Flash republic

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a giant technology company stands accused of using its dominance to push a smaller player out of a juicy new market. No, it’s not the ’90s and I’m not talking about Microsoft vs Netscape. I’m talking about Apple vs Adobe.

It’s already looking every bit as serious as the Microsoft case. After a complaint by Adobe, U.S. antitrust regulators are considering an investigation into Apple’s App Store policy.

The App Store allows independent developers to sell useful add-ons (applications or “apps”) for Apple’s mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad. They have sold over four billion apps already, making both Apple and the developers a lot of money.

So what’s the problem? Apple is stubbornly refusing to accept applications created using Adobe’s tools. Given how wildly popular Apple’s mobile devices are, Adobe naturally feels aggrieved that it can’t join the festivities.

The issue has been brewing ever since the iPhone was first launched in mid-2007 without support for Flash — Adobe’s software “plugin” that enhances web browsing. People assumed it was just a matter of time before Apple got around to adding it. After all, Flash is hugely popular and used all over the web for everything from games to animated greeting cards to video players.

But two years passed with no sign of Flash, and Apple remaining ominously silent on the subject. By early 2010 Adobe began to vent its frustration in public, and complain that Apple was unfairly targeting Flash because it wanted to retain absolute control over its platform.

Then, on the April 8, Apple made itself abundantly clear by updating the agreement that all developers must sign when submitting apps to the store. In essence the terms went from a quite general warning not to use third party tools, to very specific criteria: Apple approved tools and standards, and nothing else.

But it seems the final insult that sent Adobe squealing to the regulators was an open letter by Apple CEO and founder Steve Jobs in which he called Flash restrictive, inefficient and downright unreliable.

Jobs makes some good points. Adobe owns and controls the Flash platform, so why should we trust them over Apple? And most Flash apps are not suitable for Apple’s touch-based interfaces — they are designed for use with a computer and a mouse. This means many Flash apps would be effectively unusable on an iPhone.

But some of his points are more contentious. He claims that Flash has proven to be unstable and that it reduces battery life. He also implies that Adobe’s technology is so bloated that it can’t cope with the special needs of mobile devices. These kinds of technical quibbles are hard to prove absolutely, but they must sting Abobe nonetheless.

Yet despite landing several solid blows, Jobs fails to knock out his opponent with his final point: that Adobe’s tools will “come between the platform and the developer” and that this will hinder “the enhancement and progress of the platform”.

What Jobs is really saying is: we don’t want anyone messing with our turf. He may couch it in cuddly prose about allowing developers to “stand directly on the shoulders of this platform and create the best apps the world has ever seen”, but it’s still about retaining monopoly control.

The big question here is, does Adobe have any right to complain about that monopoly? Apple wholly owns its platform — both the device and the software — and that platform is only one of many. This is quite different from the Microsoft case where a single company controlled over 90% of the market. Should Apple be forced to open up, as Microsoft were?

And while that question is important for the industry, its customers will remain oblivious unless it affects their experience. Regardless of what Jobs may say, most people aren’t going to be pleased when they shell out upwards of R6 000 for a device only to discover they can’t play Farmville on the damn thing.

Follow Alistair on Twitter, or read his blog.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Not a sweet deal, Mister

Mister Sweet workers say they will not risk their health, and the lives of others, to continue producing and packaging confectionaries

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Nehawu launches urgent court bid over protective gear for health...

The health workers’ union says the government has rebuffed its attempts to meet about mitigating risks to workers

Stay at home, Cyril said. But what about the homeless?

In Tshwane, forcing homeless people off the street resulted in chaos and the abuse of a vulnerable population. In Durban, a smooth, well-planned operation fared far better

Press Releases

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world