Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thoughts on Apple versus Adobe

…This post is a bit of a departure from my typical macro econ theme but what the heck.

Today, Steve Jobs answered the recent criticisms over the lack of support for Adobe’s Flash technology on Apple’s mobile platform with a sharp and truly cutting response.

Looking at today’s trend for AAPL versus ADBE it appears that the market is siding with Jobs.

From a one point of view (particularly that of a customer), the case Jobs makes is pretty compelling particularly in light of Apple’s present position in the mobile marketplace.

Apple currently holds a premium spot for mobile platforms with its compelling iPhone, iIPad and iPod products and tightly controlling the application architecture clearly allows them, as Jobs argued, to maintain the highest level of quality (power usage) and consistency (application features) across all applications written for their platform.

Jobs argues that the open standards supported by their mobile platform (HTML5, CSS, Javascript and H.264) are sufficient for enabling access to the entirety of the web (ostensibly implying the ongoing evolution of the web as well) including rich content (video, audio) and rich applications (web 2.0 apps).

Further, Jobs details some specific issues that are common when a platform vendor allows support for unfettered application technologies such as slow pass-through of underlying system features through the application technology and stability.

In a sense, Jobs is saying that they have created the platform for the future, it supports fundamental open standards and they have learned from past experience (with Adobe and other third parties) and thus are not about allow unfettered technologies to inhabit their platform.

From a developers point of view though, Jobs argument raises some series issues.

First, Jobs is specifically arguing that Flash is an old, proprietary (closed) and unstable (crashy) technology and further goes on to accuse Adobe of being an inattentive development shop.

Aside from being fighting words (particularly scathing coming from the head of the outfit currently associated with the highest quality technology products), Jobs accusations reveal his intentions for emerging web technologies.

Jobs is essentially indicating that if Apple doesn’t deem a technology to be “open” and compatible with their platform at a fundamental level at which Apple would specifically implement the technology on their platform (i.e. the way they support HTML5, CSS, Javascript, and H.264) themselves, then it likely will not be a technology that they will support.

This has pretty significant consequences for emerging technologies particularly those related to Rich Internet Applications like Flash Flex and Microsoft Silverlight.

Although Apples mobile platform supports HTML5, CSS and Javascript those are only some technologies suitable for development of the next generation of web applications thus, the reason that both Flash Flex and Silverlight are currently being widely adopted by the market.

For the iPhone, IPad and IPod if you want a richer experience for your user that can currently be delivered though HTML based technologies your only option is writing a “native” Cocoa application likely using Objective-C… a seriously antiquated development technology (like stepping back to the stone age of mid-1990s development languages).

Further, if a developer wants to support their application on both a typical OS and Apple mobile platform they now have to either choose to write the application using only HTML based technologies to, more or less, cover all platforms or bring in a Objective-C Cocoa developers to write a specific application for their Apple mobile offering.

For application developers there are some serious limitations and costs associated to both avenues.

Finally, Jobs has in the past stated that Java will never be implemented for the iPhone (although there are backdoors that allow for Java on the iPhone) even though Java is as open and stable a technology as you can get.

This appears to conflict with Jobs Flash argument and really yields the sense that Jobs simply wants to have complete control over the applications that run on his mobile platform.