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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Adobe the platform company that relies on other platforms.

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In my twitter feeds I’ve been reading a lot of mixed opinions on Adobe, and given I often weigh in on all things Adobe, I thought I’d write down a few of my ideas on where I would take Adobe if I were CEO of the day and was talking on stage to the staff within (now that I don’t work for Microsoft I can express these opinions more in the light of day).

PDF vs SWF?

We are tools based company at present, we can replenish our market every two or so years, but this isn’t going to sustain us for too long. We need to spear heard the Enterprise in a way that allows our file formats to take on more of a de facto standard, much like PDF has today. We can expand more on the concept of “what is a document” further through the use of Flash technology. We however, must approach this concept from a completely different angle.

We must consolidate the two formats into one, but we must also provide developers and designers a HTML like experience in producing these formats. Our mandate is not to pick sides on the plug-in vs HTML battle, our mandate is to absorb both ideas at the same time.

We can provide interactive documents to those who want to go beyond the limitations of HTML today. We also want to enable these same documents to exist on the internet for those who don’t subscribe to this philosophy and a degraded experience isn’t a bad thing, it’s a palatable compromise. In other words, we need to ensure our future file formats work in all devices but done in a way that our tooling is the most superior.

HTML is Flash’s friend.

Browsers are our biggest competitor and at the same time ally. Enabling Flash technology to be injected as the preferred rendering engine for HTML5 will require us to open the runtime more. Instead of all or nothing approach which we have today, we should instead provide a turnkey based approach to this equation. At a core level, Flash should respect the current HTML standards we have today but provide a hook point for us to make additional changes on that suite different file formats outside of HTML.

HTML is still not portable, providing companies the ability to take their web like experiences into other software is our mission. Again, our PDF methodology is much the same as what HTML is today, the difference is we provide a much richer experience in around presenting document based experiences. We stand a greater chance of allowing Microsoft Office works to produce interactive experiences that can work on multiple platforms and devices whilst stil adhering to intended experience being asked from such workers.

We must invite companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple to help shape this future as they do not want to be the tooling providers for our core audience – designers. They want the developer base and its a highly contest arena that we simply don’t have the manpower or finances to contest.

User Experience is our future.

Our customer base represent majority of all user interface design, we should and continue to own the way forward for these types of customers to move the human race forward. Our job is not to compete with Apple, our job is enable tools that empower companies like Apple to do better and more agile user experience assembly. If Apple want an Appstore, our job should of been to provide a tool that enables their customers to produce experiences for their devices – to a specification they need and we can respect. If Microsoft Windows Mobile 7 needs our help to enable their customers a tooling experience that helps design audiences create the next generation of mobile apps, we should be there. We shouldn’t be the platform in which runs these experiences, we don’t have permission to do so.

We are not a platform company. We are a creative experience company.

Our job is simple, provide the missing workflow required in order for platform companies to succeed, meaning we want to empower our design audiences to design for these platforms. Flash technology is simply our portable rich format, it is not a platform – it could be, but we aren’t able to sustain this investment for much longer if we should head down that path.

Humility

.When a company like Apple or Microsoft rejects us, act with humility. End the conversation with “I think we agree to disagree on this one”, finger pointing and passive/aggressive assaults will not yield answers to why they reject us – it simply puts more distance between us.

Instead, listen, understand why they are forbidden to use us in context to what we are doing above. Should Microsoft or Apple wish to compete with us in the tooling space around what we produce, then its clear we are doing something wrong. We are limiting their potential and that is the heart of where we must compete. Silverlight and QuickTime should never of existed, we should have had a solution in place that was palatable to their needs. We failed in that regard, none the less enabling Flash Tooling like experiences to produce Silverlight or QuickTime is where we can regain our strengths. Expression Studio is our competitor not Silverlight.

Summary.

Adobe have squandered a lot of potential in the last 10 years (inclusive of Macromedia). Their staff are aggressive behind the scenes and they often remind me of the “old skool Microsoft” where Kill Sun Kill Sun type attitude ended badly for the said company. Their assaults on both Apple and Microsoft has continued to backfire, yet there doesn’t appear to be any outwardly change in behavior. It’s time they consolidated their efforts into a consistent message behind PR / Marketing spin.

