In Spring of 1985, I couldn’t walk down the school halls without hearing a never-ending debate as to who was at fault – Eddie Van Halen or David Lee Roth. Yeah, most of my friends sided with Dave, and those who didn’t got trapped into “heated” discussions. No one disputed that Eddie was the face of the music – he was a stellar guitarist and his trademark stripes were easily recognizable. Dave was the face of the band, though. He had the voice and the jumps.
In the ’90s the death of Kurt Cobain attracted thousands upon thousands of die-hard fans. It wasn’t long before many idolizers put the blame on his wife, Courtney Love. Even today, there’s a plethora of Web sites and writings that say Cobain was murdered, and that Love was behind it all.
And now, we have Apple and Adobe. Both have hordes of loyal users, a good amount willing to defend their company of choice ’til they can no longer type or talk.
With the popular release of the iPad, the discussion of lack of Flash support hit full speed. Most of the debates were amongst users (loyal customers and fans of either company). Until then, all we’d heard is rather curt responses by Apple’s Steve Jobs, who said there was no intention of adding Flash support. That was it. No in-depth explanations, other than Flash being a rather crappy application and Apple doesn’t like it, no sir!
Then, in a rather surprising blog post at the end of April, Jobs explained in detail his reasons. For a few moments, I thought, “Okay, so finally he gives his reasons, and some of them make sense from a developer’s standpoint, but still…”
Of course, the post was soon rebutted by Adobe’s CEO, Shantanu Narayen, who made an equally compelling argument.
Jobs’ reassurances that Flash will not be welcome on the iPhone or iPad has left many users up in arms. Some accept the limitation, putting faith in “Apple Knows Best”, while others loudly grumble over the inability to play popular online games and visit entertainment sites. Even more so confused are small business sites and online stores that utilize Flash content.
Instead of Flash as a tool, lets look at the two companies and the role they’ve played not only in excelling each other, but also in how we all use the Internet today. Does Apple really owe Adobe anything? And what will Adobe do (as in true actions) as a response?
Keep in mind, especially with Jobs’ latest comments, that this entire debate isn’t just about the iPad, it’s about the web and mobile computing as a whole.
A Look Back…
For those not in the know, Apple and Adobe have a rich history. It was in 1985 when Apple licensed PostScript (created by the Adobe founders) to use in Apple’s LaserWriter printers. This is what truly sparked desktop publishing, and it was no surprise that schools, colleges and publishers soon were running Macs. (Ironically, Apple’s TrueType was licensed to Microsoft.)
Adobe’s Illustrator program made the Macintosh even more appealing to graphic designers, architects and other professionals because the software program featured highly sought-after accuracy. Adobe’s Type Manager made Illustrator even more enticing. Let’s not forget the mother of all Adobe’s software, though – Adobe PhotoShop. Now, this was what really made everyone want a Mac in their office and at home. You could play games on many other computers, but only on the Mac could you create a slick-looking newsletter, newspaper or magazine. It would be many years before any of this type of software would become available for the PC, and even then, all those programs were substandard to those created specifically for the Mac. In short, if you wanted to publish, you needed a Mac. If you wanted PostScript, you needed a Mac. If you wanted anything Adobe, yep, Mac.
If it weren’t for companies like Adobe (and I’ll give the nods to Aldus as well!), would Apple be where it is today? Argue all you want, but the original Macintosh failed, primarily due to lack of available software. Subsequent releases also didn’t see the greatest of sales volume. Sure, here was a new computer that took input from a pointing device rather than solely a keyboard, but it was hardly affordable and many saw it as more of an uber-expensive toy. Heck, when it came to pure entertainment, I got more bang for my buck out of the Commodore, Amstrad and the Amiga. Alas, I’ll save the true nostalgia for another day…
No, there were a handful of strides – most provided by third-party software developers – that really put Apple on the map. PostScript (Adobe), Illustrator (Adobe), PhotoShop (Adobe), PageMaker (Aldus, later Adobe). Once Apple computers could be seen as publishing and photo-editing tools, people really wanted them.
Jobs admits that “Apple went through its near death experience”, but goes on to say, “…and Adobe was drawn to the corporate market with their Acrobat products.”
What he doesn’t say is that for years, Adobe’s products were available ONLY on the Mac, and, for many people, those products are the only reason why the Mac crawled back out of the gutter.
“Today the two companies still work together to serve their joint creative customers,” Jobs says. ” – Mac users buy around half of Adobe’s Creative Suite products – but beyond that there are few joint interests.”
This is where I am confused. If Mac users account for half of Adobe’s sales, this means two things: 1. Adobe’s annual sales rely on Mac users; and 2. Apple’s annual desktop sales rely on Adobe’s products. If you’ve ever compared PhotoShop on the PC to the Mac version you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. While the functional tools are quite the same, the overall functionality is slicker on a Mac than a PC. Working with large files (say, more than 50MB), you’ll notice a delayed “chug” on the PC that’s not apparent on the Mac.
