Tag Archives: flash

After Apple’s Flash ban, what next for Adobe?

I imagine there must be urgent meetings taking place at Adobe following Apple’s prohibition of Flash content or applications on its iPhone and iPad devices, and last week’s open letter from Apple CEO Steve Jobs which leaves little hope of a change in policy.

The problem is that until now Adobe has put the Flash runtime at the heart of its strategy. The Flash Platform is a suite of tools and technologies including middleware (LiveCycle Data Services), web and desktop runtimes (Flash and AIR), design and developer tools (Creative Suite and Flash Builder). The company has worked to integrate Flash and PDF, using embedded Flash content for multimedia and to blur the boundaries between documents and applications.

If you look at Creative Suite 5, the latest release of Adobe’s flagship tools and from which it derives most of its revenue, there is scarcely a product within it which Flash does not touch.

Adobe’s hosted document and collaboration platform, Acrobat.com, uses Flash for online document viewing and editing, for web conferencing, for online presentations.

Adobe’s abandoned Flash to iPhone compiler was not only something for third-party developers, but also for Adobe itself, and the company has already been using it to enable access from iPhone to some of its Flash-based online services. For example, Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro Mobile for iPhone, which lets you attend Acrobat Connect Pro meetings:

This application was developed using the Flash platform and the Packager for iPhone to publish it as a native iPhone application. We will also be able to use the same code to deliver this application on other mobile devices when AIR for mobile devices becomes available later this year.

Of course Adobe is not solely a Flash company. It’s also a PDF company, and while there is no Adobe Reader for iPhone, it is at least possible to view PDFs on Apple’s devices. Adobe is an HTML company too, and products like Dreamweaver and Fireworks are geared towards HTML content.

Still, Apple has created a big problem for Adobe. The appeal of the Flash Platform starts with the ubiquity of the runtime.

Let’s assume that Apple trundles on, grabbing an increasing share of the Smartphone market and encroaching into what we now think of as the laptop/netbook market with iPad and possibly other appliance-type computing devices. What can Adobe do? Here are a couple of top-level choices that occur to me:

1. Resign itself to being an anything-but-Apple company. There is life beyond iPhone and iPad; and Adobe is making good progress towards establishing Flash elsewhere, from Android mobiles to set-top boxes to games consoles. Unfortunately the Apple-owning community is a wealthy and influential one; the impact of losing that part of the market is greater than its market share implies. Nevertheless, this seems to be Adobe’s immediate reaction to the Jobs bombshell. It is rumoured to be giving Android phones to its employees, for example, and there are signs of an Adobe-Google alliance forming against Apple – note that Google is building Flash by default into its Chrome browser.

2. Pull back on Flash. For example, redesign Buzzword, its Flash-based online document editor, in HTML and JavaScript. Tune its PR message to emphasise how useful its tools are in an non-Flash context, rather than presuming its runtime will be everywhere. I think Adobe will have to do this to some extent.

A mitigating factor is that while Adobe has (until now) done a great job of deploying the Flash runtime, it has done less well at monetising it. If you look at its latest financials, you’ll see that Flash Platform (including AIR) accounted for only 6% of its revenue, compared to 50% for design tools including Creative Suite and Photoshop, 28% for business use of Acrobat, and 10% for the recently acquired Omniture web analytics. Although some of its design market is Flash-dependent, there is plenty more that is not.

Steve Jobs saying Flash is bad does not make it so

I’ve mulled over the statement by Apple CEO Steve Jobs on why he hates Flash. It’s been picked over by many, so there’s little point in analysing it line by line, spotting what’s true, what’s false, what’s twisted. It doesn’t matter. What counts is that Jobs is disallowing Flash and attacking Adobe – he’s decided it should get out of the runtime business and just do tools for HTML5:

Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future

Apple is a powerful enemy; and what I’ve found alarming watching the reaction is the extent to which Jobs saying “Flash is bad” has lowered the reputation of Flash; it’s as if all the great things which it has enabled – web video that works, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in a web browser, an entire industry of casual gaming – has been forgotten because one charismatic and influential individual has called it old stuff that crashes Macs.

