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Steve Jobs at D8 on Flash, iPad and the post-PC era

By Barb Dybwad, Mashable
  • Jobs frams Apple vs. Adobe debate as primarily about picking one's battles
  • Apple CEO pretty cagey on the subject of AT&T iPhone exclusivity
  • Apple going into the ad business to help developers make money, Jobs says

(Mashable) -- Events have just kicked off at the D8 Conference with Apple CEO Steve Jobs taking the stage for a conversation with All Things Digital producers Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.

After an introduction from Rupert Murdoch commenting on how content creators and technology companies are "finally getting along," the trio took the stage to shed light on some of the most salient issues the company faces today.

Jobs had much to say about the current slate of hot topics, from the company's ongoing tussle with Adobe over Flash content on the web, the Foxconn suicides, the iAd mobile ad platform, the iPad's role in saving journalism and potential replacing the personal computer, and more.

We've shared an overview of the discussion below.

Apple vs. Adobe, aka HTML5 vs. Flash

Jobs framed the Apple vs. Adobe debate as being primarily about picking one's battles.

"Apple is a company that doesn't have the most resources of everybody in the world. The way we have succeeded is by choosing which horses to ride very carefully."

He said that in the drive to make truly great products as opposed to merely OK ones, sometimes you can't tackle absolutely everything; "we didn't start off to have a war with Flash. We just made a technical decision."

With Flash in particular, the Apple CEO portrayed the technology as having "had its day," and that since technology tends to go in cycles, "we look for tech that has a future and is headed up."

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He said that Flash on the web "is waning" and "HTML5 is on the rise." Jobs also pointed to Apple being the first company to drop an optical drive with the MacBook Air and the first to drop the floppy disk in the iMac, and "people called us crazy."

Flash on smartphones has long been promised and very slow to deliver (something our own Christina Warren wrote about recently).

Jobs said, "We told Adobe to show us something better, and they never did. It wasn't until we shipped the iPad that Adobe started to raise a stink about it."

He went on to say Apple's decision not to put Flash on the iPhone platform didn't seem at the time like "it was a matter for the press," but that he "got tired of Adobe trashing us" -- which prompted the famed letter about Flash no longer being necessary.

The lost next-generation iPhone

The technosphere was whipped into a frenzy in late April when the next-generation iPhone was "lost" in a bar and sold to gadget blog Gizmodo.

When asked, Jobs mentioned the ongoing DA investigation into the occurrence and said, "to make a wireless product, there is no way to do it totally in the lab. So Apple has some out there. There is a debate of whether it was left in a bar or stolen out of his bag."

He went on to mention a few more details in the case and even make a light-hearted joke about the whole brouhaha: "The person who took the phone plugged it into his roommate's computer. And this guy was trying to destroy evidence, and his roommate called the police. So this is a story that's amazing -- it's got theft, it's got buying stolen property, it's got extortion, I'm sure there's some sex in there. [audience laughs] The whole thing is very colorful... I don't know how it will end up."

Foxconn suicides

On the matter of the recent spate of suicides at Foxconn, the Chinese company that manufactures electronic devices for Apple and several other major consumer electronics brands, Jobs said the company was very concerned about the issue.

"We are on top of this. We look at everything at these companies. I can tell you a few things that we know. Foxconn is not a sweatshop. It's a factory -- but my gosh, they have restaurants and movie theaters. But they've had some suicides and attempted suicides, and they have 400,000 people there. The rate is under what the U.S. rate is, but it's still troubling. We're trying to understand right now before we try to go in with a solution."

Is Apple in a platform war with Microsoft, Google?

Next Walt and Kara wanted to know how Jobs sees Apple's business: is it a platform war between the other two giants in the space, Microsoft and Google (Google)?

Jobs responded that he didn't see it that way: "We never saw ourselves in a platform war with Mircorosft, and maybe that's why we lost [audience laughs]." He said that the company instead concerned itself with "how to build a better product."

Walt pressed the issue to ask what had changed in the relationship between Apple and Google: "They decided to compete with us... so they are. They started competing with us and it got more and more serious. We didn't go into the search business!"

Walt mentions the Siri acquisition as being a potential inroads into search, but Jobs says that purchase was about artificial intelligence, not search: "They're not a search company. They're an AI company. We have no plans to go into the search business. We don't care about it -- other people do it well."

