Apple vs. Adobe’s Flash

April 30, 2010

The big battle of the week has been brewing all year: Steve Jobs and Apple versus Adobe and its Flash technology (acquired when it bought Macromedia in 2005). We have seen a few skirmishes in the last months, but now it’s war. Earlier today Jobs posted a 1,700 word missive explaining in extensive detail why Apple does not and will not support Adobe Flash technology.

Under the mild-mannered heading “Thoughts on Flash,” Jobs began gently, recounting the “golden era”:

Apple has a long relationship with Adobe. In fact, we met Adobe’s founders when they were in their proverbial garage. Apple was their first big customer, adopting their Postscript language for our new Laserwriter printer. Apple invested in Adobe and owned around 20% of the company for many years. The two companies worked closely together to pioneer desktop publishing and there were many good times.

jobsgeschkewarnock

Steve Jobs, Unidentified, Chuck Geschke and John Warnock “shortly after the launch of the LaserWriter.” (Photo appears on Adobe’s website; perhaps not for much longer.)

I was working in the industry in those happy days. Steve Jobs was at one point very close to Adobe’s founders, John Warnock and Chuck Geschke. Ah, but times have changed since then. Jobs continues:

Since that golden era, the companies have grown apart. Apple went through its near death experience, and Adobe was drawn to the corporate market with their Acrobat products. Today the two companies still work together to serve their joint creative customers – Mac users buy around half of Adobe’s Creative Suite products – but beyond that there are few joint interests.

Ouch!

flashiphone

I won’t repeat the technical arguments in Jobs’ essay – they’re easy enough to follow in the original. I’ll jump instead to the conclusions, which Dale Carnegie (“How to Win Friends and Influence People”) would not approve of:

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

The avalanche of media outlets offering their content for Apple’s mobile devices demonstrates that Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content. And the 200,000 apps on Apple’s App Store proves that Flash isn’t necessary for tens of thousands of developers to create graphically rich applications, including games. New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

A Google search on “Steve Jobs on Flash” brings up 97 million+ references, so if you limit the search to the past week, you narrow it to 60 million+ references, or a mere 587 actual entries. (I still don’t understand why Google doesn’t just say 587, when on the last page of the search I find “Results 581 – 587 of about 60,500,000 for Steve Jobs on Flash.” Why bother with the 60,500,000? What does that tell me? I’m sure the answer lurks out there somewhere.)

I digress: my point is that there is no shortage of commentary available regarding the controversy, and surprise: some side with Apple, some with Adobe.

My favorite is by Mister Jalopy at the site Hooptyrides. While categorizing Jobs’ argument as “well-reasoned,” he notes that…

…a big chunk of his criticism could be equally applied to Apple’s own policies. For kicks I did some search and replacing:
       – Replace Adobe with Apple
       – Replace Flash with closed, as a catchall for Apple’s myriad of closed technology
Of course, Job’s statement is very specific to Flash technology so the search and replace is not seamless, but it does create some funny paragraphs.

Before:

Adobe’s Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. While Adobe’s Flash products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Adobe and available only from Adobe. By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system.

After:

Apple’s closed products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Apple, and Apple has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. While Apple’s closed products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Apple and available only from Apple. By almost any definition, closed is a closed system.

I like that last sentence. Wish I came up with it.

Apple holds the upper hand in this contest – historically mere user discontent does not often change Apple’s strategies. Adobe has a lot riding on Flash and great plans for its future. This includes earning more money by releasing new Flash-creation software. Adobe’s Creative Suite 5, by coincidence now shipping as of today, includes a new program, Adobe Flash Catalyst. Adobe recognizes that the complexity of the available software restricts Flash development. According to Adobe its existing tools for creating Flash files, Flash Professional and Flash Builder, suited (respectively) “creative pros working in multimedia” and developers. Flash Catalyst targets “interactivity novices.”

While Adobe offers a survey on its site pointing to the “Worldwide Ubiquity of Adobe Flash Player by Version” the sad fact remains that the company makes no money from the free player. Adobe’s revenue source for Flash is software that creates and serves Flash files. Adobe reports Flash-related income as part of its “Platform segment” and in its SEC-filed financial statements for Q1, 2010, Adobe categorizes this segment as “an emerging market with high growth potential.” Yet it delivered only 5.4% of Adobe’s revenue in the quarter. As other segments of Adobe’s business mature (aka stop growing quickly) a lot more is riding on pulling revenue from Flash.

