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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The OS X speech-to-text myth

There is a widespread myth in the Mac community that Mac OS (yes, not just OS X) has included “speech recognition” for many years. I would argue that through well-publicised Jobs keynotes, in-store lecture theatres, many fansites with documentation, mostly in the form of two-paragraph “tips”, and, more recently, instructional videos on the Apple website, user knowledge of OS X is much better than user knowledge among Windows users. How is it, then, that very few Mac users actually use “speech recognition” (my claim)?

You will find that historically, speech recognition has been synonymous with “speech to text” (which the Wikipedia article still redirects from: speech to text). During the sometimes claimed twenty years that OS X has included “speech recognition”, third party applications such as iListen and ViaVoice for Mac have continued to sell. So is this an anomaly of history, where Mac customers have for years continued to buy third party software for functionality that was actually included in their OS out of the box? No, something perhaps more perfidious. There has been a semantic shift, where “speech recognition” for Mac users has become identical with “Speakable items“, a feature of Mac OS introduced as part of the OS in March 1994, although available from 1993 as a stand-alone program called PlainTalk. Speakable items includes phrases that allow you to navigate windows and certain programs; it also lets you define your own phrases which you can associate, for instance, with Automator scripts. I’ll reiterate again: PlainTalk and Speakable Items are not speech recognition! At best, it might be called phrase recognition, and its 1993 release date is very little to show for “20 years of history”.

Finally, as of this writing, speech to text in Tiger can neither be found in the System Settings, nor in the Services menu. Since it hasn’t been mentioned in any of the keynotes preceding Leopard, I doubt it will suddenly appear. (Remember the “top secret features”? Where are they?) If you wish to prove me wrong and demonstrate that scores of Mac users have been morons to buy third party software that did real speech recognition, and that purported experts have been ignorant, please post a reply!

That failing, I have to conclude that a certain gadget website (to be punished with a non-link) has been quite unfair in its recent comparison of Mac OS X 10.5 and Windows Vista, which ignores Vista’s true speech recognition.