The army of enthusiasts which leaps to the defence of all things Apple both amuses and disturbs me. I understand some of the reasons. People warm to Apple because the company has improved their lives, in computing, in music, in mobile phones – especially in contrast to the efforts of Microsoft and its partners who have all too often made computers and mobile devices that are hostile and unpleasant to use. This last factor is not Apple’s fault; and without Apple it might not now be changing. Apple deserves our thanks for that.

That doesn’t make Jobs or his followers right about Flash, which is a magical piece of technology. Yes, it’s been widely abused to make annoying ads and animations; yes, it crashes the browser sometimes; yes, both HTML5 and Microsoft Silverlight are encroaching on Flash territory.

Still, Flash is never going to be allowed on Apple’s new wave of personal computing devices, which by the looks of things it intends to form the core of its business. Nor can we write for Flash and compile for Apple; it’s not allowed.

This is the new model of computing: the web if you want open, or humbly seek permission from the device overlords if you want a local application install, at least on Apple’s platform; and Microsoft is headed in the same direction with Windows Mobile 7. It’s not a model I like; but the trend is unmistakeable.

Adobe no longer investing in Flash compiler for iPhone, sings Android praises

Adobe’s Mike Chambers has posted about Apple’s new restriction on how applications are built for the iPhone or iPad. He says Adobe is ceasing development work on this feature:

We will still be shipping the ability to target the iPhone and iPad in Flash CS5. However, we are not currently planning any additional investments in that feature.

Of course he says “currently” so development could be resumed, presumably if the restriction is lifted.

He also suggests that Apple may be specifically targeting Flash despite the general wording of its notorious clause 3.3.1:

While it appears that Apple may selectively enforce the terms, it is our belief that Apple will enforce those terms as they apply to content created with Flash CS5.

Chambers spends much of his post saying how well Flash runs on Android – though Flash Player 10.1 and AIR 2.0 for Android are still in beta – and suggesting that Flash developers target Android instead.

The problem is that developers will go where their customers are. If Apple continues to increase its market share, its platform will continue to attract developers.

This is another instance of something I blogged about two years ago: the risk of building your business on a third-party platform. My post then was about Amazon, eBay and Facebook. Now the focus is on Apple. Other platforms like Salesforce.com and Google have the same inherent problem.

I think this problem will get worse rather than better, as people migrate from general-purpose open platforms to more locked-down appliances.

Silverlight 4.0 released to the web; tools still not final

Microsoft released the Silverlight 4.0 runtime yesterday. Developers can also download the Silverlight 4 Tools; but they are not yet done:

Note that this is a second Release Candidate (RC2) for the tools; the final release will be announced in the coming weeks.

Although it is not stated explicitly, I assume it is fine to use these tools for production work.

Another product needed for Silverlight development but still not final is Expression Blend 4.0. This is the designer-focused IDE for Silverlight and Windows Presentation Foundation. Microsoft has made the release candidate available, but it looks as if the final version will be even later than that for Silverlight 4 Tools.

Disappointing in the context of the launch of Visual Studio 2010; but bear in mind that Silverlight has been developed remarkably fast overall. There are huge new features in version 4, which was first announced at the PDC last November; and that followed only a few months after the release of version 3 last summer.

Why all this energy behind Silverlight? It’s partly Adobe Flash catch-up, I guess, with Silverlight 4 competing more closely with Adobe AIR; and partly a realisation that Silverlight can be the unifying technology that brings together web and client, mobile and desktop for Microsoft. It’s a patchy story of course – not only is the appearance of Silverlight on Apple iPhone or iPad vanishingly unlikely, but more worrying for Microsoft, I hear few people even asking for it.

Even so, Silverlight 4.0 plus Visual Studio 2010 is a capable platform; it will be interesting to see how well it is taken up by developers. If version 4.0 is still not enough to drive mainstream adoption, then I doubt whether any version will do it.

