May 10

Adobe: fighting logic with advertising

Aha. So the fight over Flash has turned into this: Apple’s CEO vs. Adobe’s ad agency.

On one side, Steve Jobs lays out his facts in an open letter. On the other, Adobe’s agency plays with design and poetic meter.

Apple states its case for the cost of a few electrons. Adobe spends a king’s ransom on full-page ads in major newspapers.

Sorry, this isn’t debate — it’s just an ad campaign. Even worse, it’s a campaign in which Adobe wraps itself in the flag of freedom, and casts itself as the champion of three million developers. (Three million developers who just happen to keep Adobe’s cash flow flowing.)

I’m sure Adobe would love to turn this into a debate about freedom — anything other than a debate about the merits of Flash. Problem is, freedom is not the issue. Creating the best user experience on iPhone is. And Adobe has failed to rise to that occasion for three years.

Both sides in this debate rely on proprietary technology. Steve Jobs, in his open letter, says Flash is proprietary, but adds, “Apple has many proprietary products too.” He goes on to explain that Apple can’t allow its mobile app development to depend on other companies which may or may not keep pace with iPhone’s capabilities. Since Adobe has failed to deliver a functional Flash for any mobile platform even today, that’s a valid concern.

Apple is 100% guilty of being controlling, and bless their little hearts for it.

“Create-once/deploy-everwhere” apps may have some appeal for developers, but homogenization is not a user advantage. Apple is doing what they’ve done forever — trying to create the best user experience. In doing so, they’re actually the only company who does provide choice.

Apple’s walled (and well manicured) garden of mobile devices is the choice beyond BlackBerrys, Droids, Nexus Ones and what-have-you. It offers that choice to users and developers. Apple’s ever-growing number of customers don’t seem to mind the exclusion of Flash, nor do its ever-growing number of happy shareholders.

When iPhones, iPods and iPads begin to falter, Apple might have reason to re-think their strategy. But even then that would require an Adobe capable of making Flash work right. At this point, all Apple can see are rising sales and an Internet that’s showing signs of moving away from Flash.

True, they also see a bunch of whiny ads from Adobe. But somehow I doubt they’re about to join the movement.

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  • Chris

    While I agree with everything you wrote, I’m worried that Apple is losing is shine a bit. Their reputation for being the “cool, anti-establishment” company is taking a beating.

    Suddenly Apple is looking like Big Brother. That’s a problem they need to address. Fast.

    I want my whimsical Apple back.

  • Paul

    @Chris. The media is the establishment (whether you look at it from the right or the left)—especially when it gets on its freedom-of-the press high horse. I’m all for freedom of the press, but the first amendment doesn’t give anyone the right to steal. And who died and made Gizmodo the King of Cool?

    Finally, since when are crybaby, geeky computer nerds cool and anti-establishment? Especially when they do the bidding for a major corporation?

  • ChuckO

    @Ken, These tactics are madness. Why Adobe ever got into this public debate is beyond me. They have to deliver a great mobile version of flash, period! Having this argument in public serves no purpose for them.

    @Chris, I think Apples morphing into something similar to Disney or at least Walt’s vision of Disney. A walled garden where it’s always clean, bright and fun. I’m not sure any tech company is ever truly cool. Cool for a tech company maybe. Being a cool tech company is kind of like being the sexiest eunuch at the palace. It beats the alternative but it’s also a questionable accolade.

    @Paul, Along the line of what I wrote to @Chris: There’s nothing much less cool than Engadget or Gizmodo which is why Tech can never truly be cool. Putting that kind of effort into tech gadgets and toys is just dorky and sad which is also why Apple is the coolest tech company. They limit the time and effort it takes to find good tech and make it easier to use thereby limiting the dorkiness.

