Adobe on iPhone: Will Apple allow it?

October 15th, 2009 by Jeremy Chone

Apple is undeniably the most proprietary and closed technology company in the software industry. In fact, Apple makes companies like Microsoft and Adobe look like nonprofit open source organizations in comparison.

Apple’s iPhone product and marketplace have been the latest example of Apple’s excessive control. Apple ingeniously controls its iPhone platform at both the production and distribution levels. In practical terms, this means that iPhone developers must have the Apple SDK (which only runs on a Mac computer) to be able to produce an iPhone application (even if developers use other application SDKs, such as PhoneGap). Developers also must get the application approved by Apple in order to distribute it. Microsoft would not have even dared to dream of such a market scheme.

Nevertheless, at its annual event last week, Adobe demonstrated how developers can circumvent iPhone application’s production restrictions by using the upcoming Adobe Flash CS5 to produce native iPhone applications. And while this has little to nothing to do with putting Flash or AIR on the iPhone, it is big news for mobile developers. It will allow any developer on any platform (such as Mac or Windows) to develop iPhone applications.

As of now, Adobe’s solution lacks many of the most interesting iPhone APIs, but it is safe to assume that if Adobe is serious about promoting AS3, its language for native iPhone development, Adobe will provide full iPhone API access in the final release.

Now the big question is, will Apple allow Adobe to fork its iPhone developer community?

It is fair to assume that Adobe did not ask Apple’s permission, and that Apple probably sees this initiative as a competitive threat rather than an opportunity.

Apple cannot afford to ignore Adobe anymore, and must respond to this initiative by carefully weighing the risks of each course of action. Apple has the following three options:

1) Let it go

The first and most unlikely option for Apple will be to let the matter go and allow the Adobe developer community to develop native iPhone applications with Adobe’s technology without needing Apple’s SDK.

By doing so, Apple will definitely change its reputation for maintaining strict control of its technology. However, ignoring this event will set a dangerous precedent that Google may use to enable Android developers to do the same. While Apple might not consider Adobe a direct competitor in the mobile market, Apple definitely does not want to get “Windows’d” by Google.

While this would be the best option for developers, it will be astonishing if Apple goes this route. Apple will probably offer excuses to justify why this option would be a detriment to the iPhone developer and user communities.

2) Block it

The obvious approach for Apple would be to stop Adobe from releasing this product, either by making it technically unreliable, by denying any applications built with it, or by legally harassing Adobe.

The problem with this approach is that it could create a similar insurgence from the developer community as Google Voice did from the user community. This outcome would generate good PR for Adobe and raise awareness among developers about the need for more openness in the iPhone development environment (note how Apple is making anybody look open).

3) Control it

The most likely outcome is that Apple will attempt to control Adobe’s new product by entering into some sort of partnership with Adobe, and, most importantly, keeping Google out of such relationship.

This result could actually benefit Adobe, since Adobe’s true agenda is not to cross compile its Action Script programming language to iPhone byte-code, but rather to distribute its Flash and AIR runtime to the iPhone.

 

Perhaps Adobe’s Flash CS5 iPhone application support might be part of its master plan to get Apple’s attention in order to bring Flash runtime(s) to the iPhone. If so, this “show, don’t tell” strategy is a smart and modern way to influence bully market players such as Apple.

Anyway, what’s your take, what do you think Apple will do?

What Apple will do about Adobe generating iPhone Byte-code

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12 Responses to “Adobe on iPhone: Will Apple allow it?”

  1. Tony Says:

    Good writeup but I see a couple problems in your assumptions,

    1. You state that a downside to the Apple SDK is that it only runs on a mac. How exactly do you expect a developer using Flash CS5 to compile iPhone byte-code on a Windows machine? They can’t, they still need a mac to do it.

    2. Novell just released MonoTouch which compiles C# mono-code to iPhone byte-code. Adobe isn’t the only one trying this approach and so far Apple has been mum on it. Any app made for the iPhone by any technology compiled into iPhone byte-code that wants to get on the iPhone (officially) has to go through Apple’s approval process and the developer will still need to have the $99 dev license to do that. The only alternative is the homebrew community with jailbroken iphones which is not a legit software distribution network.

    I think you’re overestimating how much Apple truly cares about what language is used to write apps for the iPhone. What they really care about are the apps that are made and the functionality and security of those apps. Their business model isn’t broken because OMFGZ Adobe can now compile AS3 scripts to byte-code. The business model is apps sell iPhones, Objective C doesn’t sell iPhones.

    In your entire article you’re alleging that Apple somehow makes money off of developers writing iPhone apps in Obj-C code yet you don’t put forward any facts or reasons why that is.

  2. Jeremy Chone Says:

    @Tony

    For #1, my understanding is that Adobe Flash CS5 bypass Apple SDK. It generate directly iPhone bytecode.

    For #2, I did not know about mono-code. Does it require a Mac?

