Apple and Adobe's war of words heats up

Steve Jobs anti-Adobe Flash rant is really quite a remarkable document both for what it says, and what it doesn't say.

First, and foremost, there's the fact that Jobs spends most of his time complaining about the Flash format and ignoring the real beef Adobe has with Apple. Sure Adobe doesn't like that Apple won't let Adobe Flash on its iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch platforms. But, that's not what has Adobe executives ticked off to the point that they're telling Apple to go screw themselves and that they're quietly considering suing Apple.

No, what has Adobe ticked off is that Apple changed its iPhone SDK (software development kit) license so that developers couldn't even submit programs to Apple that use cross-platform compilers. This blocks all Adobe developers from creating applications for the iDevice family. Worst still, Adobe had just finished building its latest master suite of graphic, document and Web development tools, Adobe Creative Suite 5, which included tools to port applications to the iPhone and all the rest. I don't think you can blame Adobe for being a wee bit annoyed.

Officially, Adobe has thrown in the towel on iDevice development. Adobe isn't taking this functionality out of CS 5, but Mike Chambers, the principal product manager for developer relations for Adobe's Flash platform, has said that Adobe "is not currently planning any additional investments in that feature."

You'd think that would be the end of it. It's not.

Ironically, Jobs, CEO of perhaps the world's most proprietary software and hardware company, claims that Adobe isn't as open as Apple. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! No, I'm inclined to agree with Chambers who wrote earlier on his blog, "The primary goal of Flash has always been to enable cross-browser, -platform and -device development," This is the exact opposite of what Apple wants. They want to tie developers down to their platform and restrict their options to make it difficult for developers to target other platforms."

It's not just Adobe that hates Apple's new development license. Ansca Mobile, a venture-backed company comprised of former senior Adobe mobile engineers who led the teams that created Flash Lite for mobile devices, also sees it this way and they have no love for Adobe. Indeed, while at Adobe, they agreed with some of Jobs' specific complaints about Flash, which is why they defected from Adobe and founded Ansca. Ansca Mobile has since released the Corona SDK, which uses the Lua programming script to create native apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

But, they're on Adobe side these days when it comes to the real problem between Apple and Adobe, which is that Apple wants to block any developers that use third-party frameworks such as their own Corona. Hetal Bhatt, who handles public relations for Ansca told me that the "new Apple 4.0 TOS (terms of service)--namely section 3.3.1--jeopardizes not only developers but also Apple themselves. Most of the top 100 apps in the App Store incorporate language written with third party frameworks that would make them obsolete if Apple adheres too strictly the 3.3.1 clause."

It's this, not whether Flash itself is allowed on Apple devices that's the real crux of the disagreement between Apple, Adobe and many other ISV (independent software vendors). Jobs, and all the other analysts, who have tried to turn this into a debate about whether Flash is, or isn't good, enough for the future of mobile video are misleading us. That's a red-herring. The real issue is who controls access to the platform. And, behind all the rhetoric, Apple wants absolute control.

Why? I mean, besides the fact that Jobs has always want to keep the Mac and all other Apple products a closed eco-system? I think Charlie Stross, science-fiction author and technology blogger hit the nail on the head with his analysis that Jobs sees the end of the PC world rockering towards us and he wants to keep Apple hugely profitable in a world where both computers and broadband are almost freely available.

Stross wrote, "The App Store and the iTunes Store have taught Steve Jobs that ownership of the sales channel is vital. Even if he's reduced to giving the machines away, as long as he can charge rent for access to data (or apps) he's got a business model. He can also maintain quality (whatever that is), exclude malware, and beat off rivals."

Exactly, and what one company has, until now, always been both a major player on Apple hardware and a rival? Why, that would be Adobe wouldn't it?

Stay tuned folks. It's only going to get more interesting from here as Adobe might seek its slice of the Apple sales channel in the courts or find itself new allies such as Google or Ubuntu's Canonical to battle Apple's devices in new Linux-powered ones.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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