Adobe does 'end-around' Apple with Flash dev tool, says analyst

Adobe exec says ability to recompile Flash apps good for Apple, good for iPhone users

Adobe's decision to give Flash developers a way to craft iPhone applications is an "end-around" Apple's decision to ban Flash Player from its popular smartphone, an analyst said today.

Yesterday, Adobe announced that the next release of Flash Professional CS5, which is to enter public beta by the end of the year, lets developers recompile Flash applications into native iPhone OS code. It also disclosed that seven such applications had been accepted by Apple's App Store, the only sanctioned third-party mart for iPhone software.

"Adobe's doing an end-around because it's in their interest," said Van Baker, an analyst at Gartner. "This is two guys butting heads. Adobe does an end-around to get Flash into the App Store, so from their developers' standpoint, that's a good thing."

An Adobe executive disagreed with Baker's take on the company's motives.

"I don't think 'end-around' is accurate," countered Adrian Ludwig, the group manager for the Flash platform, who argued that the two problems -- convincing Apple that it should allow Flash Player on the iPhone and the desire of Flash developers to get their wares into Apple's App Store -- are different issues.

"Flash developers want their content available through the browser, and we're working with Apple to see what we need to do as a software company, and as developers, to make that possible," said Ludwig of ongoing conversations between the two companies.

Apple and Adobe have been wrangling over whether Flash Player, which would run within the iPhone's Safari browser, should be allowed on the smartphone. Apple has claimed that Flash Player would degrade the iPhone's performance, with its CEO, Steve Jobs, saying that Flash "performs too slow to be useful" on the iconic smartphone.

"But developers also want to deliver [their content] through the App Store. That's what they're most excited about," Ludwig added.

Ludwig declined to comment, however, today when asked whether Adobe had informed Apple -- either before seven developers submitted applications or after their software was accepted -- that the software was created with a preliminary version of Flash Pro CS5, and not Apple's own iPhone development environment.

On Monday, Ludwig told reporters that Adobe built its development tool without any help from Apple .

Today, he argued that Adobe's move to open the App Store to Flash developers is good for Apple. "This is good for Apple, good for iPhone users," he said. "Apple has made a lot more money than we have from this announcement, since we haven't sold any development tools."

There are ways for Apple to spot iPhone applications created using Flash Pro CS5, Ludwig admitted. "It's certainly possible," he said, noting that by digging into the resulting iPhone code, Apple would be able to spot Adobe- and Flash Pro-specific APIs, or application programming interfaces.

Gartner's Baker said it was impossible to know whether Apple had been forewarned that the applications were developed using Flash Pro CS5 before it okayed them for the App Store. Apple did not immediately reply to questions today about Flash Pro CS5, and whether it would block other software recompiled with Adobe's tool from the App Store.

"I don't think anyone knows the answer," said Baker, "but [any disapproval] would be in keeping with Apple's tradition of favoring its own technology or code, whether it's H.264 for video or their own code base for iPhone apps."

Adobe plans to roll out a public beta of Flash Pro CS5 before the end of this year, and will ship a final product in the first half of 2010.

"There's been an extraordinary response, to be honest," said Ludwig. "It's the most vocal response of any announcement from us that I can remember, certainly in the last five years.

"The combination of seeing applications running on Windows Mobile, Palm's Pre and other phones, and the fact that developers realize they can now reuse their code, that story has been a long-time goal of developers who want to get into mobile," said Ludwig.

"But is this going to change Apple's mind about Flash on the iPhone?" Baker asked rhetorically. "Probably not."

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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