I’m counting all the early skirmishes as a single round: stay tuned for Round 3.

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A Day Without Media

April 28, 2010

Does this lede catch your attention (posted April 22nd):

What is is like to go without media? What if you had to give up your cell phone, iPod, television, car radio, magazines, newspapers and computer (i.e. no texting, no Facebook or IM-ing)?

Could you do it?  Is it even possible?

Well, not really, if you are an American college student today.

According to a new ICMPA (International Center for Media & the Public Agenda) study, most college students are not just unwilling, but functionally unable to be without their media links to the world.

According to the post on the study’s methodology:

A class of 200 students at the University of Maryland, College Park, undertook an assignment that asked them to go media-free for 24 hours.

Students had to go media-free for a full day (or had to try to go media-free), but they were allowed to pick which 24 hours in a nine-day period, from February 24-March 4, 2010.  By coincidence that period saw several major news events, including the earthquake in Chile on February 27, and the close of the Vancouver Olympics on February 28…

(The) study began with this assignment to students:
——————————————————————————–
THE ASSIGNMENT:  This week your assignment is to find a 24-hour period during which you can pledge to give up all use of media: no Internet, no newspapers or magazines, no TV, no cell phones, no iPod, no music or movies, etc. And definitely no Facebook. Although you may need to use the Internet for homework or work, try to pick a time when you can go without using it. This should be an interesting experience for you and examining your own dependencies, so really try to give yourself a chance to do the whole 24 hours.

You will write a post about your experiences. Feel free to do some outside research on the effects of Internet or cell phone dependence and share those links with your fellow students.

If you do NOT make it the full 24 hours, be honest about it. How long did you make it? What happened? What do you think it means about you?

More detail follows on how the study was executed and the results evaluated. After the introduction an entry offers several conclusions, some broad, some specific:

The major conclusion of this study is that the portability of all that media stuff has changed students’ relationship not just to news and information, but to family and friends — it has, in other words, caused them to make different and distinctive social, and arguably moral, decisions.

…they cared about what was going on among their friends and families; they cared about what was going on in their community; they even cared about what was going on in the world at large. But most of all they cared about being cut off from that instantaneous flow of information that comes from all sides and does not seemed tied to any single device or application or news outlet.

…teens and young adults today place an unprecedented priority on cultivating an almost minute-to-minute connection with friends and family.  And the ICMPA study shows that much of that energy is going towards cultivating a digital relationship with people who could be met face-to-face – but oftentimes the digital relationship is the preferred form of contact:  it’s fast and it’s controllable.

…students get their news and information in a disaggregated way, often through friends texting via cell phone, or Facebooking, emailing and IM-ing via their laptops.  Students are aware of different media platforms, but students have only a casual relationship to actual news outlets. In fact students rarely make fine distinctions between information that is “news” and information that is “personal.”

…Students also made it clear that socializing and the flow of information were inextricably intertwined.  When the earthquake in Chile struck, most students didn’t learn about it from newspapers or the evening news. They found out about it first through contacts on social networks sites, and that information propelled them to visit mainstream news sites…Information that is not delivered quickly is deemed as obsolete as the delivery method.

The conclusions wrap up with specific recommendations for universities, developers of media technologies and for journalists.

Perhaps the most intriguing entry explores why most failed to make it through an entire 24-hour span without succumbing to the lure of media.

Fascinating and well-presented, I think the big takeaway is that our often-disparaged youth have not abandoned their connections to the “real” world. Instead they have re-evaluated their priorities and are maximizing all available technology to connect more deeply than any preceding generation.

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Google and Branding

April 27, 2010

A very interesting article on corporate branding by Al Ries from AdAge, spotted by Bob Sacks today, points to a factoid that took me by surprise. I think most of us see Google as still an unstoppable tech monster that will continue to devour all competitors. Apparently not:

Here are year-over-previous-year revenue growth rates for Google’s past seven years.

