It's About Time: Adobe Divests from iPhone OS
When Adobe Systems (ADBE) announced Apr. 21 that it wouldn't support Flash development tools for Apple's (AAPL) iPhone in its new Creative Suite 5 software, the move amounted to Adobe throwing in the towel in the dispute between the companies.
In a blog post, Adobe's product manager for Flash, Mike Chambers, wrote that the company is "not currently planning any additional investments in that feature." Apple doesn't want, and won't allow, apps created with Adobe code on its mobile devices.
And although developers may feel otherwise, I believe Adobe is making the right decision. In fact, it probably should have made it sooner. Apple's developer agreement actually pointed out such restrictions last November: "An Application may not itself install or launch other executable code by any means, including without limitation through the use of a plug-in architecture, calling other frameworks, other APIs, or otherwise."
More recently, via the terms of its developer program license agreement, Apple reiterated the fact that it doesn't want any proprietary code running on its mobile devices. Simply put, this issue isn't a sleeping volcano that is only now exploding. It has been prolonged by Adobe in the hope that Apple would back down and give users a choice about what software they want to use on their iPhones.
The Open vs. Closed Battle
Rallying cries of "we want choice" are understandable, but Apple has a choice, too. Just like any other company that manufactures goods, Apple gets to choose what does and doesn't go into its products. Consumers are left to decide what they want most: the polished but controlled ecosystem of Apple based on Web standards or competing smartphones that offer those same standards plus Adobe's newest Flash products.
For that, consumers may not have to look much farther than Google's Android platform, which, by some measures, is growing faster than Apple's iPhone. While Adobe is committed to delivering Flash 10.1 before the end of June, the company continues to mention Android in its statements related to that delivery date.(I've asked Adobe which other platforms Flash 10.1 will support in the first half of the year but have not received a response.) Google, meanwhile, is rushing to support its Open Handset Alliance partner with a post on the Adobe blog by none other than Andy Rubin, Google's engineering vice-president for Android.
Rubin wrote that "[p]artnerships have been at the very heart of Android, the first truly open and comprehensive mobile platform, since we first introduced it with the Open Handset Alliance. Through close relationships with carriers, device manufacturers, developers, and others, Google is working to enable an open ecosystem for the mobile world by creating a standard, open mobile software platform. Today we're excited that, working with Adobe, we will be able to bring both AIR and Flash to Android."
With such public backing from Google, Adobe's situation doesn't appear as tenuous as it did earlier this week, although this future isn't written yet. Content providers that are hedging bets by offering video both in Flash and H.264 format will likely continue to do so—they can't afford to have their content unplayable on certain devices, so they'll play both sides. Developers that use Adobe's toolset will still have a large audience for their apps on other platforms.
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