In a perfect world — albeit one that’s more than a little tech-centric — Monday’s release of the Creative Suite 5 update from Adobe would have commanded a lot of attention. Bristling with advances that help both consumers and developers create multimedia content on their computers and on the Web, CS5 is getting rave reviews for its attempts to help key moneymakers like Photoshop, Illustrator and (of course) Flash stay at pace with the latest technological developments and trends.
But it’s that last product — the Flash Web video application — that’s muting some of the applause for Adobe because of the bullseye Apple has put on it regarding developers and its recently unveiled iPhone OS 4. The technosphere buzz over the weekend focused on the revelation that the new iPhone SDK (software developer kit) includes restrictions on what kinds of languages and tools developers can use to write apps for iPhones, iPod touches and the new iPad. Flash, long denied access to Apple’s gated ecosystem community, remains on the outside looking in. But so do other multiplatform tools that help Flash, .Net and other languages make the leap to the iPhone.
The move is seen by many in the development community as being extraordinarily restrictive — even for Apple — and some took to their blogs and forums to say so, chastizing Steve Jobs for acting like Bill Gates circa 1997. However, there was also some head-scratching going on: Why would Apple lay down such a harsh moat surrounding its prized products? Where’s the logic to all this, which doesn’t just hurt Adobe, but also developers trying to make things easier for their code-writing brethren with middleware-style cross-platform tools that do the Flash-to-iPhone conversion for them?
If the trends are all pointing toward open source development, how long can Apple keep its doors triple-locked and bolted?
Jobs has pointed to his desire to guarantee a quality user experience with the iPhone as the big reason for keeping Flash from illuminating his OS. Apple’s CEO has previously said the Flash was “too slow to be useful” and would not have any impact on mobile devices. Flash drained processor power and battery life, he said. There’s also the fact that many online ads use Flash, and Apple has recently announced its own mobile advertising initiatives.
While the new restrictions may or may not guarantee a quality app, the end result could be to simply anger small developers eager to make money thanks to iTunes, according to IDC analyst Al Hilwa. “Developers invest a great deal of time and effort to get familiar with languages and to build a depth of skills on them,” Hilwa told TechNewsWorld. “To prevent them from leveraging that seems overly restrictive and unnecessary and not really an asset for the Apple platform. Apple itself may choose to change languages at some point in the future and would have to change this legal language to roll out compatibility layers so as not to look hypocritical.”
Apple could cause a lot of collateral damage with its single-minded focus on Adobe, Hilwa said. “Looking into the genealogy of native code to determine what its source might have been appears to be an act of over-reach to folks observing this development.”
Jobs’ point that the iPhone has enjoyed the success it has because of its hassle-free App Store for consumers is a valid one, says 451 Group research director Chris Hazelton. “It is a very aggressive stance, and it’s Apple really protecting its advantage. It has had a very, very good UI. It’s very good with gaming and display technologies, and they want to make sure the apps are developed are very good and leverage all the capabilities in the OS.”
However, Hazelton added that desire is also having the effect of forcing loyalty in a development community that has traditionally chafed at such heavy-handed tactics (see Microsoft, 1990s). “It’s hard for a developer to be loyal to just one operating system. A developer needs to spend more time developing iPhone applications and may not have a chance to get to third or fourth-tier operating systems,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Other Motivations Involved?
Those digging into Apple’s reasons may also be shaking their heads at Jobs’ cheerleading for the open source, browser-based HTML5 Web video standard. He talked it up during last week’s iPhone OS 4 presentation. Google and its Android system have also taken a shine to HTML5. Yet it’s still several years away from becoming mainstream for Web video development.
A report currently being developed by ABI Research Senior Analyst, Mark Beccue points to a decline in downloads from app stores over the next couple of years as more Web-based applications take hold. “The fuel that’s driving this is HTML5,” Beccue told TechNewsWorld. So Apple may be trying to gain as much advantage and critical mass as it can with its App Store before those trends take over.
However, even though writing for the iPhone is the possible path to success for small, scrappy developers, “that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. [Apple makes] up a very small slice of all the smartphone users in the world. That may change over time, but BlackBerry is still big in the U.S., Android is gaining ground rapidly. There are a lot of other contenders out there. If you’re a developer and you’re not three guys in a garage — which are attracted to the iPhone — then you can go and do Flash and it will work. There’s plenty of market for them, they just have to say, ‘we don’t need Apple.'”
One tech blog, InnerDaemon, has suggested that Apple is playing hardball because of some longstanding grudges involving Jobs and Adobe. It’s one possible motivation, said Frost and Sullivan analyst James Brehm.
“Sometimes the personalities involved are bigger than the decisions that they make,” Brehm told TechNewsWorld. “The egos on these guys are huge. Maybe this is what you do when you’re on top — you become more protective. Maybe that is the strategy, to try to be a little over-protective. I don’t think it’s going to work. Apple always appeared to be a heck of a lot more strategic in their thinking, but I guess if you can try a block like this, and try to get away with it as long as you can, why not?”