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Friday, April 09, 2010, 03:55 pm PT (06:55 pm ET)

Adobe evangelist lashes out at Apple over iPhone 4.0

Changes in Apple's iPhone 4.0 developer agreement have sparked passionate outrage from a Flash evangelist which was so intense that Adobe redacted some of his blog comments.

Curiously, Apple made no mention of the wording change or what it might mean to developers during the introduction of iPhone 4.0. The new clause was only discovered by registered iPhone developers, who then leaked the agreement wording to the public with their own interpretation of what it might mean.

Apple has neither clarified nor expanded upon the wording in the new agreement, nor is it likely to do so. Requests for further comment from Apple have as yet received no reply.

Responses from other sources have far more intense. Lee Brimelow, a Platform Evangelist at Adobe who advocates Flash and related Flex and AIR development for the company, posted to The Flash Blog today an entry that began by saying, "new iPhone 4.0 SDK language appears to make creating applications in any non-Apple-approved languages a violation of terms. Obviously Adobe is looking into this wording carefully so I will not comment any further until there is an official conclusion."

Immediately afterward however, Brimelow announced, "What is clear is that Apple has timed this purposely to hurt sales of CS5." One of the primary selling points of CS5 is Flash Professional's touted ability to generate native iPhone apps using the same tools to create Flash content, although there are a variety of other notable new features in the package.

That comment was incendiary enough to prompt Adobe management to ask Brimelow to strike it from his blog entry, which he later did. But Brimelow continued in his criticism, calling the change "a frightening move that has no rational defense other than [Apple] wanting tyrannical control over developers and more importantly, wanting to use developers as pawns in their crusade against Adobe."

Will Unity3D run afoul of the new iPhone 4.0 SDK?

Brimelow also said "This does not just affect Adobe but also other technologies like Unity3D," apparently citing speculation by Mac blogger John Gruber, who explained yesterday that the rule change might not involve Unity3D, but also that it might. (Unity3D is a cross-platform gaming engine that makes it easier to develop titles for a variety of systems, from Macs and PCs to the Wii and iPhone.)

"I originally thought this would ban games written using Unity3D," Gruber wrote, "but perhaps not — Unity3D produces a complete Xcode project and Objective-C source files, so it’s more like a pre-processor than a cross-compiler. Hard to tell. If you forced me to bet, though, the fact that developers are writing C# code puts Unity3D on the wrong side of this rule."

Brimelow didn't wait for official clarification or even parrot Gruber's uncertainty about how this would all play out. Instead, he described the change as a "hostile and despicable move" by Apple before characterizing his own company by saying, "All we want is to provide creative professionals an avenue to deploy their work to as many devices as possible. We are not looking to kill anything or anyone."

Adobe vs Flash

But it wasn't too long ago that Adobe was itself trying to kill Flash, back when Flash was owned by Macromedia. Adobe supported SVG as an alternative to doing vector graphics on the web, and promoted SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) as an open specification for presenting multimedia using XML.

Of course, now that Adobe owns Flash, it has dropped all interest in advocating those open standards, because with its acquisition of Macromedia, Adobe also obtained what Brimelow might call "tyrannical control over developers" who create dynamic web content.

Canvas vs Flash

Meanwhile, the most significant threat to Adobe's Flash platform is HTML5's Canvas. Adobe is participating in HTML5 development, but is among those working to split Canvas from the HTML5 specification, a move that would greatly weaken the next version of the web's markup language from delivering the kinds of features that are often currently implemented in Flash.

Another company with less than enthusiastic interest in Canvas is Microsoft, which like Adobe has its own web plugin architecture designed to replace web standards with proprietary binary code that requires a separate runtime. Microsoft will be protecting the interests of Silverlight by releasing Internet Explorer 9 with support for many HTML5 features but lacking an implementation of Canvas.

Canvas was developed by Apple within WebKit to power features like Dashboard widgets. It enables dynamic, scripted rendering of 2D graphics inside of an element that can be embedded in HTML.

Canvas was then adopted by Mozilla and Opera, after which Apple then submitted the technology to WHATWG to become part of the HTML5 specification. While based on Apple-patented technologies, the company has agreed to provide royalty-free patent licensing for Canvas technologies when it becomes part of the official W3C recommendation.

So when Brimelow says his company is "not looking to kill anything or anyone," it can only be because he's either unaware of (or working carefully not to say anything about) HTML5 Canvas. Brimelow might also be selectively forgetting that Adobe, and Macromedia before it, also did nothing for years to deliver either an optimized, functional Flash plugin for the Mac platform or to deliver a mobile version of Flash that actually worked prior to the success of the iPhone.

Brimelow concluded his post by insisting that he "will not be giving Apple another cent of my money until there is a leadership change over there," then announcing that he was not actually trying to organize a boycott, then ending with "go screw yourself Apple," before noting "comments disabled as I’m not interested in hearing from the Cupertino Comment SPAM bots."

Mad about Apple

Brimelow isn't the only person at Adobe upset about Apple. The company has already warned its investors in SEC filings (cited by MacRumors from a Bloomberg report) that "to the extent new releases of operating systems or other third-party products, platforms or devices, such as the Apple iPhone or iPad, make it more difficult for our products to perform, and our customers are persuaded to use alternative technologies, our business could be harmed."

That same report cited Patrick Walravens, an analyst at JMP Securities in San Francisco, as saying, "Adobe’s goal has been to make it so people can create content once and it can be delivered across all platforms — that’s the pitch and Apple is trying to derail that effort."

Of course, the reality is that content for mobiles and desktop system and multitouch tablets simply can't be delivered by a "one size fits all" platform, which is why Apple has separate development targets and Human Interface Guidelines for the iPhone, iPad and the Mac.

The report also stated Adobe's position that "more than 96 percent of U.S. Web surfers have Flash installed on their computers, according to researcher StatOwl," without noting that the iPhone now accounts for more than 60% of all smartphone traffic globally, while the iPod touch accounts for nearly all (93%) of web traffic among "mobile Internet devices." It's not hard to guess that iPad will similarly account for most "tablet" web traffic.

Having locked up the PC browser market, Adobe has a very strong position in controlling how interactive content is delivered. But having no showing at all in the mobile properties Apple has created is a serious problem, one Adobe needs more than angry rhetoric to fight against.