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Another Take on the Apple/Adobe Thing

April 12, 2010 8:45:04.380

I like the dispassionate take that Jean-Louis Gassee has on the Apple/Adobe thing, and - when I sat back and thought about it - this made a ton of sense to me:

Who, in his right mind, expects Steve Jobs to let Adobe (and other) cross-platform application development tools control his (I mean the iPhone OS) future? Cross-platform tools dangle the old “write once, run everywhere” promise. But, by being cross-platform, they don’t use, they erase “uncommon” features. To Apple, this is anathema as it wants apps developers to use, to promote its differentiation.

He goes on to say that allowing cross platform tools leads to other people winning the platform battle and low margins. While I'm not so sure of that (it depends on how much value those tools bring to the party), I do get the baseline worry about having outside tools effectively control progression.

Years ago, back in the VW 2.x and VW 3.x era, the source control tool of choice for Smalltalk (across multiple dialects for a time) was Envy. It was available for VW, for Visual Smalltalk, and for IBM Smalltalk. What both Digitalk and ParcPlace noticed was that customers were mostly oblivious to vendor upgrades; they waited until a new version of Envy was available. The process of "Envy-izing" VW or VS was involved and invasive, and both vendors let OTI do it. Eventually, Digitalk decided that was a problem, and they shipped their product with a built in version control tool. After some initial angst from customers, the upgrade lag stopped. ParcPlace=Digitalk did the same thing (later) with Store, and again - after some initial angst - the customer base stopped lagging upgrades so much.

That's what Apple is worried about - say they allowed the new Flash cross compiler, and Flash ended up staying as the standard video system. Skip forward a bit, and Apple wants to ship OS 5 for the iPhone - but for reasons of their own (maybe they have a crush of other projects), Adobe can't get to updating the Flash project for, say, 6-9 months. The new release falls into dead air, and "everyone" stays on the old release. Apple gets pressure to keep supporting the old release, and things are generally slower.

So I understand where they are coming from. That doesn't mean I have to like it; but heck, it also doesn't mean that I (or anyone else, for that matter) has to write apps for the iPhone/iPad ecosystem. I said yesterday that this policy might be "a bridge too far" for Apple, but today? I'm not so sure.

There's a flip side danger for Apple though; it depends on how things play out. Consider:

Adobe has readily courted most other mobile OS designs and has ported Flash to Android, webOS and eventually Symbian and Windows Phone.

Right now, Apple is the clear leader in the mobile space, and they are helped (ironically) by Google's desire to get HTML5 (which, in part, will obviate Flash) as the standard for web content. But... what if these other devices end up, in the aggregate, winning? At that point, Apple ends up lagging, as too much content simply wouldn't work on the iPhone (but would on the other devices). If Google weren't pushing so hard on HTML5, I suspect Apple's chances in this battle would be a lot lower. As I write this, it looks like they'll win this battle.

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posted by James Robertson

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