I’ve been using Adobe software for nearly as long as I’ve been using Apple computers, so I fancy myself as ideally positioned to comment on the Apple/Adobe brouhaha that reached new heights last week with Steve Jobs’ open letter about Flash.
The thing is, I don’t really want to. To take sides in this debate will only label me as a fanboy or apologist one way or another. These are two companies whose primary goal is to make money – neither acts out of generosity or benevolence. The truth is I love Apple hardware and I use Adobe’s Creative Suite more frequently than any other software.
No matter what you might think of Apple, Jobs’ letter reveals much about the differences between the two companies. Whether you believe Jobs is being sincere or not, there’s no doubt that this letter was a thoughtful, planned move on behalf of the CEO of Apple Inc. This wasn’t a slip at a press conference, or an angry retort to a pushy journalist. Jobs sat down and wrote a list of six reasons why he doesn’t want Adobe’s plug-in on his platform, and like it or not, consumers are agreeing with him by voting with their wallets.
In stark contrast, look at Adobe’s response to Jobs’ letter. They announce that Flash Player 10.1 will be released in June for Android. Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen refutes Jobs’ claim that Adobe is the No. 1 cause of crashes on the Mac by implying that it “has something to do with the operating system” and claims that Jobs’ accusation of Flash draining resources on mobile devices is “patently false” yet offers no evidence to the contrary. Does this sound like the logical, reasonable claims of a company who is proud of their market-leading, world class product?
As a web designer I am aware of the pros and cons to using Flash for a variety of needs and uses. To my mind, there is a trade off for using Flash, and more and more there are fewer instances where I “need” to use Flash. Video and audio will soon be handled without the need for plug-ins, thanks to HTML5 advances The new Canvas element will provide some basic animation capability which will no doubt grow as the standard settles. At that point the strongest argument for Flash becomes that it is easier to use Flash than learn the new tools and methods.
I believe this is a prime example of what is wrong with Adobe. They are not aligning themselves as creators of the finest tools available, they are positioning themselves as creators of the tools that are the path of least resistance. Why learn HTML5 when you can just keep using Flash? Why use Apple’s preferred tools for creating iPhone and iPad apps when you can just use Adobe’s familiar software and create an approximate likeness?
So, here are my three big hopes for Adobe, in no particular order:
1. Know Thyself
Look deep within and understand what you are and what you do for customers. If you see yourself as the creator and protector of the Flash workflow today and forever more, so be it. I don’t like it, and I won’t support it, but I’m sure there are those who will. If you look deep inside and find that you want to be innovators, creators of the very best tools for the job of building web content, then act accordingly. Protect Flash, but give people native tools for future standards too.
2. Be Honest
You got called out by another company’s CEO. In public. And you have no argument. That should be a sign that somewhere along the line, you haven’t been honest with yourself or your customers. You’re a company, and you need to be profitable and Flash is a big earner, so we understand that you don’t want to kill it off or open source it. Just don’t keep telling us that Flash is great and Flash is the future and that it works great on mobile devices and no, it doesn’t use up battery life any faster than any other software if it’s not the absolute truth. We may not be as smart as your engineers, but we know crashes when we see them.
3. Act In Your Customers Best Interests
This ones tough, granted. Who ARE your customers, the web designers and app creators who want to use Flash as their IDE for everything, or the end user trying to access Flash content on their iPhone? It’s a chicken and egg situation, but Flash got where it is today because it met a need, it answered a question that no one else was answering. Is that still true today? Maybe, for some, in some cases. Adobe is starting to show signs that they understand why a percentage of their customers are unhappy – the quick release of a hardware accelerated version of Flash Player for the Mac is one example. We want more. Your software is expensive, but Apple’s own business model shows that people will pay large sums of money and be thrilled about it, if they feel they’re getting a premium experience.
I don’t expect anyone to pay attention to this, but I do hope that Adobe and it’s apologists begin to ponder the answers to these questions. I read Jobs’ letter carefully and with skepticism, and I challenge Shantanu Naruyen to write a similarly open letter. If he can’t, or won’t, perhaps its a big red flashing warning sign.