Adobe Wants it Both Ways

June 23rd, 2010

The news arrived Wednesday that Adobe plans to develop a version of their high-end audio app, Audition, for the Mac by the end of the year. Up till now, a reduced-feature version, Soundbooth, has represented Adobe’s efforts to throw a bone to Mac users who have rightly complained about the company’s Windows-only offerings.

At the same time, Adobe has been crying crocodile tears over the lack of support for Flash on Apple’s mobile platform. Indeed, the FTC is reportedly investigating that and other complaints about Apple to see if any illegal conduct is involved.

Of course the fact that Apple is being investigated doesn’t necessarily mean that an actionable case will be developed. It may well be that, after a routine investigation, the story will fade from the headlines and the FTC will seek out other potential offenders. Or, at the worst, Apple will be coerced into making a few minor changes in their policies, sign a consent decree, and get on with their business.

But I doubt that the FTC is going to attempt to force Apple to support an iOS version of Flash.

Meanwhile, Adobe has, after many delays, released a mobile version of Flash that will be available on many Android OS smartphones and other products, but not, of course, an iPhone. But this doesn’t mean that Adobe has somehow answered all of the objections recently voiced by Steve Jobs in that famous blog entry. In fact, the reports I read of the rollout of Flash on Android 2.2 indicated a buggy product with inconsistent performance.

It’s a sure thing that being able to access at least some Flash content on a smartphone is better for some than the alternative, although I still don’t see a huge movement clamoring for Apple to open the doors to Adobe.

More to the point, I recently made a public challenge, here and on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where I suggest that if Adobe feels Apple is wrong, they can clearly demonstrate that fact by installing a working copy of Flash on a recent and current iPhone. As an Apple developer, they are allowed to install beta copies on test systems, and this would be their golden opportunity. They can even create a YouTube video, so we can all download the demo and decide for ourselves.

Steve Jobs claims Adobe has been unable to deliver the goods, and, so far at least, it appears he’s right. Of course, if the version being deployed on Android smartphones does function properly, which means delivering good performance on most Flash sites without hogging system resources, using excess battery life, and crashing periodically, they’d win at least part of the argument.

I remain skeptical, however. A supremely buggy product doesn’t overnight become slick and trouble-free. The new Flash plugin might be nothing more than a glorified public beta, which would give Adobe the excuse to claim they are still hacking away at remaining problems and there will be a better version available real soon now.

Or maybe they figure that even a half-baked version of Flash would be sufficient to grant Google bragging rights that they have something you cannot get on an iPhone, even if that something wouldn’t pass the smell test.

At the same time, Adobe continues to earn huge profits from the sale of the Mac versions of their software. They continue to develop for the iOS, and the news that they are going to bring yet another app to Mac OS X clearly indicates they have faith in the platform as a significant source of income.

So it’s clear to me that, even without Flash, Adobe isn’t about to suddenly abandon the Mac, even if they’ve given the platform short shrift in recent years. They understand that you cannot just force Mac content creators to move to Windows. Indeed, there’s no compelling reason to do so, since even the highly promoted Windows 7 is mostly Windows Vista with a shave and haircut.

If anything, the amazing sales of the iPad clearly indicate that the PC is essentially yesterday’s news, and that app developers are going to have to embrace new ways of doing things. The iPad may also afford developers of graphics software innovative ways of delivering digital content, although the true killer app has yet to arrive.

If the impending close of the PC era means a world where Flash is also a relic of the past, so be it. Adobe will have to swallow a huge pill, because of their multimillion dollar investment to acquire Macromedia and Flash technology several years ago, but it doesn’t seem reasonable that they are going to be able to do very much to slow the trend.

On the long haul, Adobe would fare better to pay more attention to building the best Mac and iOS apps they can without crying the blues. They can probably take that approach to the bank.

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6 Responses to “Adobe Wants it Both Ways”

  1. Constable Odo says:

    Adobe could just start developing the best HTML5 tools than anyone else and try to bring it up to the capabilities of Flash. I don’t know if that’s simple or not or that maybe Adobe has sunk too much money in Flash to let it slip from their hands. I still think that mobile devices are going to struggle handling full Flash until most mobile processors become faster and battery technology improves by 50%. I just figured a move to HTML5 would benefit all mobile users and not just Apple. I’m only looking at it from my small user perspective and I’m sure there’s more to it for Flash programmers and site owners. It would be nice if Adobe can deliver a really well-working Flash plug-in for low-powered mobile devices and then maybe Apple would OK it for use on its own platform. Providing Adobe can build the the same quality plug-in for iOS.

  2. D9 says:

    Adobe has never really impressed me, at least in the last decade, at the software development prowess. For every Acrobat there is a Flash that they acquired, PageMaker to their Illustrator, etc. If anything, Adobe has shown a desire to the get the most money quickly with the least amount of effort or cost. While that may seem like Business 101, one only need look at the tremendous success Apple has acquired by putting the effort towards a complete customer experience; while niche by peer standards, it is a bonanza to consumers who by majority have no desire to install software, upgrade drives, or customize systems. Adobe is more from the school of Microsoft than Apple, and we can all see how that is trending these days.


  3. Brett says:

    With future hardware advances and continued development it should eventually be possible for Adobe to demonstrate a fast stable version of Flash for the iPhone, yet Apple would be foolish to accept it.

    Apple has no guarantee that once iPhone users and mobile app developers come to depend on Flash, that Adobe won’t someday decide to neglect he iPhone as it did the Mac. Adobe could leave Apple to languish with a substandard iPhone version while aggressively maintaining Flash on competing mobile platforms.

    Apple should not put itself in a vulnerable position by partnering with fickle Adobe. It is better that Apple boycott Flash and encourage developers to adopt alternative delivery technologies (H264, HTML5 and Cocoa iApps).

  4. Ben says:

    I just can’t wait for Adobe to ship Flash for Android. I can see it now, Adobe blaming poor coding for websites that don’t render Flash very well, or worse, crash the phone. Battery life will be horrible and Adobe will blame Google for making a SDK the cause of it and not Flash itself.

    It’s becoming apparent that Adobe found out that Flash was cobbled together from the start. A bastardized version of Director that was originally designed to make SIMPLE animations on the internet. Adobe has no way to rewrite the whole thing in time before it’s lifespan is over. I mean really, just look at CS, it’s still riddled with bugs! Some that are years old!! Plus, they think it’s still the 80’s and can charge thousands of dollars for software that should only be a few hundred for an upgrade. They can only burn their customers so many times before they get wise.

    It’s sad that Adobe who I admired in the late 80’s and early 90’s has reduced itself to this. A spoiled company who spit on Apple users when they were riding the Windows 95 wave and cash was flowing. Now that that wave has crashed and Apple is back on top, they whine like a little brother who complains to his mom that they’ve been ditched. Plus like you said, NOBODY from Adobe has even tried to plead their case with the iPhone with a real world demo. They have been taking too many plays from Microsoft like it’s fake Courier project. They think if they yell loud enough that Apple users will boycott the iPhone until Steve Jobs reconsiders Flash.

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