May 13, 2010

Apple vs Adobe

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="382" caption="Big Brother from Apple's 1984 Ad"]Apple 1984[/caption]

It's time to take a stand on the battle between Apple vs Adobe.

Short Answer : Adobe. Read on for the long answer

Apple's position in the debate is that Adobe's Flash is closed, a battery hog, performs badly on mac/iphone, not touch oriented and that it will create developer fragmentation (developers would be at Adobe's mercy to pick up new features provided by iPhone OS). Read this in much more detail on apple's site, but I think I've covered the major points of the argument.

Adobe responded to this with a public "We Love Apple" campaign. That got a +1 from me for sheer wit, passive sarcasm, and a poetic counterattack. But do the various points it's founders make hold up?

Let's look at Apple's points, and Adobe's reply to them.


Apple's contention is that Flash is closed, while their little-boy HTML5 (an industry open standard) is Open.

I think Joe Hewitt captured the point I want to make quite well:

I’ve been hard on Flash, but we should all thank Macromedia/Adobe for 10 years of picking up the slack of the W3C, Microsoft, and Mozilla.

I've worked on Flash (back at version 5). It was a wonderful tool, and being interested in Animation and Programming, allowed me to create various things very easily with some drawing and ActionScript. It had no competition. From what I hear from respectable sources, the technology has only improved since.

HTML5 is a nascent technology. For all these years Adobe's (ex-Macromedia's) technology kept the more-dynamic-content needs of the web filled. While I abhor the jumpy, stroke inducing Flash ads on the net, I recognize them as only being a small part of the role it played on the web. It allowed the creation of beautiful content, like you can see at

The web was quite happy to accept Flash when there was no alternative. Adobe respected this, and provided groundbreaking tools to create flash content. As it states in it's reply, the file formats and specifications are open. So .fla, .swf, etc could potentially be created via other tools. No competitor could match the power of Adobe's Flash IDE. Sure, the formats were Adobe's and they had a head start, but it's been a decade since these technologies were born.

I'm OK with proprietary tools, when the underlying file formats are open. You can create a bitmap with Gimp or Photoshop. What I admire is Adobe didn't employ Microsoft-esqe owning of both the format and the tool, as the latter did with their document formats. Adobe won on their tool's technical merits, and that should be commended. Apple is looking to win this argument simply on business tactic of blindly rejecting competing technology. This is a shitty (and bone-headed) move.

Battery Hog, Bad Performance

Apple claims Flash is a battery hog. There's no reason not to accept this. Adobe, via it's reply, agrees, by pointing out that performance has improved, as it now uses hardware acceleration.

Adobe also points out that Apple did not provide necessary APIs until recently to make hardware acceleration possible. If this is true, and I don't see a reason otherwise, Adobe did alright in my books. How can Apple complain about the lack of a feature, when they didn't provide the means for implementing it.

Of course, another point to note would be Adobe's reply rings hollow. Mac has only recently gone primetime.. it was delegated to a sub-5% market share until the recent Mac OSX releases. Adobe perhaps saw no need to invest in such a small part of the pie. Linux has API to access HA, and Flash on my Ubuntu x64 still sucks. Could it be that Linux has too small a market-share for Adobe to care?


This is judgment call. Yes, Flash has had many vulnerabilities published. However, I don't think it's on a scale to warrant it's elimination from a platform. It's advantages far exceed the negative of the vulnerabilities.

It should also be noted that exploiters go after the big fish. Microsoft suffers with Windows. So does Adobe with Flash. Adobe has maintained a good record of fixing issues, and issuing updates. This is as it should be.

Not Touch/Multitouch oriented

This is just a silly argument. Of course Flash content hasn't been written for multitouch. Here's some news.. so wasn't HTML and AJAX content prior to Iphone and Android. The web evolves. So do interfaces and tools.

Adobe announced they would make "the best tools in the world for HTML5". Adobe better. It's in their interest to do so, and their argument on building the best tools on open standards gains more weight. They seem to have bet on technical innovation so far on all products they make, and there's no reason to change direction. The practice works.

If Flash were on iPhone, you can bet the content written on it would support, and indeed be optimized, for touch.

Will Fragment Developers, and put them at Adobe's mercy

This is is most telling of all of Apple's points. Apple, by this argument, accepts that Adobe has very good tools, and a huge community that depends on these tools. They're scared Adobe would attract more developers than their own. In effect, developers for it's platform would generate business for a different vendor.

I think Apple is wrong here in their assumption that Adobe would not pick up new features. With millions of developers buying your tools, a good way of selling more tools would be to implement features developers want. The market would take care of this. Apple seems to think it wouldn't.

So what's Apple's move? Outright ban of non-Apple tools. That should be enough right?

Unfortunately, this move by apple is by far the biggest "bad thing" in all of the above. It shows their openness arguments were paragraph-fillers. They proped openness up an altar, only to take a big dump on it afterwards.

Imagine if Intel only allowed developers to write for their chips on Assembly and C. "That's the only way you'll get access to all underlying features", they would say. "Those Pythoners have not yet implemented this cool new stack counter we added. You want to use our shiny new stack counters, right?"

Free and open specifications and standards are more important than open software. The former will lead to the latter, and competition would be on technical merit alone. I dont grudge Adobe the massive amounts of money it makes by producing wonderful tools that make creating content easy. I love open source, but I can live with a technically better solution, when an open source solution doesn't cut it.

Apple's letter, constantly sprinkled with ideas that don't stand introspection, reads like a call to arms. Adobe's response is a far more rational and level-headed take.

Jon Stewart said it right. Apple, go take a look at your 1984 Ad. Then take a look at your iPhone store, look at your dev SDK, look at the guy whose porn app you blocked, look at a competing app by google you were too scared to accept, and tell me: Are you the girl in red shorts, or "The Man" on the screen?