My point is that Job’s “disguised” claim that it owes nothing to Adobe – at least on a moral level – is bunk. The same could be said for Adobe. For Jobs I have three words: Photography. Illustration. Publishing.
What’s Being Said
Jobs claims Flash is a proprietary system because Adobe controls the product with which Flash video and applications are created. Adobe says Flash is “open” because anyone can create Flash content. While you need the Flash program to create Flash content, this is no different than needing a Quicktime application to create and modify that type of content. It’s not a program that makes content open or closed, but the way the program is utilized in its creation.
Then comes… “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.” He’s right – anyone can develop an app for the iPhone and iPad. What they can’t do “openly” is distribute the product. Apple has complete control over how applications are distributed and use their editorial prowess to decided what content is accessible and what is not. In December Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Fiore’s app was rejected by Apple because it ridiculed public figures. It was simply satirical, and in April, Jobs admitted Apple made a mistake in the process of rejection.
So, in a world where we can get just about anything we want on the Internet and on other mobile devices, Apple is opting to be our “police of standards,” which really contradicts his statement that the web should be, well, open.
Those who know the potential issues with Flash (which, in my experience, have more to do with the programmer and user’s configuration than with Flash itself), or those who are vying for the technical world to move in a different direction may lean toward Apple. A colleague of mine told me that Flash “is a shitty language for fake programmers.” I think that’s extreme. Is there a lot of crappy Flash content available that functions like it was created by a two-year-old? Sure, but just the same, I doubt the developers behind Farmville are ignorant of logical programming.
Jobs shunned Adobe for being a late adopter of Mac OS X, while Narayen explains that Adobe has always been about cross platform. I’m not sure how this all comes into play, seeing as Adobe’s initial product line, and several thereafter, were built specifically for the Mac. I’m guessing Jobs is talking specifically about Flash.
Who Is Ultimately Affected?
An even more compelling question is who is affected by Apple’s rejection of Flash and the company’s commitment to HTML5 and other more-modern technology.
The answer is simple. Developers. Companies. Consumers. Yes, consumers…
Since Apple refuses to adopt anything “flashy”, developers wanting to provide apps for multiple devices are required to redevelop just for the iPhone or iPad, or completely restructure what’s already been built. Many Flash developers have been awaiting Android’s adoption and have been hesitant to learn a different language.
Companies that have invested in Flash content are affected, and you can’t think that won’t affect costs. For smaller businesses, the creation of custom Flash presentations itself has always been a rather significant investment. Now, if these companies want to cater to users of the iPad, they either need to scratch and rebuild or, at the least, implement a solid-working conditional to display non-Flash content in its place.
Us. The users. The consumers…. Don’t think so? Not only will redevelopment and conversion affect what we pay for products, but if we push for HTML5 requirements too early, it’s going to cost us real money. Even now many web sites and stores are adopting new technology way too early, requiring visitors to upgrade browsers. Many sites I frequent no longer load in IE7 – they either crash the browser or alert me to upgrade. These sites work fine in FireFox, but the outcome is iffy even in IE8. IE9 is going to fully support HTML5 which means no longer can users wait until all the problems are fixed before upgrading, they’ll be forced to update their browser if they want the freedom to surf any site.
Yes, it will also cause some users to invest in hardware or software. My husband, who uses assistive technology, had to invest $170 last month before he could upgrade to IE8. Most of the sites he visits were adopting newer technology and his only option was to upgrade JAWS so he could update IE.
Jobs implies that Adobe wants to essentially rule the web and set the standards, but isn’t that exactly what Apple has been vying to do? When Apple crawled back out of the abyss, it was with a totally new energy – an attractive one at that – and they set out to woo us all. They succeeded on many fronts. Apple markets their products brilliantly. And to think, they don’t use focus groups and are more interested in telling people what they need and want rather than determining what those needs are.
Apple itself. Apple’s decisions do hit the company’s wallet as well. Half a million iPads sold, but think how many more would be on order if users could play their favorite games. Jobs statement about there being plenty of games available for the iPad is like telling us that Apple doesn’t care if we like Farmville, Cafe World and the likes. Instead, he’s telling us that our opinions don’t matter, and if those are the games we want to play, then Apple is too good for us.
And all this gets me to my rather lengthy point: when it comes down to what we already love about the web, the initial costs and investments of time to “quickly” re-adapt and Microsoft’s history of releasing buggy browser updates, whose side are you on? From a technical standpoint, yeah, HTML5 is pretty cool technology, but from a user’s standpoint (most of them couldn’t care less about the behind the scenes), what’s the better solution?