In spite of a belated challenge from Microsoft, Adobe’s Flash framework has arguably remained the de facto standard for formal Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). But that existence has been called into question with its latest cold war with Apple.
Steve Jobs has slammed Adobe for being lazy; his motives of course are debatable, as we’ll get into below. Yes, Flash is buggy and there are lots of security holes. That’s because as a full RIA client framework,, the technology is being called upon to exert a much wider role from which it was originally designed; to bring multimedia to static web pages.
We were reminded of this while being contacted by an Asian reporter who was asking about whether Flash’s very market survival was now in question. But let’s get real; the only reason we’re having this discussion is Apple’s rejection of Flash for the new and overly hyped iPad.
The conflict between Apple and Adobe is nothing new, and in a way is rather ironic. Adobe Postscript was the technology that helped make the Mac what it is for creative professionals, as Postscript technology made the Mac the de facto standard for desktop publishing. Fast forward to the present, and Apple views Adobe technology as a threat to its revenue stream.
Apple has honed to a very clever business model for its mobile products that is actually a throwback to the golden days of turnkey systems, circa 1979. This model, where the hardware supplier controls what software goes on the machine and gives the client a box with functionality that is ready to go gives the hardware provider control over the revenue stream. The only difference between 1979 and now is that, while the hardware provider used to supply the software, today that comes through third parties who pay for the privilege of selling content to the iPod audience, and a mix of content or software to the iPhone, and now the iPad market.
The problem for Apple however is that the Flash framework could provide third-party software and content providers a bypass around Apple’s Berlin Wall and fees. Adobe is therefore an existential threat to Apple’s annuity stream.
Consequently, while Steve Jobs isn’t off base in criticizing Flash’s technical vulnerabilities, the real driver is cold hard cash.
The argument over whether denial of access to he iPad is a threat to Adobe is because there are questions as to whether the iPad will have the same transformational impact on the mobile Internet space that the iPod and iPhone have had over music and cell phone. Based on what’s out now, we think that the iPad is more hype and actually represents a step back for Internet users to the Web 0.9 experience as the iPad lacks multi-tasking, not to mention the Flash content that is ubiquitous across the web. Others are obviously rushing to come out with their iPad wannabees, most of them likely with Flash support. A new tablet market category will emerge and steal thunder from the netbook.
Admittedly, multi-tasking could be fixed in forthcoming rev, but we think that Apple has made a line in the sand regarding Flash. Maybe Apple has something up its sleeve, like its own answer to Flash, Silverlight, or JavaFX. Or maybe Apple eventually promotes HTML 5 as its RIA strategy. That’s the draft W3C standard that would bring RIA support right back into the mother ship, eliminating the need for those pesky add-ons or reliance on loosey-goosey Ajax. But HTML 5 is way off in the future. Currently in working draft and deficient in areas such as security and codec support, the W3C won’t likely approve it until 2011 at the earliest, an dafter that, it will be years before it reaches critical mass adoption if ever.
But let’s just pretend that maybe the iPad has the same transformative impact on the market as the iPod or iPhone. By 2011, there’s a definite trend away from netbooks to tablets, Apple’s rivals roll out their wannabees, but web developers find that much of their audience is drifting off Flash. (Fat chance.) That’s where things could get really weird. Microsoft, which has been watching from the sidelines, wants a game changer. It must decide which is its worst enemy: Apple or Adobe. If the former, it scraps Silverlight for Flash, because what use is there in being #3? If the latter, it embraces HTML 5 under the guise of industry standards support. Sound unlikely? Actually there’s a precedent. Years ago, Bill Gates promoted Dynamic HTML as Microsoft’s industry-standard alternative to Java clients (we saw him at a Gartner event back in 1999 making the pitch). Who’da thunk that DHTML would eventually becoming one of the pillars that made Ajax possible?
Back to our original point: the iPad is overhyped, it will gain some market share, but it won’t kill off Flash.