Year in Review 2010: Apple bans Adobe Flash, but later relents--sort of

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs' hatred of Adobe's Flash multimedia platform is roughly equal to his affection for black turtlenecks. Jobs has long maintained Apple's iOS mobile platform will never support Flash content, privately dismissing Adobe as "lazy" and blaming Flash as the culprit behind most Mac crashes and forecasting the platform will face extinction as the world moves to HTML5. Still, few were prepared for Apple to rewrite its iPhone developer agreement to mandate that all applications must be written to run directly on the iPhone platform, effectively banning cross-compiler translation tools like Adobe's Flash Professional CS5. The implications were clear: Apple was lowering the boom on Flash once and for all, prohibiting developers from converting their Flash-based scripts into native iPhone applications.

A remarkably candid and raw Flash Blog post from Adobe platform evangelist Lee Brimelow confronted Apple's actions head-on: "What [Apple is] saying is that they won't allow applications onto their marketplace solely because of what language was originally used to create them," Brimelow seethed. "This is a frightening move that has no rational defense other than wanting tyrannical control over developers and more importantly, wanting to use developers as pawns in their crusade against Adobe... Speaking purely for myself, I would look to make it clear what is going through my mind at the moment. Go screw yourself, Apple." Jobs later responded with an open letter of his own, taking issue with Flash security, battery life and touchscreen interaction before arriving at what he called "the most important reason," control. "We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform," Jobs wrote.

Roughly six months after instituting the cross-compiler ban, Apple reversed course, easing restrictions on the creation of iOS-based applications. "We are relaxing all restrictions on the development tools used to create iOS apps, as long as the resulting apps do not download any code," Apple said in a statement. "This should give developers the flexibility they want, while preserving the security we need." The changes enable developers to design and build apps in Flash, then convert their efforts to Apple-approved code--the revisions do not mean consumers will be able to access Flash-based web content via their iPhone and iPod devices, however. Apple credited its decision to rethink the Flash ban on developer feedback, although many speculate the about-face was in response to a reported federal antitrust inquiry seeking to determine whether the company's actions threatened competition by forcing developers to focus on one platform to the exclusion of others. Whatever the reason, Flash apps are back on iOS--at least until Jobs changes his mind once again.