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Adobe Wants it Both Ways

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.