Apple and Adobe

Much has been written lately about Apple falling out with Adobe. Here’s my version of that story.

Apple is always keen to get its customers pushed forward to the next release of their operating system. In the most recent case, they offered a very cheap mini-upgrade which didn’t even change its name all that much (Leopard to Snow Leopard). This is important for Apple, because it makes life better for developers coding for the platform, and, remember? Developer, developers, developers, de… you get the picture.

Adobe put a dent in Apple’s plans when they caused a kerfuffle about possible incompatibilities of CS3 or even CS4 with Snow Leopard. This may have put some customers off upgrading, and detracted from Apple’s long-term strategy. I could fully understand this if Adobe felt they had been loyal partners to Apple all along, and were now being left out on the iPhone. Perhaps Adobe never really understood, or perhaps had no tolerance for, the fact that Apple’s reasons for leaving out Flash are far deeper. The reason is myspace, youtube, and facebook: music! Apple budged a little bit when offering H.264 encoded videos in a special Youtube application, but the key here was that Apple could keep tabs on what was and wasn’t added, and could prevent both hit singles and blockbusters being shared free of (its) charge.

Apple knew that Adobe would be mad that Flash isn’t going to be on the iPad either, so Steve decided to lead a pre-emptive strike by shouting very loudly about how terribly Apple has suffered at the hands of evil Flash (my observation is that no browser crashes as frequently and effectively as Safari, and to make things worse, it doesn’t have any recovery either, but that’s just a by-the-by for Steve’s personal introspection).

Meanwhile, the fact that Adobe keeps a product-for-product edge in market share over Apple’s Pro apps (Aperture, Final Cut Studio, Logic Studio) would be that Adobe also serves Windows customers. So in spite of the fact that Adobe’s files are not always compatible cross-platform (well, neither so are Microsoft’s), they do at least give themselves this appearance. How to describe Adobe’s position? Well, it needs to make sure that it is tolerated on the growing Mac platform. However, at least for the time being, Apple can’t afford to lose Adobe. Adobe stands to lose the most coercive product from its lineup if the web of the future doesn’t do Flash, but if youtube et al found their way unencumbered onto Apple’s mobile devices (via jailbreaking perhaps), Apple would lose a big chunk of its iTunes store revenue. So these two companies can hurt each other a lot, and at the moment it doesn’t look like Apple is going to play nice (all the while taking the mickey out of Google – not that I have any sympathy for that latter company given its recent anti-privacy antics).

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DRM-free: Why now?

Nobody could have missed the news that yesterday, the rules of the digital age were beginning to change for the better. EMI and Apple announced that a new option would be introduced to the Apple Music Store, of allowing the purchase of higher-quality, AAC encoded songs without copy protection. Norway has, of course, been rightfully praised for making a stand in the matter of digital lock-in that caused Jobs to write an open letter to the music industry and the world at large. One may suspect that the .30 USD surcharge is incurred by suspicions that some people will share files with their friends and family. The “analogue gap” seems to no longer be a concern, perhaps never was. But the music industry has been working hard for several years to make the traditional file-sharing networks unusable bittorrent arrived with great promise, but has become respectable with Bittorrent.com and Zudeo having developed distribution models for copyrighted content. I would therefore argue that a DRM-free deal at this time is as much favoured by the successes of counter-copyvio activities funded by the music industry as it is by Norway’s pressure or Jobs’ taking a stand. As a final comment, I fail to see how Microsoft is a loser in this deal any more than they have been ever since failing to establish compatibility between their own frameworks and with third party devices. It has been said that AAC is an industry standard, which I presume means it can be used without royalty payments to Apple. So Microsoft could be flexible for once and adopt AAC. Like that time they built Vista on top of a Linux or BSD kernel. What do you mean, that never happened? 😉