Apple rep says iPhone OS is open, Flash is closed and proprietary
The war of words between Adobe and Apple over the latter company’s apparent campaign to dethrone Flash as a standard web development technology continues to escalate.
Besides declining to work with Adobe to bring Flash to the iPhone OS, Apple has recently changed the Terms of Service for the iPhone SDK to disallow development with unauthorized tools like Adobe’s new Creative Studio 5.
Earlier this week Adobe’s Mike Chambers indicated that due to the new restrictions in the iPhone SDK TOS, Adobe won’t contine development of tools to create iPhone apps in Flash CS5. Chambers wrote that Apple wants to “make it difficult for developers to target other platforms.”
But does support for open standards actually make the iPhone OS itself open? After all, Flash also supports H.264, but as Muller correctly points out that doesn’t stop it from being closed.
Does Apple’s decision to restrict development tools and methods really have anything to do with openness? It seems unlikely.
Apple’s own approach, the iPhone SDK, is proprietary and closed as well and gives Apple control all the way through distribution to consumers.
In response to an email from an OS X developer critical of the new SDK TOS, Steve Jobs recently outlined a more believable, if not entirely accurate, rationale.
Jobs wrote, “intermediate layers between the platform and the developer ultimately produces sub-standard apps and hinders the progress of the platform.”
The problem with this argument is that using non-Apple sanctioned (ie controlled) development tools isn’t an indication of poor quality any more than using the official tools improves it. Ultimately quality is in the developer’s hands.
As to hindering progress, that’s only true if you define platform as the iPhone SDK, rather than the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or even iPhone OS itself. In reality app development on these platform is limited by the iPhone SDK
Their capabilities could be exploited to come up with even more innovative apps by third parties if not for Apple’s obstruction.
It’s hard to believe that Apple’s reliance on DMCA anti-circumvention language and restrictive language in SDK agreements with developers is either open or conducive to progress. Both are artificial barriers to the creative process of developing software.
Even harder to believe is that Apple is oblivious to the growing government interest in various aspects of the iPhone business, including the app approval process.
Apple is already involved in various iPhone related patent lawuits against companies including prominent Android phone vendor HTC and worldwide mobile phone (and smartphone) industry leader Nokia. Federal investigators have already gotten involved in the Nokia dispute.
If Adobe ends up filing a lawsuit against Apple, which seems to be the rumor or speculation du jour every day, it would certainly lead to more pressure on Congress and federal regulators.
There’s no doubt Apple’s decision to outlaw converted Flash apps from the App Store will have a negative impact on Adobe, particularly with their new CS5 software having just been released. Some have argued that the reason for Apple’s oddly timed introduction of the next iPhone OS to developers was intended to coincide with Adobe’s CS5 launch.
The ability to convert Flash projects to iPhone apps has been touted as a major selling point for months, and with good reason given the number of App Store downloads. However that doesn’t automatically make what Apple is doing illegal.
Which may explain why there’s been no lawsuit from Adobe yet. The only grounds for forcing Apple to open the iPhone OS to third party application frameworks would seem to be an antitrust claim.
The iPhone, successful as it has been, hasn’t made Apple the number 1 mobile phone or even smartphone vendor in the US. Those titles belong to Motorola and Research In Motion (RIM) respectively.
Without a dominant market position Apple certainly can’t hold a monopoly so any antitrust complaint seems doomed.
However there still might be an alternative solution for Adobe and other companies who want to develop software for the iPhone without Apple’s blessing. They could throw support behind the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) effort to get a DMCA exemption for smartphone jailbreaking.
Such an exemption would allow Adobe, Microsoft, Sun or any other application framework provider the chance to extend their architecture to the iPhone by piggybacking on consumer rights.
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