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It's About Time: Adobe Divests Itself From iPhone OS

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Adobe (s adbe) still plans to release its Flash CS5 development tools in support of Apple’s iPhone (s aapl), but in a blog post, Adobe’s product manager for Flash, Mike Chambers, writes: “[W]e are not currently planning any additional investments in that feature.” I read that as Adobe finally throwing in the towel, acknowledging that Apple doesn’t want, nor will 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’s been prolonged by Adobe in the hopes that Apple would back down and give people a choice as to what they want to use on their handsets. But whether it likes it or not, Adobe has to hitch its ride to another wagon, just the latest fallout from the “open vs. closedbattle.

Rallying cries of “we want choice” are understandable, but ignore the fact that Apple has a choice, too. Just like any other company that manufactures goods, Apple gets to choose what — and what doesn’t — go into its products. Which means the consumer is left to decide what it wants most: the polished but controlled ecosystem of Apple that leverages web standards or a competing handset that offers those same standards plus Adobe’s upcoming Flash products.

The consumer may not have to look much farther than Google’s Android (s goog) 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 statements it makes related to that delivery date. (Note: I’ve asked Adobe which other platforms will see Flash 10.1 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, VP of engineering for Android, who writes:

“Partnerships 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 of the fence. And developers that use Adobe’s toolset will still have a large audience for their apps on other platforms. The more immediate impact could be that Apple pulls the existing iPhone apps created with CS5 — Chambers says there are “100+ on the store today,” which is fewer than I expected.

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13 Responses to “It's About Time: Adobe Divests Itself From iPhone OS”

    • MyOpinion

      This too would be banned by Apple’s new SDK language:
      “3.3.1 — Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).”

      Apple is exerting explicit control over how apps must be written for the iDevices. As others have pointed out, this is really no different than if Apple changed the iTunes license to say that only music that was created with Garage Band may be sold in the store.

      It will be interesting to see how this ultimately plays out for the broader development community. Will they continue to write apps for a single platform (iDevice) or will they choose to look to other platforms that allow them to write once – run on many.

  1. “controlled ecosystem of Apple that leverages web standards or a competing handset that offers those same standards plus Adobe’s upcoming Flash products.” as in “Android can do more than iPhone”- thanks for a talking point when convincing an upgrading Razr user to go Android instead of iPhone

  2. Hi Kevin,

    I think it is important to point out that the Packager for iPhone does not launch other executable code on the iPhone. This packager creates a native iPhone executable, without the use of any interpreter. With that said, your statements about a sleeping volcano do not seem accurate, considering the recent updates to iPhone OS 4 SDK terms are what effect the Packager for iPhone.

    Thanks, Josh

    • Josh, thanks for clarifying the Packager for iPhone. Ultimately, the timeline and history here is really the focus — Apple has continued to write or modify language that made it evident Adobe-created code wouldn’t be welcome on iPhone OS.

      Thus “this issue isn’t a sleeping volcano that is only now exploding”, i.e.: the recent SDK terms are just one of many signs of this situation.

      • Kevin, it may be easy to say that “Adobe-created code wouldn’t be welcome on iPhone OS” now that Apple has further changed their SDK terms. At the time Adobe began development of the packager for iPhone, it was only clear that Apple had the say over whether the Flash Player would be allowed in their browser; there was no language about native iPhone applications coming from non-XCode supported languages. It is hard to predict whether another entity will change its legal terms for developing applications ahead of time. Adobe has a lot of smart people, but I don’t think we have any clairvoyants.

      • Josh, that’s a fair and valid point. I think I’d see the picture differently if I knew that representatives from both Apple and Adobe spoke and came to a publicly acknowledged agreement as partners. Instead, the perception is that Adobe only looked at Apple language in agreements and then made assumptions to move forward. I’m not saying that’s the case, of course, but that’s the perception. And if those partnership discussions did happen and Apple steered Adobe wrong… well, like I said — I’d see the situation very differently.