Minnesota Apple watchers react to Steve Jobs’ criticisms of Google, Adobe Flash

Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds the new "iPad" during the launch of Apple's new tablet computing device.
REUTERS/Kimberly White
Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveils the iPad during last week’s launch of Apple’s tablet computing device.

So, if you haven’t seen the news Wired broke late Saturday (updated Sunday afternoon) about Steve Jobs going off on Google and Adobe at the Apple all-employee meeting, here it is: Google’s ‘Don’t Be Evil’ Mantra is ‘Bullshit,’ Adobe Is Lazy: Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Here’s an excerpt:

“After a big public announcement of the sort Apple had this week for the iPad, CEO Steve Jobs often takes time in the day or two afterwards to have a Town Hall at One Infinite Loop, making himself available for questions from employees bold enough to stand up and take one right between the eyes.

This time, the big topics included Google and Adobe — no surprises there … And the absence of Adobe Flash support on the iPhone for three years and counting, and now on the iPad, is either celebrated by users as a poke in the eye of one of the web’s most dextrous tools, or the most overrated and overused crutch for decent design.

Jobs, characteristically, did not mince words as he spoke to the assembled, according to a person who was there who could not be named because this person is not authorized by Apple to speak with the press.

On Google: We did not enter the search business, Jobs said. They entered the phone business. Make no mistake they want to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them, he says. Someone else asks something on a different topic, but there’s no getting Jobs off this rant. I want to go back to that other question first and say one more thing, he says. This don’t be evil mantra: “It’s bullshit.” Audience roars.

About Adobe: They are lazy, Jobs says. They have all this potential to do interesting things but they just refuse to do it. They don’t do anything with the approaches that Apple is taking, like Carbon. Apple does not support Flash because it is so buggy, he says. Whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it’s because of Flash. No one will be using Flash, he says. The world is moving to HTML5.”

I decided to ask three local observers with a special perspective on Apple for their reaction. Two of them are former Apple employees; the other, a 26-year user of both Apple and Adobe technologies.

First, I asked Curtis Juliber, a 16-year Apple business development exec, about what it was like on the inside, and also his take on the latest flap.

“I’ve been in employee meetings in Cupertino. Yes, Steve can be very forthright on a variety of topics. People did get up and ask questions. Usually, they were pretty well thought-out in advance — because, if Steve thought something was bullsh*t, he didn’t hesitate to say so.

“Apple has been pushing HTML5 for several years now. I remember hearing it discussed at WWDC [Worldwide Developer Conference] several years ago. But the market has been slow to adopt it. Whether or not Flash will be killed by the time it *is* adopted is still up in the air, in my opinion. The longer a technology is in the marketplace the harder it is to go away.”

What about Google getting into the phone business?

“I do see Google wanting to be in this market in a big way. Phone ads, and whatever patents they may own on the work they did, will generate great revenue streams.”

Next up, I just had to ask my Minnov8 colleague, Steve Borsch, about his take on the latest developments. Steve was a sales exec for Apple for several years in the 1990s.

“I was never actually in an Apple employee meeting with Jobs. [Steve was based here in the Midwest for Apple.] My only personal contact was at a Macworld, where we had a partner who’d created a Mac-based digital sign that we thought we had management approval to have in the booth. He walked in, saw the huge digital sign right on the end where the crowd walked in, and said to his underlings, ‘Get that out of here, NOW!’ We were all taken aback at the time, but on further reflection realized that, once again, he was right. The sign detracted from the message of the booth and was inappropriate.”

I asked Steve for his quick reaction about the Flash issue touched on in the Wired post.

“At our company, we have several machine ‘footprints’ of Adobe stuff, and we invest several thousand dollars per year on their software. I find PDF, InDesign, and other apps mission-critical and invaluable for our business. While Flash is ubiquitous, it is a resource hog, is mostly proprietary, and I would rather vote for an open web standard — that is, HTML 5 — versus continuing down the path with Flash.

“Case in point with it is the difficulty — and lack of tools from Adobe — to create Flash-based *anything*! I’ve been puzzled for years why they haven’t come out with tools that enable normal humans — meaning designers, not coders — to create and deliver Flash output. And, no — Flex isn’t it, and the output in InDesign is a joke.”

(For some additional perspective on the Apple/Flash/Adobe situation, check out these recent posts: Daring Fireball: Apple/Adobe/Flash and Scobleizer: Can Flash Be Saved?)

Finally, I asked Randy Geise for his perspective — and he offered up a lot. Randy is an accomplished graphic designer who began using Apple and Adobe technologies in 1984. He tells the story of calling for Postscript support in those early days, and having the founder of Adobe himself (John Warnock) get on the phone with him.

“Flash has always been a big resource hog — worse on Mac — but Adobe didn’t really worry about it, as we’d been in a GHz race in the PC industry. Everything was getting faster, so why worry about putting resources into making Flash (or any Adobe products) more efficient, when the horsepower kept going up? And all that browser-crashing going on is mainly on the Mac, and what kind of share does it have? Adobe sat on their laurels – as Jobs has said – got lazy.

