Skip to content

Adobe has problems


There’s really no better way to put it: Adobe has problems. Well, one problem: Apple. The problem is especially vicious because it’s largely a perception, brand, and “thought leadership” issue. You know, the kind of soft marketing stuff technologist and developers are supposedly too smart to fall pray to but do all the time.

Apple Hates Flash, A History

The problem, of course, is Apple’s vendetta against Flash. As their email opt-in spam for CS5 has shown, Apple clearly doesn’t care about jagging up Adobe’s Creative Suite cash cow at the moment. While there’s clearly Apple poaching with Final Cut and Aperture, Apple is a long way from Jobsing Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc.

By banning and panning Flash on the iPhone, Apple has thrown gas and pack of matches on the previously well calmed down sentiment that “Flash must die.” Over the past few years, Adobe did a good job of moving beyond it’s early “forking the web” talk and conniving developers that the Flash Platform was just another platform for developing software. Other ISVs glommed onto it quickly, using Flash to not only build bunching charts, but in some cases (like AccelOps, BMC, and parts of the Intuit ecosystem) full-blown UIs based on Flash.

Google’s chatty embrace of HTML 5 and the Ajaxian-duo days of Firefox started cracking that sheen a little about a 12-18 months ago. But, the dueling titans frame of Adobe Flash vs. Microsoft Silverlight narrative helped keep the idea of RIAs nicely alive.

Then, sometime after Adobe destroyed several iPhones in MAX 2009 video, Apple started getting uppity. Adobe’s Packager which would let you develop iPhone apps with Creative Suite was a good idea and a very normal idea: lock-in at the IDE level has been unheard of for a long time. Developers are supposed to use whatever tools they like, and not have tool-chains mandated by a vendor.

By banning Packager with the infamous section 3.3.1, the voice of Apple drew a line in the sand: you either hate Flash, or you hate us, they seemed to be saying.

Where does this leave us?

Now, not a week goes by without a “Flash is losing it’s grip on web video” story. That’s sort of more of a sibling issue to application development, but it certainly doesn’t help Adobe.

Clearly, Adobe was blind-sided by Section 3.3.1, and while rumors of anti-trust inquires of course circulated, it looks like the end result is that Packager is DoA. Apple stopped Adobe from fully participating in iPhone/iPad app development. Essentially, Apple brutally enforced the status quo: Adobe would be used for the “pretty” of app development, Photoshopping up UI components and graphics. Adobe wouldn’t expand its toolchain further into application development on Apple’s watch.

Which is too bad, really, I’m not sure more tools in the iPhone world is a bad thing. Though, developing apps in JavaScript is an intriguing proposition, I rarely hear someone singing the praises of Objective C, and I hear C/C++ is just as fantastic as ever. The reply, of course, is that perfection require an iron grip. Otherwise, the Apple-camp would say, you end up with the “we’ll run any old crap” mentality of Windows. Or worse: the web.

The Recovery Plan

Flash partners - Adobe CS5 Launch

What’s left for Adobe to do then? Well, as I said, this is largely a perception problem. First, Adobe has to make bank with Creative Suite 5. Second, they have to be on the short list for every iPhone competitor. Third, crush gently with success, not open philosophy.

Creative Suite 5

In my completely unscientific and terrible talk to people at party “polls,” many creatives skipped Creative Suite 4. Many of them say things like, “it just didn’t have enough to justify the price… plus we still have to support customers on CS3!” These same folks seem like they’ll buy CS 5. Indeed, there’s a rule of thumb about skipping even numbered releases – saving up for the odd ones.

CS 5 does have many impressive features – being able to remove that asshole boyfriend from your holiday photos with a few clicks is fantastic, to jestingly highlight one of the many jaw-dropping things in Photoshop.

If Adobe can make piles of cash of Creative Suite 5, much of the blue box damage Adobe has dealt with of late will matter less and less. It’s a big bet, and the main problem is that it’s sort of Adobe’s only one to make. They’re not going to wow people with PDF innovation, and their SaaS services are kept on too lean of a diet to help out at the corporate level (I’ve always thought that was a strategic error for Adobe, not focusing more on their SaaS offerings and PaaS-like platform potential – as context, Citrix Online claimed revenues of over $300M in 2009.)

