Five Tremendous Apple vs. Adobe Flash Myths
April 10th, 2010
Daniel Eran Dilger
Proponents of Adobe Flash insist that Apple’s iPhone 4.0 restrictions amount to “restraint of trade,” that the company’s Flash platform covers the vast majority of computers, that Adobe doesn’t need Apple and could bury it by cutting off its apps for the Mac in retaliation, that Apple really owes Adobe a hand, and that by not offering Flash, Apple is violating a universal doctrine demanding Choice. They’re wrong, here’s why.
Ready for a roller coaster of emotionalist tirades directed at Apple? The Flash Brigade is out in full force, so there’s no asking for clarification or analytical thoughtfulness going on, just a lot of malicious motives being hastily attributed based on a series of conspiracy theory assumptions. Buckle up.
Myth 1: Apple’s great ‘restraint of trade’
The first argument being thrown at Apple is that its new restriction on the source languages that can be used to link to its iPhone SDK APIs is a “restraint of trade,” apparently because Apple has a legal obligation to support third parties who want to apply their tools to build iPhone apps.
Never mind that such accusations have never been thrown about when the subject was developing titles for the Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, or any other game console. Those developers must not only use the languages and tools the vendor outlines, but typically must also pay thousands of dollars for licensing fees, specialized development hardware, and jump through a variety of other hoops.
The same people who seem so morally outraged about about Apple’s still minority share of the smartphone market (in terms of hardware units sold), seemed completely cool with Microsoft’s reign over the entire PC market, which it micromanaged in meticulous detail, telling PC makers what hardware they could and could not sell, what software they could not bundle, and so on.
If Android had a nickel for every “developer” who threatened out of rage to run to that platform every time Apple enacted a new policy, that hobbyist platform could probably afford to buy itself a real game.
Myth 2: Flash is ubiquitous
Adobe likes to say that 96% of all computers in the US have Flash installed. What it doesn’t say is that more than 60% of all smartphone web traffic, and 96% of all “Mobile Internet Device” (that’s a euphemism for “iPod touch”) traffic doesn’t run Flash at all.
Additionally, it’s not as if Adobe had created a great mobile Flash platform and Apple stomped all over it to be mean. Adobe didn’t have a mobile version of Flash that could even play Flash videos until Flash Lite 3 appeared, well after the release of the iPhone. Even then, that product couldn’t run most of the Flash content created for desktop PCs.
Adobe didn’t pass that hurdle until last summer, when it introduced an early version of Flash Player 10 for Android. But that version still doesn’t play back everything the PC version does. The latest 10.1 version for mobiles is supposed to do better, but it’s still in demo stages and requires a Cortex A8 class processor, meaning it only runs on Android or webOS devices from the last several months.
If Apple supported this, it could only run on the iPhone 3GS. So Adobe’s mobile strategy is actually just now emerging. Apple has been selling the iPhone for three full years now. There was no suitable version of Flash to sell, so Apple made its own plans.
To hear from the tech media people who feed from the Adobe propaganda machine like ducks being force fed for foie gras, you’d think Adobe has had a real mobile strategy all this time and Apple has just been playing the role of a conniving obstructionist.
The truth is that it’s Adobe’s fault there’s no Flash on the majority of mobiles, because the company was completely happy just misleading the world of pundits while talking instead of doing. Well it’s not 2007 anymore, it’s 2010, and that’s three years of work that everyone else has put into HTML5.
Adobe hasn’t done anything to earn the rights to cram the Internet back into the Flash box it likes to sit upon as it collects taxes from those creating content that only plays back via Adobe’s own players. Adobe never been on top of things in the mobile world, and the desktop version is not exactly doing all that much anymore either. As companies shift their resources from everything Flash to HTML5, Adobe’s desktop monopoly over interactive content will rapidly erode. It’s not Apple’s fault that’s happening, it’s Adobe’s.
Myth 3: Adobe’s gonna get Apple
With Apple making no effort to bail Adobe out from the consequences of its own incompetence, the Flash Brigade is calling for a merciless reaction from Adobe. Perhaps the company will give up a huge chunk of its Creative Suite sales by snubbing Mac users?
That’s what Microsoft did when it realized Apple was now competing against it in productivity apps. Look at how much money Microsoft saved by not developing Mac versions of Office 2008 and 2010. Oh wait, Microsoft did develop generations of Office for Mac even though Apple is now selling iWork. Microsoft made lots of money selling Office for Mac.
And that’s why Adobe will keep selling Creative Suite for Macs. Adobe can make lots of money even while it snubs Mac users, so why would it stop making money to snub Mac users? Adobe is also rolling out new apps for iPad and iPhone. Clearly, the company is around to make money, not to behave like a 15 year old girl dramatizing her contempt for those who have offended her in some fashion. Somebody tell the Internet.
Sorry Flash Brigade, Adobe isn’t about to retaliate against Apple. The reason Adobe is talking is because that’s all it can do at this point after screwing up its mobile strategy and failing to anticipate years ago where computing was headed and what changes it needed to make. It’s not Apple’s job to keep Adobe in business.
