Apple today is a $43 billion annual revenue,
$240 billion market cap giant, give or take. Out of that value,
40% or so is riding on the iPhone, and Steve is clearly taking the company
to a direction where devices running the iPhoneOS will replace the Macs, so
that share is only increasing. Right now, they have more resources to do this
than anyone else in the world, and least legacy to worry about, given that
despite the rising market share and the title of leading laptop vendor,
computers running Mac OS X are still a minority market compared to all the
Windows powered devices from a legion of other makers.
The company's DNA, and Steve's personal experience over the past 25 years
has taught them that an integrated,
tightly controlled platform is something they are very good at, but that
earlier mistakes of not controlling the app distribution as well left them
weak. They're not going to repeat that mistake. And certainly they'll try to
ensure that not only do the iPhone and iPad have the best applications, but
that those applications are only available on Apple devices.
Adobe, despite their history of dominating many design and content
production software niches and a market cap of $18 billion, is tiny in
comparison. Furthermore, the
Flash platform is a visible but financially less relevant part of Adobe's
product portfolio (though exact share of Flash is buried inside their
Creative Solutions business segment). Even disregarding that Apple can, as the
platform owner, dictate whatever rules they want for the iPhoneOS, Adobe símply
can not win a battle of resources against Apple.
But this fight is not about Flash on the iPhone - it's about Apple's control
of the platform in general. Whether or not it's true, Apple believes tight
control is a matter of survival for them.
The technical argument
Apple wants to make it seem like they're doing this because Flash is bad
technology. As I wrote above, and so many others have described better than I
have, that's a red herring. It's always convenient to dress business decisions
behind seemingly accurate technical arguments ("Your honor, of course we'd do
that, but the tech just doesn't work!"). Anyway, let's look at that technical
side a bit.
First, lets get the simple bit out of the way. Flash is today most often
used to display video on web sites. However, this is not about video, and video
has never been Flash's primary point. It just happened to have a good install
base and decent codecs at a time in 2005 when delivering lots of video bits
started to make sense and YouTube came along to popularize the genre. In fact,
it was completely superior for the job compared to the alternatives at the
time, such as Real Player. The real feature, however, was that Flash was
programmable, which allowed these sites to create their own embedded video
players without having to worry about the video codecs.
By that time, Flash had already gained somewhat of a bad reputation for
being the tool with which some seriously horrible advertising content had been
made, so the typical way to make the web fast was to disable Flash content -
rendering most ads invisible. I'm pretty sure for many YouTube was the first
time there really was an incentive to have Flash in their browsers at all. That
is, unless you liked to play the casual games that already then were also often
created with Flash.
But that's all history, what about the future? Adobe certainly needs to take
quite a lot of the blame for the accusations leveled against Flash - in
particular, the way Flash content slows a computer down even when nothing is
visible (as in, the 10 Flash-based adverts running in a browser tab you haven't
even looked at in the last half an hour), or that yes, it does crash rather
frequently. Quite a few of those problems are being addressed by
Flash Player 10.1, currently in beta testing and to be released some time
in the next months. Too little, too late, says Apple, and many agree.
I would, too, except for the fact that despite the issues, Flash is still
the leading and best platform for rich web applications. It took that position
from Java because it was (and is) lighter and easier to install, and keeps that
position now against the much-talked-about HTML5 because the latter simply
isn't ready yet, and once it is, will still take years to be consistently
available for applications (that is, until everyone has upgraded their
browsers). Furthermore, it's quite a bit easier to create something that works
by depending on Flash 10 than to work around all the differences of Internet
Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera and so on.
But that's exactly what Steve is saying, isn't it? That these cross-platform
Flash applications simply can't provide the same level of sophistication and
grace as a native application on the iPad. Well, maybe that's true today. Maybe
it's even true after Adobe finally releases 10.1's mobile editions on the
Android. And given the differences in the scale of resources Apple and Adobe
can throw at a problem, maybe it's true even with Flash Player 10.2 somewhere
down the road.
But that doesn't matter. What matters is what developers do with the tools
given to them, because the tools themselves do nothing. There's plenty of
horrible crap in the ranks of App Store's 200,000 applications, and there's
plenty of brilliant things done with Flash and AIR. Among the best of the best,
which platform has the greatest applications? That's a subjective call that I
will let someone else try to answer.
I will say this: all technology is fated to be replaced by something better
later. At least ActionScript3 and Flash's virtual machine provide a managed
language that lets application developers worry about something else than
memory allocation. Sure, it wasn't all that hot until version 10, and still
loses to Java, but it sure is better than Objective-C. If we're now witnessing
the battle for platform dominance for the end of this decade, I sure would like
to see something else than late 80s technology at the podium.
The consumer position
Apple wants to provide the consumer a polished, integrated experience where
all pieces fit together, and most of them are made by Apple. The future of that
experience includes control of your data as well. Put your picture albums in
Apple's photo service, your music library in iTunes, your home video on iMovie
Cloud, and access it all with beatiful Apple devices. Oh, you don't want to be
all-Apple? Too bad. That's what you get.
Or, you can choose something where you'll have choice. If you believe Steve Jobs,
that choice is between dirt, smut and porn, but his interest is to scare
you back to Apple, so take that with a grain of salt. Me, I've never liked
being dictated to, so I'll be choosing the path where I can pick what I want,
when I want it. Sure, it'll mean I'll miss some of the polish (iPhone is by far
the nicest smart phone today, and the iPad sure feels sweet), but nevertheless,
I respect my freedom to choose more. Today, it means I'll choose Android, and
am looking forward to playing Flash games and using AIR applications on tablets
powered by it.