They own the design audience’ at the moment, this however is likely to change at the rate the current competitive climate is looking. Products like Acrobat and Flash are file format stories only, Photoshop, Fireworks etc are tooling to enable these file formats and others to succeed. LiveCycle and Coldfusion are a distraction and should be culled or handed off to the open source community grow on their own and in a manner that is passive to other brands.

Adobe are skating on some very thin ice with all the large powerhouse brands. They require permission for Flash / Acrobat etc to exist, and whilst on the PC there has been great success but those days are starting to wind down. Everytime an operating system is released on a device/pc, Adobe is not there. Customers are easily swayed to new things, and at the rate of where the industry is going, lock-outs are an acceptable process today.

Its easy for me to guess that Windows Mobile 7 will not ship Flash, it directly couter-acts Silverlight’s existence should it. iPhone/iPad/iNext will not ship Flash as Apple see no value in providing such experiences and more to the point video online is the contested space for Apple/Microsoft/Google – so sacrificing that for Flash isn’t palatable at this stage for all involved.

OSX, Windows 7 and beyond doesn’t come with Adobe technology pre-installed now, the saving grace right now is there is a deeply seeded saturation of file formats such as SWF on the web today. That being said, the more lock-outs that occur the less powerful this argument becomes – as it puts downward pressure on webmasters to start considering avoiding using these or albeit provide alternative file formats to solve the said problems.

Adobe need to now ready, aim, fire and less ready, fire, aim.

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Revolutionary Incremental UX Going unnoticed.

Friday I was on a flight from Perth to Melbourne and was watching the movie IRONMAN on my iPhone (3hr flight – welcome respite from Qantas’ usual propaganda TV). I love this movie for a number of reasons mostly because every time i see the FUI (Fantasy User Interfaces) it just gets my creative mojo going again. I find these types of Hollywood movies inspirational and firmly believe they bleed out into real life and affect UX designs world-wide.

One scene did catch my eye, it was a scene where the guy from Mad Money tells everyone to sell stocks in Stark industries.

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I chuckled at seeing this scene, as for me I can’t but help laugh at the fact here we have this fantasy based device that 3 years ago, made people drool at the very idea of its existence. Fast forward to today, Apple announces the iPad which is probably the closest looking device of this kind on the actual market and has received mixed reviews, mostly how it lacks innovation.

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Innovation, what does that mean? Wikipedia says:

The term innovation means a new way of doing something. It may refer to incremental, radical, and revolutionary changes in thinking, products .

Incremental and revolutionary are often not allowed to be used in the same sentence as they kind of fight with one another in terms of adhering to people expectations.

image For instance, I’ve often heard Microsoft Surface table being declared a “missed opportunity” and I can’t but help disagree with that remark. Today for instance I ordered a Dell Multi-Touch monitor and a new Dell Laptop with Windows 7. 1 year ago, it didn’t exist, today it does. Microsoft Surface did it’s job, it dared the mainstream hardware manufacturers to beat it in an open market place, it provided the necessary research and development skills to the Windows team to ensure multi-touch was baked into the next operating system (which has recently reported enormous growth potential). It’s expected by 2012, multi-touch devices are going to be as normal as a mouse/keyboard – yet, 5 years ago, it didn’t exist.

10 months ago, Silverlight was just a plug-in, today it’s a plug-in that sits within a browser but also has the option to pop out of the browser, sit on your desktop and then get this – have a browser within itself. It’s fast becoming a concept where you have browser meets desktop and the division between desktop client and browser start to blur.

Approx 2 years ago, Steve Ballmer wrote off the iPhone as just some luxury device that wouldn’t sell as well as folks believed it to. He was partially right, the iPhone hasn’t sold as much as people think, but what it did do was light a huge fire under the mobile device markets butts. Now, today, you’re being bombarded with “iPhone” envy based devices.

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My overall point is this, somehow we are owed more yet we don’t seem to take time out to pause and reflect on what we have before us. User Experiences is a prominent fixture in our daily lives now, the “good enough” approach is fast becoming taboo, we are innovating and we are doing it via revolutionary increments. The software industry is probably at its most exciting point in time, its the time when operating systems and devices need to bring more to the table than they have that or find ways to expose what they have in a more UX favored light (innovation is often also hidden deep within the bowels of existing technology, waiting to be exposed).

