Apple v. Adobe

Stay Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On

The Apple vs Adobe debate has been raging since the announcement that a change to the iPhone Developer Agreement, specifically section 3.3.1, would ban the Adobe Flash to iPhone App compiler. In fact, Adobe has already thrown in the towel on this, days after the tool launched with Creative Suite 5. The reasons for this are many and varied, but essentially it boils down to 3 main issues:

  1. Flash is not a web standard.
  2. Control over the features that developers use should not be dictated by a ‘meta-platform’, but by first party tools.
  3. Flash is buggy, crash prone and eats battery life like its going out of style. Especially on OS X.


While #2 is debatable, and may put certain ‘good citizens’ of the App Store ecology at risk, including Titanium, PhoneGap, and Unity 3D, all of which have apps created with/by those tools in the App Store today. #3 is bit harder to pin down, given that there is a complex set of circumstances that can lead to Flash crashing your browser or computer, but according to Apple and the crash data they collect semi-automatically from users when a problem occurs, Flash contributes to the largest number of crash reports for the OS X platform.

For me the real debate is Web Standards and Proprietary Software. I’ve been a web developer for many, many years. I started coding HTML when version 3 was in vogue and using PHP 3.0 betas before most developers had outgrown their cgi-bin for adding dynamic server side processing of their pages. Put simply, I have a bit of perspective on the industry that only a decade and a half of real-world experience can afford.

There were a number of times that I thought that I was missing out by not being a Flash Developer. The sweet animations, the integrated drawing/development environment, and Action Script (which has evolved to be a dialect of EMCA Script, the standard name for what you probably know as JavaScript) all seemed very attractive. There are two main reasons I never took up Flash in any serious manner: Accessibility/Findability of Flash content, and the drawing tools.

Flash’s Accessibility and Findability woes have a long and storied history, with only incremental improvements in the right direction. Sure you can, if you know what you’re doing, make the text in a flash movie findable by search engines, and selectable by users, but there are still a number of Accessibility Issues that you must over come in order to produce content that can be seen by users using assistive devices (i.e. screen readers, etc). And frankly, most of the Flash Developers I know don’t care about these issues as strongly as their Web Standards counterparts.

As for the drawing tools, I’ve always found them to be primitive, clunky and inexact. Indeed, most Flash Developers are probably using other Graphics Applications and importing them into the Flash authoring environment. But for a tool that produces visually rich “applications”, the drawing tools have hardly evolved since Macromedia owned the technology. This is more of a personal choice, as I felt limited by what I could do with Flash, while I know others feel the exact opposite.

Video, for the longest time, was one of the most difficult things to embed on the web. At the time, Windows Media and Quicktime were your too options. Both required browser plug-ins and player software installed on your machine. We generally would embed both versions, to ensure that *most* users could see it. Flash Video changed all that. Now we had a browser plugin with a very healthy install base that could play video. It was adopted very quickly, and coupled with the increasing bandwidth speeds, lead to such innovations as You Tube and our beloved Rick Roll. But this is changing.

HTML 5, once fully adopted by modern browsers will bring us a new tag, <video>, will provide an open, standards based approach to providing users videos. Combined with Open Source Video Codecs (the encode/decode instructions needed to turn a binary file into the moving images you see), such as the one Google recently announced will spur adoption rates and eventually push Flash off this hill. A number of major media players, including Youtube, Vimeo, Netflix and many others, have already begun to stand up html5 alternatives. This is huge, and an important distinction.

This may look like corporate rivalry, where Apple is using the growing market share of their iPhone/iPad platform to get revenge on Adobe, but there is a much larger issue at play. The future of the web will NOT come from proprietary technologies. They may fill in gaps, like Flash and Active X did in their day, but eventually the open web catches up and outdoes the proprietary technology in ways that are extremely more liberating to the developer AND the user. Flash is getting long in the tooth, and while adjunct platforms such as Flex and the Air Runtime may keep it relevant for a little while longer, the technology has already begun to jump the shark. Relevant, to the right set of developers at least, users could give a shit what is used to build a site as long as they can get at the content they want.

