Lifting the Apple vs. Adobe compete veil

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In October 2009 I warned the Adobe community via InsideRIA that Adobe should tread very carefully with Apple and how that if they kept poking the sleeping giant sooner or later they’d react.

It’s now April, and Apple have reacted – and like a great game of chess, it’s not check mate just yet either.

Apple decided this week to update their licensing and block the ability for 3rd party software vendors like Adobe for example, from allowing their tooling and customers to produce iPhone/iPad based solutions that do not make full use of the way Apple intended to enable such vendors in the first place - “It’s my house if you don’t like it leave” is the summary.

A lot of people are asking questions around “why” and a lot of the blame is being pointed at Apple as being unfair and so on. Allow me to interject given I was one of the main Adobe compete leads at Microsoft and secondly my prediction rate on Adobe has been approx 90% correct so far (I guess you’ll have to trust I know a thing or two about the brand).

The lesser of two evils.

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Adobe or Apple who is to blame? who is innocent and who is trying to do the right thing? these are all immediate questions that come to mind when you start seeing the battle lines being drawn between these two “A” brands.

The answer is – it depends.

The knee jerk assumption is Apple isn’t playing fair here that they are the ones holding innovation back on the beloved iPhone/iPad platform(s). It depends, as in Apple’s defense why would you allow a company like Adobe who’s made no secret about this:- the ability and power to lock down the user experience for all devices into a democratic format like Flash.

That plan is effectively the same playbook as Microsoft has used for Windows, own the platform own the industry its that simple.

If Flash was to gain entry to the iPhone/iPad then it effectively puts app vendors and such on the same playing field as other devices and in many ways the unique form factor of that which is the iPhone today starts to lose its initial appeal as it then becomes yet another device. Apple is a company that prides itself on “thinking differently” in that it appears to approach consumer based products in a very unique and at times stubborn – but profitable – way. The brand likes to ensure its products are different from what people expect and that their experiences are unique and a must-sort after thing.

Adobe is desperately trying to change that, they see their future as being the UX platform to the masses - “use my tools and you can produce on all devices and platforms” is essentially their mantra.

Apple, Microsoft and in parts Google aren’t even slightly interested in agreeing on this as they are all acutely aware of the potential hazard products like Flash can become if left to grow organically.

If your going to have democracy, let it be HTML5 then.

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User Experience in technology is now fast becoming a consumer focus as well as an enterprise focus. 99% of my workload is visiting Microsoft customers every week helping them figure out their UX story on disparate technology. I’ve never seen this before  and I've been a UX plug-in focused designer and developer for the past 15 years and as my bio states, a Product Manager of one of these technologies. It’s inspiring but at the same time fragile and the reason being is HTML5.

HTML5 for me represents an industry slow-down, in that if we all move to abandon plug-ins and support HTML5 in the way it’s being instructed to, we in turn sacrifice the agility of that which is user experience on the web as we know it today.

Apple and Google are ok with this though, for both of them having HTML5 on the horizon is a good thing. It enables them to still control the way in which they run their unique business models but at the same time it still gives them the ability to block competitors from over-taking their said business models.

An example is today, I can log into my bank ANZ.com.au and handle my financial affairs all through a unique iPhone specific experience. One of the largest banks in Australia reacted to the iPhone and produced a solution that befits a device which today still has minority share.

The point of that example is simple, companies will react to where they perceive the value is and enabling their various application domains to have multiple user interface channels is extremely important and one that is visible on all of their roadmaps for the future. They are all acutely aware that the industry is changing and the lines between Desktop and Mobile are blurring and in a manner that  is going to be a lot harder to separate.

HTML5 however represents a unique value proposition to this technology hazard that’s coming up fast. It effectively puts us all on an even playing field and it also strikes at the heart of everything Adobe represents as it effectively deprecates Flash.

If Apple is able to keep large brands reacting to their business models without having to take a technical dependency on products like Flash, then this in turn solidifies their position in the future in a more healthy way. It’s much more profitable today to starve the Adobe ecosystem out  Apple based devices than it is to allow the said technology to co-exist on the devices – as once that technology gets on the phone all bets are off as sure it will become popular.

