Get Ready for the Spin!

May 3rd, 2010

So the other day, one of those famous one-liner emails from Steve Jobs appears, stating that Ogg Theora, an open source multimedia codec, faces potential patent issues. The conclusion is that Apple must be responsible, although they forget that there is actually an H.264 organization that manages a patent portfolio for such content. Maybe it’s them?

Another report claims that Apple’s decision to block Flash from the iPhone mobile platform and a change in the developer’s license to prevent use of third-party tools is the subject of a possible antitrust inquiry by Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission. Such inquiries occur all the time, but only rarely result in an actual investigation or legal action. The current brouhaha over the matter may have generated interest. Or maybe the story isn’t true, since it hasn’t been officially confirmed. It’s not that the newspaper that published the story, the New York Post, is a paragon of journalistic virtue.

Or maybe the reporter who wrote that piece was given a background briefing on the subject by one of Apple’s competitors, hoping to generate bad publicity or, in fact, convince the government that this is really something they need to investigate.

However, it would seem a colossal stretch to expect the authorities to demand that a private corporation change the terms of its contracts in a way that favors competitors or potential partners who want to use its development platform. It’s not as if customers are forced to buy Apple’s products, or even that the iPhone has a dominant market share. Yes, it’s true that Apple is the number one maker of mobile phones in the U.S., ahead of Motorola, but there are loads of other players in that industry with far greater sales.

Unfortunately, there’s the perception that the decision to keep Flash and third-party developer tools from its mobile platform was done strictly as a power grab. Apple craves dominance, Steve Jobs is a control freak. Add it up and they will do whatever it takes, ethical or otherwise, to make a profit.

Sure, Apple wants to make a profit, and Apple’s employees want the company to live long and prosper so they can keep their jobs. All those investors in Apple stock hope the price will continue to increase, so they can, ultimately, sell off their shares at a sizable profit. Nothing wrong with that.

At the same time, when Steve Jobs wrote that notorious blog post defining his objections to Flash and third-party programming tools, what he said is basically correct. Adobe’s Flash player is buggy, it crashes, it’s a memory hog, and it’s an open question whether a version will ever run properly on a smartphone. Even if it does, what about all those Web developers who built Flash-based features on their sites that can’t be recognized on a touchscreen?

It doesn’t help Adobe’s case that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 will support the burgeoning HTML5 format and H.264 for video. Yes, there will be support for Flash too, but Microsoft appears to agree with Apple that Flash has security and stability problems. So will Adobe go after Microsoft next?

When it comes to developers, who gets cheated if an app doesn’t support new iPhone features because the third-party tool that built that app only provides the bare minimum of compatibility? What’s the point of Apple developing 100 new features for the iPhone, if loads of apps don’t use them? Developers may have to spend extra money developing an exclusive iPhone version, but they will also gain access to the largest and most successful online app store for smartphones in the world. That is not something from which they would easily walk away. It also means they will have more satisfied customers, since their new apps will support some or all of the iPhone’s latest and greatest features.

That sounds like a good thing to me, but clearly Adobe doesn’t like it, and they are doing their level best to make Apple the villain. On the other hand, even though nearly half of Adobe’s Creative Suite revenue comes from the Mac platform, why did it take years for them to fully support Mac OS X? Only the very latest version of Photoshop, for example, was developed in Apple’s Cocoa environment, which also allows it to support Snow Leopard’s 64-bit feature at long last.

Of course, Apple and Adobe have had a dysfunctional history for years. Early on, after working together to create the desktop publishing revolution with the Apple LaserWriter and Adobe PostScript, Apple responded to abnormally high prices for Type 1 fonts by working with Microsoft to develop TrueType. In the end, Adobe cut the prices, but they also built Windows versions of their apps and, in some cases, got those versions out ahead of a Mac counterpart. Some apps never appeared on the Mac platform.

In the end, I don’t expect to see Apple face the wrath of the U.S. government, and I also expect that Flash is, as Steve Jobs states, yesterday’s news. Adobe can protest as much as they want in public, but you hope that, privately, they will be willing to accept the sad truth that the world has changed and prepare to move on. There are still ripe profit possibilities for them, and maybe they could find a way to actually work with Apple for the mutual benefit of both companies.

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4 Responses to “Get Ready for the Spin!”

  1. dfs says:

    I’m not sure that Flash is going to disappear as easily and gracefully as Gene supposes. You see, the problem is that with its CS suite Adobe has a near-total monopoly on professional-grade page design software, which gives them the ability to call the shots regarding web standards. They can use the suite to push Flash and they can take their own sweet time about putting out new versions which support HTML5. If Apple and Microsoft don’t like this situation, then it’s incumbent on them to break Adobe’s monopoly by putting out page design software sophisticated enough to rival the CS suite. But as long as the present situation continues, the suite is not only an important money-maker for Adobe. It also gives them huge leverage in dictating what does and does not happen on the Web.

  2. Simple, no. But so long as Adobe tries to fight Apple, they lose. If they can demonstrate a version of Flash on an iPhone that answers Apple’s complaints, they’d have a chance. But with tens of millions of potential customers not accessing Flash, Web designers are forced to rework their content.


  3. Louis Wheeler says:

    If you look into see who the major patent holders are, under MPEG LA, you will find that they are Apple and Microsoft. It is asserted that Apple is planning to allow H.264 to gain overwhelming acceptance, before swooping down to charge excessive fees. The GIF debacle is trotted out for proof, but charging excess fees for using GIFs merely caused people to move to jpg’s. This scenario is highly unlikely because Apple gains its money by selling hardware, not software. Apple holds patents as a means to keep other people from controlling it. Part of Apple’s distaste for Adobe’s Flash is that Adobe attempts to control Apple through it.

    Adobe provides a poor Flash implementation on the Mac. But, Apple wouldn’t like being under Adobe’s domination even if Flash were excellent.

    Apple has a perfect right to create products which steer the computer market away from obsolete, proprietary technologies. Apple only has the power to do this because the technologies it uses are superior.

    Unfortunately, a transition is necessary to move from the old to the new. Apple expected this fight over HTML5 and H.264 to occur three years from now when both are more mature and entrenched. Adobe, saw the handwriting on the wall with the iPhone, and threw a hissy fit. That display of emotion failed and will only induce content providers to utilize both HTML5 and Flash. When that happens, Flash loses.

  4. Observant says:

    Adobe were late to the MacOSX party because they didn’t know how to write PPC code, at a time when PhotoShop had loads of assembler code inside.

    Section 3.3.1 actually precludes writing apps in ARM assembler as well, though no-one cares.

    Except, perhaps Apple. And Adobe, who will be translating directly from Flash to ARM. Badly as usual.

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