Myth 4: Apple owes Adobe a living
The Flash Brigade also likes to tell tales about how Adobe (like Microsoft) lovingly rescued Apple back when the company was having hard times, so Apple should be paying Adobe back by establishing Flash as the proprietary alternative to open web standards.
This is curious (or perhaps hilarious) because Adobe’s support for Apple has long been just as money motivated as Macromedia and Microsoft. Back when Apple wanted its major developers to embrace NeXTSTEP and port their existing code to a modern new API that would solve a lot of the old problems with the Classic Mac OS, it got nothing but blank stares from all threes of those “partners.”
Had they invested in Apple’s plans, we’d have gotten a Mac OS X with the sophistication of the iPhone back in 1998, rather than living through a decade of Apple building Carbon and then weaning its developers off it. Adobe and Macromedia helped delay Apple’s plans for a decade just so they could safely make money selling Mac users less sophisticated software.
When Apple turned itself around, it was no longer in a position to beg for the support of companies like Adobe and Macromedia and Microsoft. It has begun telling developers what to do. It told Adobe that if it wanted to build 64-bit Mac apps, it would need to do it using Cocoa. Adobe balked for a while, pushing off the 64-bit port of Creative Suite for the Mac by a year and a half. This spring, Adobe will finally get portions of Creative Suite apps to Cocoa, just a decade plus a few years after Apple asked the first time.
The only thing Apple owes Adobe is decade of torturous knuckle dragging. Let’s see if Flash is still around in 2020. Maybe Steve Jobs will accommodate Adobe by throwing in a version of Flash with iPhone OS 14 as payback for Adobe sticking it out like a trouper.
Myth 5: Apple should just solve Adobe’s problems by offering Choice
With hearts bleeding more dramatically than even the most tortured religious figures ever imagined under centuries of Christendom, the Flash Brigade next insists that no matter how justified Apple is in restricting its own platform, no matter how incompetent Adobe was in screwing up mobile Flash, without regard for how powerless Adobe is to demand that anything really change, and ignoring how awful Adobe and Macromedia were to Apple in the past, it’s Apple’s duty, no, moral obligation, to support Flash as a Choice.
That’s because a variety of Choices are always preferable to a subset of ideal options. Who needs a web based on open, interoperable standards when you can have the Choice of all dynamic content being locked up in Flash? What a wonderful option.
I know when I plant a garden, I don’t do any weeding first because I want to give all forms of life an equal opportunity to spread and benefit from my efforts and irrigation. If I just planted vegetables and herbs, I’d only have things that were good. Why not also have the weeds that are already here? By not weeding, I get the things I want to grow AND the option of weeds. Who cares if those weeds will choke out any positive development and keep things just the way they were before I did any planting. Choice is always preferable to change, because change is scary!
Well, at least in the minds of companies who advocate Choice when their particular Choice involves monopoly control. Microsoft wanted music player buyers to have a Choice of music stores and a Choice of hardware vendors, but interestingly, not really a Choice in media player operating system vendors.
Similarly, while Adobe wasn’t so keen on offering users a Choice of Cocoa support, or a Choice of both HTML5 and Flash output from its development tools, it is really interested in Apple offering users a choice between the HTML5 open web Apple is cultivating and the Flash weeds it wants to see choke out any potential for change on the web.
Nothing left to do but talk
And so, through a mix of incompetence, belligerence and emotionalist hypocrisy, Adobe has been pumping a non-stop stream of propaganda about how critically important Flash is on mobile devices, even though millions of people been using the highest ranked smartphone for three years now without suffering any ill (not even the rest of humanity on lessor smartphones have missed being able to render desktop Flash content, because they haven’t been able to either). There’s a reason for all that talk: Adobe is terrified.
Like Microsoft, Adobe has long been able to sign up every major player in the consumer electronics industry to pay for whatever garbage it has had the shameless balls to crap out. Three generations of Flash Lite, and now a variant of its desktop web plugin that demands the fastest smartphones on the planet just to run it. Once you get used to getting paid to do next to nothing, it’s a brutal shock when somebody stands up and refuses to play along with your ridiculous game.
Apple isn’t just a rebellious outsider. Not in mobiles, where it controls most of the world’s web traffic, and certainly almost all of the traffic of affluent customers. Flash has found its way to the hobbyist Android platform, and has graced the webOS even as it goes through its final death throes. It is promised to arrive for Windows Phone 7, the ace in the hole Microsoft plans to use to take back all the market share it lost to Android. But Flash isn’t ever going to be on the iPhone OS, and that not only makes a big black hole in Adobe’s strategy for maintaining in monopoly control over dynamic content on the web, but also questions why we were ever using this crap in the first place on the desktop.
Once society awakes to see how duped it’s been, the value of Adobe’s $3.1 billion 2005 deal to acquire Macromedia (largely for Flash) might look like less than a brilliant move.