Blog Post

Commentary: Things Just Got Ridiculous in the Apple/Adobe Conflict

When The Steve talks, people listen. This includes the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. Both want to weigh in on section 3.3.1 of the iPhone OS developer agreement. Although the agreement has been out for weeks, the Adobe/Apple conflict has now found the eye of multiple agencies in Washington according to this NY Post rumor.

Have they been under a rock the past three years? Didn’t the FCC inquiry regarding Google Voice (s goog) get the iPhone on their radar? No. But apparently Steve’s letter got them all excited.

Their “concern” (if the NY Post rumor is true) is that somehow Apple (s aapl) is “forcing” developers to use only Apple approved development environments and therefore are locking out companies like Adobe (s adbe) from the iPhone app development platform. Talk about missing the point! There’s a heck of a lot more important things concerning the iPhone for the government to inquire about.

Of all the concerns to have…

I don’t think it’s a major stretch to say most iPhone developers are much more concerned about Apple actually approving their apps rather than what development environment is used to write the apps. Apple wants stable and reliable iPhone apps and by restricting the development tools, it protects its market share by protecting the iPhone and insuring developers don’t use middleware like Adobe’s Flash cross-compiler. Apple’s terms are clearly stated in the developer agreement and developers don’t have to develop apps for the iPhone. There are plenty of other platforms out there. Developers, of course, can use “web apps” which were the only type of apps available the first year of the iPhone. The mystery and randomness behind which apps are approved and which are either not approved or put in purgatory (Google Voice) hasn’t become a concern of either the DOJ or FTC.

If this, why not that?

If these agencies want a piece of the iPhone pie, how about looking at other aspects of the iPhone ecosystem? Apple isn’t just locking out Adobe from iPhone development, it locks out other companies from various parts of the iPhone OS as well. The Fed got all in a huff back in the late 1990s about users being able to choose the default browser and search engine on the Windows platform, but iPhone users are stuck with only a limited choice between Google and Yahoo searches on their iPhone. Browser choice is limited as well. Sure, you can use an app like Opera, but if you want to make it your default app for web links you might as well go pound sand. Why is this limitation of choice OK on the iPhone but not in an OS like Windows?

While the Feds are looking at the bundling issue, why not open an inquiry into the bundling of iLife with all new Macs? As a buyer, if I want to use, say Adobe Photoshop Elements or Premiere Elements, I still have to have iLife installed. I can’t buy a Mac without it. Other products like Adobe Reader are completely unnecessary on the average consumer Mac. Same goes for Google’s products such as Picassa or Chrome. AOL will want their 2 cents when AOL Instant Messenger and Netscpe were supplanted by Safari and iChat. When Microsoft does these “forced defaults” on Windows machines, it’s been a subject of inquiry, but when Apple does this on the iPhone and the Mac platform, how is it not a concern? Mess with Flash though, and you have two federal departments jockeying for inquiry rights!

To even consider going after Apple for any antitrust issues is outrageous when they have less than a majority of the market as Charles reported recently. How can any company be accused of anti-competitive behavior when they don’t even have a majority of said market?

These agencies, of course, are also ignoring how Adobe Flash became the preeminent multimedia format on the Internet: through their purchase of Macromedia as well as other buyouts that killed all other competitors to Flash. Microsoft’s Silverlight pales in comparison to the ubiquity of Flash on the Internet. The DOJ had their chance to weigh in on this issue back in 2005 when they didn’t object to the Adobe purchase of Macromedia. The fact that the iPhone won’t ever run Flash apps is the DOJ’s and Adobe’s own fault. They had their chance to get involved. They made this problem and Apple’s fixing it.

What is this really about? An argument about multiple federal bureaucracies trying to make a name for themselves by attacking a popular product. Apple has done nothing wrong here and section 3.3.1 is mild compared to other things Apple has done. Maybe some powerful federal bureaucrat’s kid is really upset at not being able to play Facebook games like Farmville on their iPhone, and thus, here we are.

53 Responses to “Commentary: Things Just Got Ridiculous in the Apple/Adobe Conflict”

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  2. My rant on the subject is at:

    Not only has Apple done nothing wrong, I would submit that Apple is doing us all a service by forcing alternatives to Adobe Flash. As someone in the digital marketing business, my view has been that Flash is expensive, buggy and nondiscoverable by search engines. But, Flash has been largely the only game in town for rich media and advertising content. Apple’s refusal to sign on will hopefully generate development in HTML 5 and possibly force Adobe to clean up its own house.