  • ken segall

    I think reality does set in at some point, and it’s just impossible to be the cool underdog when you find yourself the leader. I miss the whimsical part of their advertising, but they can’t be too whimsical in the way they run their business — not at the level they now occupy. I try not to defend Apple blindly, but most of the recent criticism seems pretty petty to me, like the press is trying to generate some news. I know from personal experience that Steve Jobs is totally honest, and wants nothing more than to make great stuff that people fall in love with. He’s protective of the user experience, because that’s what sets Apple apart. I think Apple customers will continue to appreciate that.

  • Chris

    They just need to have a little bit more of a sense of humor about certain things— like the “lost” iPhone. I’m sure their ad agency could’ve helped put a lighthearted spin on the matter.

    I think Jobs is right on with this whole Adobe-thing, but, again, have a sense of humor about it. Nothing wrong with praising what Adobe has done over the years while encouraging them (strongly) to get up to speed and develop a product that works like it should with Apple hardware.

    Kill’ em with kindness, Steve. The public will love even more for it.

  • rd

    When your competitor has
    to rely on political talking points
    of Choice, Freedom, Control, North Korea,
    you know they are desperate.
    Google and Adobe are guilty of this.
    I am surprised that Microsoft is waiting
    to use this tactic.

    Obviously Adobe is trying to
    be relevant by keeping this being
    talked about like here. So they
    better have part 2 of this plan (trap).
    Otherwise they are finished. We will
    see if they can deliver something next
    month as a demo of course.

  • ken segall

    To be honest, I never thought of Apple having their own bit of fun with the iPhone prototype thing. Yes, that could have been a very Apple moment — but as the latest documents show, that kind of leak was probably just way too financially damaging to be admitting publicly that the phone was real.

    Not so sure what they could have done differently with Adobe though. Flash has been dragging the Mac experience down forever, and Adobe hasn’t delivered a satisfactory mobile Flash in three years of iPhone’s existence. It’s one thing to have a sense of humor about a mishap, quite another to have a sense of humor about a partner failing outright as Adobe has done. I think the Flash situation just called for action, and I’m sure the public reaction is one of the many factors they weighed before choosing this path.

  • Scott Spindler

    This would have been a good come back from Apple:


  • Jimi

    Once again, I think the point of all of this has kind of railroaded. Apple chose to make a product that’s biggest selling point was that it was “best way to experience the web”, and in making this product they overlooked a technology (that rightly or wrongly) is a large part of the internet. So maybe they need to change their tact slightly and refer to the iPad as “the best way to experience some of the web, right now”.

    Lets face it, the whole “freedom” thing is just bullshit emotive language used to try and generate a ground swell of support… Freedom has nothing to do with it. The content on the internet is still there, and freely available to anyone that wants to view it with any other device, just not with products made by Apple…

    The most ridiculous part, of course, is that right now (as recommended by Steve Jobs) any web sites previously made with flash that want to have presence on an iPad can just make their own Apple SDK based applications instead… Why isn’t Steve Jobs telling people to redevelop in HTML5 if it’s a better and more open solution? Surely not because HTML5 isn’t actually a better and more open solution??

  • ChuckO

    @Jimi, “Why isn’t Steve Jobs telling people to redevelop in HTML5 if it’s a better and more open solution?”

    This is exactly what Job’s is saying. They want developers to use the SDK to develop apps. HTML5 for web content. Developers choose. People have shown a preference for apps on smaller devices and there’s more money in it than web based apps.

    @Jimi, “verlooked a technology (that rightly or wrongly) is a large part of the internet.”

    They haven’t overlooked anything. There is no product from Adobe that will play all Flash on web pages just like on a desktop. Think about that for a minute and let it sink in. There is some Flash product that plays SOME flash code for Android 2.?.

    I’m not saying Apple would have done anything different if there was but it’s ridiculous for Adobe to be out there making ads and getting offended when THEY DON’T HAVE A PRODUCT!!!!

