The Adobe-Apple Standoff Saga Continues

Things down in Silicon Valley are getting ugly, as Adobe and Apple continue to square off over development tools, open platforms, and the future of the emerging mobile infrastructure. Kathleen Maher from Jon Peddie’s TechWatch gives us a blow-by-blow account.

By Kathleen Maher
Jon Peddie’s TechWatch

stock photo of two robots fightingBoy, one of the nastiest games of tit for tat has been taking place between Apple and Adobe. The whole thing has erupted right when Adobe was planning to celebrate the release of CS5, its latest lineup of artist and developer tools for imaging, video, and web development.

The company has been building an infrastructure for its products based on core technologies including Flash, Air, and Acrobat. Recognizing the importance of the Apple mobile platform, Adobe’s CS5 featured the ability to compile applications developed in Flash to run on iPhones/iPads. AIR is being developed to enable App-like apps to run everywhere. Flash is headed for the set-top box. In short, Adobe has an established set of tools widely used by artists, and it has a comprehensive strategy that encompasses emerging platforms. What could go wrong?

Like you don’t already know. Microsoft has been raining on Adobe’s parade with its Silverlight technology and tools that enable interactivity over IP. It competes directly with Flash but so far, it hasn’t competed very effectively … yet. Sun (now part of Oracle) has Java tools for interactive mobile development. And, as Apple’s iProduct line has expanded with iPhones and iPads that are selling like hot cakes, Steve Jobs has kept up a running banter about the  inadequacy of Flash for his devices. Now, just as Adobe was putting the finishing touches on its CS5 celebration plans, Apple revamped its development guidelines for applications sold through Apple’s App Store. Apple now demands that apps only use documented APIs and be “originally written in  Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine.”

Not Flash
Not Flash, not Mono (an open development environment for Linux, Mac OS X, and .Net), not Java, or any other outside tool. It’s as if the evil fairy showed up right in the middle of Adobe’s party. Apple’s latest broadside was cocktail party banter at Adobe’s press party at NAB this year. Adobe executives do not think for one minute that the timing is accidental; and they’re taking it personally. evil fairy for Apple Adobe article

Adobe’s employees tend to say Steve Jobs is doing this, Steve Jobs is saying that, when they’re talking about Apple’s obstruction of Flash. Steve Jobs has certainly done one thing; he has created a fierce, powerful, and creative opposition force. Some of them are subversive—unhappy developers who grumble and toe the line because they still need Apple’s store. Others are more overt—Apple’s competitors including Google, HP, HTC, Microsoft, Nokia, Qualcomm, RIM, and Samsung to name a few. Adobe has gotten a warm welcome in many development houses even as developers look at options for developing on the cool new platforms that are emerging.

Apple’s competitors need lots of apps to be successful; Apple’s got apps, lot’s of them. The company can afford to make the rules, or change them. Apple doesn’t like the idea of cross-platform development. It doesn’t want developers to be able to port applications to its devices or to port Apple Apps to other platforms, like, oh, say Android. Rather, it wants developers to develop Apps for Apple devices from the ground up and according to strict guidelines. Well, why not? That’s the Apple way.

There are complications. The Adobe Flash cross-compilation tools have been available to developers and Flash has already been used to develop apps for the iPhone and no doubt the iPad as well. Remember, Flash is a high-level tool that lets developers with basic programming skills put together attractive apps with animation and interactivity. Once they’re compiled and ported to the iPhone,there’s nothing that screams Flash or any other development tool.

When Flash Apps Get the Boot
What’s going to happen to these applications? Will they be retroactively banned? Most developers are keeping their heads down, but some have spoken out. Game developer Inruntime admits its games were developed with Flash and begs potential customers to buy now before they get the boot. (We’re thinking this strategy will pretty much ensure they get the boot.) And Flash hasn’t been the only option. Developers are a resourceful lot and they share. We already mentioned Mono and Java; a Silverlight option was on the way, and there are all sorts of variations on the theme. What happens to those apps? And, as the number of Apps explode, can Apple police them all?

Let’s not underestimate Apple’s ability to control its universe. And, let’s not underestimate Adobe’s flexibility. Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch dismissed Apple’s move saying that the Flash compilation tool for Apps was just one little feature in a great big product release. Flash also has development tools for other  phones, and phone manufacturers welcome them. We know that Adobe is just counting the days until strong new competitors arrive to counter the iPad, but there are also developers impatient to see some strong alternative ecosystems to that so tightly maintained by Apple.

Apple’s number one job right now is to maintain the magic for customers. That’s getting harder for Apple as it leaves its underdog status far behind and starts making the rules.

[Editor’s Note: just as we were going to press—or whatever we go to in the digital age—Adobe announced it was ending development of Flash for the iPhone/iPad environment. Kathleen Maher sent the following update.]

Adobe announced that it would not be pursuing the Flash to iPhone tools. Most recently, Adobe’s principal product manager for developer relations for Flash, Mike Chambers, wrote that Adobe will no longer invest in feature making Flash compatible with iPhones. Chambers wrote, “I think that the closed system that Apple is trying to create is bad for the industry, developers and ultimately consumers, and that is not something that I want to actively promote.” Chambers also noted that Apple was hardly the only game in town. He said that Adobe is very excited about working with Android-based apps and promised that the new phones and tablets coming out from that quarter will give developers exciting new platforms to target. He also couldn’t help mentioning that Flash’s cross platform abilities made porting games and other applications a “trivial” exercise. §

Kathleen Maher is Editor-in-Chief of Jon Peddie’s Tech Watch, our second-favorite industry newsletter after VEKTORRUM Executive Report. Check out all that Jon Peddie Research does to “chase the pixel” at