  3. David McKnight

    Lots of opinion, here, but I seriously wonder how many who spout the anti-competitive flak have a clue about what the law actually says? Any lawyers in the audience, who might actually know what they’re talking about?

    If you review the literature on exclusionary practices, it appears to be designed to protect competition — not competitors. It seems to me with all the other products on the smart phone market, competition is not hurt, here, even while Adobe may be. However, I’m not an attorney. YMMV.

    And, has anyone considered that market forces are in play? If users were so bummed that they couldn’t get Flash on the iPhone or iPad, they wouldn’t buy them. Apparently that’s not the case. If developers were so frustrated that they couldn’t effectively build apps and sell them in the App Store, there wouldn’t be so many of them already there.

    I think this is a non-issue. And Perhaps it should be the responsibility of the complainant (Adobe; a developer?) to make a significant case of violation of antitrust law before the government should get involved.

    In the interest of full disclosure, my primary PC is a Dell laptop. My smartphone is a Samsung Ace on the Sprint network, running WinMo 6.1 (I think). I do have a couple of older Macs on my home network, and like ’em — but they don’t get a ton of use by me.

  4. Derrick

    I work for the federal government. The issue is simple, the government is behind the curve when it comes to technology. The people making these inquiries and making decisions don’t truly understand technology or the ramifications of decisions they make regarding technology companies.

    Essentially what you have is a company blowing the whistle or making a complaint giving their version of facts and with a limited understanding these government agencies launch “inquiries” and basically never do squat.

    They sure do a lot of “inquiring” but I’ve yet to see any action.

    Now with regard to Apple they’re dead wrong. Period. Flash isn’t exactly “open” and yes they have monopolized internet video, but Apple is being ridiculous. Why not let people enjoy their phones the way they want to enjoy their phone. If someone wants to install the flash plugin, let them. If a dev wants to develop using Adobe tools, so freakin’ what. Let the consumer choose to whether or not they wish to download and install that app or not.

    This is why I gave up my iPhone. I need/want options. I want options as to what my phone looks like. I want the option of having a real physical keyboard or not, I want to install apps from whatever source I choose, customize my phone the way I want, etc etc. I think for the average consumer the iPhone is great and these restrictions probably do a lot to cut back on genius bar visits from this “average” consumers.

    Either way, I enjoy watching Apple drive developers to the Android platform. Eventually the iPhone craze will wear off and people will see that there are other options that are just as good and most better than the iPhone.

  5. James

    Flash was a toy until they supported video streaming. Remember the media player wars? QuickTime, Real, Windows Media Player, etc., etc.

    It truly sucked when every video demanded a new player and or updates. When Flash started streaming video they ended the war.

    But Flash is buggy and full of security holes. Just ask the guys in your IT Security departments how many times they had to patch Flash in the last couple of years.

    Flash is poorly implemented on OSX. Adobe didn’t port it properly. They took shortcuts to keep it easy for them and sacrificed the end user experience. This is the same with their creative suites on the Mac. IphoneOS is a mini OSX so what makes you think it will be any better on an iPad vs a Mac?

    Apple has tested Flash on iPhone and perhaps iPad and their engineers ripped it apart and showed Steve just how bad it really is inside. They explained the high CPU usage and the resulting battery robbing bloat.

    Adobe needs to get with the program and start producing quality over cross platform ease of update and distribution.

  6. Bart Hanson

    Hit the nail square on the head methinks. I have been watching this from afar (NZ) and have had my doubts about Apple’s intentions. Job’s explanatory letter cleared things up for me. While I may still have serious reservations about Apple’s walled garden within the App store, if Apple want to LIMIT their devices they certainly can. You cannot force benevolence. Is the Kindle a crime because it has no web browser at all? Of course not. I happened to jail break my my new iPhone yesterday and installed Terminal via Cydia for free. The fact I can do that easily means Apple have no case to answer.

  7. superlinkx

    Overall I must say this was a fairly balanced article. Its refreshing to see someone who can look at something critically without saying something should or shouldn’t be done based on brand loyalty. Personally, I think Apple should be investigated for unfair business practices, including the infamous 3.3.1. But that’s just me.

    In the end, Apple seems to get away with a lot because they don’t have a majority per se, even though they do a lot of things that are dishonorable and outright damaging. I think its a crime for a business to openly attack another business. Call it what you will, but it doesn’t look good on anyone. Truth or not.

