Issues with Apple’s Decision to Block Flash

Issues with Apple's Decision to Block Flash

There are two prevailing issues in the fight between Apple and Adobe.

The first is whether or not Flash should be available in the Safari browser running on Apple’s mobile iPod, iPhone, iPad platforms.

The second is whether or not Flash (or any middleware platform) should be used to create apps for Apple’s App Store.

Block Flash on Apple Safari’ Mobile Platforms? Fine.

Let’s talk about the first issue. I believe Apple has the right to block Flash from running on the Safari browser.

When I was head of product marketing at ESPN Mobile (the nation’s first and last virtual mobile service provider), we blocked a number of technologies from running on our phones because they crashed our core application services.

These technologies were placed on an internal black list until the vendor providing the technology was able to demo a version that met our performance specs.

The core driver behind this approach was that our customers plunked down a good amount of cash for our service, and we needed to respect that by ensuring solid, fast performance.

So, until Adobe can demonstrate a version of Flash that meets reasonable performance expectations on the mobile version of Safari, I think Apple’s stance is justified.

Block Flash as a Platform for App Store Apps? Not a Smart Move.

As far as not being able to use Flash 5 to create apps for Apple’s App Store goes, it’s déjà vu all over again. Apple tried something similar years ago when it kept its OS proprietary (except for a brief flirtation with licensing in the mid ’90s before Jobs came back).

The result is that while their line of computers is incredibly profitable, they still command a small share of the market. My bet is that their recent resurgence is due primarily to the wild success of the iPod and iPhone.

The idea that anyone should have a say about how developers decide to build their apps is nuts. As long as they meet end-result specs and performance requirements, who cares if they use Flash, HTML5, or even ActiveX?

But Jobs loves control. And unfortunately, he ends up shooting himself, his company, and the developer community in the collective foot when he does things that inhibit freedom of choice. He evangelizes interoperability and supporting open platforms, except when it comes to Apple products.

Unless he reverses course on this ridiculous developer rule (or the FTC and Justice Dept do it for the company), the iPhone and iPad will become small share players in a market dominated by Android — a platform that’s more open. Google is loving it, and they’re taking advantage by fully embracing Flash.

A Prediction for What’s Coming

This leads me to a larger thought. A few smart people have talked about the upcoming Platform Wars – where Apple, Google, and Microsoft will begin battling for web supremacy.

You can see Adobe being an ally state to one of these platform companies, as well as Twitter, and Facebook, and the developer communities.

I think the Apple versus Adobe dispute is akin to the formal declaration of this war. And now, we’ll see a mix of strategic and shifting alliances build between these companies – different configurations depending on the category.

One front of this war is about winning users. The other is about winning developers.

Apple’s move to control how developers build apps is an effort to lock them in to their platform. Google countered this move by embracing Flash, thereby opening the door to over a million Flash developers to create applications for Android devices.

We’ll see more of this kind of alliance gathering over the next years to come. Whoever wins the battle for developer hearts — on products that require developers to supply innovation — will prevail.

And since developers — as a general rule, and matter of history — don’t like to be told how to do things, my guess is that more open platforms will win.

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About the Author

Mark Cooper is the CEO and co-founder of Frontal, an open source markup and scripting language that generates Flash. Over the past 13 years, Mark has helped launch an array of media, online and mobile businesses. You can find him walking the streets of NY looking for trouble. To get in touch, email him at mark@frontalcode.com, or follow him on Twitter: @frontalcode.