On Adobe's lost world of Flash

Apple seems serious in its commitment to HTML5 (the next major revision of HTML), with a leaked Steve Jobs email today promising full support for the standard in a future update to the Safari browser.

HTML5 is deeply in focus at present, following last week's public message from Jobs in which he attempted to explain why Adobe Flash is unsuitable for Apple's mobile products, suggesting Adobe abandon its legacy multimedia standard.

Apple, which has already published a page detailing a series of websites offering fully compliant HTML5, intends continuing investment in its support for the standard.

Safari isn't up to standard

Support isn't 100 per cent at this point. Safari for Mac (and Windows) doesn’t fully support HTML5 specs like Geolocation, Drag and Drop, Form Features and Inline Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) , but that's all set to change.

MacStories reader and developer Eugenij Sukharenko claims to have had correspondence with Jobs in which he queried the CEO about future HTML5 support plans.

Writing from his iPad, Apple's CEO advised support for more HTML5 features would be presented "soon".

In his note on Flash last week, Jobs wrote, "Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind."

Farewell to Flash

Apple recently updated its developer agreement with a revised Section 3.3.1, which forbids the use of non-Apple tools for the creation of iPhone OS apps, a move which also prevented Adobe from continuing development of a solution designed to enable export from Flash into the iPhone.

The actual wording of the stricture reads:

"Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited)."

Apple’s decision not to support Flash, even at arms length as a development tool, has driven Adobe to call in the regulators to defend its right to offer its mutimedia system on the iPhone OS-powered platform.

The Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission are now reported to be locked in discussion to decide just who should begin asking the questions on the case. Neither regulator has made any comment on the matter, which remains speculation at present.

Bill Clinton's former Secretary of Labor, now Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, Robert Reich, thinks the regulators are wasting their time on this matter.

"Why is the Federal Trade Commission threatening Apple with a possible lawsuit for abusing its economic power, but not even raising an eyebrow about the huge and growing economic (and political) muscle of JP Morgan Chase or any of the other four remaining giant banks on Wall Street?" he asks, writing on his blog.

He points out that Apple’s decision to demand iPhone developers use Apple tools isn’t such a sin, "they’re innovating like crazy" he says.

Jobs agrees, saying, "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 accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitors' platforms."

All about control?

Apple's critics meanwhile complain the company is attempting to enforce control over its platform.

Note that while iPhone seems dominant today, it only occupies 14.4 percent of mobile operating systems in use worldwide as of the end of 2009, according to Gartner. Symbian is the actual market leader with 46.9 percent share. This means there's no guarantee iPhone will be ascendant tomorrow.

Adobe is already working with Google to ensure Flash support on the Android mobile platform.

Adobe still needs to solve some big problems. First it needs to find a way to deliver multimedia encoding in such a way as not to lower performance on mobile devices.

This hasn’t skipped the attention of Apple's Jobs, who notes, "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."

The March 2010 San Francisco Game Developers Conference saw Adobe offer some demonstrations of its mobile Flash software. The video clip below shows how well it ran on a Palm Pre attempting to use a pre-release version of Adobe Flash 10.1.

Clearly, despite the complaints that Apple's decision to forbid its use is all about control, Adobe still has some way to go before it can deliver the kind of user experience iPhone users expect from multimedia.

In another -- perhaps an essential move -- ARM marketing vice president, Ian Drew today explained that Adobe's delay in delivering an effective version of Flash for mobile devices has delayed the evolution of the wider smartbook industry. This begs the question - is Steve Jobs right on Flash?

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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