It’s not about being ethically right, as this isn’t a Disney movie it’s reality. All software vendors are doing everything they possibly can to dominate a niche in the industry without taking a technical dependency on a foreign software company

Where is Microsoft in all this?

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If i know my old team well, they’d be chuckling at the demise of Adobe and how all their best efforts in marketing CS5 + iPhone just came unstuck overnight. That being said, this is why Silverlight and WPF was built to play by the same rules but differently. Microsoft aren’t interested in holding down a unique experience on their own proprietary devices as well they don’t make hardware. Its in their best interest to keep things on an even playing field provided you buy their operating system first and secondly you develop using their tools for it. If either of those tick boxes are ticked, life is good for Redmond.

If you screw around with those two boxes they will compete against you and hard. Silverlight is a result of this, as it was well known Adobe’s intent was to own the UX platform across it all which in turn interrupts Microsoft’s story in a way that isn’t healthy for the company. Silverlight was born out of that competitive necessity and you’ll soon start to hear random stories on how Windows 8 will solidify their position on counter-acting concepts like Adobe but whilst still embracing the existence of concepts like HTML5.

HTML5 is the brakes for this giant chess game, its the technology safety haven which enables us all to slow the engines down a little and start making stronger bets instead of this ad-hoc technology evolution we seem to be on.

Apple can leverage its concept to propel them forward in a much more controlled fashion. Google will enjoy its splendor as their content business model can remain intact without having content and experiences online forking. Adobe will do what it can to keep their fingers in the HTML5 via their tooling story (and in parts server products) but in reality if HTML5 were to gain dominance it would impact their entire business model in a way that they aren’t yet equipped to deal with.

Apple blocked the Adobe market potential simply out of necessity and future proofing their brand, all you’re seeing this week is one move out of many in this game of industry chess.

Adobe are being attacked on all fronts, they simply MUST stop their immaturity and aggressive behavior in order to survive – otherwise their developer share will continue to drop and Flash will continue to be ignored in lieu of other more appealing approaches to the same thing.

Adobe will win this, public demand will turn in their favor.

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It’s something I hear often a cry of desperation if you will. Adobe don’t have a groundswell of developers to storm the Apple gates and press outlets like New York Times etc may post an article or two around how unfair it is but it won’t be a sustained momentum as they are more inclined to talk in depth about the engaging devices such as the iPhone and iPad bring than what powers them.

What about consumers by large? Consumers are indifferent to technology choice as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Amazon etc are all bombarding them daily with “try my new shiny toy” so it’s hard enough for the tech savvy minded to separate signal from code.

I predict Adobe will lose this bout and despite Adobe’s CTO post today about how they will produce CS5 to do the same as what they had intended and leave it up to Apple to make the next move is a silly move on their part as it effectively devalues CS5’s potential – again. Not to mention his wording just is passive aggressive for example:

First of all, the ability to package an application for the iPhone or iPad is one feature in one product in Creative Suite. CS5 consists of 15 industry-leading applications, which contain hundreds of new capabilities and a ton of innovation. We intend to still deliver this capability in CS5 and it is up to Apple whether they choose to allow or disallow applications as their rules shift over time

The last line in bold was a smart ass response and I took that as being “We will still move forward and we are calling you on your bluff Apple”. As that is a feeble attempt to ignite a public tech riot once the first app gets blocked. Watch how fast it starts and dies down as well.

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  • A few things need clarification in your post:
    1) You remark Flash as needing or wanting to be the base of these systems or Apple/Google having a “technical dependency” on Flash . That’s no where near the point. Android, RIM, etc are not banking on Flash. If the touted devices removed Flash 2 weeks after release, they would work just fine without any modifications. Flash is merely an integrated extension and vital part of the web as a whole. No technical dependency is required…just browser access to the “best web experience” as Steve improperly offered. 😉

    2) CS5 is going to be fine. Flash CS5 included. The iPhone Packager? Maybe not. There is a huge difference you didn’t clarify in your final section. CS5 = a suite, not 1 products most touted feature. Even Flash CS5 has tons of new features not even closely related to the iPhone Packager (Android development, tons of IDE enhancements, etc; must be vague, can’t get into exacts).

