Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Apple-Adobe War: CEOs come out swinging

First let me say this: TNM is a a neutral -- TNM is Switzerland -- TNM is staying out of the way. OK, having said that, here is today's round-by-round fight scorecard. (In case you didn't know, Steve Jobs today posted an open letter concerning Apple's refusal to build Flash support into the iPhone and iPad: Thoughts on Flash. Then, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen responded during a Wall Street Journal interview this afternoon.

Point #1: "Open"
Jobs: Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc.

Apple has many proprietary products too. Though the operating system for the iPhone, iPod and iPad is proprietary, we strongly believe that all standards pertaining to the web should be open.

. . . HTML5 is completely open and controlled by a standards committee, of which Apple is a member.

Narayen: via WSJ live blog -- Mr. Narayen says that the difference is that Adobe believes in open content. He says that their Creative Suite software was designed to work on multiple devices and that Apple's "recent behavior shows that they are concerned about Adobe being able" to provide this product that works across multiple platforms.

Point #2: "Full Web"

Jobs: Adobe has repeatedly said that Apple mobile devices cannot access “the full web” because 75% of video on the web is in Flash. What they don’t say is that almost all this video is also available in a more modern format, H.264, and viewable on iPhones, iPods and iPads.

Another Adobe claim is that Apple devices cannot play Flash games. This is true. Fortunately, there are over 50,000 games and entertainment titles on the App Store, and many of them are free.

Narayen: Isn't ask about this by the WSJ, though I Adobe has said in the past that Apple is denying iPhone and iPad users access to the "full web" when they do not support Flash. This is true, but will it be true forever if Flash use declines?

Point #3: Security and Performance

Jobs: Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. We also know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash.

Narayen: via WSJ live blog -- Speaking about Mr. Jobs's assertion that Adobe is the No. 1 cause of Mac crashes, Mr. Narayan says if Adobe crashes Apple, that actually has something "to do with the Apple operating system."

Point #4: Battery Life

Jobs: To achieve long battery life when playing video, mobile devices must decode the video in hardware; decoding it in software uses too much power.

Although Flash has recently added support for H.264, the video on almost all Flash websites currently requires an older generation decoder that is not implemented in mobile chips and must be run in software. The difference is striking: on an iPhone, for example, H.264 videos play for up to 10 hours, while videos decoded in software play for less than 5 hours before the battery is fully drained

Narayen: via WSJ live blog -- Mr. Narayan calls accusations about Flash draining battery power "patently false." Speaking about Mr. Jobs's letter in general, he says that "for every one of these accusations made there is proprietary lock-in" that prevents Adobe from innovating.

Point #5: Touch

Jobs: Flash was designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers. For example, many Flash websites rely on “rollovers”, which pop up menus or other elements when the mouse arrow hovers over a specific spot. Apple’s revolutionary multi-touch interface doesn’t use a mouse, and there is no concept of a rollover. Most Flash websites will need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices. If developers need to rewrite their Flash websites, why not use modern technologies like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript?

Narayen: Not asked about this directly, but does say according to the WSJ that the technical problems mentioned in Job's essay are "really a smokescreen".

Point #6: Building Native Apps

Jobs: 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. . .

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.

Narayen: via WSJ live blog -- Mr. Narayan says Adobe's concept is best for most businesses that are developing applications and allows them to send their apps out to many places rather than forcing them to decide on just one. "It doesn't benefit Apple, and that's why you see this reaction," he says. . .

"We have different views of the world," Mr. Narayan says. "Our view of the world is multi-platform."

Here are points that matter to me:

  • Flash on the Mac truly does . . . to use the term heard most often . . . "suck". But as processors get faster it "sucks" less. My new Mac handles Flash well. But if a page loads with tons of Flash elements, well things can get hairy. Adobe can blame Apple they want, but the fact is that Apple is an innovation company while Adobe has been milking Creative Suite for years. 
  • Yes, I miss having a choice to view Flash, especially certain animations that the Times creates. Ad agencies, though, have adapted to those without Flash by making sure their ads work in a Flash-less environment, though you could definitely argue that you are missing the most creative ads in the process.
  • Right now Apple has the iPad. Until someone launches a tablet that is as well designed and as sleek as the iPad Apple can continue to take this position. Adding Flash support to a tablet, by itself, will not be enough to convince customers -- the product has to be as good as the iPad in other ways, as well (multitouch, fast processor, instant on, design, etc.).