Saturday, May 01, 2010

Adobe Vs. Apple, A War Of Words

The battle between Apple and Adobe of the inclusion of Adobe's Flash on Apple's portable devices like the iPhone, iPad and iPod has been coming to a head over the past few weeks. This week the CEO's of both companies fired shots at one another in what so far has only been an internet slug fest. One that we personally hope will end in some sort of court battle.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs fired the first shot when he released a 1700+ word open statement on his 'thoughts on flash'. Jobs outlines his 6 main thoughts on Adobe’s Flash products so that customers and critics(like us) may better understand why the company continues to not allow Flash on iPhones, iPods and iPads.

Here's are Job's 6 reasons for not including Adobe's Flash:
  1. Openness Vs Proprietary - Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. While Adobe’s Flash products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Adobe and available only from Adobe. By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system.

    Apple has many proprietary products too. 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. Rather than use Flash, Apple has adopted HTML5, CSS and JavaScript – all open standards. Apple’s mobile devices all ship with high performance, low power implementations of these open standards. HTML5, the new web standard that has been adopted by Apple, Google and many others, lets web developers create advanced graphics, typography, animations and transitions without relying on third party browser plug-ins (like Flash). HTML5 is completely open and controlled by a standards committee, of which Apple is a member.

    Apple even creates open standards for the web. For example, Apple began with a small open source project and created WebKit, a complete open-source HTML5 rendering engine that is the heart of the Safari web browser used in all our products. WebKit has been widely adopted. Google uses it for Android’s browser, Palm uses it, Nokia uses it, and RIM (Blackberry) has announced they will use it too. Almost every smartphone web browser other than Microsoft’s uses WebKit. By making its WebKit technology open, Apple has set the standard for mobile web browsers.

  2. Full Web Experience - Adobe has repeatedly said that Apple mobile devices cannot access “the full web” because 75% of video on the web is in Flash. What they don’t say is that almost all this video is also available in a more modern format, H.264, and viewable on iPhones, iPods and iPads. YouTube, with an estimated 40% of the web’s video, shines in an app bundled on all Apple mobile devices, with the iPad offering perhaps the best YouTube discovery and viewing experience ever. Add to this video from Vimeo, Netflix, Facebook, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ESPN, NPR, Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, People, National Geographic, and many, many others. iPhone, iPod and iPad users aren’t missing much video.

    Another Adobe claim is that Apple devices cannot play Flash games. This is true. Fortunately, there are over 50,000 games and entertainment titles on the App Store, and many of them are free. There are more games and entertainment titles available for iPhone, iPod and iPad than for any other platform in the world.

  3. Reliability, Security and Performance - Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. We also know first hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash. We have been working with Adobe to fix these problems, but they have persisted for several years now. We don’t want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods and iPads by adding Flash.

    In addition, Flash has not performed well on mobile devices. We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now. We have never seen it. Adobe publicly said that Flash would ship on a smartphone in early 2009, then the second half of 2009, then the first half of 2010, and now they say the second half of 2010. We think it will eventually ship, but we’re glad we didn’t hold our breath. Who knows how it will perform?

  4. Battery Life - To achieve long battery life when playing video, mobile devices must decode the video in hardware; decoding it in software uses too much power. Many of the chips used in modern mobile devices contain a decoder called H.264 – an industry standard that is used in every Blu-ray DVD player and has been adopted by Apple, Google (YouTube), Vimeo, Netflix and many other companies.

    Although Flash has recently added support for H.264, the video on almost all Flash websites currently requires an older generation decoder that is not implemented in mobile chips and must be run in software. The difference is striking: on an iPhone, for example, H.264 videos play for up to 10 hours, while videos decoded in software play for less than 5 hours before the battery is fully drained.
    When websites re-encode their videos using H.264, they can offer them without using Flash at all. They play perfectly in browsers like Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome without any plugins whatsoever, and look great on iPhones, iPods and iPads.

  5. The Touch Interface Flash was designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers. For example, many Flash websites rely on “rollovers”, which pop up menus or other elements when the mouse arrow hovers over a specific spot. Apple’s revolutionary multi-touch interface doesn’t use a mouse, and there is no concept of a rollover. Most Flash websites will need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices. If developers need to rewrite their Flash websites, why not use modern technologies like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript?