When asked what he thought of Chrome OS, Jobs responded, "Chrome (Chrome) is not really baked yet." He mentioned that it's based on WebKit, "work we did at Apple." He says every modern browser is based on WebKit including offerings from Nokia, Palm, Android (Android), and RIM. "We've created a real competitor to IE."

Will the iPhone ever leave AT&T?

As expected, Jobs was pretty cagey on the subject of AT&T iPhone exclusivity. When asked how he thought AT&T was handling the network capacity for the Apple smartphone, he responded, "Pretty good actually. Remember, they're handling way more data traffic than all of their other competitors combined."

Nevertheless, he does at least admit that, "I do think they have some issues."

When asked if there would be advantages to having the iPhone on more than one network, Jobs said, "there might be," but also "you know I can't comment on that."

When Walt reminds him of earlier statements that Apple wasn't interested in making a phone in advance of the iPhone launch, Jobs says they changed their mind when they "found a way to sell the phone that we want to sell. We didn't think we could do it, but we did. We'd never been in this business, and AT&T took a big leap on us, and it's worked out really well. And we really changed the rules of the game."

iPad: "We didn't do what Microsoft did"

Jobs went on to relate that the iPad had a similar trajectory in that regard. He says that what he was really against was the handwriting-based system for input: "It's too slow. If you need a stylus you have already failed."

He notes that Microsoft's version of the Tablet PC had the battery life, weight, and expense of a PC. "But the minute you throw a stylus out, and you have the precision of a finger, you can't use a PC OS. You have to create it from scratch."

Walt then asks him why he built that operating system on a phone first instead of a tablet. Jobs then drops a reveal: "I'll tell you a secret. It started on a tablet first."

He had an idea of a multi-touch display you could type on, and six months later his team had a prototype display to show him. After handing it off to Apple user interface experts who "got the inertia rolling," Jobs realized, "My god, we can build a phone out of this," and shelved the tablet because at the time the phone was more important.

"When we got our wind back and thought we could do something else, took the tablet back off shelf."

Can the iPad save journalism?

Kara asks about the future of the tablet from here, and whether or not it can help save journalism and the businesses of newspapers and magazines.

Jobs came out strongly in favor of preserving journalism: "One of my beliefs very strongly is that any democracy depends on a free, healthy press." He notes that many seminal publications like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and others "are in real trouble" and that he doesn't "want to see us descend into a nation of bloggers [ouch! -- Ed. note]. I think we need editorial now more than ever."

He sees the iPad as being potentially instrumental in getting "people to start paying for this hard-earned content." He says he believes "publishers should charge less than print. The biggest lesson Apple has learned is price it aggressively and go for volume."

The post-PC era: Will the tablet replace the PC?

Jobs gave an analogy about how the tablet form factor might indeed end up displacing the personal computer to a significant degree in the not-too-distant future: "When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks. But as people moved more towards urban centers, people started to get into cars. I think PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them. And this is going to make some people uneasy."

He goes on to admit it's not necessarily the iPad in particular that might play this role alone: "Is it the iPad, who knows?"

He also says the time frame for this displacement is unclear, whether one year or five or even ten.

Walt says the lack of a keyboard leads some to posit that the iPad isn't a great device for content creation. Jobs responds: "Why wouldn't they be? When I am going to write that 35-page analyst report I am going to want my bluetooth keyboard. That's one percent of the time."

He appeals to a more long-range view of the tablet as a form factor and how it may evolve to encompass a lot of the things we need our laptops and desktops for today: "The software will get more powerful. I think your vision would have to be pretty short to think these can't grow into machines that can do more things, like editing video, graphic arts, productivity. You can imagine all of these content creation on these kind of things."

He says "time takes care" of a lot of the issues that remain as barriers to using an iPad as more of a primary device.

iAd platform: "We're doing it for our developers"

When asked about Apple's entry into the mobile ad arena with the iAd platform, Jobs says, "We're going into the ad business because we want to help our developers make some money. We're not going to make much money in the ad business. We are doing it for our developers."

What does Jobs think about how Apple's competitors handle this currently? "We think their ad delivery system sucks!"

He says that in-app ads are extremely important in the mobile space because of user behavior on phones.

"People are using Apps way more than they are using search. If you want to make developers money, you put ads in the apps."

The way competitors currently handle this is to send users elsewhere, breaking the experience of being inside an app: "Today's in-app ads take you out of apps and into a browser and make the user find their way back. If you are playing a game you are probably not going to make it back to the same place. Wouldn't it be great if they didn't do that?"

What do you think of Steve Jobs's appearance on the D8 stage?

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