Apple vs. Flash: The InfoWorld peace plan

Wars like the conflict between Apple and Adobe over Flash seldom yield a productive outcome. InfoWorld proposes a way forward

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Instead, Apple and Adobe should explore ways to certify Flash apps for the iPhone. Certainly Apple can help Adobe work on the standards that Flash Pro-created iPhone apps must adhere to, and Adobe has to ensure that Flash Pro generates efficient, secure code. If that base is established, Apple could set up an approval process for iPhone-certified Flash apps just as it does for its Xcode-based iPhone apps. This approach would let Apple retain the control it wants, prevent the technical issues Apple says it is seeking to avoid, and give programmers a more familiar development platform.

We realize that allowing even approved Flash apps on the iPhone raises a business concern for Apple. We suspect the issue is that Apple doesn't want to make it easy for developers to create apps for other mobile devices at the same time they write iPhone apps. Pushing users to its Objective-C Xcode environment does that trick nicely. Allowing Flash-based apps would give rival platforms faster access to a wide range of iPhone-quality apps, so the business realities may prevent the exploration of a Flash app approval process from bearing fruit.

But there's more to the iPhone than apps, and even within apps, there are capabilities that other mobile operating systems can't touch. There could be ways where Apple and Adobe can both have their cake and eat it too when it comes to apps. Surely, Apple and Adobe can figure out how to solve this issue if Apple's business strategy can accept Flash as an iPhone app dev tool.

Can the two companies actually sit down and deal?
The fighting over Flash on the iPhone has been going on for several years, and from the outside, it doesn't seem like either company has sought a win-win result. Instead, after three years of stalemate, Adobe moved forward with its iPhone app exporter in Flash, antagonizing Apple and causing tensions to boil over. Jobs reacted strongly in public, and Adobe asked the feds to investigate Apple for antitrust behavior. Listen, guys: Nuclear wars don't end well.

Adobe has a lot to prove, given the unsolved problems with Flash after so many years. The technical ball is clearly in its court. But Apple is taking the more significant gamble by playing hardball -- and it could very well lose.

After all, despite Jobs' legitimate concerns, the truth is that if Flash Player ends up being problematic, users will abandon it, and Adobe would pay the real price of that failure. But by acting intransigent, Apple blackens its own eye, giving Adobe a pass on any problems it does have, and pushes customers and developers to its competitors. No matter how superior the iPhone OS is, people don't like bullies and will go elsewhere as soon as they can. Google and Microsoft are counting on it.

And Apple should remember that font dispute with Adobe from 1989, which damaged a successful, strategic partnership. Back then, Apple found itself at the mercy of a key platform technology owner, so it tried to free itself from that control. Today, the roles are reversed -- and more needless damage to the two companies and their customers is on the horizon.

The peace plan outlined here puts the technology burdens on Adobe, giving it a chance to prove Apple's fears unfounded or solve them before they go live, all while ensuring Apple has the platform control it wants. Give peace a chance.

This article, "Apple vs. Flash: The InfoWorld peace plan," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in mobile technology at

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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