“Then two things happened: the Mac share started climbing, and all that crashing — and the fact that Adobe wasn’t using any of the great native, core OSX tech in their Mac apps — pissed Jobs off. Then the mobile web took off with the iPhone — the first phone with a really capable browser — and Adobe didn’t have an efficient version of Flash to go with it. They still don’t. Mobile is huge, the iPhone is huge. The iPad will be huge. HTML5 is finally coming onboard. You have the H.264 standard for video. Everything is changing, there’s less need for Flash (or will be), and Adobe has missed the boat. They blew it, they were arrogant and lazy. They used to be able to claim a 99% plugin penetration — the plugin was everywhere. One could feel fairly confident using some Flash on a site — it would play. Now, you can’t be confident, and the penetration rate of Flash is going down with every iPhone, iPodTouch, and soon iPad sold. A crack has developed, and it’s growing.

“Some say Google will save Flash when they put it on Android. It won’t — the ubiquity is gone. It’s not safe to use Flash, it’s not everywhere.

“For all those Flash games out there, some say Adobe is about to introduce a version that allows you to develop in Flash and compile it to native apps on various mobile platforms, and that this will save the Flash developers. May help some for certain things, but it doesn’t really create a true native app using native controls/features. It’s kind of like Java — write once, debug everywhere, and still a slow runtime. And the Flash games will still have to compete with all those native games already on the iPhone and other platforms. Good luck.

“Adobe and Flash aren’t going to go ‘poof’ overnight, but I think the writing is on the wall: the Flash era is over.”

I asked Randy if he thought there was any possibility that Apple or Google would support Flash.

“Neither will. They’re both moving at breakneck speed and don’t want to have to slow down and wait for an update to Flash. They’d be hamstrung by any third party. And Adobe doesn’t have a good track record for quickly getting new stuff out — no 64-bit versions for either Windows or OSX, for example. Both Google and Apple are into efficient code. Adobe hasn’t been. OSX-SnowLeopard for example was all about rewriting for efficiency. Neither company wants or needs the bloat that is Adobe. Both Google and Apple need the web to run on open standards. We’ve just barely gotten out of the era where IE was holding us back on all things new. Google and Apple are not going to let Adobe/Flash become the new IE.

“Since Android is open, and Google doesn’t really control what apps gets installed, Adobe could make Flash available but installed by the user. That depends, however, on if the Android web browser allows plugins. And there’s the wild card of Google partners adding it — so it could be somewhat the ‘wild west’ on the Android side. But Flash won’t be ubiquitous, so one won’t be able to count on it. And that is the death sentence.”

(Randy added that, for those who want to read more, there was a lot of Flash discussion going on in the comments on this Robert Scoble post: Google Will Save Flash, a Developer Who Uses It Says.)

So, will Apple win? Is Adobe and its Flash flagship doomed? And, furthermore….is Google evil?

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 02/02/2010 - 03:15 pm.

    I find the frustration with Flash funny because Apple owns like 25 percent of Adobe. Probelm is, programming for Macs is 10 times more difficult than for Windows and most of that is because of their proprietary junk. Safari, for instance, has issues with HTML code that all of the other browsers process correctly. Flash may use some resources, but resources are now cheap. Four gigs of memory is $100 today at General Nanosystems in Minneapolis.

    And if these words came out of Bill Gater’ mouth, there would be a Justice Department investigation, but because Apple is 15 percent of the U.S. market and less in the world, Jobs is treated a little like Generalisimo Francisco Franco — just sort of tolerated.

  2. Submitted by Mark Radosevich on 02/03/2010 - 12:05 am.

    To Jeremy:

    I’m not sure where you’re getting your information. I don’t think Apple has any ownership of Adobe. Can you verify that?

    For web standards, a common test for browsers is the Acid3 test. The latest version of Safari passes 100% of the test. Chrome passes at 100% as well, possibly because it shares the same underlying code with Safari. Firefox 3.6 has a 94% success rate, while Internet Explorer 8 has a 20% rate, which is still better than Internet Explorer 7. Of course, many people use Internet Explorer 6, which is less secure and is out of date: some websites, including Google Docs, won’t support it.

    The resources Flash taxes on a typical computer are not RAM but CPU time, so buying more RAM won’t help. Of course, Apple installs Flash by default on its computers, it’s the iPhone and iPad where it isn’t included, and I don’t know how to install more RAM on a smartphone. (Just a note, having more than 4 GB won’t help anything anyway unless your software is compiled to run on a 64 bit processor.)

    I’ve also heard programmers talk about how easy it is to code for Mac OS X, compared to Windows. I’m not a programmer myself, so that’s probably a matter of opinion and habit. I’ll bet we talk to different programmers.

    Having said all that, you give Apple too much credit: their market share in the US is closer to 5% than 15%.

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