Anyone just entering the world of animation technology in recent years could be forgiven for thinking Apple and Adobe have always been at odds. Their escalating battle over Flash gives all the appearance of two hardened combatants who have had difficulty sharing the same planet, much less overlapping technical spheres.
But in the distant past, in computing years anyway, Apple and Adobe were a cozy couple. Apple’s Mac computers were seen as the must-use platform for graphics and desktop publishing, a niche Adobe has for all practical purposes owned forever. Macs received Adobe’s doting attention, and other platforms such as IBM-flavored PCs were lucky to get a second-rate look.
Over the years this has turned around as Microsoft’s Windows advanced in capability and PCs proved to be the default corporate workhorse of choice. The market spoke, Adobe listened, and Apple found itself in the lesser suitor role. Surely this didn’t sit well with the Cupertino crowd.
As Flash technology grew in power and importance to the animated internet, jilted Apple saw a threat to its own media-centered plans. In an age where content is the true king, owning the sources, gateways and vehicles for delivering that content is an absolute necessity. The iPhone and iTunes are two perfect examples of where product popularity and technical synergies draw and ultimately lock content consumers into managed ecosystems.
The iPhone was produced deliberately without Flash, and Apple has been hard at work driving the adoption of HTML 5 and its alleged “Flash killing” features. Programmers got around this sort of limitation with cross-compilers that allowed them to create content and applications using technology disallowed by Apple but massaged into allowable formats.
I barely touched on this in my last article on MeeGo, but Apple has taken this restriction to a new unfathomable low: it has now updated its coding policy to expressly prohibit the sort of cross-compiling Adobe was ready to unleash with CS5. Adobe has retaliated by filing a complaint with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Who knows where this is going, but it won’t be pretty.
So what might this mean for Nokia’s Maemo (and subsequently, MeeGo) products?
Nokia has been a longtime Flash adherent, working closely with Adobe to get it enabled on handheld devices. With its massive global market share, Nokia has the means to make sure a lot of people desiring today’s full internet experience on-the-go get it.
In its typical protective, paranoid fashion, Apple is cutting off the hand that feeds it when it curtails common practices like cross-compiling. This self-defeating move creates a huge opportunity for others to steal some significant iPhone thunder. Right now the best place for developers to defect is the Android camp, although Flash 10.1 will only be available starting with Android 2.1. Regardless, cross-compiling does not appear to be an issue yet for Apple’s competitors.
There will certainly be a chance here for Nokia and others getting into the MeeGo game. The only question is, will they capitalize on it? I’d like to see MeeGo ultimately provide useful hooks into the Flash API, including support for Actionscript. Readers who dismiss Flash as an advertising annoyance would do well to consider it has many other uses (particularly run-anywhere-but-iPhone games) and recognize that this offers yet another development avenue.
I’m really interested to watch how this one plays out. No matter what. we’re seeing part of some major changes to the internet experience, especially where mobility is concerned. The next few years promise to be anything but boring.
Note: Adobe acquired Flash with its 2005 buyout of Macromedia.