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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Context and Experience Matters.

Hold your hats folks, I’m about to praise Adobe and yes I’m now a confused UX soul as a result of it.

What has got me all hot and bothered in the right way about Adobe, is the Adobe.TV site, as for me it just brought something to life in which I was often quite vocal internally in Microsoft about – contextual synchronization.

In fact, you can see the very deck I used a few years ago on the said subject and it was mainly focused at how stupid and silly Microsoft is with its constant “File->New” website approach. I not only was vocal internally but external as well – recently as last year being picked up by other sites such as Slashdot.org, Tim Andersons Blog  and InfoQ on the very subject.

(Note: Download the deck for full effect here)

 

Adobe have designed the concept where it appears folks who sign in are able to have the content react to their needs vs the end user reacting to Adobe’s needs. As a result, I think this will provide more signal vs noise to consumers of the content (hopefully) but the main thing for future planning around content is that I think it will put Adobe in a better position to see what areas they need to focus on the most. I say this as every time you the end user narrows your selection down,  you are essentially voting with your fingers on the said selection.

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I like this as they have broken the self-selection down into not just categories but also have managed to involve other filtering mechanisms such as “what others say” (ie Most Viewed, Highest Rated etc)

I have dreamt about this concept for quite some time and I hope that the Microsoft various website owners are paying close attention to it.

Why is this a good idea?

Firstly, when you onboard to any technology you face a multitude of challenges most of which is confidence. You need to have this sense of “easiness” associated to a new technology you are about to adopt, so it’s important that you’re not in hunt mode but more browse mode as fast as possible.

Once you are able to overcome confidence issues relating to the technology, you also need to keep focused on advancing along the adoption curve, as you want to build a better tomorrow as fast as you humanly can, but deep down you still want to keep cheating, by skipping over things you probably should pay attention to.

Skipping is important but at some point you will need to go back and and absorb the parts you just skipped, so you kind of need a way point mechanism in the way content is presented to you. In Adobe.TV case you can filter out the irrelevant areas that don’t appeal to you – YET. Tomorrow though you can pick this back up and run with it should you choose to, keyword being choice.

I call this contextual synchronization as the content is synchronized to your contextual needs.

Microsoft has a terrible footprint regarding content of this type, as if you were to look at Silverlight for example there are 4 sites all competition for your attention and that’s just for Silverlight. If You’re a .NET developer your world increasingly gets more and more complex and its hard to parse the information from each individual site, given it’s mostly narrative content and less about serving a contextual need. The ones that don’t focus on narrative are more along the lines of projecting information at you and less working with you and more to the point, there’s no instant reward/recognition approach to learning.

This is important with regards to confidence as if you get a sense of accomplishment for taking the time to adopt or learn something there in turn needs to be a mechanism in place that provides that visual feedback “Good job, keep going” mentality.

Adobe.TV doesn’t have this, but you could easily build on from here? you could add badges or rewards to the context above by outlining that the person is moving along nicely and here’s a T-shirt or something cheap and meaningful to show recognition to the end user for doing a great job at sticking it out.

One day I hope that my vision would come to life, but inside Microsoft there is such a de-centralized approach to the site ownership problem that it would take an act of Executive order to change this – even then it would likely take a few years to filter out externally.

Tim Anderson, a well known IT Journalist who gets paid to navigate the web soup such as Microsoft.com, stated this:

I use “web sites” in the plural because there are many Microsoft web sites. Perhaps there should be one; but as the referenced study observes, there are numerous different designs. There are different domains too, such as Silverlight.net, ASP.Netand so on.

Take my experience this morning for example. My question: how many processors are supported by Windows Small Business Server 2008? My Google search got me to here, an overview showing the two editions, Standard and Premium. I clicked Compare Features and got to here, which says I have to visit the Server 2008 web site to find out more about the “Server 2008 product technologies”. I click the link, and now I am looking at info on Server 2008 R2 – only I know already that SBS is based on the original Server 2008, not the R2 version. It’s not clear where to go next, other than back to Google.

The prosecution rests your honour.

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