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Could the EU’s Digital Agenda Force Apple to Put Flash On the iPhone?

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An ongoing digital strategy by the European Union (EU) could force Apple (s aapl) into allowing Adobe’s (s adbe) Flash to run on the iPhone.

The incomplete plans, known as the Digital Agenda, not only aim to redefine how antitrust rules are practiced, but also hope to see an overall improved digital economy in place by 2020. In order to reach this goal, the EU plans to work with a number of individual companies, relevant organizations and governments. The efforts carried out with these various groups will involve working through seven key points. The second point of this seven-part plan is one which may be of concern to Apple.

Point two of the Digital Agenda highlights the need for set standards and interoperability between devices. It specifically states:

The internet is a great example of interoperability — numerous devices and applications working together anywhere in the world. Europe must ensure that new IT devices, applications, data repositories and services interact seamlessly anywhere — just like the internet. The Digital Agenda identifies improved standard-setting procedures and increased interoperability as the keys to success

How This Could Affect Apple

It’s no secret that the European Union isn’t shy to flex its muscle when it comes to competition rules. In the past, it has fined various industry heavyweights including Intel (s INTC) and Microsoft (s MSFT). In fact Microsoft has found itself in the firing line on multiple occasions.

[inline-ad align=”right”]But what could the Digital Agenda truly mean for Apple? Comments from European Union commissioner Neelie Kroes hint that she is giving Apple’s business practices a serious review. According to a report from Rethink Wireless, the commissioner has concerns that the current smartphone market is too closed, detailing that consumers are currently limited when coming to choose what software is present on their selected handset.

With the Digital Agenda in place, dominant market figures, such as RIM (s RIMM) and Nokia (s NOK), will not be the only ones to receive official practice reviews. Figures that are deemed significant, such as Apple, will also be called upon. Kroes detailed that:

“…significant market players cannot just choose to deny interoperability with their product. This is particularly important in cases where standards don’t exist. This is not just about Microsoft or any big company like Apple, IBM or Intel. The main challenge is that consumers need choice when it comes to software or hardware products.”

With Kroes’ comments in mind, it seems that Apple’s banning of Flash could come under serious investigation from the EU. Other blogs have speculated on how the Digital Agenda’s rules may apply beyond Apple’s Flash ban. Some have suggested that this digital strategy could be applied to change the closed nature of iPhone development via Xcode, whereas others have expressed thoughts on how iTunes’ restrictive style could be an issue — especially considering the whole Palm Pre syncing drama.

With the U.S. Fair Trade Commission looking into Apple’s ban on Flash and the European Union also casting an authoritative eye over the issue, it will be interesting to see how Apple would handle the Flash ban if any official body were to make a move.

Whatever happens, with both Apple and Adobe picking and choosing both open and closed formats and practices, one thing is clear: nobody’s perfect.

Related GigaOM Pro Research (subscription required): A Brighter Week Ahead for Flash

9 Responses to “Could the EU’s Digital Agenda Force Apple to Put Flash On the iPhone?”

  1. Well it is already mentioned in another post here, but this story is getting old by now. There has already been an EU official stating that they will not force Apple or any other company to install things they don´t want on their hardware.

    Move along folks, nothing to see here.

  2. haggis

    Either the EU is terminally stupid when it comes to technology, or they must be running a bit low on funds and figuring out new ways to fine companies millions.

  3. HenryP

    It’s posturing and positioning by the EU or others.

    1. Apple could easily argue that their iOS products use standard HTML 5 which doesn’t require any special additional software to use websites or web applications, keeping the cost and open nature of our products intact.
    2. Should Apple upgrade their software everytime a new security gap in Flash is exploited.
    3. There will be other competitive products or platforms which Flash will be available on, ie. Android tablets/pads and perhaps the HP WebOS Tablet/pad.
    4. Unlike the situation with Micrsoft who OS ran on a multitude of Computers, from many manufacturers, Apple is one of many smartphone companies, they are all closed to a certain extact. If you don’t like the limitations on one, buy someone else’s platform.

    It is more likely to see the EU look more closely at the iTunes Apps process for what gets approved and what doesn’t or what gets pulled from the App store.

  4. Alexis

    well if this happens…watch Apple pull the iOS devices from the EU…and then they will have a disaster on their hands

    say good bye to Apple for Europe because Apple will NOT allow them to govern what is on the iOS devices…PERIOD

  5. Two questions:
    1. Is the EU trying to pick winners, both companies and technologies?
    2. Is the EU going to a) set out a set of public standards that interoperate and let companies pick or are they going b) to tell companies what standards to use?

    I predict they will pick winners and tell them what technologies they can use. – can’t help themselves.