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  • Are You Using a “Sub-standard” App?

    April 13th, 2010

    So Steve Jobs has thrown down the gauntlet. He is clearly sick and tired of applications that perhaps run decently on Macs and other Apple platforms but don’t take advantage of all the features. The media wants to suggest Apple is really at war with Adobe and other companies that use runtimes and cross-platform tools to create their apps. But is there anything wrong with that?

    I realize most of this programming stuff doesn’t mean much to most of you, but consider your user experience. With Java, a programming method that was supposed to allow apps to function on loads of computing platforms, do you actually recall any that look good and work well? Any? Or do you end up with compromised garbage with poorly-formed user interfaces and erratic performance?

    Large software developers, such as Adobe and Microsoft, generally use cross-platform development environments so they can basically write many of an app’s features once and then deploy them to the Mac and Windows after doing the requisite work to make them appear native to their target OS. At the same time, it means that those applications may not only have interface glitches but lack native capabilities.

    Now Apple migrated to Intel processors four years ago. They have evangelized developers to support 64-bit processing, the better to maximize performance and, if need be, use larger amounts of RAM. Here in 2010, you look at the specs for Adobe’s forthcoming CS5, and find that just three apps in the suite truly support 64-bit. It would seem Adobe has tossed us a bone by offering that support for Photoshop, Premiere Pro and After Effects. Yes, those are the apps that are apt to benefit most, but what about support for Grand Central Dispatch for superior performance on today’s multiprocessor Macs, or OpenCL to harness the power of the most powerful graphics chips?

    When you check the specs for Photoshop Extended, the high-end version, all Adobe tells you about enhanced capabilities is: “Some GPU-accelerated features require graphics support for Shader Model 3.0 and OpenGL 2.0.”

    What about the reworked plumbing in Snow Leopard? Why isn’t Adobe addressing any of those features, other than token support for 64-bit? Do they not believe that the Mac content creators that form a hefty portion of the user base would somehow benefit from the best possible rendering speeds?

    Or did Adobe saddle itself with cross-platform tools that make adding extra support for a custom OS feature more difficult? Or maybe, as some have suggested, Adobe took a gamble years ago to emphasize the Windows platform over the Mac. Despite the Mac’s resurgence, they have been slow to adapt.

    That takes us to Flash, where Adobe’s new tool to port Flash apps to the iPhone platform will be stillborn come version 4.0 of Apple’s mobile OS. I suspect Adobe’s spin control machine is working overtime to paint this as an act of revenge on the part of Steve Jobs in his eternal efforts to maximize control.

    But also consider what I just said, that using non-native compilers to build an app may provide compromised results that fail to support all of the custom features of a particular OS. Maybe that’s fine if you want to deliver the same stuff for the Android OS and iPhone. But what about the new multitasking capabilities for iPhone 4.0, and the other 99 new features? If apps don’t support those features, it hurts the platform because customers can’t use all the capabilities that Apple promises. It also hurts the apps themselves, because they deliver a sub-par user experiences.

    That may have worked fine on the Mac, where Apple had to struggle to encourage developers to stick with the platform over the years, particularly after migrating to Mac OS X. Indeed, the original release of Mac OS X was delayed by several years because Apple was forced to build the Carbon environment to make it simpler for the largest developers, such as Adobe and Microsoft, to support the OS more easily and not have to redo all their apps, a prospect to which they objected.

    In the real world, Carbon worked well enough, but as Mac OS X matured, Apple encouraged developers to migrate to Xcode’s Cocoa technology. The situation became all the more important when Macs moved from the PowerPC to Intel processors, and it’s essential if new apps have any hope to support Snow Leopard’s new features.

    Returning to the mobile platform: Despite the complaints, it doesn’t seem that Apple’s tighter control has hurt sales in any meaningful fashion. It’s not as if loads of customers are moving to Android or BlackBerry devices because Apple changed the terms of its developer agreement or has blocked Flash from the platform. Yes, the lack of Flash can be inconvenient, since you can’t get the full experience from loads of sites. By the end of the year, however, there will be 100 million Web surfers who have great demographics in terms of education and income who won’t be able to view Flash content. You can see how fast sites are dumping Flash and that trend will only accelerate.

    In fairness to Adobe, that company may have spent a bundle to buy Macromedia and acquire Flash, but in the end, their content creation tools can live long and prosper even if Flash dies. And no, folks, I don’t for a moment believe those new rumors that Adobe might sue Apple over its change of iPhone SDK terms, or perhaps the decision to ban Flash. Sounds like someone’s having a psycho fit.

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