Dear Apple – 1984 Called, They Want Their Video Back

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I suppose I should start out by noting that I, like a very significant number of my colleagues at Adobe, am a big fan of OS X and Apple products. I am typing this on the Macbook Pro I purchased for personal use. The MBP for work is sitting on a table nearby. There’s two iPods and an iPod Touch in this room as well. The only thing I use Windows for is some HR stuff that doesn’t run well on the Mac. In short, I love OS X and I hope to keep using it for a long time.

So from the point of view of someone who’s a fan of both the Apple and Adobe platforms, it’s hard for me to wrap my brain around the vitriol lobbed against Flash by my fellow Mac users. And if you read the blogosphere these days, you might come away thinking Adobe is on the verge of a massive route, driven into irrelevance by a horde of iPad-wielding HTML5 developers. And some in the media, who always love a good “X is going to kill Y” story line, are following suit.

The reality is somewhat different.

One thing that frequently (but not always) goes overlooked is that as much as this is a technology battle, it’s also a business one. Pushing as much content through the App Store as possible is great business for Apple; and honestly, I don’t blame them for wanting to build their App Store into a massive (and massively profitable) content juggernaut. It’s far friendlier to their margins than the hardware business, even with their premium pricing, so why not go for a platform play?

Where I take exception — and developers should too — is with Apple’s “my way or the highway” approach to development. Adobe’s Flash is a very high-profile victim of this approach right now, but we’re not the first nor are we the only one. And I really don’t understand how a bunch of developers committed to embracing the “open web” can turn right around and accept the massively closed structure that is the Apple ecosystem. Is it cognitive dissonance, or just Stockholm Syndrome? Is this really the same company who so famously embraced the image of shattering Big Brother’s image? How did Apple lose its way?

When I think about why all this matters, I think about my 10 year old niece. She doesn’t know (or care) what Flash is. All she knows is that she loves playing Webkinz, and every time I come over to visit, she wants to play it with me on my laptop. If I handed her an iPad, she’d want to play it there too, and she wouldn’t understand why she couldn’t. Yes, of course, I can buy her a bunch of other games on the App Store, but that’s not the same thing to her, and anyone who says that it is has clearly never withstood the wrath of a pre-teen. 🙂

Apple needs a reality check. Once you get outside the San Francisco to San Jose corridor, you’ll find very few people who know or care what HTML5 is. Most people who don’t do technology for a living find our high-geek holy wars incomprehensible and boring. They don’t want to be locked out of content, and they don’t want to be told they should spend money in the App Store just to conform to Apple’s vision of the internet. They just want to use the sites, view the videos, and play the games they’re used to.

Oh, and 90% of them do not run OS X.

Go back and watch that famous “1984” video again — because it seems to me that Apple has become the very thing they were fighting against back then.

25 thoughts on “Dear Apple – 1984 Called, They Want Their Video Back”

  1. You just wrote what I was thinking but more eloquently. Unfortunately it all comes down to money and the ones that will pay for this are the end users.

  2. “And I really don’t understand how a bunch of developers committed to embracing the “open web” can turn right around and accept the massively closed structure that is the Apple ecosystem”

    Yes exactly. Microsoft is supposed to be the leader of the Evil Empire in these technology wars, yet Apple is more closed, more invasive and more controlling than Microsoft ever was.

    Good news, for openness at least, is that developers are apparently leaving iPhone development in droves.

    Bad news is they are supposedly moving to Android. Which means Google. WHich means another corporate behemoth that wants to get it’s tendrils into every aspect of our lives.

    1984 is completely with us. Just a couple of dacades later than predicted.

    Oh – and I for one will not ever forget the irony of Amazon’s great Kindle-1984 blunder. Shades of worse to come if people actually embrace the iPad …

  3. I run Macs, but don’t own and itouch or iphone. The iphone was out of question because of AT&T and the itouch, well it’s on the wish list. However I have recently started running flash blocking software and sometimes been stuck with only a dialup connection. I’ve come to realize that flash has been totally abused, and never truly realized before how much flash was out there. Abused or no though, somethings have no better alternative and until that happens and it’s widely accepted Apple needs to get over the flash thingy.

    Html 5 is a joke, it’s rediculous, just as funny as CSS 3! Yeah I realize it takes time to develop stuff, but for the average developer neither html 5 or CSS 3 will have any use for many years. We can’t even get rid of Internet Explorer 6, let alone Internet Explorer 7 which I believe will continue to hold a substantial enough user base to render Html 5 and CSS3 unusable for the average target audience for years to come!

    I’m not a huge fan of portable devices so I’m not that upset, but trends concern. If Apple was to push this into OSX, well, as much as I love my macs I might have to try out Windows 7 or even Linux.

  4. I agree, and I understand why some HTML based coders are gleefully cheering an OS closed to Flash. More work for them, right?

  5. Obviously you don’t research or listen to Apple investor relations quarterly conference calls and decide to spew misinformation.

    “I don’t blame them for wanting to build their App Store into a massive (and massively profitable) content juggernaut. It’s far friendlier to their margins than the hardware business, even with their premium pricing, so why not go for a platform play?”

