Apple vs Adobe: a messy divorce

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.


24 responses to “Apple vs Adobe: a messy divorce

  1. Your last line note… Apple? Or Adobe actually?

  2. Where big money is involved, rational behavior is more likely to prevail — nevertheless, I wonder to what extent Apple’s attitude towards Flash is motivated by “sour grapes” feelings, since they were also in the market for Macromedia but Adobe won.

    • Good point; I’d forgotten about that. No matter what it’s obvious we’re headed toward a small handful of big players in this space who will fight furiously for every scrap of of market share.

  3. so you suggest we should trust adobe to be the gatekeeper to content and use flash? sound stupid to me. I would rather go with the neutral html5 and apple…

    • I’ll trust Adobe before Apple, sure, but that doesn’t mean I trust them completely. The point is about choice, something Apple wants consumers to have too little of in my opinion. When a company goes so far as to block something as harmless as cross-compiling, they’ve gone too far.

  4. Honestly, Apple’s effort to kill Flash is the one thing they’ve done in the last several years that I approve of. Obviously banning all cross-platform toolkits is absurd, but since I wouldn’t have touched an iPhone with a ten foot pole anyway, I’m actually really happy about this decision; all it will do is discourage development on two platforms that both deserve to die (Flash and the iPhone OS). It’s a win-win!

    • I actually have a love-hate relationship with Flash. I love what *can* be done with it, but hate some of what *is* done with it.

      Regardless, I don’t like Apple’s approach to business at all. What happened to “let the market decide”? According to Apple it’s “let Steve decide”. On the other hand, sooner or later Apple’s micromanaging approach has got to backfire.

  5. Am just afraid that this is the first stage of the Apple vs Open Source. Well,i know its not open source actually but in Apple standards a Cross platform compiler is OPEN source. why am afraid? Because all the media hype will blindly with Apple! and Adobe cant stand that.

    • The open internet is certainly under attack, and open source in general as well. “Old guard” commercial interests are digging in and fighting the inevitable paradigm shift. I’m afraid it’s going to get worse before it gets better… and who knows if an open internet will even survive? Software patents and aggressive IP protection may do it in.

  6. As an avid user of all these products, I know each one has flaws and most of the time they compliment each other.

    I’d like to invite you all to see my cartoon-blog on this issue.

    Thanks and enjoy.

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  9. It seems that you are maintaining a steady blogging pace. Well done! Looking for more updates from your end. Thanks a lot!

  10. For the last 2 years I have been carrying a cell phone, an iPad Touch, an iPad Shuffle, and (when I thought I would need it) a camera. I was waiting for a device that would do it all in one, but without forcing me into an unwanted 2-year cell phone contract (I use an AT&T prepaid GoPhone account). The iPhone 4 is that device. For the most part, I adore my new iPhone. Only…

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