Battle's joined: Adobe co-founders launch war of words against Apple, Jobs over iPhone and Flash

Battle between Apple and Adobe over the fate of Flash and the future of the internet has been truly joined this morning, with the world's leading graphics design software company launching a war of words against Steve Jobs and Apple over the lack of Flash on iPhone-powered devices.

Reinforcing the huge importance Adobe is attaching to this debate, the Photoshop developer has called in company co-founders, Chuck Geschke and John Warnock, to join the attack.

Apple 'undermines the Web'

Aping Apple CEO and co-founder, Steve Jobs, who recently published an open letter railing against the weakness of Flash on Apple's platforms, Adobe's co-founders have put pen to their own open letter in which they accuse Cupertino of threatening to "undermine the next chapter of the Web".

Adobe has also launched an ads campaign across major newspapers -- Wall Street Journal, New York Times -- and some technology websites in which it says, "We Heart Apple", but adds,

"What we don't love is anybody taking away your freedom to choose what you create, how you create it and what you experience on the web."

In his recent diatribe against Flash, 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."

He also railed against Adobe's standard as being proprietary, "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," he said.

Jobs pointed out that the proprietary nature of the technology and licensing costs meant that most products running Flash were required to en- and decode video using software, not hardware. This impacted battery life and performance on mobile devices.

Flash technical challenge

Jobs accuses Adobe of not yet achieving good results with Flash on a mobile device.

This may be set to change.

Adobe has ceased its Flash efforts on Apple devices and begun focusing its teams on other mobile alternatives.

Working with Google the two firms have managed to build a version of Flash which seems much more stable and fairly-good-performing on Android 2.2, which should itself ship next week.

Perhaps reflecting the technical difficulty of matching Apple's preferred HTML5 standard's performance on mobile devices, Adobe isn't focusing on technological challenges in its attack on Cupertino. Instead the war of words seems defined by a notion of free choice.

Freedom for us all

"We believe that consumers should be able to freely access their favorite content and applications, regardless of what computer they have, what browser they like, or what device suits their needs," the Adobe co-founders letter states.

"No company -- no matter how big or how creative -- should dictate what you can create, how you create it, or what you can experience on the Web."

The letter marks an intensification of the conflict between the two firms.

Adobe on the one side has a huge investment in Flash to protect. As the world becomes more mobile, Apple's leading-edge position in the mobile space means Flash is increasingly being sidelined.

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, though have made no comment on this.

Adobe is thought to have caused the regulators to take an interest in the first place.

Is the Internet finished?

The Adobe co-founders say they believe in open markets, arguing that putting content and applications "behind walls" may harm the innovation at the center of the internet's success.

"We believe that Apple, by taking the opposite approach, has taken a step that could undermine this next chapter of the Web - the chapter in which mobile devices outnumber computers, any individual can be a publisher, and content is accessed anywhere and at any time." they said.

The situation may not be so cut-and-dried. Content publishers are understood to be excited at the opportunity of the iPhone OS-powered iPad to allow them to offer content for a fee, as they see profits decline in the Internet age.

News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch has said that in the end, "all media is going to the iPad," and stating his expectation that larger model iPads will be made available in future.

His excitement has led the Times newspaper to elect to hide its content behind a fee-based wall, with some speculating that title's website traffic will fall by three-quarters or more when it does.

All about control

For Jobs, the problem is cast as solely technical. He argues that third-party developers should not be allowed to provide tools that iPhone OS developers may become reliant on, as that imperils development of the platform.

"We cannot accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitors' platforms."

Some industry observers believe the conflict is really about Apple's ability to control the software that runs on its platforms. Others point out that Adobe isn't prevented from participating in mobile device development by Apple's decision -- alternative operating systems and devices do exist.

Adobe's response?

"In the end, we believe the question is really this: Who controls the world wide web? And we believe the answer is: nobody -- and everybody, but certainly not a single company."


-- Is Apple being greedy, seeking to lock people into its platforms by providing a seamless solution for content creation and consumption?

-- Is Adobe really all about freedom, or is it about that company maintaining its lock on multimedia by providing a widely-used platform across devices?

What do you think?

UPDATE: If you're desperate to get Flash running on your iPhone, then take a look at this third-party solution which bridges the gap.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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