    Also, for those who think an open market == open source, that is quite ignorant. PCs in fact do have an “open market” in the sense that anyone can develop for them and distribute their software freeley on any market they choose. The fact that there is no alternative app store for iPhone, (legal anyway) means that Apple does own a monopoly on iPhone apps. This may not fall under any laws explicitly yet, but I’m sure eventually it will come back to haunt them. If they let people install apps from other sources under their own liability, then there would be no problem.

    That is why I like Android’s approach. Most use the market as that is the best way to get recognized, but no one has too. You can distribute an app by email if you want, and the end user has to check a box that says they want third party apps, and that explains it could be harmful. Android also always gives a list of services and privacy settings used by the app, which also aids in protection.

    Anyways, great article, I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I hope Apple eventually gets things sorted out better. I may not like them, but I hope they can at least make things better for their developers/users. In the end, they will win if they do.

  8. Shane

    This is prickly issue at the best.

    I agree, been stuck with safari because “it would confuse the user” is a lame excuse at best, having said that, for what I do, I’m non fussed over it.

    Actively blocking 3rd party middle ware, is generally only slightly annoying but I can see other groups who might be effected other then adobe (checkout the torque gaming engine).

    Apple has had a restriction on 3rd party api’s since day one, this makes it difficult to rapidly develop more advance apps from scratch (unless you’ve got a bunch of your own api’s lying around) – see cover flow for example (developers aren’t allowed to use the apple implementation and have become reliant on open-source alternatives)

    Would flash degrade the experience, probably, given the memory restrictions, is it up to apple to decide. No. Knock your self out warning people, but do they, at the end of the day, have the right to tell you what experience you should have? That’s a nice ethical question of ownership…who actually does own the hardware? And then, what am I paying for?

    Off track.

    If you want to attack apple for anti-trust issues, take a long hard look at the app store. They own 100% of the distribution market. Users and developers have NO choice what so ever. Argue all you like, I agree apple is doing a good thing in concept to ensuring the quality of the apps being made available (fart apps?), but at the end of the day, is controlling the only source the only solution? What about signing? So if I download an app that isn’t signed by apple, it’s all on my head if it wipes my phone, pc, half the internet and eats all the food in the fridge.

    Love the iphone, appreciate apple, but they need to loosen their grip a little and realize that their customers aren’t nearly as stupid as they appear to think they are.

    • I like the idea of having “signed” apps like Microsoft has signed drivers. Apple can even warn you about the app and created an unsigned sandbox. I’d love the choice of which apps to load and live a bit in the danger zone.

  9. skips

    If you read the various accounts of this “discussion” between the FTC and the Justice Department, it is relatively clear that neither really believes that there is a problem. If they did, they would open an investigation. If both thought there was a problem, both would investigate. It is quite clear here that someone complained about Apple. To meet the requirement of “due diligence,” these organizations need to determine if their rules have been broken. Rather than waste money by both investigating, they are trying to determine which of them is most likely to have an issue and will have that organization do the investigation.

    OTOH, there is probably more merit to the suggestions that the real concern is Apple’s limiting the information that advertisers can extract from your browsing experience. Apparently the iPad does not provide or allow content providers to establish unique identities. Thus it is not possible to measure the number of iPads actually in use, the way advertisers can determine the number of PCs and what OS they use by inserting unique “cookies” into the browser’s storage.

  10. How can any company be accused of anti-competitive behavior when they don’t even have a majority of said market?

    Anti-competitive behaviour has nothing to do with market size, it has to do with behaviour. Market size may be or become an aggravating issue and can be the cause or the purpose of the behaviour, but the two concepts are separate — as they should be.

  11. Excuse me? There is a company that invents an awesome device that everyone wants to buy and use, and now everyone is whining because they don’t get a share of the pie?

  12. In 2003 I was requested to investigate if my company would/could put a web browser in a digital TV set. There was a whole lot of technical problems, but Flash instability was certainly an very important issue.

    No single customer would accept his TV set chrashing and rightfully so. But consider there are tens of megabytes of embedded software in there that may NEVER crash and Flash certainly proved “rusty”.

