or, Choice Starts At Home
Typically, when I have written, presented, or discussed an issue I like to move on with my life. Adobe, however, won’t get their shit together which is making it hard for me to do so. Hopefully this will be the last thing I’ll have to say about the Flash Kerfuffle of 2010.
The tension over Flash support on iPhone OS is as old as the iPhone—which was announced in January 2007—and I suspect it goes a little bit further back than that. Someone at Adobe knew about the iPhone before it was announced, and they knew that there was no Flash support. Which presents us with two possibilities.
How Did This Happen?
The first is that Steve Jobs decided long before January 2007 that Flash would never come to the iPhone. This is certainly possible—I suspect the relationship between Apple and Adobe is still tainted by the painfully long time it took Adobe ship a native Mac OS X version of Photoshop. If you survived that transition as a Mac user you probably remember, as I do, waiting for Classic to launch when you started Photoshop in the morning while every single other app in your dock—including Microsoft Office—was native. That was a long time ago in computer years, but Steve never forgets.
The second possibility is that Steve realized sometime before 2007 that Flash wouldn’t be coming to iPhone 1.0 and he’d have to see what panned out after that. But what panned out was nothing. Steve has never been tight-lipped or esoteric in his criticism and his frustration with Flash and Adobe has really “gone public” in the last year, but it’s sure not news to Adobe. I’m inclined to believe that Steve “presented his concerns” to Adobe as early as 2006, and Adobe has done nothing about it, probably figuring Steve would come around eventually—after all, it’s Flash!
But we’re hot on the subject of corporate arrogance here, and despite the fact that Macs account for around 5-7% of computers sold, about 50% of Adobe’s customers are Mac users. Sure, Adobe would be crazy to ignore Steve’s “feedback,” and Shantanu Narayen (Adobe’s CEO) having worked at Apple should know better, but Adobe’s treatment of their customer base over the same period of time tells us a lot about what’s going on there.
Over the last 4 years, Adobe has been adding “edge features” to the Creative Suite applications in an attempt to expand the appeal of a product that has essentially reached market saturation and lost the hearts and minds of an alarming portion of their customer base. I don’t mean to belittle the work of Adobe Engineers; they’re the Good Guys. The folks who (for example) rearrange the Tools Palette with every release but continue to scatter commands that operate on a document layer into menus not called Layer, of which there is a perfectly good one, are the Bad Guys. The engineering at Adobe is fine, the strategy and tactics are mediocre.
Ever since Steve demoed the iPhone to Adobe—whether that was before MWSF2007 or not—and expressed his concerns about bringing Flash to the iPhone, Adobe has had the option of building a tight plugin that was both stable and efficient on the iPhone. And, God help ‘em, maybe they could do the same thing on the Mac.
But they haven’t. On either platform. We’ve seen four versions of the Flash Player in that period of time. They’ve been too busy working on marginally useful features in Creative Suite to fix existing problems.
But The Kids Love Us
So here we are, with a shitty Flash Plugin on the Mac, no Flash at all on iPhone OS and a situation that’s a little out of sorts. Steve dictates a letter to Executive Communications who runs it by Legal and has some kid post it to the website. Adobe’s response is to get Narayen on a PR blitz, create a new section of their website with cherry-picked pro-Flash stats and take out full page ads in major publications to accuse Apple of hating our freedom? Not only is that crazy, it shows that Adobe—the public face anyway—doesn’t actually know who’s on their team and who isn’t.
Consumers don’t care what percentage of websites use Flash and I don’t believe they choose a Smartphone because of Flash—God knows it hasn’t stopped anyone yet. Sure, consumers want “Their Sites” to work on their devices. If they find a site that doesn’t work, are they going to throw away their Smartphone?
This is only about the Flash Player to the extent that it is about Adobe’s ability to sell copies of Creative Suite to designers and publishers for authoring content. It’s the tools, not the player that matter. The people that Adobe needs to be courting here are—sadly—the same ones they’re been alienating for the last 4 years: the designers who feel like Adobe has been over-pricing Creative Suite, under-delivering on features, and ignoring their feedback.
If those designers loved Flash, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all. If Flash truly made up a majority of web experiences, the iPhone would support it or it would have no traction as a mobile internet device. If the market was with Adobe, then Netflix, ABC, et. al. wouldn’t be building iPad apps to cater to such a small percentage of web users. They’d be using Flash. Hell, Netflix doesn’t even use Flash now, and they’re the only major player in streaming video with paying customers.
Which Choice Do You ♥ Again?
What boggles my mind is that Adobe wants to sell CS5 and there is more opportunity now than there ever was to get designers hooked on Flash (the tool). The demand for engaging web experiences has never been higher and HTML 5 is the most powerful and most complicated version ever. If Flash could do for interactivity what Photoshop does for still images—build something once and export in your format of choice—designers and corporations would snatch up CS5 like free waffles. But you can’t do that. If you build a site, you’re exporting it in Flash/SWF, not HTML5/Canvas.
If Adobe really ♥ choice, maybe they should give their customers that choice instead of trying to pin their shortcomings and lack of vision on Apple and on the market.