Steve Jobs this week allegedly called Adobe lazy and in the same breathe cited HTML5 as the future. I agree Adobe have been lazy and immature for quite some time (its the core of my frustration with the brand) but I disagree with HTML5. The reason I disagree with HTML5 as i feel it goes backwards in innovation and not forward, its an incremental growth spurt that is taking forever to land. What happens with HTML5 thereafter? what’s next?

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I’ll buy an iPad for the same reason it was shown in the movie IRONMAN as for me its going to be my interactive tv and newspaper in one. Fit for initial purpose to be exact. I bought a multi-touch capable computer now, because i want to implement some ideas I’ve had for quite some time, albeit implement my Fantasy UI.

I’ll continue to look at every device I can find that touches on User Experience and look at it from the lens of “What does it do? and what will it inspire its competitors to do?” and then judge it a success or failure. Incremental change needs to come from lessons learned.

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Links you should click on:

Learn to Appreciate Technology

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iPad is still missing iPlugin due to Compete wars

image I am currently sitting in a hotel in Perth, working on a presentation about Silverlight and at the same time like most people around the world, listening or reading as much information as I can find regarding the new Apple iPad.

Firstly, I like the device and it fits my needs well given I travel a lot and often want to read, watch movies and play stupid games like “Dig It” in Airports or Planes etc. It’s a great device fit for purpose with me, others may find it useless.

How you feel about the device aside, the part that left me uneasy is simply that this will be yet another device to ignore outside technology like Silverlight or Flash. My first instinct is wave my fist at Apple and plead with them to please allow a more open after-market add-on access much like Apple OSX does today.

It however isn’t really just Apple, its pretty much the entire industry today. There is such a competitive marketplace now in around folks trying to dominate the web for profit, that it’s in turn kind of stifled a lot of potential experiences that we as consumers could have.

iPad for example has a nice comfortable looking “surf the web on your couch” feel to it, but you’d probably spend about 20mins on the device before you start seeing a lot of whitespace with this little box in the middle, which represents “oops, this site uses Flash..oh well..” mentality attached to it.

Already your experience is reduced and is this the website it self’s fault or is it Apples?

I’d argue its both these two entities and also Adobe’s – and Microsoft’s etc.

I think what needs to happen going forward is a turnkey functionality approach to the plug-ins, in that unless something like this happens Apple will continue to protect their backyard from invasion of 3rd party plug-ins; it invites a lot of competitive threat to their vision. Microsoft will do the same with devices like XBOX 360 etc and Adobe will push Flash’s agenda well beyond the “it’s just a plug-in, honest” agenda as its no secret they want to own the UX Platform for the web – albeit SWF is the vNext HTML in allot of their eyes ( A vision which concerns Google, Apple and Microsoft).

Google just want you all to stay out of the plug-in space and stick to HTML as it’s more palatable to their business goals. HTML Zealots will cheer but I can’t but help think that HTML is so 1990’s and lacks depth around engaging experiences.

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This is all grand and its interesting to once be in the thick of this competitive nonsense, but in reality we are suffering from a technology stand-off. A lot of great concepts are being presented to the world today, but they are being narrowed down to an obvious competitive stink – disallowing the consumers to gain a richer experience with their chosen purchase.

I think the only way that this can work going forward, is that the plug-in providers such as Microsoft and Adobe probably need that turn-key approach to the products. In that instead of getting the whole hog Flash or Silverlight, you in turn get partial bits instead.

Why?

This enables companies like Google/Apple for example to show face and sacrifice a little to gain more, while at the same time it underpins Microsoft and Adobe’s vision further than what they have to play with today.

It also still allows websites like MSN, CNN etc to still have plug-in experiences and should have little or no impact to what they use the plug-ins for today. As lets face it, most of the broken experiences that you are blocked on in mainstream sites like this are either Video, Informative Slide like experiences or Ads. Are they using webcam? pixelshaders etc? no, not really.

It won’t happen though, as companies like Apple will continue to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It just is a shame that an opportunity like the iPad gets fumbled due to the current competitive landscape. As personally, I really don’t care if Flash, QuickTime or Silverlight wins out in the end. I just want to enjoy the experiences.

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