    Even if iPhones, iPods and iPads ran Flash, it would not solve the problem that most Flash websites need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices.

  6. Slowly Released Development Tools - We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features. We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.

    This becomes even worse if the third party is supplying a cross platform development tool. The third party may not adopt enhancements from one platform unless they are available on all of their supported platforms. Hence developers only have access to the lowest common denominator set of features. Again, we cannot accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitor’s platforms.

    Flash is a cross platform development tool. It is not Adobe’s goal to help developers write the best iPhone, iPod and iPad apps. It is their goal to help developers write cross platform apps. And Adobe has been painfully slow to adopt enhancements to Apple’s platforms. For example, although Mac OS X has been shipping for almost 10 years now, Adobe just adopted it fully (Cocoa) two weeks ago when they shipped CS5. Adobe was the last major third party developer to fully adopt Mac OS X.

First things first the ridiculous side

While I can understand most of the objections Jobs and Apple have to adding Flash support some of their ideas strike me as utterly ridiculous, I mean come on using battery life as a defense? What's next are they going to put a timer on each device that allows it to shut down after a prolonged session of usage because continuous use would drain the battery faster than intermittent usage? Are they now going to block addicting games because those lead to me using my iPad longer than normal?

Is this a pot calling a kettle black

The pot calling the kettle black on this openness vs proprietary debate also seems a bit ridiculous. I will say this at least Jobs has the stones to admit Apple has many proprietary products but to call out Adobe and say they are any worse than Apple...COME ON REALLY!! You are running a closed OS, a closed App Store and by all means accounts an entirely closed device. Everything about the iPhone, iPad and iPods are 100% proprietary. You are in no position to call out another company no matter how proprietary they are, and trust me I hate Adobe and their pricing.

Secure, security and the lack of

Mr. Jobs and Apple need to site in on the next Pwn2Own if for one second they think having Flash on the iPhone or iPad will in anyway hurt or hinder their security efforts. Yes Flash is know as a gaping wound in many PCs, but the fact of the matter is Adobe products, especially Flash and Acrobat Reader--are ubiquitous on virtually every platform. This makes them an easy target for would be hackers. Its much the same as the debate over MS operating systems as well as IE. Why would hackers spend time trying to hack a small OS with few users when they can target billions at once.

Second the lack of true multitasking support on the iPhone and iPad provide the devices with a much better level of protection against malware attacks (the majority of Flash based attacks). Adobe software may be one of the weaker links on other platforms, but probably wouldn't fundamentally impair the security (or lack there of) on the iPhone or iPad.

Toss the Flash argument aside, even without adding an additional level of 'insecurity' these device are not nearly as secure as many users seem to think they are. Every day we are seeing more and more reports of potential vulnerabilities leading to malware, viruses and hacks for smartphones. Adding Flash support may not help that but it certainly would not be the end-all.

Platform dependence, touch and beyond

I'll give Jobs points for the lack of touch support statements. Admittedly I've never used Flash on a touch based system but my understanding is the mouse pointer is a fairly critical element for interacting with Flash. This might not be a big issue with videos but it certain would be with games or other apps. There may be a fairly easy work-around for this issue, I just don't know so I'll give Jobs his due here and say lets see it Adobe!

Platform dependence is one area that I have to cry foul. Not because I'm a coder, hardly and far from it. Rather I don't see that Apple should say they are open and pushing an innovative internet then block apps on a cross-platform environment. Apple may not want the advancement and innovation of the iPhone or iPad applications to be at the mercy of a third-party but I don't see that that alone should be a deciding factor.

Apps by nature are third part, its up to the devs to create them and implement the changes they see fit. Its not Apple that keeps these applications up to date its the devs. If they originally use a tool like Flash and then port it for the iPhone where is the issue? Why should Apple be banning iPhone and iPad apps that are ported from Flash? It seem pretty petty to me. Trust me if a third party platform which an app developer is using isn't keeping up those devs will move to another tool that will. So shouldn't that be left up to the developers to decide? Why does Apple care?

Personally I think it all boils down to Apple wanting to maintain tight, proprietary control over app development and their tight reign over the App store. More and more it seems like they aren't wanting to share the pie. It also seems more and more suspicious that Apple would continue to block flash given the company's foray into mobile advertising with the iAd platform, which will be competing directly with the fairly ubiquitous Flash-based ads.

Part 2 Adobe responds!

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