  • Jimi

    Hey Chuck, this looks better than nothing to me:


    Apps are fine if you are developing applications. However, if you’re being asked to redevelop something that you can already deliver through a web browser, into a single platform application it seems kind of silly…

    Maybe they just need to add a preference for turning flash on with a disclaimer: “We highly recommend that you do not turn on flash as it will drain your battery and cause your iPad to crash, explode, and possibly kill all of your loved ones. Don’t blame us. Blame Adobe… Seriously.”

  • ChuckO

    @Jimi, That’s a demo of a product in development. Adobe doesn’t have a shipping product. Get your facts straight. Apple can’t run Flash on their products if they wanted to. There is no build for ARM processors.
    Right now you can get Flash Lite for the Nexus One generation or later ONLY of Android devices and IT WILL NOT RUN ALL FLASH.

    Here a quote from 9to5Mac: “But ARM’s marketing vice president, Ian Drew’s comments to ZDNet are much more telling.

    He accuses delays delivering Flash for mobile devices for delaying the evolution of the smartbook market.

    “We thought [smartbooks] would be launched by now, but they’re not,” he told ZDNet UK. “I think one reason is to do with software maturity. We’ve seen things like Adobe slip — we’d originally scheduled for something like 2009.”

    As Apple’s Steve Jobs recently pointed out, Flash was originally supposed to ship for smartphones in early 2009.

    Perhaps Adobe should be a little more open about its delays, rather than calling the regulators in”

  • Jimi


    My point is that flash can be run on a mobile touch screen device without the world exploding.

    If the problem really is that Adobe can’t deliver, then Apple should have simply called their bluff and said “We’d love to have flash on our mobile platform, however, Adobe have informed us that it is impossible for them to make a build of flash that will run on our platform. So until they do, you can use our fantastic SDK to build content for our devices.” The worst case scenario is that Adobe deliver flash and Apple can chuck it in with a on/off switch…

  • ken segall

    I think the stakes are too high now for Apple to make such an offer. The fact is, iPhone has now been among us for three whole years, and Adobe is only now — possibly — getting Flash to work on mobile devices. We won’t even know how well it’s working until it actually gets a workout in the real world. I think this whole experience only proved to Apple that they can’t let anyone get between them and their developers, they just can’t become dependent on other people to deliver the needed technology. With sales of iPhone doing nothing but rising — without Flash — Apple can only feel empowered to cut Flash loose forever. From what I see around the web, there is a lot of support for leaving Flash behind, and a lot of gratitude that someone finally has the clout to make this happen. In the end, it’s all about creating the best customer experience. Apple will do what it thinks is right, as will Google and the rest of them. The customers get to decide, as they should. I have a secret feeling about who’s going to win…

  • Jimi


    I think everyone supports leaving Flash behind for an open standard, but that’s with the previsor that whatever is replacing it is equivilent in features/platform support/dev tools. HTML5 has a long way to go in all of these departments… In the meantime I guess there will be plenty of work for web/app developers making different versions of their sites for different platforms.

  • hmmmmm …

    arguing for the freedom of “3 million developers” v the freedom of some (i’m guessing here) 15 million+ iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad users … seems to me that Adobe’s agency didn’t have their math hats on that day …

    and on an off note, how good a market would Flash based games be on the Pad, thereby supporting those 3 million developers and giving them some creative (and financial) freedom for emerging technologies rather than chaining them to desktops?

  • Marian

    “Suddenly Apple is looking like Big Brother. That’s a problem they need to address. Fast.”

    They always acted like Big Brother regarding _their_ products.
    We don’t need to address this problem, because it is not a problem.

  • Marian

    “If the problem really is that Adobe can’t deliver,”

    As Daniel Eran correctly pointed out, Adobe didn’t deliver a Flash plugin for _any_ smartphone platform yet. There’s an alpha for Android, which crashes all the time.
    Flash Lite doesn’t count since it is not full Flash and cannot run every Flash object.
    So yes, Adobe can’t deliver.

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