    Is one of the most off-base statements I have read yet. Are you ignoring the fact that Oppenheimer has explained the AppStore is just above break even with negligible profit to report? There is no money in that business for Apple at all. The reason they have built this up is to promote the hardware platforms and have something that stands out.

    So quite frankly while I am not going to say I disagree with your other points, reading this part of your post basically put it in the “I don’t do my homework on the subject and want to rant in favour of my platform” category.

    [RL: I do not listen to the quarterly calls but I have done analysis of their annual reports. Apple reports Net Sales By Product but is extremely closed-mouthed about profits so anything on the subject is conjecture — however given the online nature of App Store sales and the significant amount of sales driven I think it’s a fair call of me to make.]

  6. This is a great ‘Apple, look in the mirror and see what you’ve become’ post. What they are doing now can easily be perceived as the very thing they swore against back in 1984, when this Ridley Scott video first aired during the Super Bowl.

    If only Adobe could have staged a similar revolt during the iPad unveiling. The moment that blue plug-in icon appeared instead of Flash content, Kevin Lynch could have run up the aisle and thrown the hammer!

    More of my thoughts here:

  7. Steve has shown repeatedly over the years that he’s willing to piss off customers in order to push technology along. (e.g., ditching floppies in the original iMac, all but ditching the Carbon API in 10.6.) I think the question to him isn’t “why take it out?” but “why leave it in?”

    This controlling attitude has always been been a double-edged sword. The products are expensive and it’s annoying to developers; but the approach also yields clean, simple, conceptually-coherent products (because Steve has pretty good taste). What’s interesting, and maybe obvious in hindsight, is that this formula works best for consumer information appliances like the iPod/iPhone, rather than for general computing where diversity, cost, and backward compatibility tend to win.

    The anti-Flash trend is something much broader than Apple. People don’t want to rely on a technology like Flash that is controlled by one company, with a big fat closed-source plugin and expensive authoring tools. With regard to Apple, Adobe hasn’t helped by seemingly abandoning Flash development for the Mac for a number of years (no 64 bit support, big lingering performance issues).

  8. I’m not keen on Apple at all, and I will never buy an Apple device myself. If I’m going to pay for it, I’m going to want to have full control over it. With Apple’s stuff, it kind of feels like you’re renting it, and not truly owning it.

    But even so, this is one issue that I would support Apple in. Flash can’t die soon enough. As a Linux user of 5 years, Flash has been a major headache for me in the past, with buggy and poorly-performing plugins crashing my browser regularly (although this has been improved lately, but it still performs poorly), lack of 64bit support for a long time (improved slightly, but the 64bit plugin is almost hidden in Adobe’s site, and some things don’t seem to work properly in it, like megaupload), and extremely poor performance (watching a youtube video on my eee900 puts the CPU up to 100% usage and slows everything down).
    Flash adverts are extremely annoying and appear on almost every commercial site. Some sites are built entirely with flash, and they’re extremely annoying and bothersome to navigate.
    This move looks like it might push more people towards open standards like HTML5, which is great.

  9. Hi Rachel,

    Thank you for your eloquent blog post.

    I don’t know about vitriol as I’ve slowly started tuning out technology blogs of all stripes (OMG there’s no camera in the iPad, OMG there’s no OOG support in iTunes, OMG Win 7 doesn’t come with a unicorn) but I do have strong opinions about Flash.

    I currently have Windows XP, Windows 7, and Mac Snow Leopard (and yes, an iPhone). On the three non-iPhones, I have Flash-blocking software.

    With the caveat that I know a lot of what I am about to say is because of how people choose to program/deploy/use Flash, it is still a “Flash problem:”

    For Windows, it is because Flash is resource intensive and I do not like how it “breaks” my browsing experience: Unable to link to specific pages and the ‘Back’ button not working the way I anticipate.

    For Mac, it’s very simple: Stop Crashing My Browser (stolen from: I’ve had a Mac for two months and am stunned by the number of browser crashes that are seemingly attributable to Flash.

    Short version: Flash is a problem, prevent Flash from running.

    For me, the “blue lego” or “Flash-block icon” isn’t a problem, it means I just need to get my information from another source.

    Thanks again for the post!

  10. @Joseph: I know everyone will think I’m lying or shilling but the simple fact is that I’ve been running a Mac for years now and I don’t have that problem with browser crashes, either on Firefox or on Safari.

    I’m not going to deny anyone else’s experience, but it’s just totally alien to me. I don’t know why, maybe I have weird usage patterns. I don’t run any ad or Flash blockers, either.

  11. About Me

    Modified: September 26, 2007

    This is the blog of Rachel Luxemburg, a New York City native transplanted to the SF Bay Area. I am a Group Manager, Developer Relations for Adobe, focused on the global designer & developer customer communities.

    Your bias is showing

    [RL: I have disclaimers all over the website (as well as in this very post) with my affiliation; it’s not exactly a secret that I work for Adobe. Why is this a problem?]

