On Wednesday I expressed some of my concerns about the new iPad, and the expanding footprint of closed platforms built by Apple. Since then, Apple has posted a video of the keynote, and it turns out that in a span of about 2 minutes browsing the web, there are at least 5 instances where there is broken web content. I’ve also spent a lot of time the last two days talking with people about how Apple could consider this a great browsing experience. It’s perplexing.
Unfortunately, a lot of the speculation I’m hearing for why Flash Player isn’t on the iPad doesn’t make sense:
- “Flash technology isn’t open” — The Flash file format specifications are open and unrestricted, so Apple can build their own Flash Player if they want. If Apple wants the source code to the Flash Player, we’re happy to provide it, just as we have to many other device manufacturers.
- “Apple doesn’t want to pay for Flash Player” — Apple can put it on the iPad (and iPhone) without paying Adobe or anyone a dime. The Flash Player has always been free to all consumers worldwide, and is available to device makers royalty free through the Open Screen Project. There are dozens of other devices that do that today.
- “I don’t want Flash on my iPad (or iPhone)” — That’s fine, we support your ability to choose, and don’t want to require Flash Player on any device. But we do want it to be an option for the millions of people who have requested it.
- “Flash won’t perform well on the iPad (iPhone)” — It’s fast enough for other devices that have similar chips (and even less powerful chips) built on the ARM architecture. The Palm Pre, Google Nexus One, Motorola Droid, and other devices all run beta versions of Flash Player 10.1 beautifully.
- “HTML5 is replacing Flash” — This is a red herring to justify keeping a platform closed by drawing attention to another open technology. HTML5 and Flash are in no way exclusive. As with HTML4 and Flash, there are some use cases that can be served with either technology, but there are also many cases where the technologies serve different purposes. As on Android devices, HTML 5 and Flash can both easily be supported on this and future devices.
But I want to be very clear. My concern isn’t just about Flash on the iPad. It’s about a disturbing trend where Apple is starting to inhibit broad categories of innovation on their platforms. On the iPad, it looks like developers won’t be able to write applications in Java, .net, Python, Ruby, Perl, or any number of other languages (including Flash). And users won’t be able to install Firefox, Opera,IE, or any third party browser. There are countless other examples of applications and technologies that Apple doesn’t allow. Why? Apple won’t say.
And innovation isn’t just about technology, it’s also about business models. Developers on this new platform aren’t able to innovate there either. At best, developers targeting the iPad are subject to a 30% Apple Tax in the App Store. And at worst, developers invest time and money building a product that can never be brought to market, because the only channel is one that is centrally controlled and entirely opaque. In every case, Apple is a gatekeeper on how developers are able to deliver content to their consumers.
Over time, restrictions on technology and business opportunity have a chilling effect on innovation on closed platforms.
Enabling innovation doesn’t require magic. It requires open platforms. Apple understood this with the Mac OS. Remember the original Macintosh advertisements? On a Mac, any developer can build any app they want, and deliver it through any channel. At Adobe, we love our Macs and are one of the largest developers of software for the Mac.
iPad could be a great source for innovation. It would be a disappointment to see that wasted by keeping it closed to outside innovation to protect the Apple Tax.
At Adobe, we’re seeing a similar shift towards the opening of mobile platforms. Google’s Android OS is at the front of this effort, as are more than 50 participants in the Open Screen Project who are working to provide open access and a consistent runtime for devices.
We hope to enable platforms where developers can build what they want. Where they can freely choose which technologies they want to use. Where they have direct access to users, and flexibility in how they take their creations to market. The web has proven to be a powerful engine of innovation because it provided unprecedented freedom to developers and users.