Reality Check: No, Daily Tech, EU isn’t forcing Adobe Flash on the iPhone
July 7th, 2010
Daniel Eran Dilger
Jason Mick at Daily Tech writes that the EU is gearing up to push a “Digital Agenda” intended to foster interoperability, then wildly jumps to the conclusion that this means it will force Apple to implement Adobe Flash on the iPhone. He’s wrong, here’s why.
The passage he quotes from the EU communiqué says, “Since not all pervasive technologies are based on standards the benefits of interoperability risk being lost in such areas. The Commission will examine the feasibility of measures that could lead significant market players to license interoperability information while at the same time promoting innovation and competition.”
The key words he pulls out are “significant market player,” which he applies to Apple’s iPhone, which allows him to speculate that “the EU may gain the power to force Apple to allow Flash onboard.”
The problem is that the entire goal of the stated document is to foster interoperability using open, documented standards. Adobe Flash is a proprietary format that does not foster interoperability at all. Adobe is also a “significant market player” but not one that is “licensing interoperability information.”
Adobe Flash is vendor lock-in, not an open platform
Under the heading “Lack of interoperability,” the document Mick selectively quotes from states, “Weaknesses in standard-setting, public procurement and coordination between public authorities prevent digital services and devices used by Europeans from working together as well as they should. The Digital Agenda can only take off if its different parts and applications are interoperable and based on standards and open platforms.” [emphasis mine]
The EU isn’t working to force Apple to adopt Flash. If anything, it will promote standards such as Flash-free H.264 video and dynamic content authored in HTML5.
In fact, one of the real objectives the document states is that “public authorities should make best use of the full range of relevant standards when procuring hardware, software and IT services, for example by selecting standards which can be implemented by all interested suppliers, allowing for more competition and reduced risk of lock-in.”
Adobe Flash is vendor lock-in, as the entire point is to make all dynamic content dependent upon Adobe’s tools. None of the websites that picked up this silliness spent any time critically thinking about any of that.
The EU’s music licensing mess
The real point of the document is pretty clear: opening up barriers within EU nations so that commerce works. It addresses issues like the one Steve Jobs recently pointed out: “to set-up a pan-European service an online music store would have to negotiate with numerous rights management societies based in 27 countries. Consumers can buy CDs in every shop but are often unable to buy music from online platforms across the EU because rights are licensed on a national basis.”
The actionable solutions proposed to address these issues include efforts to “simplify copyright clearance, management and cross-border licensing,” and to “ensure the completion of the Single Euro Payment Area [for electronic payment].” There’s a lot of talk about encouraging consumer trust and enhancing the availability of broadband coverage and speeds. But nothing about forcing Apple to adopt a proprietary replacement for the open web.
iTunes and standardization
The document also addresses “effective interoperability between IT products and services,” noting that “interoperability between devices, applications, data repositories, services and networks must be further enhanced.” Mick takes this to mean Apple will be forced to support everyone else’s hardware in iTunes.
Wrong again. Instead the document says “Europe’s standard-setting framework must catch up with fast-moving technology markets because standards are vital for interoperability,” and notes that “forthcoming reform of EU standardisation policy as well as in updated antitrust rules on horizontal co-operation agreements could contribute to lower royalty demands for the use of standards and thus to lower market entry costs.”
In other words, the EU hopes to police things so that technology licensed among vendors to promote interoperability will be kept fair and on a level playing field. That means Nokia will find it harder to try to skewer Apple with 3G and WiFi patent claims that demand triple what it exacts from other companies. And that the ISO’s MPEG standards are less likely to enact the future brutal licensing fees that proponents of Ogg Vobis and WebM say they fear.
There’s no real talk at all about forcing Apple “to allow third-party devices — like Android smartphones, the Palm Pre, or rival MP3 players – to sync with iTunes,” as Mick writes. “The EU has long complained about Apple’s efforts to block such syncing,” he complains. That is a valid complaint, but the real barrier to syncing is not iTunes, but rather the licensing rules pushed upon Apple by the studios and labels that prevent content (other than music) from being usable on other devices.
Apple pushes open standards for a reason
It was Apple that pushed for DRM-free music to match the open music being sold on CDs. Getting music from your PC to your Android device needn’t be subsidized by Apple, but it should be possible for the user to do, and vendors should be able to access that content with their own sync software. If the EU wants to push for some sort of interoperable licensing that allows users who bought content for one device obtain a copy that can work on another, that would a great way to open up markets and competition.
Without anything like that in place, Apple was forced nearly a decade ago to build the iTunes Store from nothing just to ensure that users of its platforms (initially the Mac, then the iPod, then the iPhone and iPad) could have plenty of music, movies and other content available to them. Microsoft and Sony wanted to use their DRM schemes to push users toward their own platforms.
It was Apple that kept the market for open MP3 and AAC alive, something that Apple haters with an ignorant axe to grind should keep in mind. Google doesn’t have any right to demand that Apple’s efforts be transferred to enrich its rival platform. Google and its Android partners can set up their own stores and maintain them just like Apple has, and develop their own media sync software just like Apple has.
What the EU can contribute is a legal framework that enables Google and other vendors to license that content without as much trouble as Apple had to deal with. It can also push for interoperable standardization of hardware interfaces and networking protocols and file types, something that Apple has long pushed for itself as a minority player in the tech industry.