  12. Flash can’t be all that bad on a Mac, considering how many Flash developers use a Mac…

  13. I am a Flash/Flex developer, working from Mac and PC platforms. I have also not noticed a major performance or crashing issue from one to the next. If anything, i see more crashing on Windows. I have Flash content up for the most part of the day on both, and Windows is definitely the place I see most, if any crashing. Hence, my preference for the stability of OS X platform.

    While HTML 5 does hold some promise, I’m afraid that as long as the majority of users are on Windows, your hopes for ‘open’ standards will remain only that. One note of real hope is the surge in Firefox adoption. However, within corporate walls, IE + Windows still reigns. Which is why I am staying quite well-employed developing business apps in Flex. 🙂

  14. @Joseph

    I wonder why your experience is different to a gross majority of the population out there?

    I’ve never had a web page crash because of Flash. Honestly, its just never happened.

    HTML5 is a dream. It needs to be supported by all browsers, then deployed on all systems, to be frank its not going to happen for a while. I would love it to be here yesterday, but I found it so hilarious that people started going on about it as soon as the iPad got released. I don’t think half of them even know or understand what it will take to bring that kind of change.

    Flash has enriched the Web. Whether you like it or not, it has been used to turn the website from an information space into a form of artistic expression.

    It has allowed video content to be streamed and viewed by anyone, anywhere.

    It has enhanced our experiences online, this is just a plain fact.

    Like any kind of technology, it can be used for good or bad, does that mean it should just be eliminated?

    Jobs is pushing his technology on us and trying to erase another in the process. It has NOTHING to do with usability, and everything to do with business.

    Its funny how anyone ever thought Apple would be ANY different from Microsoft. They are not. They tried that before, and they lost, big time. Now they are aggressively taking on the role of the bully, they have a legion of brainwashed supporters following their every word, and they are milking every second of it.

  15. I’m a Linux user who is similarly irritated that Apple is pushing the computer industry towards locked-down devices. Adobe flash is also guilty of making the internet a more closed place, however. Flash is a closed-source proprietary implementation of a closed standard, which means, among many things, that:

    – Browser extensions break when they encounter Flash applications (websites coded in flash break the navigation system provided by the Vimperator plugin for Firefox, for example).

    – Bugs with security or stability issues are harder to find, particularly on platforms that Adobe does not care about.

    – Users don’t have functionality that Adobe hasn’t seen fit to provide (for example, preventing “auto-start” of loud, cpu-intensive video streams).

    There are open-source projects to reverse-engineer Flash, but this is a difficult problem and they have not produced a completely reliable product yet. If Adobe would give us the source to modify, or a standard to implement, instead of a big middle finger, I would not be critical. As it is, Adobe Flash makes the internet a slower, buggier, less convenient, less secure, and overall less open place, and the sooner it is abandoned in favor of an open standard the better.

    1. John — the issue of why Adobe doesn’t open-source Flash is a good one (and perennial, Ryan Stewart and Ted Patrick both addressed it back in 2007: and

      My totally off-the-cuff understanding is that there’s 2 main issues: patents used by the Flash Player and the fact that an open-sourced Player has greater risk of fragmentation. A Flash Player that’s fragmented gives us the same problem that HTML has today — no consistency, lots of extra code to write to make sure stuff runs the same in different browsers.

  16. [[Oh, and 90% of them do not run OS X.]]

    And 99% of portable devices (a statistic I admittedly pulled out of my butt) out there don’t run the iPhone OS, even further limiting the scope of this debate and to whom it matters 🙂

  17. Rachel,

    I commented on my blog regarding your update but I still do not believe it is a fair assumption. (and thank you for accepting my comment and replying)

    In every single AAPL conference call Peter Oppenheimer explicitly states that the AppStore is operating just above break even on operational costs. True he does not give a number at all due to competitive reasons, but I would hesitate to equate “just above break even” with “massively profitable”. Unless of course Oppenheimer is lying on record every quarter, which I highly doubt.

    Do you believe that the profit from the AppStore comes close to rivalling the profit ADBE makes from Flash CS5 development tools? This was one of the reasons I found the comment of “massively profitable” in bad taste.

  18. If you’ve read 1984, the old ad may actually be quite appropriate. At least if you consider that Apple has always been big brother and that the one wielding the hammer has always been the user.

    For the book itself described a perpetual system where Big Brother always wins. It actively sought out dissidents who thought differently by tricking them into believing they could revolt against the system. But before they could ever do any real damage, they would be railed into room 101, be forced to betray themselves, and after being broken apart, be but put back in line as renewed devotees of big brother.

    And just as in the book, Oceania was always at war to explain the rations, Apple too constantly needs enemies to justify its own shortcomings. If it isn’t Microsoft, it’s Adobe. And if it isn’t Adobe, it will be Google.

    If you think about it, the parallels are astonishing. Except for the fact that in the book, all the TV screens had built in cams, while in the real world, people are complaining that the iPad doesn’t come with a webcam. 🙂

    And for those who haven’t read the book yet, it’s in the public domain:

  19. Maybe this is me talking nonsense, but it seems like Google isn’t a company run strictly by the top and they seem to be doing quite well.

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