Despite a lovely collaboration in the early years of personal computing, Adobe and Apple have been something other than best friends in the years since they applied their talents to the Postscript page description language and the Apple LaserWriter.
This animosity has grown rather public in recent weeks with each side publishing open letters to explain their position and to rally public support. Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ missive laid out a fairly compelling rationale for the exclusion of Adobe Flash technology from the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Adobe’s response from Messrs. Chuck Geschke and John Warnock presented a different vision but fundamentally ignored most of the points Jobs raised (because, really, there’s no good answer).
Jobs’ first point was that Adobe Flash is 100% proprietary. Adobe chose to focus its response on the notion that the Flash specification is open, which is to say that anyone can write a Flash player. Despite this, no other Flash player has achieved notable market penetration. Because Adobe has sole authority over the Flash standard, it is unlikely that any other significant player will be developed.
As Jobs’ rightly points out, Flash has reliability, security and performance issues. Adobe has chosen to focus on the last of these and to blame Apple for it. Even if Flash’s terrible performance on Macs is an Apple-created issue, one has a hard time seeing the reliability and security issues—which also exist with Flash for Windows—as Apple’s fault.
Jobs’ contention that Flash sucks battery life out of devices also goes unchallenged by Adobe for the very good reason that he’s right. Most tests show about a 50% drop in the battery level for Flash video versus pure H.264 video, and while Adobe engineers will undoubtedly improve this at some indeterminate point, Apple—who shifted their entire desktop architecture from PowerPC to Intel because of “performance per watt” and related energy issues—surely would never tolerate something so power hungry on their mobile devices.
The ultimately reason, the one that matters most and the one that Adobe is fighting tooth and nail against in the court of public opinion, is that Apple does not want to let a third-party layer of software come between themselves and the end user. As Jobs put it:
Besides the fact that Flash is closed and proprietary, has major technical drawbacks, and doesn’t support touch based devices, there is an even more important reason we do not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods and iPads. We have discussed the downsides of using Flash to play video and interactive content from websites, but Adobe also wants developers to adopt Flash to create apps that run on our mobile devices.
We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features. We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.
This becomes even worse if the third party is supplying a cross platform development tool. The third party may not adopt enhancements from one platform unless they are available on all of their supported platforms. Hence developers only have access to the lowest common denominator set of features. Again, we cannot accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitor’s platforms.
Flash is a cross platform development tool. It is not Adobe’s goal to help developers write the best iPhone, iPod and iPad apps. It is their goal to help developers write cross platform apps. And Adobe has been painfully slow to adopt enhancements to Apple’s platforms. For example, although Mac OS X has been shipping for almost 10 years now, Adobe just adopted it fully (Cocoa) two weeks ago when they shipped CS5. Adobe was the last major third party developer to fully adopt Mac OS X.
Adobe fights, I think, an uphill battle against this argument. Apple created and owns the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, and if they don’t want to play Adobe’s game, they’re well within rights to take their ball and go home. Admittedly, it would have been nicer if Apple hadn’t waited until a few days before Adobe’s CS5 release to spit in the Flash soup, but as I noted these two companies haven’t been best buds for some time.
I’m not the first to say so, but if Adobe wants Flash on Apple products, all they need to do is create a compelling version that runs on Google’s Android phone and they’ll see Apple become much more receptive. Frankly, I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen, and I say that as a fan of Adobe software in general and as one who expects to upgrade to CS5.