I’ve seen two interesting things today in the ongoing debate between Apple and Adobe over Apple’s refusal to allow developers for the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad to develop Flash-based applications. First is an open letter from Steve Jobs with an extensive discussion of Apple’s long relationship with Adobe (including an ownership share at one point). His remarks emphasize the primary reasons that I have heard offered for Apple’s decision: Flash is a proprietary application that would require Apple and developers to rely on its third-party plugins, which can be very problematic in development; Flash’s security problems (the ability to exploit those plugins) and the closed/open issue have led to development of a more flexible, updated HTML5 video open standard; and empirically, Flash is a contributing factor in a majority of operating system crashes.
Jobs’ comments on open architecture particularly caught my attention:
Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. While Adobe’s Flash products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Adobe and available only from Adobe. By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system.
Makes sense to me, particularly in light of all of the smart grid interoperability standard work I did and how I think such interoperability at shared interfaces is crucial to the development of competitive retail markets, in electricity service as well as in other markets. However, when Steve Jobs talks about open architecture it doesn’t entirely ring true to me, and an article from Daniel Lyons in Newsweek discusses why I sense that cognitive dissonance:
Now along comes Apple with a walled garden. Not only does it produce the iPad’s processor, its operating system, and the device itself, but Apple sells its content, via iTunes, and keeps 30 percent of the money. It also operates the App Store, the only place selling applications to run on the iPad, and it keeps a 30 percent slice there, too. This summer it will start selling ads that run inside the apps and will keep a 40 percent slice of that revenue. …
Part of me is glad Apple is doing this, because someone needs to buck the “everything is free” trend and see what happens. But I think the company is taking things to an extreme, exerting a degree of control that may ultimately undermine its own success. If you own an iPad or an iPhone, you’re aware (and no doubt frustrated) that it won’t run videos created in Adobe’s Flash software, which accounts for half or more of all the videos on the Web. An Apple spokesman says Flash is “closed and proprietary” and that Apple supports other development tools that are “open and standard.” But banning Flash also pushes customers to buy movies and TV shows from iTunes rather than watch them on a free Web site. It pushes developers to write apps that get distributed through Apple’s App Store, rather than through a Web browser.
Lyons then goes on to recall how Apple lost market share to Microsoft in the 1980s by following a very similar strategy. Will repeating this strategy in this dramatically different market and context lead to Apple walling itself off and limiting its market potential?
I am more interested in, and worried about, Apple’s walled garden creating application-based walls within the Internet, while at the same time Jobs is talking about open standards in all web interfaces. In fact, this is one big reason why I don’t own an iPhone and won’t own an iPhone (the other is that I will never give AT&T my voluntary business), despite my Mac computer use and my iPod ownership.