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Tuesday, April 13, 2010, 04:00 pm PT (07:00 pm ET)

Blogger insists Adobe will sue Apple over CS5 iPhone app tools

A security blogger cited unnamed sources to claim that Adobe has plans in place to sue Apple over its decision to block the use of Flash Professional to create iPhone apps.

The blogger, known as "sjvn," writes for ITWorld, part of the IDG Network. He predicted the issue will "blow up in Apple's face," and cited "sources close to Adobe" as saying that Adobe "will be suing Apple within a few weeks."

After reviewing the recent details of conflict between Apple and Adobe over support Flash on the iPhone and in creating iPhone apps, "sjvn" concluded, "unless things change drastically between Apple and Adobe in the next few weeks, from what I'm hearing you can expect to see Adobe taking Apple to court over the issue. It's not going to be pretty."

It's not clear what exactly Adobe would be suing Apple over. Apple has apparently never contracted in bad faith with Adobe to co-deliver Flash on the iPhone, nor did the company approve or endorse or in any way guarantee that Adobe's efforts to skirt the existing restrictions in the iPhone SDK would result in commercial success.

Apple on Flash: not good enough

Instead, Apple has maintained a clear, unchanging position since the iPhone first appeared that Adobe's desktop Flash platform was not suited for use on mobiles, while its Flash Lite platform failed to support the kind of Flash content users would expect of it.

Adobe did not deliver a mobile version of Flash Player until version 10.0 for Android last summer, but that version still didn't play most of the content users would encounter on the web.

Only the latest 10.1 Flash Player, which is still under development, can play most desktop Flash content on mobiles. However, it requires a Cortex A8-class processor, meaning that even if Apple wanted to bundle it, it could only work on the latest iPhone 3GS.

Adobe's mobile Flash Player 10.1 is targeted at Palm's webOS and Google's Android, with a version planned for Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 7 and eventually RIM's BlackBerry OS. On any platform, it can only run on the latest phones sold over the past several months.

Apple has been selling the iPhone for three years now, and has never even had the option to bundle a version of Flash until just recently. It would be hard to imagine how Adobe could claim any legal right to demand that Apple support its monopoly position in desktop dynamic web content playback.

Apple's progressive iPhone platform

Adobe's alternative strategy, which brainstormed the concept of using Flash Professional to create native iPhone apps as a way for Flash developers to port their existing content to the App Store, was similarly never something Apple said it would support. Instead, while Adobe worked on adding support to its Flash development tools to create apps that could run on iPhone 3.0 devices, Apple was busy working to finish iPhone 4.0, which is expected to ship in roughly two months.

At that point, Apple will want to rapidly shift its developers from iPhone 3.0 to iPhone 4.0-savvy apps within iTunes, just as it worked to quickly transition iPhone App Store titles to iPhone 3.0 last year.

However, if a significant number of App Store titles are built using third party tools (such as Flash Professional) that do not support the new iPhone 4.0 APIs, including features such as multitasking and new enterprise APIs, Apple's ability to quickly shift users to the new OS and its capacity to push developers to support its new features will be severely impaired.

This all happened before

Apple ran into similar problems back in the early 90s, when all the application developers that had started their businesses on the Macintosh began seeking lowest common denominator ways to sell their apps to both Mac users and Windows PC users. This resulted in developers largely ignoring all the new features Apple developed for the Mac OS, including QuickDraw GX and PowerTalk.

Rather than developing apps for the Mac, developers such as Microsoft and Adobe began creating their own internal platforms that then tacked a Mac-native front end onto their new general purpose code. The result was that Apple suddenly became powerless to push its third party Mac developers to support the platform's unique features, resulting in increasingly less differentiation between the Mac and Windows PCs.

Ten years later, Apple similarly had a difficult time trying to convince its third party developers to natively support its new Mac OS X operating system. Adobe refused to bring many of its Mac apps to the new Carbon environment Apple created expressly to facilitate easy porting to Mac OS X; among the list of apps that never made the transition were FrameMaker and Premiere. Adobe didn't even bring Photoshop to Mac OS X as a native app until 2005.

Similarly, while Adobe joined Apple on stage in announcing the migration of the Mac to Intel in 2005, Adobe didn't release a Universal Binary version of its core apps until early 2007. The company never updated its existing Creative Suite 2 apps, nor the Studio 8 suite it had acquired from Macromedia.

In the future, Apple doesn't want to be forced to wait a few years for Adobe to get up to speed on its development plans. For the iPhone OS, Apple has established a rapid development cycle that demands that its app developers stay current with the latest firmware. They can't do that if they're tied to a third party development platform like Flash Professional, which is likely to lag Apple's own Xcode tools by months or even a year or more.

That being the case, it's hard to fathom how Adobe could invent a legal claim to force Apple to do anything to support its efforts to produce iPhone apps using alternative development tools.

Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs reportedly explained the situation to a user by writing, "we've been there before, and intermediate layers between the platform and the developer ultimately produces sub-standard apps and hinders the progress of the platform."