That also raises the question: how can we measure Silverlight take-up? The riastats charts tell us about browser deployment, but while that is important, it only tells us how many have hit some Silverlight content and allowed the plug-in to install. I look at things like activity in the Silverlight forums:

Our forums have 217,426 threads and 247,562 posts, contributed by 77,034 members from around the world. In the past day, we had 108 new threads, 529 new posts, and 70 new users.

it says currently – substantial, but not yet indicative of a major platform shift. Or job stats – 309 UK vacancies right now, according to itjobswatch, putting it behind WPF at 662 vacancies and Adobe Flash at 740. C# on the other hand has 5349; Java 6023.

Apple’s impact on Flash penetration

While checking the latest figures from riastats for an article, I noticed something that surprised me. The installed figures for Adobe Flash, while still over 96%, seemed a shade down on what they used to be. I could think of only one reason for that – Apple. I switched the operating system to Mac OS X and saw this:


That’s 14.18% of OS X users who do not have Flash installed. By contrast, only 3.98% of Linux users show “Not detected”. I am presuming that OS X includes iPhone and iPad, on which Flash is unavailable.

Apple banning Flash applications from iPhone 4.0? That stinks.

John Gruber reports on a new clause in the iPhone 4.0 SDK, to be agreed by developers before downloading:

3.3.1 — Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

Gruber interprets this as prohibiting Flash applications compiled to iPhone, as well as other development tools such as Monotouch. Flash compilation for iPhone is a feature of Creative Suite 5, to be launched on Monday 12th April.

This raises several questions, including:

1. Why? Why should Apple care what development tool is used, provided it behaves correctly? Applications are still subject to Apple’s approval,  distributed through the App Store, and if commercial are also subject to Apple’s fee.

2. Is this anti-competitive? I guess this depends on the answer to (1) above.

Either way, it stinks. It especially stinks if Apple gave no notice to companies such as Adobe and Novell; but it stinks anyway.

That said, it’s a beta SDK and a beta agreement so … it could change.

If the clause is intended, enforced and remains in the production SDK, expect fireworks. Given that the designer community loves both Apple and Adobe, there will be some stressed folk out there; they will make a lot of noise.

I have asked both Apple and Adobe for comment, and will report back on the responses.

Update: Adobe has tweeted:

We are looking into the new SDK language. We continue to develop Packager for iPhone OS which will debut in Flash #CS5

No Flash on iPad? No problem – we’ll redesign the site says NPR and others

It is fascinating to see the impact of Apple’s hostility to Adobe Flash on iPhone and now iPad.

On the one hand, it’s a gift to rival vendors such as Google, which is bundling Flash into Chrome (a contentious decision judging by the comments), and Microsoft, which has promised Flash support in Windows Phone 7, though not in the first release. These vendors can claim better Internet support than Apple, thanks to the large amount of Flash content, games and applications on the Web.

On the other hand, I’ve not seen many web sites that encourage their users not to use iPhone or iPad. Rather, those with the resources to do so are simply making their content available in ways that are iPhone/iPad compatible. There are two obvious ways to do so: either create an App, or make a Flash-free web site.

One of my favourite music sites is NPR, which is a great source of concerts and exclusive sessions, and which uses Flash for streaming. NPR’s research told it that five percent of its 26 million weekly listeners were likely to purchase an iPad. I was also intrigued to note that these purchasers consider it more of a “living space” device than something they take everywhere. Either way, they wanted to continue consuming NPR’s content.

NPR responded by taking both of the options mentioned above: a redesigned web site, optimised for touch control as well as eliminating Flash, and an iPad app that builds on an existing iPhone app.

We’re excited about this latest innovation because we think it brings us closer to capturing NPR’s unique identity on a digital platform. The iPad’s casual touch-screen navigation seems more conducive to immersive reading than even the lightest laptops. And it opens up new opportunities for casual listening.

