Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cornered Adobe comes out swinging

While a dog that didn’t bark helped Sherlock Holmes solve a case, normally something not happening is not news. However, the saga of Apple not allowing Adobe’s Flash on the iPhone (and now the iPad) seems to provide no shortage of fodder for bloggers, reporters and industry analysts.

Adobe has been seeking a work-around by creating a cross-compiler from Flash to the iPhone. However, on Thursday Apple unveiled its new SDK with a clause that banned such cross-compilers.

As I have argued, Flash needs the iPhone more than the iPhone needs Flash. Apple wants Flash to provide portability between the iPhone and its rivals about as much as Microsoft wanted Java to provide portability between Mac and Windows.

The frustration of Adobe being shut out from the popular smartphone bubbled over a blog entry Friday by Flash platform evangelist Lee Brimelow. The headlines are over Brimelow’s final sentence: “Go screw yourself Apple.”

Brimelow argued:

What is clear is that Apple has timed this purposely to hurt sales of CS5. This has nothing to do whatsoever with bringing the Flash player to Apple’s devices. That is a separate discussion entirely. What they are saying is that they won’t allow applications onto their marketplace solely because of what language was originally used to create them. 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.
(Brimelow was told to redact the first sentence by his Adobe bosses, but it was captured by various news sites.)

The nominal reason for Apple to ban Flash is that it’s a buggy, and a resource pig. In a pointed and often funny posting blasting the “Flash Brigade,” Daniel Dilger argues on RoughlyDrafted that Flash for mobile phones requires computing power beyond 2 of the 3 iPhone models shipped to date. (Update: In another posting, Dilger theorizes that the prohibition relates to the iPhone 4.0 implementation of multitasking.)

(Flash is a resource pig even on a personal computer. My laptop browser crashed frequently until I installed ClickToFlash freeware).

Brimelow expresses surprise at the Apple move:
Adobe and Apple has had a long relationship and each has helped the other get where they are today. The fact that Apple would make such a hostile and despicable move like this clearly shows the difference between our two companies. All we want is to provide creative professionals an avenue to deploy their work to as many devices as possible. We are not looking to kill anything or anyone.
I think this is silly at best, and disingenuous at worst. Apple and Adobe haven’t been friends for a decade, and really haven’t seriously helped each other in 20 years.

In speaking to my class on Monday, Michael Mace thinks Apple has a bad taste from helping Adobe get where it is today — a company that until very recently made most of its money on Windows. (Mace was Director of Competitive Analysis and Director of Mac Platform Marketing for Apple in the early 1990s.)

Mace recalled that in the late 1980s, Apple spent millions promoting early Macintosh applications — including Adobe’s first major application, Adobe Illustrator. Then it woke up one morning and found all found these applications (and companies) that it had helped promote were now selling on Windows.

I have my own vivid memory of how Apple suffered here, almost 20 years later. In the summer of 2001, I went to the Big Island of Hawai‘i to participate in the Macintosh Technology and Issues conference. In a room full of the leading Mac developers, someone (perhaps host Jerry Borrell or co-host David Ushijima) asked who was developing for Windows: I was the only person to not raise my hand.

Almost everyone in the room had gotten into the software business as Mac developers, and (with Windows 3.0) they were all shifting over to Windows.

Apple knows that the same process will repeat itself, with many iPhone developers targeting Android as well. But Apple has no reason to eliminate switching costs to its rivals: as long as that’s Adobe’s goal, it’s childish to expect Apple will want to help someone slit its throat.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball came to a similar conclusion when he analyzed the logic of Apple’s strategy — an analysis Steve Jobs himself endorsed.
So what Apple does not want is for some other company to establish a de facto standard software platform on top of Cocoa Touch. Not Adobe’s Flash. Not .NET (through MonoTouch). If that were to happen, there’s no lock-in advantage. If, say, a mobile Flash software platform — which encompassed multiple lower-level platforms, running on iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, and BlackBerry — were established, that app market would not give people a reason to prefer the iPhone.
Fortunately, there are still some grownups at Adobe. Responding to Apple’s licensing move, CTO Kevin Lynch wrote:
First of all, the ability to package an application for the iPhone or iPad is one feature in one product in Creative Suite. CS5 consists of 15 industry-leading applications, which contain hundreds of new capabilities and a ton of innovation. We intend to still deliver this capability in CS5 and it is up to Apple whether they choose to allow or disallow applications as their rules shift over time.
Apple is not going to put Adobe out of business, even if it slows its growth. At best, Apple can accelerate the adoption of HTML5 as a substitute for Flash, but any significant impact on Adobe’s revenues is years off.

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