Enabling innovation isn't magic.

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.

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8 thoughts on “Enabling innovation isn't magic.

  1. Quote: “And users won’t be able to install Firefox, Opera,IE, or any third party browser.”

    You folks at Adobe keep on repeating this same FUD over and over and over. It is completely wrong.

    Please visit the App Store and search for “web browsers”. How many third party browsers are there available in that list? The answer is lots and lots and lots. Apple has been permitting third party browsers for the iPhone OS for well over a year now.

    Firefox, Opera and MS would be perfectly capable of shipping a browser on the iPhone if they used WebKit for their rendering engine. What they aren’t allowed to do is ship a browser using a non-WebKit rendering engine. So what you really mean to say is that Apple isn’t allowing non-WebKit rendering engines on the iPhone.

    In other news, what did Mozilla do with their latest beta release of mobile Firefox for the maemo platform today? They turned off plug-in support because the performance of Flash is so abysmal. You have to laugh, don’t you.

  2. How about you work on making a flash player for the mac that doesn’t suck before jumping to other apple platforms.

  3. I can’t understand how Apple can claim with a straight face that the iPad will deliver the best possible web experience. They’re effectively cannibalizing their own computer market. Obviously the best way to browse the web is on a computer with the choice of any browser you like, with the ability to run any plugins you like (including flash).

    Apple just likes to create superficial buzz for their products and use words like “magic” to sucker the average consumer (and Apple fanatic) into believing that Apple has “done it again!”.

    I look forward to Flash on my Palm Pre where I’ll be able to watch embedded videos in web pages, play various games and other things. Something the iPhone nor the iPad will be able to do.

  4. They’re successfully cannibalizing their own laptop or computer market place. Clearly the very best method to browse the internet is on the computer system with the decision of any browser you like, while using the capacity to run any plugins you like (which includes flash).

  5. I agree with this article. I think it should be a choice to have the flash player. I don’t have a ipad or and iphone so no big deal to me in regards to Apple. I still have a crackberry.