Adobe’s Apple Conundrum

Adobe management  has a major problem – the operating platform where 50% of its sales come from, Apple, has had top executives sabotaging Adobe’s products and market position. Worse,  this abusive behavior has been going on for decades. True, the idea of development neutrality of Operating System vendors is at best only ethically binding [which is to say has been historically ignored].  Microsoft has competed with its own software developers in several categories as it has made clear that it is allowed to distribute any program from its own portfolio with its operating system too. But unlike Apple, Microsoft has not banned any software from use on Windows unless it was a deliberate trojan or other security hazard. Okay, that is not entirely true, Microsoft has made programs like Java and Netscape browser economically banned on Windows by cutting of the oxygen [giving away a clone for free] or restricting  easy access to updates in Windows. In short, if you are a software vendor, you are highly dependent on the the goodwill of the operating system vendor not only to be distributed fairly on their OS but also to be provided the equitable access to information on OS updates and new OS development plans.

The poster child for abuse by an OS vendor is Adobe by Apple . Here are some examples:
0)Apple develops Truteype based on Adobe Type 1 ideas; then releases Truteype as free fonts killing a major Adobe market;
1)Apple owns and develops Final Cut video editing program that competes with Adobe and all other vendors video edit  programs on Macs;
2)Apple owns and develops GarageBand audio editing program which competes with Adobe and other vendors audio creations apps/programs on iOS and Macs;
3)Apple owns and develops Aperture a sophisticated photo edit and management program that competes with several Adobe and other software vendor programs on the Mac;
4)Apple owns and develops Logic and  Soundtrack Pro  which compete with Adobe Audition and other vendors sound/music processing programs on Macs;
5)Apple owns and develops LiveType, Motion, and  Shake which compete with Adobe After Effects and Flash plus other vendors animation and video processing programs on the Mac;
6)Apple banned Flash software from use on iOS devices – iPod, iPhone, and iPad.
7)Apple failed to release graphics accelerator APIs to Adobe that seriously hindered Flash performance on Apple Mac and iOS operating environs
8)Apple’s Steve Jobs in a public letter on the Apple site on April 2010 states in no uncertain terms that Flash Player has security[not so Apple’s own Quicktime was worse and continues to have major security problems], reliability, and performance deficits [again serious problems with Steve’s assertions on performance] despite the  fact that Apple’s own Quicktime has similar security and reliability problems. Jobs also  complained about touch+gesture operations on the Flash Player which were already in the pipeline and introduced less than a month after his infamous letter. Jobs went on to complain about the battery life of Flash Player but others have shown this to be a false comparison see Anand TechMatbury, and StreamingLearning.

So having made these many false assertions  Steve Jobs went on to argue that it was Apple’s prerogative to decide what software it made available on its systems:

Sixth, the most important reason.
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.

Clearly this a cautionary tale to businesses and developers that are considering developing for or using Apple  client computing for Enterprise applications. Apple is committed to closed and proprietary software and in general will not tolerate cross platform development tools. Steve Jobs went on to ban Java and many cross plaform code generation tools from iOS. This means that developers are left with  some tough choices. Develop another versions of every application that they want to deliver on a platform other than iOS. Or use the HTML5 route despite the fact that a)the performance cannot match native apps on iOS, Android, or anyother client computing OS and b)HTML5 is confronted with serious incompatility problems on key features such as Touch+gesture, offline usage support, Web Workers technology, and Web databases to mention only the most prominent.In sum, see here for a summary of Apple’s misrepresentations of Flash Player technology.

Business Cautionary Tale

Adobe’s Apple Conundrum is a cautionary tale for software developers and businesses in general. Adobe which derives nearly 50% of creative software from Apple OS platforms had a very limited range of actions it could take. It chose to grin and bear it and has subsequently  declared that it will no longer develop the Flash Player for any  mobile platform. This seems Draconian. But this is the reality confronting software developers when writing for any proprietary OS platform – you are subject to the whims and market appetite of the OS platform vendor. At least in in Open Source context like Androoid or BSD or Linux one has the source code to put in the patches [if required] to make your software work effectively on that open OS platform.

As client computing rapidly evolves, businesses have to be careful that they don’t become invested in a restrictive  client technology where a) they become locked into a specific OS technology that demands significant extra effort for system integration and  cross platform functionality and/or b)the hazard that client technology at a later date decides arbitrarily to limit/ban software that the general community has used and expected to use into the future. This say nothing about the the possibility that the adopted client software may be tardy or simply not offer the new technologies which are vital to your business in the future.

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