    Wait, did I say touted twice in one comment? 🙂

    As for the aggressiveness, I agreed. Don’t poke bullies.

    I left my full comments here about the ordeal: http://www.johncblandii.com/index.php/2010/04/what-i-make-of-adobe-vs-apple-section331.html. Some of them aren’t too far off from your thoughts.

  • Agree with your post. I do find it interesting that software has moved “back” to apps (and seems to be even further, i.e. device specific app installs, which reminds me if you had a C64 proggie you couldn’t just “run” it on a ZX / Dos etc) – java seemed to fill the “write once run many” with asp / web apps lending to the “non device specific arena” – almost even to an extent that web apps had a server and the browser was the terminal, with it swinging to “client/server” where large portion of the app’s logic is on the client .. i don’t proclaim to know which is better, but it does seem a bit of an overkill from software application’s POV that need to write multiple to target various devices (I can understand Apple wanting to keep domination of their device), but surely then “market forces” would dictate that Apple iPhone/iPad applications be the dominant software (much like finding application to install & run on Windows was way more than software than you could buy “off the shelf (today called Apple Store)” would be more so than other device software, or there would need to be a shift towards “write once run many” as in web apps which are mobile friendly and don’t rely on the device specifically, rather using the device to “plug in” to accessing and using what the software has to offer – just seems wasteful to write multiple applications essentially doing the same thing just so that iPhone/iPad/Nexus/Nokia/etc device can access.
    Interesting times ahead certainly.
    My $0.02

  • @ John C. Bland II:
    Technical dependency can come from having an established defacto attachment to a said product. The point is if Flash were to socket into the iPhone it would no doubt over take the UX App Plt dev experience – as well its easier. Apple wouldn’t want this (despite devs like yourself and me drooling at it) and thus i’d class it as a Technical Dependency.

    I disagree with vital part of that web. It serves a purpose, but I like choice and having Flash taking less of a stranglehold on the internet to me is more appealing as then i’m not held hostage again at the mercy of Adobe’s slow progress. I spent years following that bread line and it was cumbersome and boring.

    RE: CS5
    I’ve looked deep at CS5 so far (well what is public and stuff I got from some staffers) and I’m not overly impressed between CS4 and CS5. I think outside the iPhone piece the only thing that is worth highlighting would be the heal brush additions with proximity (very cool). That being said, CS5 would of gotten a lot more replenishment with today’s design audience had Apple and Adobe established a better line of communication and it wasn’t banned as of this week.

    I now look at CS5 and my copy of CS4 and think to myself : what is the compelling upgrade rationale here?

  • Re: Technical Dependency
    That clears up what you mean and I agree. If Flash was there, Apple would definitely see a drop in App Store traffic.

    Well, I’m speaking in “right now” terms. As of now, Flash rules ads and video, which are hot areas right now. Choice is great. I’m not tied to Flash at all. 😉

    CS5 has a ton of goodies. Monday will reveal a lot but they may not fit your desires/needs for a full suite purchase. I’m not blown away by it either but then again I haven’t worked with all the apps, just a few. It seems more like a release for tighter integration w/ RIA tech. We’ll see in 48 hours though.

  • @ John C. Bland II: I see the software industry slowly turning into the US food industry.. there’s a few of us now who are vegans who truly see the industry for what it is, but the rest are simply obesity driven jar heads who drink a gallon of diet coke (Flash) and then complain about calories in McDonald Whoppers (iPhone).

    If that analogy held..i’m shocked 🙂 lol

  • zBrianW

    @ Scott Barnes: curious on your take on what open source fits into the food chain per your fast food analogy? I haven’t been a big OSS advocate, but some of the industry actions make me feel like there is some goodness to be had and shouldn’t all just be about $’s… Though quite possibly I may dream toouch.

