Apple Versus Adobe: Third-Party Development Tools Are No Longer To Be
Speaking of multitasking, it may be at the nexus of yet another recent spat between Apple and former close partner Adobe. Then again, maybe not. When Apple unveiled the first beta of its upcoming v4 O/S for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad a few weeks back, the company also quietly revised section 3.3.1 of iPhone Developer Program License Agreement. As first reported by John Gruber, that particular section previously said:
Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs.
Now it’s more wordy and, in the process, more restrictive:
Back in early March, I mentioned that Adobe was planning to do an end around Apple’s block of Flash on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad by building support into its v5 Creative Suite applications for compiling Flash code into Apple-compatible binaries. Creative Suite 5 was unveiled on April 12, due to ship within 30 days of that date. Apple cut Adobe off at the knees four days (or, if you prefer, two business days) beforehand. But the section 3.3.1 rewrite didn’t just affect Flash; it also seemingly prohibited MonoTouch and a whole host of other development environments mentioned by Gruber.
The developer community quickly reacted to the news, with many observers quite vocally negative in their responses. Adobe, predictably, was also quite critical; Platform Evangelist Lee Brimelow cranked up the afterburners one day later with a subseqeuently slightly-toned-down blog post that left little doubt as to his personal feelings on the matter:
Apple Slaps Developers In The Face
By now you have surely heard about the new iPhone 4.0 SDK language that appears to make creating applications in any non-Apple-approved languages a violation of terms. Obviously Adobe is looking into this wording carefully so I will not comment any further until there is an official conclusion.
What is clear is that Apple has timed this purposely to hurt sales of CS5. This has nothing to do whatsoever with bringing the Flash player to Apple’s devices. That is a separate discussion entirely. What they are saying is that they won’t allow applications onto their marketplace solely because of what language was originally used to create them. This is a frightening move that has no rational defense other than wanting tyrannical control over developers and more importantly, wanting to use developers as pawns in their crusade against Adobe. This does not just affect Adobe but also other technologies like Unity3D.
I am positive that there are a large number of Apple employees that strongly disagree with this latest move. Any real developer would not in good conscience be able to support this. The trouble is that we will never hear their discontent because Apple employees are forbidden from blogging, posting to social networks, or other things that we at companies with an open culture take for granted.
Adobe and Apple has had a long relationship and each has helped the other get where they are today. The fact that Apple would make such a hostile and despicable move like this clearly shows the difference between our two companies. All we want is to provide creative professionals an avenue to deploy their work to as many devices as possible. We are not looking to kill anything or anyone. This would be like us putting something in our SDK to make it impossible for 3rd-party editors like FDT to work with our platform. I can tell you that we wouldn’t even think or consider something like that.
Many of Adobe’s supporters have mentioned that we should discontinue the Creative Suite products on OS X as a form of retaliation. Again, this is something that Adobe would never consider in a million years. We are not looking to abuse our loyal users and make them pawns for the sake of trying to hurt another company. What is clear is that Apple most definitely would do that sort of thing as is evidenced by their recent behavior.
Personally I will not be giving Apple another cent of my money until there is a leadership change over there. I’ve already moved most of my book, music, and video purchases to Amazon and I will continue to look elsewhere. Now, I want to be clear that I am not suggesting you do the same and I’m also not trying to organize some kind of boycott. Me deciding not to give money to Apple is not going to do anything to their bottom line. But this is equivalent to me walking into Macy’s to buy a new wallet and the salesperson spits in my face. Chances are I won’t be buying my wallets at Macy’s anymore, no matter how much I like them.
Now let me put aside my role as an official representative of Adobe for a moment as I would look to make it clear what is going through my mind at the moment. Go screw yourself Apple.
Comments disabled as I’m not interested in hearing from the Cupertino Comment SPAM bots.
Adobe Chief Technical Officer Kevin Lynch was a bit more politically correct with his thoughts:
Yesterday Apple released some proposed changes to their SDK license restricting the technologies that developers can use, including Adobe software and others such as Unity and Titanium.
First of all, the ability to package an application for the iPhone or iPad is one feature in one product in Creative Suite. CS5 consists of 15 industry-leading applications, which contain hundreds of new capabilities and a ton of innovation. We intend to still deliver this capability in CS5 and it is up to Apple whether they choose to allow or disallow applications as their rules shift over time.
Secondly, multiscreen is growing beyond Apple’s devices. This year we will see a wide range of excellent smartphones, tablets, smartbooks, televisions and more coming to market and we are continuing to work with partners across this whole range to enable your content and applications to be viewed, interacted with and purchased.
But check out the ominous wording in a 10-Q SEC filing Adobe made that same day:
To the extent new releases of operating systems or other third-party products, platforms or devices, such as the Apple iPhone or iPad, make it more difficult for our products to perform, and our customers are persuaded to use alternative technologies, our business could be harmed.
On the other side of the debate was John Gruber again, with an insightful (albeit debatably accurate) piece defending Apple’s actions and published on the evening of the 8th which Steve Jobs himself referenced in an email reply to a developer two days later.
So-far unverified rumors suggest that Adobe’s planning to file a lawsuit against Apple; what we do know for sure is that Tuesday night, Adobe decided to abandon further Creative Suite development for Apple iPhone O/S platforms.
So what’s behind Apple’s actions? The crux of Gruber’s pitch is that it’s only the latest example of the company’s desire to as completely as possible control the entire platform, both hardware and software. For long-time Apple followers, this ‘mission statement’ is no surprise; look, for example, how quickly Steve Jobs shut down the ‘clone’ program when he returned to the company in late 1996.
One might imagine, for example, that Apple wouldn’t be fond of a third-party suite that would enable developers to craft code that’d run essentially unchanged on both Apple and non-Apple hardware, thereby negating any proprietary advantage the company would otherwise garner. And by sanctioning third-party development tools, Apple would therefore be potentially handcuffed by the innovation pace of those tools as related to both new hardware and software (APIs, etc) support. I recall, for example, that an archaic development environment was behind both Adobe and Microsoft’s belated native support for Apple’s migration from PowerPC to x86 CPUs; similarly, it took until just-unveiled Creative Suite 5 for Adobe to include 64-bit Mac OS X capabilities.
Specifically, I suspect that there are implementation details of the v4 iPhone O/S multi-tasking approach that Apple wants to keep hush-hush, which it wouldn’t be able to do if it allowed development tools other than its own. And speaking of the past PowerPC-to-Intel transition, I wonder if the company also wants to keep its processor options open with the iPhone variant of Mac OS X. Right now, this particular build is publicly offered for the ARM architecture, but current and future generations of Intel’s Atom processors might also prove tempting porting targets for next-generation tablets and other devices.
Readers, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the matter, regardless of whether or not you specifically craft code for Apple hardware. What do you think about a silicon or systems company that requires you develop software using only its tool set? Is the potential to subsequently make maximum leverage of that target platform worth the consequent limitation-to-complete-negation of your ability to leverage that same code with other platforms? What of the potential price differential of the proprietary tool set versus, say, an open-source alternative? And what other issues related to this subject necessitate critical examination?