Windows 7 is bringing the post-Vista Microsoft similarly positive juice and, more importantly, revenue. In that same way, Creative Suite 5 has to be a big success for Adobe.


Mobile is the new battleground for software development vendors. No one really owned the web – the fragmentation of open source frameworks and the Apache web server assured that making money off the development side of the web was very difficult compare to the old days of client/server.

You can bet for damn sure that none of the old guard who has technology to sell wants to see that happen in mobile. OK, maybe Palm if HP doesn’t quarterly number them up, and of course folks like Firefox. Google & Facebook are weird-bird as their revenue to tied to perfecting the web and mobile as the ultimate junk mail delivery system. For the rest, it’s time to land-grab in the mobile space and then erect the means on control to suck revenue from.

Adobe’s revenue shouldn’t really depend on deep access to the iPhone development cycles. With Android, HP/Palm, and the Finish giant finally crawling out of the sauna, there’s fixin’ to be an explosion in mobile. The iPhone might actually be forced to innovate anew. Indeed, they’re setting the stage to catch up to Windows 3.1 with multi-tasking this Fall. Huzzah!

Adobe actually has several impressive tools for mobile development, and they’ve have them for awhile. They lost a bet on the iPhone which distracted from them talking about mobile in general. Adobe seems to be getting back to the mobile in general talk which, buoyed by the above explosion of mobile gives them a fair chance. Of course, the flaw would be focusing on Flash mobile instead of just mobile. Adobe had that same problem with web development, relegating it’s HTML/Ajax toolchains to red-headed step-children in favor of Flash Platform. They have to focus on plain old developers who want good tools and services to do mobile development.

For example: what if Adobe had the best HTML 5 tools out there, evolved every week in a nice open way where developers were actually eager to get an update from Adobe.

(Of course, most of this applies to competitors’ – Google, Microsoft, the open source toolchains, etc. – developer/platform strategies as well, in one form or another. You’ll never pry things like TextMate [though, I wonder if that’s an out-of-date IDE-love?] or – gulp – emacs out of some jockeys hands, but others are looking for a smoother ride.)

An outstandingly lovely, flawless developer relationship

When asked by Reuters if he wanted to respond [to Larry Ellison’s recent comments], Schwartz replied in a cryptic email on Friday that would not be available to talk until after August.

“Until then, Larry’s an outstandingly lovely, flawless man,” Schwartz said.

“Ex-Sun CEO takes high road after Ellison attack”

Finally, Adobe has to stop crushing and blending iPhones. Really, they’ve started to do this by turning up the level of conversation they’ve been having around this issue. People like Mike Chambers are doing a good job with the “plain speaking” replies, while others take great pains to demonstrate that things like multi-touch are possible in Adobe-land.

The developer relations conversation here will be won by individual voices, by simulating face-to-face conversation with developers via blogs and the web. There’s always a risk of companies pegging strategy to actual people – they start to ask for more money – but this whole discussion is fueled by developers identifying with different personalities – with Steve Jobs and rock-star iPhone developers.

As Adobe, hopefully, moves into providing tools for all types of development in mobile and the web (not just Flash), it’s key for them to let loose the people they have and build up cults of personality. It doesn’t need to be, well, cultish like Apple, it can just be, well, nerdy like the old days of Java.

Developers want to identify with people, not Adobe. Thankfully, Adobe has a lot of good personalities to deploy and they’ve actually been upping their efforts. They just need to keep it up, and make sure their evangelists, developers, and product people never pass on a chance to have a casual conversation about how Adobe helps developers create engaging, money-making software, Flash-based or not.

Disclosure: Adobe is a client. I’m an Apple fanboy, at least in my IT budget spend, but they’re not a client.

Categories: Companies, Development Tools, RIA.

Tags: , ,

Comment Feed

3 Responses

Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] Apple hates Adobe & delights in kicking sand in their face in front of the ladies. Everyone left Apple for dead (that weird $150 million Microsoft injection aside back in 1997), and now Apple’s back like an angry beefcake with a well cut 2×4 ready to bludgeon Everyone into a shallow grave. […]

  2. […] Apple hates Adobe & delights in kicking sand in their face in front of the ladies. Everyone left Apple for dead (that weird $150 million Microsoft injection aside back in 1997), and now Apple’s back like an angry beefcake with a well cut 2×4 ready to bludgeon Everyone into a shallow grave. […]