    That was 2003

  13. Steven

    Great point. We keep hearing from Adobe that Flash is ‘everywhere’, it is ubiquitous and if you use an Apple mobile product then you are missing the ‘best of the web’. How come the Govt isn’t investigating how Flash has become so pervasive? It’s not an open standard. I paid thousands for CS4. I used to like working in Adobe products, then years ago Flash was fun to build website with but not any more. Adobe do not embrace customer ease of use and unless you use their software everyday it’s harder to keep up with their ever changing interfaces (not to mention their crappy updaters). If I have to update an app with Adobe, who knows when Adobe would issue a new software update to allow me to do that on IPhone OS. Their track record is not good. A sure sign of a company that is used to it’s monopoly power. It’s odd to be investigating a minor market player (which Apple is in the mobile market) especially for actually going up against the embedded monopoly that is Flash.

    Microsoft was investigated because it held an almost complete monopoly on the computer market. Apple does not have such a monopoly in any market. There is plenty of customer choice. If you want to buy a phone with Apps made from Adobe’s cross compiler you will be able to.

    Finally, it’s good to see some push back on the anti-Apple tech lobby. Like the fact that Android phones can’t update easily to new versions of Android. How come the anti-Apple brigade are not complaining to Mother Google about that? Complain about iTunes all day long if you like but I love getting the free software updates and look forward to iPhone OS 4 this summer.

  14. The way I heard it, Adobe filed a complaint. If that is the case, the feds have no alternative.

    In any case why not, if Google and Microsoft can be investigated, why should be immune. You have to remember that Apple is no longer an industrial midget, but the second or third most valuable company in the tech business. With that kind of financial clout, Apple doesn’t need the fan-boys complaining. They need to follow the law.

  15. jayblanco

    How is Dave being uncritical? he just suggested that any anti-trust action is meaningless considering how small Apple’s market share is ATM. Now I am not an expert on anti-competitive laws, but how is it violated in this case? How does Apple gain from Adobe suffering? These are genuine questions, I’m not me being rhetorical BTW.
    Isn’t ultimately Apple’s choice who gets support for what? Linux has been getting lackluster support from many commercial developers, particularly game developers, for years. I don’t see any FCC reps going bananas about it.

    Apple have every right to deny Adobe support for their software especially given the lackluster support that Macs have (allegedly) been getting with everything to do with Flash.

    Lastly, please keep your sweeping remarks to yourself JJ, just because a person has formed an opinion that doesn’t agree with yours, doesn’t mean that they have been brain-washed, hypnotized or otherwise made incapable of critical thinking. It’s funny how if you disagree with Apple than you’re normal but the moment you so much as express one good thought about Apple you’re automatically labeled a fanboy.

    • Thanks for the support, but I was kinda enjoying being called an “uncritical pathetic fanboy.” Honestly I thought readers would say I was too critical of Apple.

      I pointed out various ways they act like Microsoft and Microsoft was called out for their shenanigans with Internet Explorer and Windows. To compare Apple’s behaviors to Microsoft probably got me uninvited to at least a few parties at Macworld 2011.

    • Apple has every right to deny Adobe support? What if MSFT said only they could develop productivity (Office) apps?

      Jobs sounds like a spoiled brat with his arguments on Flash vs HTML5. HTML5 is not even a ratified standard yet.

      If you want to try fanboy logic, try to make it a bit more sophisticated.

  16. I’m heartened to see so many readers of this post and blog, recognising the bias of Greenbaum’s article. Clearly if readers understand any aspect of anti-competition law, they would recognise that this decision by Apple is decidedly anti-competitive and the response of the FCC to the letter is merely ammunition for the case against Apple. Jobs was foolish to publish such a damaging letter, and even other authors of this blog have acknowledged that Jobs is hell-bent on maintaining control over development of all mobile devices (see the far more reasonable post from Jade at

    Fanboy responses supporting Jobs are tantamount to brainwashing of the worst kind – blinding users to the essential tenets of fair trade as well as critical analysis. There certainly is something ridiculous about this post. But it’s not the antitrust response of the Feds. Open your eyes, Dave, and see the pathetic, uncritical fanboy you have become.

  17. Cold Water

    You people sound like Microsoft fanboys, circa 1998.

    If you haven’t used the internebs on an iPad or an iPhone in the past few years, you’d notice that Flash is behind almost all the popular casual games… the same genre that the app store is full of. Why indeed would anybody want to use Adobe’s compiler instead of Apple’s?

  18. Peter

    Being a developer is a choice. No one is forcing anyone to develop for Apple. If you don’t like the rules don’t develop for Apple devices.

  19. If a car company required part manufacturers to use a certain process to ensure maximum safety and compatibility with their complex system, would the same issue arise?

