Commentary

Jobs To Adobe: I Want A Divorce

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In a letter heard round the Web yesterday, Steve Jobs posted what sounded like a break-up letter to Adobe. Its specific purpose was to explain the much-debated refusal of Apple to allow Flash-based products on its iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch platforms. But it sure reads like a steadfast note written by a former lover that both reviews and buries a relationship. "We met Adobe's founders when they were in their proverbial garage," Jobs recounts. Apple invested in and eventually owned 20% of the fledgling company. "The two companies worked closely together to pioneer desktop publishing and there were many good times. Since that golden era, the companies have grown apart."

There is a hint of the great spurning that still burns. When Apple had its "near-death experience," Adobe lost faith with their partner and pursued with Acrobat "the corporate market" (a.k.a Windows). "Today the two companies still work together to serve their joint creative customers ... but beyond that there are few joint interests."

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They keep things civil and adult for sake of the kids?

Jobs goes on to rebut claims that the banning of Flash from Apple devices is a business decision and reads a laundry list of technical complaints. He argues that while the iPhone OS may be proprietary, the platform embraces other open platforms like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. Its WebKit is open-source. Adobe, he claims, has sole authority over future enhancements for Flash and is closed.

Against the claim that 75% of Web video is in Flash format, Jobs counters that YouTube and most of the major TV networks and news outlets actually have alternative formats that do support his devices. He also reels off the security issue, that Flash is "the number one reason Macs crash," and the ongoing missed deadlines for a Flash for iPhone. The Adobe plug-in sucks battery life and CPU cycles. And the touch-screen interface on iPhone OS devices is not in synch with the rollover menus and activations that have become commonplace in Flash interfaces.

Jobs says his biggest gripe, however, is the problem of having a third party software layer "come between the platform and the developer." Jobs takes issue with the sluggishness of Adobe's development cycles, that developers and the ultimately the quality of the apps for an entire platform are dependent on a single companies' ability to update tools and development libraries. By emphasizing its cross-platform chops, Adobe's Flash follow a lowest common denominator approach to deploying new features to make sure the apps work everywhere. Adobe's goal is not to create the best iPhone/iPad apps but to ensure cross-platform compatibility.

Questions about motives may be moot at this point. Have suspicions about Microsoft or Google's nefarious plans for world dominance really helped us much over the years? Have either really proven true? Developers I have spoken with on both sides of this argument pretty much agree that Apple is determined to stay its course, so they will have to play along. Media company developers bemoan the fact that their internal Adobe-reliant workflow is disrupted and fragmented in order to support Apple devices. And my initial conversations with people in the print industry suggests that Apple's stance does make them more determined to see alternative tablet platforms like Android compete effectively.

Jobs' letter didn't really settle anything in this debate, except make clear that he is not negotiating. There won't be any counseling for this relationship. He wants a divorce.

4 comments about "Jobs To Adobe: I Want A Divorce".
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  1. Wes Smith from The McClatchy Company, April 30, 2010 at 4:24 p.m.

    The way Adobe has treated Apple as a second-class citizen since '98 or so, why not?

    Flash has always been behind the curve on Macs, and they can blame Apple all they want but the evidence is not in Adobe's favor. Their software has been horribly buggy on Macs since CS1. My users on CS3 and 4 are constantly complaining about the multiple daily crashes, even just by closing the apps at the end of the day. Heck from what I understand their commercial apps aren't much better on the PC side as far as stability.

    I fully admit to Apple Fanboyism but in this case His Jobsness has a point. Adobe really does need to clean up their act on the Mac platforms. There's no point in introducing middleware that's going to slow down or crash your iPhone/iPad.

  2. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., April 30, 2010 at 5:39 p.m.

    Flash sucks for video. It's twice as complex to set up and deploy as Windows Media for the same visual result. The only reason flash is huge in online video is that YouTube used that format to essentially give away bandwidth for free. If YouTube used Windows Media for video do you think anyone (except the losers who own Macs) would complain? Of course not. I would love to see Google/YouTube decide to NOT to support the iPad at ALL - because we all know Droid is the platform of the future. Bigoted? You bet - if I never hear another iMoonie whine about how something doesn't work on their goofy-ass Mac it'll be too soon. It's funny really, the only reason WE ever used flash was because it was "cross platform", and now even the PLATFORM that we used it to satisfy says it's no good. Epic Fail o' The Day.

  3. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., April 30, 2010 at 5:40 p.m.

    Oh, I'm back. Didja miss me?

  4. Kyle Lake from Done In Sixty Seconds, LLC, May 3, 2010 at 12:53 p.m.

    Absolutely love Mr. Mirow's feedback! Couldn't agree more. I never understood why Flash was deemed more usable than something like wmv. WMV always had better quality for the compression. Cross-platforms. I think in the Apple vs. Adobe situation they're both at fault. I've used Adobe for years on PC and its better than it once was but CS4 is a major step-back from CS2 (as far as stability). Someday someone will trick me into using a MAC and I'll end up switching...until then...I hear HTML5 is the replacement for Flash?

    http://www.donein60.com
    "An Online Video Creation Tool"

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