Photoshop– an application that shakes my atheistic leanings through the sheer depth of it’s capabilities. But the bottom line is: hey, it would be great to have Flash on the iPhone/iPad. But if the rhetorical and business positions of these two guys are to be my only guide, then I’ll side with Steve and wait till a better solution comes along. Apple ain’t dumb. It can’t be that far off.

Can’t we all just get along? Watch the video below. Hope it doesn’t crash your Mac.

  1. Saturday 05.01.2010 | 4:11 EDT

    kph says:

    I have very bad news for all of the Applephiles out there – this is pure business, and you should be a little scared. It is so very comical to listen to Jobs say that the biggest issue is that Flash is “closed and proprietary”, when Apple’s entire stack is closed and proprietary itself. Here’s the real reason they don’t want Flash: Apple wants absolute and complete control of everything that goes onto their devices, and that means that the applications that install on iPhones and iPads *must* use the programming languages and API’s that Apple endorses. Flash would allow developers to skirt these restrictions and use Adobe’s API’s, and Apple sees this as a risk because they don’t have control of them and can’t fully account for them.
    This is but the tip of the iceberg, however. Presently, if you are using a desktop/laptop/notebook from any vendor, you can purchase software from a multitude of vendors that have written the software using any number of programming languages (this is true for Macs, Windows, Linux, you name it.) You do not need permission from the hardware or software vendor of your notebook to install the software; if you pay for it/download it and it’s been written for your OS, you can have at it. What Apple has done with the iPhone and iPad is control two fundamental things:
    1. What apps are made available for install on their devices (via the App Store)
    2. What development tools can be used to build iPhone/iPad apps
    If you haven’t heard of apps being denied by the Apple police, read this:http://www.niemanlab.org/2010/04/mark-fiore-can-win-a-pulitzer-prize-but-he-cant-get-his-iphone-cartoon-app-past-apples-satire-police/ . If you’d like to get a developer’s perspective on why controlling programing languages and API’s is “evil”, have a look at this:http://www.taoeffect.com/blog/2010/04/steve-jobs-response-on-section-3-3-1/ . Apple is proving itself to be no different that Microsoft of old, and sadly those end users that bought into Apple as the anti-Microsoft have been willing to look the other way because of the brand. Yuck.
    As a software developer, I find Job’s attempt to “explain” the situation with Flash so transparently convenient I want to smack him. The conclusion had been set – no Flash. He simply needed to come up with a halfway-coherent sounding justification for that conclusion and present it as if the justification lead him to the conclusion as opposed to the other way around. How silly.
    If Apple wants to actually be “open” and not just talk about it, then it should read Google’s short manifesto here: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/meaning-of-open.html . Google, which has done more than its fair share of evil things (i.e. censoring search in China) actually sat down and thought about their core values and *did something about it*.
    Have fun,

    1. Saturday 05.01.2010 | 4:24 EDT

      chairmanmau says:

      thanks kph. you make some great points here. Apple does occasionally smack of Big Brother as of late. Their tight reigns on hardware AND software implementation by third parties opens them up to easy criticism. But I must point out the OTHER Big Brother (i.e. Microsoft), by licensing their OS to third-party vendors, shot them selves in their very very wealthy foot. Their products suffer from appallingly bad design and UI that fail to address an immediate consumer need: simple, efficient and, yes, attractive devices and software. By opening up their software development to such a wide audience, it targeted the lowest common denominator. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling PC users philistines. All I’m saying is that without SOME control, the quality and innovation of the product fails. One of my favorite Steve Jobs quotes (yes, it’s extremely arrogant, but true: http://bit.ly/2ZJIGQ

      This open vs closed debate is indeed a tricky one. So far, there’s no truly right answer. And of course Apple has their own interest at heart in some of these arguments. But I will say that I’d rather date a hot, smart, discerning yet difficult woman than an insipid, well-mannered one than tries to be everyone to everyone.

    2. Saturday 05.01.2010 | 5:40 EDT

      KBJ says:

      Thanks for the info and the links, kph! However, I think most anyone that’s been a true Applephile for the past several years – at least the ones I know – are well-aware of these nasty tendencies and have something of a love/hate relationship with the company. (Indeed, I even worked for them until I quit last June, disgusted with their corporate shenanigans!)

