Adobe Crumbling: Is Winning Mobile Flash Fight Critical to Company's Success?

By Mark Sigal
May 13, 2010 | Comments: 4

Adobe-Crumbling.png

"Pretty sure Adobe didn't care about 'open markets' until they got locked out of one." - Dave Winer

In ramping up its on-going PR blitz to try and sway public opinion in favor of forcing Apple to support its Flash Runtime model, Adobe is facing three fundamental challenges.

One, at this point it lacks great, un-bloated products that make their user base want to step up and defend them. Contrast this with Apple, where the term 'fanboy' speaks volumes about the dedication of its users.

Two, Adobe now lacks an execution culture that would have otherwise rendered the mobile flash topic moot by virtue of simply winning mobile market share before and/or during Apple's ascent with iPhone, iPod Touch and (now) iPad, a blockade that is now 85M devices strong.

After all, how long has Adobe been promising Mobile Flash, and how many devices is it actually running on out in the wild after all these years? In absence of a winning offense, all that Adobe has to roll out is a feeble defense? C'mon.

Three, Apple's embrace of native, governed platforms is paralleled by their embrace of HTML 5, WebKit and other best of breed open Web technologies, which renders huge chunks of Adobe's campaign murky at best.

Simply put, proprietary Flash hardly passes the open 'sniff test' that Adobe's leadership is trying to wordsmith around at a time when Apple is clearly playing a leadership position in pushing the open mobile web forward.

Adobe Co-Founder: Flash Fight Isn't Critical To Company Success

There is an axiom that it is hard to PREVENT something that you are simultaneously PREPARING for. Thus, it seems that in Adobe Co-Chairman and Co-Founder, Chuck Geschke, asserting that the "Flash Fight Isn't Critical to Company Success" that he is effectively preparing his company for failure.

But this begs the question. Is this assertion even true? After all, Adobe has three core lines of business: Print Design Solutions (Photoshop), Web Design Solutions (Flash) and Document Management Solutions (Acrobat).

The print products are getting long in the tooth, and Adobe is widely perceived to have created bloatware and kept the price of products like Photoshop and Illustrator artificially high. This segment was once the core bedrock of the company's stellar reputation and strong relationship with its user base. These days, it is unquestionably less so.

By contrast, the company's position with respect to Acrobat, appears rock solid and highly profitable, with no real competition in the immediate horizon.

Hence, the pivot feels like Flash - exactly the reason a Co-Founder would dismiss its importance.

Why do I say it feels like the pivot? Desktop is slowly giving rise to Mobile, and in mobile, Flash is exceptionally weak (read: non-existent). If Adobe fails to secure a beachhead in Mobile via Flash (thanks to a combo of Apple's blockage, emergence of HTML 5 and Adobe's poor execution), it could easily see its Web design tools become less relevant, weakening synergy with its Print Design Solutions.

In such a scenario, Adobe starts to look like a one-trick pony, which isn't tantamount to death - just irrelevance.


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4 Comments

Sadly, this is one of very few insightful articles on this subject. Adobe's history vis a vis Apple is interesting. Apple was responsible for Adobe's existence, through Steve's incorporation of Postscript in the Laserwriter in 1985. Photoshop, was originally Thomas Knoll's Mac program and Adobe was first introduced to Photoshop at Apple. But Adobe seems bent on biting the hand that feeds it by treating Mac versions of its applications like its bastard stepchildren. Sadly, Adobe is now recruiting John Nack, Photoshop wizard, to fight for Flash - a desperate, futile strategy which will tar the Print Design products even further.

Apple isn't responsible for Adobe's demise, Adobe is.

@stsk, I think that the history is a lot more complex than you note. Apple and Adobe had a very synchronous relationship, but like any relationship where money is involved, partners become competitors, licenses get designed out, platform priorities shift, etc. over time.

In the larger scheme, when Apple lost their way before the return of Steve Jobs, Adobe made a business decision to focus on Windows and feed their Mac products secondarily, which was the right business decision given how the market was aligned.

Now, the market has tilted differently, and the price of Adobe's business decision has come to roost. That is not simple payback. It is more basic than that; namely, what you so is what you reap.

For a long time, Adobe has built inferior Mac products relative to their Windows cousins or built hybrids that de-emphasized Apple-specific attributes.

By contrast, Apple is in the business of building highest common divisor, vertically integrated solutions that combine hardware, software, services, tools, etc. Anything that waters that value proposition down is clearly at odds with Apple's primary business strategy.

In other words, it's not unreasonable for Adobe to feel thwarted by the Apple approach, and it's not unreasonable for some to wonder all of the dark alleys that the Apple approach might yield. Nack's piece is actually quite reasoned in that regards.

But, it's also not unreasonable for Apple to enforce a business strategy that has been clearly laid out for multiple years now, is clearly working for consumers, appears to be working spectacularly well for developers and makes business sense.

Again, the best defense is good offense. Prove Mobile Flash's viability and integral-ness on every mobile platform not made by Apple, and the equation starts to change. Until then, the narrative feels a bit self-serving.

Mark

Instead of confronting the facts involved in the Apple vs. Flash standoff, you are comparing unrelated product lines, corporate cultures and synergies (your word). This article should have focused on are hard facts like product features and just what we can expect to lose if flash is blocked from the mobile web and replaced with HTML5.

One important, but rarely mentioned feature we loose by blocking flash, is a full computing environment in a browser. In Flash you could literally write a signal processing lie detector application in C++, then cross compile and run it in a browser. HTML5 has no feature to match this. It is just a primative toy compared to the power of Flash. For a more trivial example, look at any video game written in Flash. Then try to make that game using HTML5.

The most important feature of Flash however is not supported by Apple/HTML5 - freedom to publish. By design, Flash lets anyone publish an application to any supported device. Iphone apps cannot be published without pre-approval by Apple. In effect, Apple is trying to re-invent the press and control every app publication on thier part of the internet.

Blocking flash will take publishing power away from individual developers and give that control to the coporation. Making them Big Brother. This shift in power is the real benefit Apple is seeking.

-a Flash User Base

@doug, thanks for the counter-perspective. I think that we disagree on the salient facts here, as in my read, Apple gives developers a choice between the best mobile web experience and the best native platform. Who has set the bar higher in the mobile arena, and executed on it -- platitudes don't count.

I can tell you that few developers in iPhone native app arena are lamenting absence of flash, if for no other reason than the platform solves the cornerstone problems that flash addresses.

To your point, that is not to say that there isn't a constituency who would otherwise develop for the platform if their flash code could be ported from web to mobile and back, which again, is a great opportunity for other platforms to address if the opportunity is sufficiently compelling to them.

Here is where it's hard, if not impossible, to credibly argue that the one to point fingers at in terms of missing the opportunity to set the agenda is anyone but adobe.

They, after all, had mobile ambitions well before iPhone, a stated mobile strategy well before iPhone and a stated roadmap with dates and deliverables well before iPhone, all of which they missed utterly on and still have no real world mobile footprint.

We can quibble about the relative readiness of HTML 5 , but you have to acknowledge that this is not currently hurting Apple, HTML 5 is certainly more open than a runtime controlled by adobe, and that HTML 5 driven video (accelerated by the emergence of iPad) is beginning to obviate one of the core "jobs" flash targets.

More to the point, until adobe makes apple's lack of flash support a factor by getting on other mobile devices, and driving mobile apps around same, the counter arguments fall into the theoretical bucket, IMHO.

Cheers,

Mark

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