On Apple and Flash

A lot has been said about the ongoing ‘war’ between Apple and Adobe (with Apple refusing Adobe’s Flash player on its mobile devices). Emotions run high, words like ‘open’ are flung about like monkey poo, and everyone seems to be able to spout an opinion on it, so… me too.

First of all, I think one thing that’s important to point out is what happened in 2007. I was at MacWorld that year (no, that’s not the important part) when they announced the iPhone. But they also announced something else that rarely gets mentioned: the new company name. Apple Computer Inc. was now Apple Inc. They dropped the ‘computer’ because their company was no longer focused on just computers, going into the mobile space and other areas.

The reason I think that’s important is to see that Apple doesn’t view their mobile platforms (iPhones, iPads, iPods – ‘iProducts’) as computers. They don’t expect or want these machines to be robust, configurable computer systems. They want streamlined, controlled devices. There are lots of devices that have little OSs running them that are single or limited use systems: remote controls, video consoles, eReaders, slingboxes, DVRs… etc. Most of these systems can, if you void their warranty and therefore give up any support, be hacked to do things they weren’t designed to do. So can the iProducts. But all of these devices are designed to function a specific way and are ‘locked down’ because of that. Yet people view the iProducts differently, blurring them into the category of computer when they’re not really made to be as such.

“But!” the developers cry out. “It runs browsers! It runs apps! I should be able to see any Web site perfectly on it, and put any apps on it that I want!” Well, to an extent you can do the latter. If you void your warranty and any claim to support on your device, you can create your own apps and put them on there. “But!” they cry again. “I have to use Apple’s tools to make apps for it, I can’t use any tool I want!” Well, I think that speaks for the intentions of Apple vs. the intentions of developers. The intentions of Apple are to have apps on their platform that do all of the cool things unique to that platform; to take advantage of accelerometers, location detection, etc. so that the apps are so cool and so unique they compel people to buy the device. Developers want to make apps that they can ‘code once, and deploy everywhere,’ to get the most bang for their development buck. While both are ultimately about the almighty dollar, they’re both at odds with each other. Apple doesn’t want a bunch of generic apps that are available everywhere; at the very least it wants the ones on its platform to take full advantage of all of the features it can. And, pragmatically, Apple doesn’t want to support a bunch of custom-configured devices that are running anything and everything the end user hacks into it. That’s been part of their computer model for a while now, and it’s carried over to their device philosophy too. You may not agree with that model, but Apple builds things for people who want to ‘drive’ the device more than for those who want to modify the engine. Really, that model is great in certain environments/situations and not so great in others; and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

So. Flash. It is odd for Apple to just downright decree that they’d strip away a technology so prevalent on the Web when their devices have Web browsers. Steve Jobs himself published a brief missive on the logic behind that decision… but since a lot of people are blinded by their emotions and their biases, they misread it, pick out chunks out of context, distort things to fit their agenda… just like 95% of every tech or political ‘discussion.’ It’s easy to blindly hate, to pass judgment without facts, to assume motives, to simplify… and people like easy. Oddly enough, that’s also why Apple makes devices that are designed to just be easy. The bottom line is that Apple has its reasons to exclude it, good or bad. Frankly, I think it’s a mixture of both. But the retorts I see are really not helping. Apple is doing it because Flash’d hurt App Store sales? Really? There are tons of free games online that works fine; having more games would increase device sales, which are a greater revenue stream, and therefore support more apps/money, not less. Because of iAds? Maybe, but that’s more of a long-term goal than short-term, and showing how much ‘better’ iAds are than Flash would help the iAd platform. Because Apple hates Adobe and is an evil monopoly dictatorship bent on controlling the world? That’s too silly to even counter. Because Apple is a hypocrite about open standards and wants to make a profit? As a shareholder, I damn sure hope they want to make a profit, but encouraging closed systems and open Web standards isn’t really hypocritical. Keep in mind that historically Apple has seen ‘open apps/systems’ as being paramount to a support nightmare and basically ‘crap,’ and needs to be shown they’re wrong, not told that they are. Adobe has the ability to whine about it or to prove those reasons invalid. If Adobe comes out with a great mobile implementation of Flash, then other devices start coming out with compelling apps that drive people to the devices using them, Apple will take notice. If developers create amazing apps with Flash that do cool things, Apple will take notice. It just needs to happen before minds will be changed, so make it happen!