      The company does appear to be on its way to Evil Empire status, and I hate them for that, but they continue to provide a user experience that, for me anyway, just can’t be beat.

      Jobs certainly has a Flash agenda, and I’m sure Apple will remain more closed than open to the developer community…that’s kind of how they’ve always been, I suppose, and that’s really not very admirable at all but may be part of the secret to their success. However, I still prefer the way their products look, feel and operate to any others I’ve encountered. Until something better (for me) comes along, they’ll have my often kicking & screaming support….

  2. Saturday 05.01.2010 | 3:24 EDT

    KBJr says:

    Well put! I got the same sense about him here, and agree that, surprisingly, Steve Jobs’ tone in his piece wasn’t arrogant or accusatory. Narayen spoke frequently about the need for singular workflows for multiple platforms…I would think he’d focus on creating developer tools for the oncoming HTML5 set et al in order to provide his ‘customers’ an easy transition into what appears to be a more streamlined approach to delivering content in the upcoming years. Flash is of course by no means dead, but it’s beginning to feel like a once champion thoroughbred whose time for pasture is approaching. Fast.

  3. Saturday 05.01.2010 | 3:15 EDT

    cindy says:

    Flash is cross platform in terms of Mac and PC but it cannot be called multi-platform because phones like iphone and google’s droid among other touch screen smart phones do not accept flash. There software is built using Apple’s webkit. If the future of viewing the web is via phones, ipads and other tablets, along with computers, then we need to accept a technology that will reach all of these various platforms. Obviously, flash cannot achieve this, but flash has also been on it’s way out ever since SEO became a household name. No one wants a flash website anymore.

    In this instance Google is to blame. Considering that most flash sites are built using xml and Google love for xml, Google still doesn’t want to search a flash file or it’s xml counterparts in order to provide SEO results. In order to have SEO using flash, a site has to be built in flash pieces with html putting all those pieces together while using alt tags for each part of the site. This can get annoying and if an iphone can’t view the site or navigate it then that’s a problem. Clients simply will opt for html5 and that will be that.
    I love flash but I’m facing facts and beginning to learn html5 out of necessity. It also makes me sad that technology continues to make products that do not allow for creatives to stay on top but handing creative reigns over to developers who are usually not very creative. Developers are not designers. This basically means the end of creativity unless we creatives can get a grasp on coding which is simply not our forte. There are plenty of tutorials out there now and literature on html5 if one wants to learn. I’d say the one place flash will still have a home is banners. Animation is simply much easier when you’re just animating frame by frame and I can safely say I’d never want to tackle that with html code that’s just sacrilegious.

    If Adobe wants to stay on top, I’d say they better fix flash and make it a public language like they did flex. Otherwise, they can kiss flash goodbye. It would be a shame to lose flash, after all we need the creativity that it helps to promote with such ease. Adobe needs to open their eyes and realize that just like with SEO, consumers will choose what most quickly puts their product in the eyes of the public and if flash can’t perform, it’s as good as dead.

    1. Saturday 05.01.2010 | 4:36 EDT

      chairmanmau says:

      It’s surprising, and refreshing, to get this response from a very talented Flash developer who actually started out as a cream-of-the-crop graphic designer (and now excels at both). The line between creative and technical disciplines is indeed beginning to blur in a very disheartening manner. Developers are not designers and vice versa, nor should they be. This puts creatives in a position of having to do two things only marginally well.

      On another note, creatives have typically resisted the use of Flash, not from a technology standpoint, but from one of usability. Witness the nascent days of Flash, when clients HAD TO HAVE all the bells and whistles if offers, JUST BECAUSE. So many sites continue to suffer from over-use of Flash. Adobe’s own website is the biggest culprit. Anyone tried to buy software from the Adobe site lately? Not only is the IA all fucked up, but Flash sticks its clumsy paws into each step of what should be a quick and intuitive process. Ever tried to send a deep link to a particular product suite to a client for evaluation? No can do… Adobe’s overuse of Flash obscures deep linking. Page load times? Abominable for an e-commerce site. Sure, there’s some nifty design and wizardry, but it promotes it at the cost of usability. It’s not hard to make something beautiful AND functional. If you have the right tools….

      I’d love to see Adobe an Apple play nice together. But in this case I’m really leaning towards the point of view that Adobe does not want to address the technical clumsiness of its platform. They’re a stellar company. I’m sure their brain trust can come up with a better solution.

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