    I think that Apple wants iPhone developer to use Mac as much as possible. I think they do not really care if they use other SDK, as long as the last step to produce the App go through them.

    The assumption is that Apple wants to recreate the same ecosystem that Windows has among its developers and users.

    I agree, this assumption was not explained in the article.

  3. Geoff Says:

    Honestly, I can’t really take you seriously when you start with:

    “Apple is undeniably the most proprietary and closed technology company in the software industry. In fact, Apple makes companies like Microsoft and Adobe look like nonprofit open source organizations in comparison.”

    Yes, they are controlling, but this paragraph comes across as pure hyperbole. What about Webkit? How about a visit to http://opensource.apple.com/? Not that they are a model for what could be, but come on…

  4. John Says:

    Flash CS5 will not require a Mac to create the .ipa. It will work on any platform Flash CS5 runs on (Windows & Mac). Other non-XCode choices for creating apps includes: Unity3d, PhoneGap, Haxe, but I believe Adobe has the first choice that goes straight to .ipa and bypasses Xcode all together.

    I could definitely see Apple forcing Adobe to make a change that they must go through XCode, but I think that would be a good thing. Adobe’s solution, currently, doesn’t provide ways to debug or a simulator. Forcing Adobe to go through XCode would actually help Adobe. I don’t see them shutting Adobe down, because it will hurt other successful developers not using XCode development.

  5. Jeremy Chone Says:

    @John, Thanks for the informative comment. Yes, that was my understanding as well that Adobe is the only one to go straight to .ipa while the other required XCode in the workflow.

    Interesting view about Apple forcing Adobe to got through XCode, but in this case, the developer will have to be on Mac, right?

  6. Jeremy Chone Says:

    @Geoff

    Nowadays, any company have couple open source projects and prefix others with “open.” Even Microsoft and Oracle do open source. And yes, WebKit is a great Apple’s contribution to the communty.

    But in fact, I even have nothing against proprietary software. I am not saying that they should do more or less open source. I am just against the precedent they are setting in the mobile industry.

    iPhone is the only platform where the OS Vendor solely choose what application can be distributed or not.

    This is what I am against.

    I do not want to have to go through an iMicrosoftStore to publish my Windows application, an iGoogleStore to publish a Web Site, an iAndroidStore to publish a mobile application.

    Software stores can be good, can be controlled, but they should be optional, not required.

  7. Remains of the Day: Photoshopping Made Easy Edition [For What It's Worth] | Superstars Of Gaming Says:

    [...] Adobe on iPhone: Will Apple allow it? We already mentioned that Adobe is planning to turn Flash-developed apps into native iPhone apps in Flash CS5, but that doesn’t mean Apple will actually let it happen. [Bits & Buzz] [...]

  8. James Says:

    I think this is a crazy rant from an author that just has a chip on his shoulder…… maybe you just want to write an app for the IPhone to jump on the bandwagon that is making some people lots of money but cannot bring yourself to buy a mac……. maybe you just LOVE Microsoft and that you can fiddle with it to your hearts content so have a bigoted view towards Mac, the nearest competitor……. who knows, and I really do not care.

    It is just that this reads like a rant in places and is in no way an objective piece of much worth. Some of the points are well made, but you need to think about how your own beliefs come out when you write. Are you trying to spread rhetoric or have something interesting for people to read. I suspect you want the later but are delivering the former.

  9. Jeremy Chone Says:

    @James point taken. Usually I am relatively objective on my articles. But it is true that when it comes to Apple, my opinions tend to transpire and I am not even trying to hide or disguise them. The reason is that I really do not want a [mobile] software industry where developers must get the approval from the operating system vendor for distributing their application.

    Btw, I use Linux on my servers, Windows on my laptop, Android/HTC Magic for my phone, and I have even an iPod. So, I am not a fanatic user one way or another, and I usually like to use the best solution for each usage. For me, the best product is not always the best solution, the ecosystem around a product is often as important if not more.

    Anyway, thanks a lot for reading and sharing your point of view on this article.

  10. da bishop Says:

    there’s a player in the iphone game that isn’t apple:

    The telcos.

    That’s what makes the iphone not a computer, instead a phone or network appliance, with Terms of Service which restrict peoples’ use of the device, and most importantly: Don’t mess with our telephony features! (that’s you, Google Voice, we’re talking about *you*.).

    I don’t agree with this TBH, but that’s how it is. Without Adobe installing the same restrictions on their SDK that apple do, apple won’t be in a position to approve it.

    Pwnage tool 4 real people.

  11. IPhone Development Says:

    I really like MonoTouch. Worth every penny.

  12. How Google can checkmate iPhone | Bits And Buzz, by @JeremyChone Says:

    [...] development tools, has already been paved by numerous small companies, as well as by Adobe with the upcoming Adobe CS5. Consequently, it will be difficult for Apple to single out Google even if this move could be more [...]

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