The worrying thought for Adobe is that sites such as NPR might decide to use the Flash-free site for all browsers, instead of just those on an iPad, to save on duplicate work.

Adobe’s decision to enable native compilation to iPhone and iPad in the forthcoming Creative Suite 5 is looking increasingly significant.

Update: James Governor on Twitter says awesome! the new IE6! Good point, though how you see this depends on what you think of Flash in the first place.

Stephan Richter observes that “Judging by the comments, not many NPR users are happy that effort is wasted on supporting 5% of potential users.” There’s certainly evidence of resentment at Apple users getting preferential resources, though the fact that Apple purchasers pretty much match the dream profile for many advertisers may be a factor.

Building for multiple mobile platforms with one codebase

Individuals may have strong opinions about the merits of Apple iPhone versus Google Android versus the struggling Palm WebOS versus the not-yet Windows Phone 7; but sit them round a table to discuss app strategy and those diverse platforms change from a debating point to a problem. Presuming a web app won’t cut it, how do you target all those devices without the unreasonable expense and complication of managing multiple projects? The native languages are all different; Objective-C for iPhone and iPad, Java for Android and RIM BlackBerry, JavaScript for WebOS, C# for Windows Phone 7.

There are three possibilities that come to mind. One is that all the platforms will eventually allow you to write in C or C++, making this the unifying language, though you still have some fancy footwork to do overcoming library differences. Android now allows this via the NDK, and Palm via the PDK. There is currently no alternative to Java for Blackberry, and Microsoft says native code won’t be possible on Windows Phone 7, but well, you never know.

The second is Adobe Flash. This is an interesting one, because Apple prohibits Flash on the iPhone, but Adobe has a Packager for iPhone that builds native iPhone apps from Flash projects. Another issue is that although Flash is available or promised for all the main non-Apple devices – Apple’s gift of a selling point to its rivals – it is not Flash alone that does what it needed, but AIR, the “desktop” or out-of-browser runtime. This has been previewed for Android and promised for other devices including Blackberry. AIR for Windows Phone 7? Maybe, though I’ve not seen it mentioned.

A third idea is a clever framework that does the necessary cross-compilation under the covers. This cannot depend on deploying a runtime, nor compiling to native code, because these approaches are blocked by some mobile platforms. Rhomobile has the Rhodes framework, where you code your app in HTML and Ruby and compile for devices including iPhone, Windows Mobile, RIM Blackberry, Symbian, and Android. Rhodes includes an MVC (Model View Controller) framework and an ORM (Object Relational Mapper) to wrap database access. There is also a RhoSync server component to enable offline data with synchronisation back to the server when reconnected; and the RhoHub hosted IDE for buildings apps with a web browser.

Rhomobile tells me that Palm WebOS support is in the works. They also promise Windows Phone 7 support, which intrigued me because Rhodes says it compiles to “true native device applications”. Has Rhomobile gotten round Microsoft’s opposition to native code? Apparently not; VP Rob McMillen eventually told me that this will mean a .NET IL (intermediate language) implementation.

The Rhomobile approach reminds me of AppForge, a company which produced the well-regarded Crossfire add-on for Visual Studio and compiled Visual Basic to a wide variety of mobile platforms. Unfortunately AppForge was acquired by Oracle, and its new owners showed callous disregard for existing customers. Not only did development cease; it also became impossible to renew existing licenses. Thanks to an activation component, that also blocked new deployment of existing applications – every developer’s nightmare.

That said, there is no activation requirement for Rhodes that I know of, and the framework is open source, so I don’t mean to suggest it will suffer a similar fate.

What about Java? On the face of it, Java should be ideal, since multi-device support is what it was designed for. It is a measure of how far Java has fallen that we hear far more about the lack of Flash on the iPhone, than the lack of Java. Microsoft says yes to Flash on Windows Phone 7, though not on first release, but nothing about Java.

Java as a mobile runtime needs a strong dose of lobbying and evangelism from its new stewards Oracle if it is not to fall by the wayside in this context. Hmm, AppForge.