Steve Jobs said it best:

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

With all that he said in that letter, maybe Steven Jobs really does hate the App Store.

As the internet continues to move onto more and more devices, all capable of rendering the latest/greatest advancements in standard web technologies, such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, there is little room for bloated, buggy proprietary front-end technologies. The paradigm has shifted. The future is here. Its just not evenly distributed yet. And personally, I prefer to be on the right side of history.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Apple vs. Adobe

Original By: Mike Stimpson, Remixes by James Tryon

9 thoughts on “Apple v. Adobe

  1. Nice summary of this debate. Even though I knew the day of reckoning was coming eventually for Adobe and Flash it still feels like it came on suddenly for some reason (maybe it is just me). It will be interesting to see how Adobe responds to this from a technology perspective. I hope for their sakes they can do better then a “screw you Apple” statement again.

    • Adobe isn’t going anywhere. However, Adobe, and Macromedia before it, has never been that good at capitalizing on anything more than Visual Authoring Environments. If Flash Video hadn’t come along, this dialogue would have happened a lot sooner, had different voices, but the outcome would still be the same.

  2. Personally, flash should stay in animation. More then half the cartoon network shows are created or rendered to flash at some point. South Park was done in flash for a long time (and still might be). Stop trying to be a end all, fix all solution.

    Just get it off my web & take Dreamweaver with you.

  3. Steve Jobs is a very clever man, and has a great ability to hide things in plain sight.

    Flash has issues, of course it does, and personally I’ve not bought a Flash upgrade since Version5 and have no intention of doing so. But Steve Jobs is using percieved issues with the flash player to mask a few things.

    The flash player not being on the iPhone/Pad/Touch must be a blow to Adobe, but thats not where the problem here has arisen.

    The issue at hand, is to do with the new licensing restrictions placed on HOW we developers create applications on the iPhone/Pad/Touch. We can only code an iPhone app if we buy an SDK from Apple. We can only use that SDK on the latest version of Apple’s Operating System. And now we can only use Apple approved programs to write the code. That is some crazy crazy crazy amount of restrictions. And Steve Jobs has the cheek to talk about “proprietary” software?

    In honesty, if Microsoft did that can you imagine the uproar? Infact, if any company other than Apple, which have become masters at controlling their bad PR moves, had pulled this stunt, what would the reaction have been?

    I notice that Steve Jobs, nor anyone from Apple actually, have ever released any data to back up their claims about Flash being the number 1 cause of (insert excuse here), or infact any of their other claims. Its not that I doubt these claims at all, I’m quite ambivolent to them and wouldn’t be surprised if they were true; its just funny how they suddenly came out of the woodwork as soon as Adobe made it easier for people to make applications for the iPhone/Pad/Touch.

    We’ve had iPhone/Touches for 2.5 years now; where were these claims about Flash evil in all that time? Oh thats right, there weren’t any. Or if they existed, then they were under a file called “How to create a smokescreen…”

    Kev

    • While I agree with many of your points about how Steve has spun the issue in his favor, the bottom line for me is that Flash is a technology I can live with out. I don’t do enough graphics work to require the full Adobe Suite much longer, and have already been trialing various graphics apps to replace it. Once I do that, I won’t be forced to install Flash if I don’t want to. (Flash is required to run Photoshop, since some of its color menus are built IN Flash). Flash still has a place, see James Tryon’s comment above, but its place on the web, and especially the mobile web, is not one of them.

      They haven’t released the crash data, and I doubt Apple ever will. However, in my own experience, and in anecdotes that many of Mac using colleagues have shared with me, I can attest that many of the issues I’ve had with OS X have been related to the playback of Flash content. I’ve only experienced 3 Kernel Panics since owning a mac. 2 of them were caused by Flash.

      Adobe and Apple have a long and rocky history, and while some of their position against Flash is definitely rooted in these emotions, I’ve been Anti-Flash since 1996 and have recommended against using the technology for ANYTHING, save for video. Now that HTML5 is right around the corner, I won’t even have to recommend Flash for that task either. This is not a new position, and if you think that this position has been adopted by otherwise smart web developers just because Uncle Steve said so is to also say you’ve had your head in the sand and are willfully ignorant of the Web Standards movement who has rallied against the use of Flash and other browser plugin based “innovations” for many many years.