    * 2003: 233.5%
    * 2004:117.6%
    * 2005: 92.5%
    * 2006: 72.8%
    * 2007: 56.5%
    * 2008: 31.3%
    * 2009: 8.5%

It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that Google’s rapid growth is coming to a screeching halt. Then what?

Hmm…I guess the game isn’t over.

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Spawn of the Devil

April 20, 2010

While reading YAP (Yet Another Piece) on what magazines must do to survive the changes in digital technology, radically titled “Magazines Require Innovation, Experiments in Digital and Print” (no, really?), I did manage to get a chuckle out of the accompanying online reader poll (scroll to the end of the article).

The question asked is “What do you think about ads on your mobile phone?”

These were my choices:

spawnofthedevil-question

As folks seem to have an insatiable hunger for all things digital, particularly those left behind in Redwood City bars, I imagined an enthusiastic acceptance of these ads, or at least resigned acceptance. While the response rate was not overwhelming, here are the percentages:

spawnofthedevil

Who would have thought that the digerati wouldn’t welcome the opportunity for one more message from their sponsor? I’ve just rented my forehead to Apple for a year, who outbid Microsoft and Google to place a quite visible tattoo squarely (well, actually somewhat roundly) in the middle. Adobe wanted to attach a Flash player around my neck, but I thought it might get uncomfortable.

“Spawn of the Devil,” indeed! I want mobile ads to be both plentiful and rarely relevant, just like most online ads today. And if we’re really lucky, they’ll freeze all useful functionality in the device while we wait for the HTML5 file to finish playing.

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Money-Saving Tips: Probably not a Series

April 8, 2010

While researching the preceding blog entry I stumbled on this money-saving tip for the millions of users of desktop printers. Tracking down the source took some detective work.

The news originated on the Printer.com blog. Then Diane Blohowiak, coordinator of information-technology user support at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, began testing Printer.com’s claim. Wisconsin Public Radio interviewed Blohowiak, and the Associated Press circulated a short account of the interview on March 25th this year. Associated Press reporter Dinesh Ramde kept after the story and on April 6th this week reported that Blohowiak now expects the university to save 5-10% of it’s $100,000/year budget for ink and toner cartridges. According to a Google search roughly 400 newspapers reprinted Ramde’s thorough reporting since April 6th.

saveprintingcostsSource: Printer.com

The detail would sound like mumbo jumbo to anyone not involved in desktop printing, but here’s the scoop. For test purposes Printer.com chose Arial. As shown in the chart above, if you switch to Century Gothic, printing costs would drop by 31%. Printer.com calculates that an individual could save a whole $20/year; a small business perhaps $80 a year. Diane Blohowiak has calculated that a major educational institution can save a whole lot more.

On the other hand, if you, your staff or students suddenly fall in love with Franklin Gothic Medium, costs could rise by a full 11% over Arial.

Ah I can hear you thinking: what’s the catch? Alas there are two. As reported in the second AP account, renowned type expert Allan Haley, director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging, points out that Century Gothic was designed for titles and headlines, not for full text documents. He still recommends Times New Roman or Arial for their readability.

Problem two is even more perplexing. The design of most letters in Century Gothic, because it’s a headline font, are broader than text fonts, and the same number of letters are going to use more paper when printed with this face. None of the reports state how much more paper.

Instead I’ll point out a third problem expanding Haley’s statement above. Century Gothic is a sans serif font. There are a minority of book designers who would use a sans serif font for long text documents (except for unique design challenges). It’s simply more difficult to read in smaller sizes for extended periods than serif fonts. (No one ever got fired for using Times Roman!)

Here’s an approximation of what the opening paragraph of The Wind in the Willows looks like set in 10 point Century Gothic:

witwillows80ps

Tiring. But go back to the chart. Times Roman offers a 29% savings over Arial, a mere 2% less than the problematic Century Gothic. Problem solved.

And now the punch line. Printer.com published its original research results on April 13th, 2009! The firm’s headquarters is in The Netherlands and so the data didn’t filter to the U.S. press until it could find a homegrown spin. The direct result: lots of ink and toner unnecessarily wasted in the past year while we avoided the challenge of reading long laser-printed reports set in Century Gothic.

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