Microsoft playing HTML 5 standards game alongside Silverlight game

I’m at Mix10 in Las Vegas where Microsoft has been showing off the latest preview of IE9 – you can try it here, provided you have Vista SP2, Windows 2008 or Windows 7.

The two themes are performance, with GPU-accelerated HTML and graphics and a new Javascript engine that compiles code in the background, and standards support. This latter was not a surprise to me, as I’d heard the well-informed Molly Holzschlag praise Microsoft’s commitment to HTML5 at a workshop here on Sunday – see this earlier post.

During the keynote, we saw IE9 playing a video using the HTML 5 video tag – no Flash or Silverlight needed. Microsoft also showed that in this instance IE9 performed better than Chrome thanks to better hardware acceleration. Although one should always mistrust one vendor’s demonstration of another vendor’s product, it should not be surprising that Microsoft is able to deliver a browser that is better optimised for Windows.

Video, hardware accelerated graphics, audio element support, fast JavaScript: there is considerable overlap with the features of the Microsoft Silverlight (and Adobe Flash) plug-ins.

The plug-in approach has advantages. It offers consistency across browsers, and enables rapid evolution without the hassles of standards committees. The multimedia features in Silverlight and Flash are well ahead of those in HTML 5 – Holzschlag nailed this when she described today’s HTML 5 demos as reminiscent of Flash demos a decade ago.

Still, if you can do without the plug-in you end up with cleaner code, removing the awkward transition between what is in HTML and JavaScript, and what is in the plug-in. There is also a better chance that your code will run on Apple’s iPhone and iPad, for example.

The question though: can Microsoft do an equally good job of supporting HTML 5 throughout its platform, as it will do with Silverlight? This is where I’m doubtful. The Visual Studio and Expression tools will continue to drive developers towards Silverlight rather than HTML 5.

It’s notable that shortly after Microsoft’s IE9 demos at Mix, we saw demos of fun technology like code-name Houston, develop databases in the cloud using just your browser and … Silverlight.

Flash 10.1 mobile roadmap confusion, Windows phone support far off

When is the right moment to buy a mobile phone? Usually the answer is not quite yet; and that seems to the case if you want to be sure of support for Flash Player 10.1, the first full version of the runtime to run on mobile devices. Adobe recently struck off support for Windows Mobile in its entirety. Adobe’s Antonio Flores said on the company’s forums:

As for WinMo, we have made the tough decision to defer support for that platform until WinMo7.  This is due to the fact that WinMo6.5 does not support some of the critical APIs that we need.

“Defer support” is not straight talking. Windows Phone 7 is by all accounts very different from Windows Mobile and application compatibility is in question. In addition, the indications so far are that Windows Phone 7 primarily targets consumers in its first release, suggesting that Windows Mobile devices may continue in parallel for a while, to support business applications built for the platform. It is disappointing that Adobe has abandoned its previously announced support; and the story about critical APIs looks suspect, bearing in mind that Flash 10.1 on Windows Mobile demos have already been shown.

As for Flash on Windows Phone 7, that too looks some way off. Microsoft says it is not opposed to Flash, but that it will not feature in the first release.

There may also be politics here. Microsoft Silverlight competes with Flash, and it looks as if Silverlight is to some extent the development platform for Windows Phone 7. While Flash on Windows Phone 7 would be a selling point for the device, I doubt Microsoft likes the idea of developers choosing Adobe’s platform instead of Silverlight. Equally, I doubt it would break Adobe’s heart if Windows Phone 7 wasn’t much of a success, and if lack of Flash puts off customers, that cannot be helped.

In other words, both companies may want to make haste slowly when it comes to Flash on Windows Phone 7.

When it talks about Apple devices, Adobe is the even-handed runtime vendor doing everything it can to make its platform ubiquitous. However, the more it succeeds in its aim, the more power it has when it comes to less favoured platforms. This is a problem inherent to a platform where all the implementations come from a single vendor.