Update: Steve Jobs Responds! Well, not to my letter directly, but it hits on the major points and is a well-written explanation of Apple’s position.

Dear Apple and Adobe

I’m a long-time customer and have spent more money on your products than I have on just about any other aspect of my life. I’ve spent more money on your products than I’ve spent on my healthcare, vacations, kitchen appliances, children’s school supplies, or home entertainment system.

In return, you’ve increasingly shown a disregard for my needs and concerns, and have acted in ways that demonstrate all you want from me is my money.

For example, both of you have constantly forced me (or at a minimum pressured me) to buy updates to products I already paid for. For years I went along with it because I bought into the sales hype and assumed these updates would somehow make my life better.  In most cases, they did not.

Adobe, your constant tinkering with the Creative Suite has brought a few nifty tools to the world, but these new tools will not get me to overlook the incredible bloat you’ve unleashed on my computers — almost 6GB of program files on my Windows PC at work, and over 7GB of app files on my Mac at home. Your applications feel more unstable with every release, and your UI feels slow and unresponsive despite the extra RAM and other hardware upgrades on my machines. Some of the biggest security holes on my computers are due to your Acrobat software — the very same Acrobat software I’ve learned to hate because of how bloated, complicated, and unfriendly it has become. It feels like it gets worse with each release.

Apple, your innovation is refreshing. Adobe could learn a thing or two by examining your software: increased productivity through reduced feature sets and cleaner UI. Simple is usually best. However, despite your continued excellence in design, your behavior is repulsive. You’ve consistently screwed your early adoptors via your pricing schemes and forced millions of Americans to use a phone network they detest. (Why? Because AT&T was willing to give you a bigger cut of the revenue?) Worst of all, the totalitarianism displayed in your latest iPhone developer agreement is breathtaking. It appears your goal is to piss off everyone, even your staunchest allies… like Adobe.

Apple and Adobe, you used to play well together. You both benefited from your long-term relationship and grew into very large, very successful companies. I sincerely doubt either of you would have survived the 1990s intact if it weren’t for your partnership. Desktop publishing was the Mac’s forte and the one thing that kept it afloat when the buzzards were circling. And who provided the most popular DTP software? Adobe (and the companies Adobe acquired, like Aldus and Macromedia).

Adobe, I know you’re mad because Apple won’t let you put your Flash technology on the new iPhone platform (iPhone, iPod, iPad). Honestly, if I were controlling a platform, I would have major concerns, too. As I mentioned earlier, your track record for software quality seems to be in a steady decline. Your products have become infamous for security holes, bloat, and crashing. It didn’t used to be that way. Somewhere along the line you dropped the ball, and now it’s coming back to bite you. The good news is that it isn’t too late for you to rein things in and regain control of your software. Stop trying to please everyone by adding every conceivable feature under the sun, and really focus on the most important elements. Drop the cruft. Clean the cupboards. Get that lint out of your bellybutton. Once your software is respectable again, you’ll be in a much stronger position to complain about Apple.

Apple, I don’t know what happened to you. You went from being a popular underdog to being the class bully. You’re in danger of becoming as popular as Microsoft in the European court system. From where I sit, your biggest mistake has been the idea that you can take over the world, one industry at a time. Of course, many companies are aggressive and set big goals for themselves, but they don’t stab their partners in the back as quickly and viciously as you seem to do. Your hubris and eagerness to expand into your partners’ markets is going to be your downfall. People have liked you because of your design sensibilities and because you were the hip underdog. You are no longer the hip underdog, and with time, other companies will create products that will be (almost) as stylish but also cheaper and with equivalent or greater capabilities.

The bottom line is that neither of you are choir boys, and I’m fed up with your bickering.

Adobe, stop playing the sympathy card. It’s a complete turn-off because I know how crappy your software can be. Granted, it’s unfortunate that so many people depend on Flash and Flash doesn’t work on the iPhone platform, but Flash is not a web standard. For all its shortcomings, the iPhone platform has one excellent quality: a top-notch HTML5 browser. Standardistas have been warning people not to go all-in with Flash for years, and now we see why. If it isn’t part of a standard, it will not be incorporated into some products. It’s the vendor’s choice. Simple as that.

Apple, stop trying to take over the world. We’ve seen what happens to other companies who try it, and it never looks pretty. Focus on your core values and let your partners do their thing without stepping on their toes.

Oh, and ditch AT&T already, will ya?



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  1. Nice letter Philip! Very well said. There needs to be a word for software that adds feature just for adding bullet points to the box and cause a considerable amount of instability. Windows XP -> Vista is a classic example, and HTTPAnalyzer is the same way. They both worked fine, then the new versions came out, much less stable, add features I don’t want.

  2. “Top quality HTML 5 browser”?

    I was kind of with you up to that point. HTML 5 support is as splintered as any other browser ‘standard’ and it doesn’t look like that’s about to change soon.

    Although maybe that would not be such an issue if HTML 5 was actually finished and fully implemented *at all* *anywhere*.

    1. It’s safe to say there is no better HTML5 browser at this point, even if the HTML5 spec is not fully approved yet. WebKit definitely leads the pack — largely due to Apple’s development efforts — and Safari and Google Chrome are children of WebKit. Opera and Firefox are playing catch-up in many areas, though Opera is more advanced in some places (web forms). But that’s another topic. 🙂

  3. Only thing to mention is that being a standard would not mean full Flash rendering would be included on a specific device. SVG is a standard and we are still waiting for full support:


    So if flash was an open spec mobile safari could very well just support bits and pieces Apple liked.

