2010-02-05

Flash and the iPad

The release of the iPad, which is essentially a large iPhone without the phone (or iPod Touch, if you prefer that terminology) has re-ignited the blogosphere brouhaha about the battle between Apple, which refuses to have a Flash player on the iPhone and iPad, and Adobe, the current owner of the Flash technology.

Adobe is starting to deal with this: they now have the ability to take things authored in their Flash developer tools and compile them into iPhone apps. This just seems to provide further proof that Adobe's revenue model is to make money from the authoring tools, not the Flash player, which they give away for free for the highest-volume platforms. (Adobe does make some revenue from selling ports of the player to other platforms, such as some mobile devices, but they also do incur development costs for this. I have no idea if that side of things makes or loses money.)

Given that, why keep the player proprietary? They've already changed their SWF specification license to allow using the specification to create players, which they previously did not allow. The next obvious step is to open source the code to the player (at least as much of it as possible—they may have licensed some technology from others they they cannot open) to try to damp down even further the complaints that Flash is a proprietary format.

Opening up the player is not likely to bring in any more competition for authoring tools; they already have had that for years. (I wrote and sold one myself.) This doesn't even have to kill their business of porting the player, if that's profitable; not every vendor that wants Flash will want to do the port himself. Nor would it stop them from continuing to offer their own plugin (which could include technologies that they can't open) for the best and most consistent Flash experience.

It's true, this could well make for a sub-optimal Flash experience on some platforms where a third party did the port. Still, it's better than not playing on those platforms at all, isn't it?

In hindsight, Adobe probably should have tried to take SWF to a standards track years ago, preempting competition from HTML5 and its associated technologies. Had they done that, they might now be in the position of being the largest provider of authoring tools for the iPhone and iPad. As it is, they're playing catch-up, and as standards grow in functionality, we may see them start taking over the market that previously belonged entirely to Flash.

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