  • zBrianW

    Sorry,spelling, toouch = too much.

  • @Scott Barnes
    Haha…funny analogy.

    Eventually, the web will separate itself a bit more from plugins but not in a bad way. HTML 5 will help drive that some but it is no killer in anyway. Silverlight, Flash, Java, etc shouldn’t even quiver at HTML 5. It will have its place but, if they are smart, the other techs will adjust accordingly and continue innovating. They all have a huge leap over HTML 5.

  • @ zBrianW:
    If you look at the US food industry it’s basically cartels, in that to get healthy organic food in the US, you really have to literraly drive to a farm to get it. As the farmers themselves aren’t even allowed in some cases to plant alternative seeds given for example in the soy bean industry the genetically modified seeds are registered as patents and if you are caught planting just one of those seeds you are breaking the law of patent infringement.

    There’s a few documentaries and websites written about of all this, but the point is the large companies that handle meat packing through to seed planting are very tightly controlled and makes Microsoft’s monopoly in the OS scene look like a tea party in comparison.

    Food isn’t isolated, it goes to energy and so on, basically we as society today bend to the reality of having things mass produced for less cost, and when you factor in the way software is being produced it’s all about cartels in the end.

    Inside Microsoft, we’d compete quite aggressively behind the scene – it was my job to give any executive within the company a debrief on what Adobe just did 72hrs after they did it..think about that, one guy who gets paid to watch the competitor closely?

    I would also deliberately bait Adobe staffers into a battle of comment wits, not to be a smart ass but to extract information from them as i knew they were emotive and when i said something false they’d in turn react and give a little more information (either a confirmation or introduce new facts that we’d then go pick over).

    I wasn’t proud of that behavior but it helped us figure out what to do with Silverlight ahead of time and kept us informed of Adobe’s movements.. they did the same but i think we were better at it.

    This is the way the industry rolls at the moment it’s not about Open Source purity, who gives a fuck about that. Open Source has started to become the dumping ground for either political correctness or failed business initiatives that is unable to find a home for monetization. Adobe, Microsoft, Google etc all use this for their own corporate gain and the harmony and purity of software development has nothing to do with it really.

    At the end of the day, HTML5 will get more and more traction over time as it reduces the cartel of the moment from having dominance as it’s an agreed truce if you will amongst a lot of the power brands. Having said that, watch how fast the browsers will fork this model as they’ll find a way to game it so suite their own lock-ins – its the nature of the beast.

    Google etc will throw interruption-ware like Chrome onto the table to disrupt this but it has nothing to do with Google feeling the need for community spirit, it’s simply a big fat warning shot across the bow of the power brands “keep content in a format i can access or else” and whilst Google hasn’t devoted much money to Chrome in terms of marketing, if it comes down to losing ad revenue vs promoting a browser, watch how fast Chrome gets traction.

    I know a lot of Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon etc staffers who now see how the sausage is made and simply leave the said brands because they found it just wrong in some way (either internal culture was to aggressive or they just felt there was more to life than stomping some other team to the ground for random ass victory internally that was shallow in the end anyway).


    Scott.

  • johnadrson

    .net is one of the most user friendly software development platforms. ASP.net development gives the way to develop complex web applications and web pages. Even most of the Business Intelligence software are being made on .net platforms with integrating ASP.net as an essential functional part.

  • Tucker Watson

    “the ability and power to lock down the user experience for all devices into a democratic format like Flash”

    If I understand your article correctly, you feel the same as I do. That this was a business decision and probably a smart one to protect the App Store from a “Flash Invasion”. If CS5 were to simplify App Development and create equivalent (or close) output, Apple could lose a large chunk of the development process.

    There are a few pieces that I don’t quite get:
    – Why did Apple wait until days before CS5 release to announce?
    – As a developer, does it irk you a bit that platforms can and will start requiring a single starting language (for business reasons, not technical)? What about requiring an IDE?
    – I don’t see the “develop once, deploy anywhere” as evil. Why do you? Seems to me like any plug-in would like to be able to run on disparate hardware.