      I appreciate your comment, and thank you for participating in this conversation. Apple is by no means “right” about everything, but that doesn’t make his points against Flash any less true. The real debate, for me, is which video codec we should be using for , since H.264 is an Open Standard that is sadly patent-encumbered. Personally I’m rooting for Google’s VP8 codec, but the widespread deployment of H.264 hardware decoders is a key component of why its being seriously considered over Ogg Theora or other less patent-encumbered technologies.

      As for the section 3.3.1 changes, I may not like it, and it flies in the face of many of my own personal convictions, but if you want to play on that playground there are rules to follow. Then again, most of the Apps I have (except for the games) could easily have been created in HTML/CSS/JS and deployed via Mobile Safari, and while Flash isn’t invited to that party either, it still gives plenty of freedom to get your content on to the iDevices. But you do yourself a disservice by claiming that the SDK costs money. The $99 Developer Tax only kicks in if you want to deploy to the App Store. You can obtain and develop with the iPhone OS SDK for free and even deploy your apps, albeit in a limited fashion, without ever paying Apple for the privilege. FUD from either side of the debate does not forward the conversation one bit. I can separate my principles from the practical application of those principles, and while I will continue to fight for MORE open standards, the adoption of those standards takes a lot more than just wishing it so.

      ~e

  4. This is a lovely, calm discussion of a good portion of the issues here. Flash has been a terrific and necessary transition technology. Eric, you and I both date back to the ur-Net. I started coding Web pages by hand in 1994 in a text editor (and, er, now code them in 2010 by hand in a text editor, but they’re more powerful!).

    Flash was the only reasonable, cross-browser, cross-platform way to accomplish a host of interesting interactive things. You could devote your life to JavaScript in, like 2002, and create sites that would work in varying ways everywhere, or buy into the Adobe view, and build Flash presentations that worked generally well, generally everywhere. That was pretty powerful.

    I still see Flash as having a distinct role, but it’s no longer critical. There will be a long, long period in which Flash is vital–maybe as long as 10 years–during which many kinds of things that we relied on Flash for will be summoned up through open Web standards supported in the majority of updated browsers. In five years, maybe less, nearly everyone with a robust Internet connection will be running a browser that’s capable of the latest and greatest.

    At that point, we’ll see an inflection. By then, I hope Adobe has developed super-killer transition tools, to let its Flash developers produce content that can be read in many different ways, and deployed in the best way for the given user experience.

    I keep wondering why Adobe isn’t talking about HTML5, CSS3, AJAX, and so forth. It will support all that. It should be talking about it now. Except that might undermine its short-time, rearguard effort to protect Flash revenue and hegemony.

    • Excellent points, Glenn. I may be “Anti-Flash” for various personal reasons, but its importance of getting us to where we are today is beyond doubt, in my mind. The problem with HTML5/CSS3/Ajax is that its hard to generate that kind of stuff from an authoring environment. Having used Dreamweaver many, many moons ago, I can attest to what generated code looks like, especially when left to Adobe tools (or at the time Macromedia). Its a complex thing to get right — there are just too many moving parts and as soon as you deviate from the cookie cutter solutions, even a little bit, they tend to break down quickly, but if they can generate Objective-C, I imagine they could kick it up a notch and allow their tools to create something that doesn’t require a plugin to execute.

      ~e

      • Yeah, I switched back to handcoding after a few years of using GoLive (which I adored) and trying Dreamweaver (which just thinks differently than I do). Between templates, CSS coding (for which I use CSSEdit for interactive testing), and AJAX, I just can’t rely on anything but handcoding.

        It seems so precious and 17th Century guild-like to have to be handcrafting HTML, even if it’s for templates that can represent 100,000 different pieces of content. I’d love to believe a tool could be written that could produce reasonable code, reasonably cleanly.

        • We can dream can’t we?

          TextMate + CSSEdit pretty much ensure that I’ll stay on OS X for the foreseeable future even if 50% of my time is spent on the command line.

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