    Heck SCORM is a spec and I see plenty of LMS’s not implement it fully or correctly.

    just sayin….

  4. @ethan: Very true. Even newer parts of ECMAScript aren’t evenly implemented in all browsers.

    I think my point was just that Adobe can’t cry foul if their Flash system is proprietary and a vendor doesn’t want to include it on their platform.

    If Adobe wants to pursue Flash on all devices, it seems logical that they’d work with browser vendors to make SWF native and not require a plugin. But Adobe doesn’t seem to want to give up control of Flash Player, much the same as Apple doesn’t want to give up control of the iPhone platform. They’re both acting similarly with different results.

    In both cases their desire for control seems rooted in the desire to be able to innovate quickly and not worry about getting approval from others (standards bodies, partners, etc.). Of course we also know that both companies have tried to monetize the platform by creating targeted app markets, with very different outcomes.

  5. pretty good way to sum it up. It’s like the two best buds on the schoolyard have turned into the bullies that don’t play well together now.

  6. You are right ; I have spent many times to improve their products and embed the most desired feature in them , but they only do their “to do” list.

  7. Well said! Especially on the Adobe points. Now I’m faced with upgrading to CS5 for what? One stellar feature in Photoshop?

    However, you are absolutely right. It would be great (especially for developers) if they both played nice!

  8. Philip, I completely agree with you. I would really like if Adobe makes the runtime player completely open (but with conscious control over behavior) and focus on it’s development tools on which they actually monetize.

    Apple has been successful in designing their product because they had very close focus on their relatively lesser set of software running over the set of their hardware devices. But God only knows why they became such greedy to control whole world.

  9. Awesome Post, Philip. Also enjoyed reading Big Steve’s letter you linked to. I guess the Flash team at Adobe better get really really busy if they want to get in to Big Steve’s Mobile playground.

  10. If you make the Flash player native to browsers you are going to run into the same problems you run into with HTML and javascript. Some browsers will interpret the code different than others causing more headache to go back and forth trying to figure out what code works.

    The great thing about the player is it can run on all browsers and it interprets the code the same way.

    It took HTML close to 15 years to get to this point and all of the sudden it has surpassed actionscript. Give me a break. By the way, if people hate actionscript so much why haven’t they used Javascript? It does the same thing!

    By the way, unless you are using products like Illustrator or Photoshop, Actionscript is completely Open Source! You don’t need to buy CS5. But you buy it because it makes your life easier to code. Especially when your doing all of that HTML5 coding in Dreamweaver!

  11. @nathan

    I didn’t say anything about ActionScript, so I’m not sure where those comments were coming from. For the record, I like ActionScript, and think Adobe should be applauded for pushing ECMAScript forward and showing what it’s capable of doing/becoming. However, it’s not like ActionScript has been a walk in the park; with Adobe updating the spec every couple of years (esp. the huge shifts from AS2 to AS3 and AVM1 to AVM2), creating and maintaining Flash apps has been quite a bit of work, too.

    Flash files we created four years ago are already considered obsolete.

    Interoperability between AVM1 and AVM2 SWFs has been a nightmare for many people, esp. when some Adobe products (like Captivate) continued to be limited to AS2. At our office we had to wait well over a year and a half for Flash Player 9 to become more ubiquitous before we could even consider AS3.

    Some browsers will interpret the code different than others causing more headache to go back and forth trying to figure out what code works.

    This is quite possible, but would it hurt for the vendors to try? Positive thoughts!

  12. Nice post. Is there a solution to delivering (protected) elearning content without using flash? Wouldn’t elearning be a great reason to buy an iPad?

    1. @karl

      I think tablets (not just the iPad) would be great for e-learning as well as classroom purposes. But is there such a thing as protected e-learning? Any web technology is essentially unprotected once it loads on the client. Even Flash can be decompiled.

  13. @HTML5 vs Flash

    Of cause you are right that Flash is no official standard.
    But it’s widely available.

    I stopped complaining about how many of our clients use IE6.
    Customer is always right.
    In some big companies the way of upgrading software is just a long one with lazy IT and conservative management^^

    I personally use SeaMonkey 1.xx at home.
    That has a gecko renderer version close to firefox 2.
    Have not found the time to upgrade to the latest (ff3 close) version because keeping User Settings and Mails unfortnally requires hand work (installer tries but fails).
    So your homepage is totally trown off and hardly readable.

    Don’t get me wrong.
    Nothing bad in using latest edge technology.
    Nor in open standards.
    But it should not be used without fallback option.
    Increasing the development time/cost.

    And propritary standards tend to be implemented clearer over many systems (browsers, OS, …).
    Just another example is using Open Office and MS Office together.
    If you have one of them on PC and MAC -> no problem.
    OO on one and MSO on another -> no working together,

    @iPhone not having Flash

    IPhone does not allow any runtime enviroment.
    So like Flash, Java or any Emulator of C64 or historical console.

    Simply Apple fears for such a System runs complex code and slows down the phones UI.
    Apple has huge fear of applications running the iPhone OS in slow down or crash.
    The iPhone OS has absolutly no good thread sheduler.
    For the same reason the it was not possible to run multipe apps so far.
    From an OS standpoint it’s like DOS.

    At least this time Apple gets the fault.
    I mean for not having copy&paste they got no bad credit.
    But if 4 apps slow down the UI people will get mad^^
    A Windows Mobile user would never accepted missing c&p but can live with waiting timwhen he runs multiple applications.
    But looking at market share those aren’t many left…


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