Apple’s Flash concession isn’t game over

by / Wednesday, 15 September 2010 / Published in Blog

It’s not entirely surprising that Apple has backed down on its position of banning the use of Flash tools, such as Adobe’s latest Creative Suite, to develop apps for its iOS platform.

Apple and boss Steve Jobs made a lot of noise about Flash’s flaky behaviour back in April this year, whilst singing the praises of HTML5, even arguing that it was already a viable alternative.

Problem is, for the programmers out there who have invested huge amounts of time and money into developing skills and investing in tools around Flash, whatever its foibles, Apple’s line-in-the-sand strategy put a lot of backs up.

Look at it from a developer’s perspective. They want to be able to create really cool apps to run on Apple’s iTouch, iPhone and iPad. But they also want to do the same on any number of Google powered Android phones and soon tablets. When Apple effectively banned developers from using Adobe’s new suite of software tools aimed at a build once, be used on many platforms approach, it was as if Apple was saying to the developer community that they must only develop for the iOS and only use Apple’s own tools to do so… even if the end product was 100% compatible with this platform

And that’s what would have happened. Many small developers almost certainly wouldn’t have the time nor resources to go developing two types of app in parallel using two different developments sets – one to Apple’s restrictive requirements using its own proprietary tools, the other, using something like Adobe’s Creative Suite, capable of pretty much running on any Flash compatible device.

But this is merely a battle in what looks like a long war. Apple most likely had the change of heart as it knew that dictating what tools developers could use would ultimately fall foul of US anti-trust regulators. To pre-empt that possibility Apple has dropped this restriction. Yet, what it has specifically not done is allow Flash onto any of its devices.

It’s just a guess but, given that HTML 5 will be a long time maturing, Apple may have no choice but to allow Flash onto the iOS platform too if only to help it retain customer loyalty.  So many websites utilise Flash that people will be frustrated that a site which otherwise works perfectly well in a PC or Mac web browser, will not work on their iPhone or iPad.

With a slew of Android phones and tablets to reach markets shortly, running the Flash friendly Android 2.2 OS, it will rapidly become a point of differentiation with Apple. Of course, the people buying Apple products are motivated by other things, but Android devices will come in many shapes, sizes and price points well below Apple. This, in conjunction with the frustrations of being unable to make websites work as they should where Flash is involved, will probably force Apple to concede to Flash being on the iOS platform.

Ultimately it’s about Apple, the former underdog, trying, perhaps too hard, to maintain an iron grip over its market share in the smartphone and emerging tablet markets. But we shouldn’t forget that whilst we’re all getting very excited about these new smarter phones, the sector is only just emerging from the specialist into the mainstream. If Apple is too restrictive too early it could easily find it loses its early advantage to much more open platforms like Android and perhaps even Microsoft’s impending Windows 7 Mobile OS.

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