  20. jayblanco

    I am with David on this one, comparing iPhone OS to Windows is incorrect. The Windows market is far more influential than the iPhone OS market.

    Beyond that I believe Apple should have the right to monitor and decide which applications can and can’t run on their own devices.
    It’s not as if the App Store is tiny and doesn’t have a variety of applications available. I know that the argument against the App Store’s closed ecosystem speaks more towards promoting an open ecosystem, where everyone can have slice of the pie. But since when are we so pro-openness? why are so many people using Windows and Mac OSX and a million other closed-sourced applications? Surely if we cared about it so much we would be all using Linux and FOSS, but alas we don’t.

    I think what is needed is a more clear and defined approval process with clearly laid out rules and guidelines, which are adhered to by the approval team. This of course means that Apple will not be able to deny app submissions from rivals like Google from joining the App Store if they are “up to code”. And therefore I doubt this will really ever happen in any kind of significant way.

  21. I didn’t realize my tax dollars were spent so that these idiots can freak out over a legitimate strategy. Very informative. Thank you for you work.

  22. maybe I don’t understand the whole picture, but anti-trust is about monopolistic situations. Microsoft got stung because they were on 95% of all PC’s worldwide. Since the iPhone OS is not the biggest share of the phone market, locking out everyone else, it is really not an issue. Don’t get me wrong, I am pissed that Apple is putting a straightjacket on all their app developers, but given market the lack of market domination, the US Attorney General doesn’t care.

    • That’s the rub:

      1) If Apple controls the market, then there are other issues the DOJ/FTC/FCC should go after first

      2) If Apple doesn’t control the market, this an other issues aren’t relevant

      What will get interesting: will Microsoft make IE for iPhone? ;-)

  23. It’s clear the FTC has no idea what they’re doing or has a hidden agenda. It seems like they blow the whistle on almost trivial fronts when they’re bigger and better things they could be wasting their time on, such as the Bing/Yahoo deal for starters.

    Yes, I think it’s a cut on innovation and progress to out Flash altogether but honestly Steve Jobs post on issues with Flash brings up several valid points. It sucks but Flash will survive and spring up in other niches. There really is no other program like Flash. It’s too specialized for it to ever go under.

  24. Greg Patterson

    You miss the point. There is a double standard. The article is quite even handed and points out the failings of the FCC and the DOJ to do what they are supposed to do.

    • Thanks for the compliment. I’m not sure that they should be investigated though, not at this point. Where things could get interesting if Apple didn’t allow developers to release the same title on more than one platform or required some “exclusivity” to develop on iPhone OS only.

      • Greg Patterson

        Your welcome. The FCC and DOJ are bluffing. They might be onto something with iAD since the laws around advertising are pretty solid. But about OS application development, they are in over their head. There is very little case law around this area so the DOJ or FCC would have to scrape together a case. And if they do, Apple could come right back with the Adobe / Macromedia merger.

    • I list the many issues that should be covered in an Apple inquiry. A true fanboy wouldn’t list all of Apple’s sins in choice. The developer issue isn’t as important as other issues and at least the issue of bundling and forced browser choice has precedent.

    • Juan, every developer on earth has a choice of what platform they develop for. If you don’t like the process for developing for the iPhone…then don’t. There’s your choice. If you don’t like the choices, then don’t develop for the iPhone. End of story.

    • Garret Weinacht

      Another Adobe fanboy who won’t accept that Flash is dying, open your eyes. People and devs need to move on.

      The internet evolved and Flash hasn’t. Flash is a resource intensive vector animation tool with a poor video playback implementation taped to its back. If you really love Flash, Juan, I’d suggest you start petitioning Adobe to rewrite Flash from the ground up because it is currently nothing more than a scab held together by bandaids.

      • @Garret another idiot that doesnt accept the fact that end users should have the choice! Whether Flash is dying is not or not is not the factor, Flash is still a major player and iBithes will never experience the full web for another few years or untill flash is enabled. FTW. Go suck a bag.
        @Josh, you are right in a way but still DEV’s can not ignore iphone os and that’s why APPL should be looked at because they trying to force everything and being anti-competitive thats why they are being investigated and why a lot of people are upset.
        @Dave okay you are right about a few things… so Ill give you 60% fanboy status. My bad. lol

    • I don’t believe in this arguments about choices. Do you blame Dell for not letting you customize a laptop with 486 processor? You can argue that you must be given a choice although it is not good.