Giving the Problem to Apple

The keynote addresses at Adobe Systems’ MAX developer’s conference this past week in Los Angeles contained the usual spate of product introductions and partner announcements, including Adobe’s plans to bring the Flash Player to most of the major smartphone platforms — RIM, Symbian, Windows Mobile, Google’s Android, and Palm’s webOS. Apple’s iPhone was conspicuously absent from the list.

Also in evidence was a more aggressive public stance toward Apple regarding the iPhone. Frustrated by its inability to deliver Flash to the iPhone, Adobe has apparently decided to lay the problem squarely on Apple’s doorstep.

In the opening keynote, Adobe debuted a video titled “MythHackers,” a parody of the MythBusters television show with Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch and Creative Solutions senior vice president Johnny Loiacono in the roles of the intrepid myth busters. Lynch and Loiacono read a letter from “Steve from Cupertino” who says he has heard that “it’s not possible to run Flash on the iPhone.” The myth hackers exclaim, “There’s got to be an app for that!” and set out to “hack” the myth.

At the end of the clip, Adobe reveals that an upcoming version of Flash Professional will allow developers to use Flash to build iPhone applications, and the myth hackers triumphantly declare the myth about Flash on the iPhone “hacked.” But Adobe didn’t announce that Flash will run on the iPhone. These applications are native iPhone apps, not Flash SWF files that can be viewed on the iPhone’s web browser.

To a large extent, the announcement was a political move to do something — anything — to have a story about Flash on the iPhone (even if it doesn’t actually involve Flash on the iPhone).

Adobe’s tweaking of Apple didn’t stop there. Adobe recently changed the message iPhone users receive when they go to Adobe’s web page to install Flash. The text now states: “Flash Player not available for your device. Apple restricts use of technologies required by products like Flash Player. Until Apple eliminates these restrictions, Adobe cannot provide Flash Player for the iPhone or iPod Touch.”

This “in your face” attitude wouldn’t be surprising coming from most technology companies, which often take an aggressive stance vis-à-vis their competitors. But this is a change of tone for Adobe, which historically strives to fly under the radar of its major competitors and to make friends with everyone else. As then CEO Bruce Chizen explained to Knowledge at Wharton back in 2004 regarding the company’s relationship with its biggest competitor, Microsoft, “We get to partner with all of Microsoft’s enemies, because we’re a great alternative, and we don’t really compete head-on with any of their big competitors.”

Adobe’s new tone regarding Apple underscores how critical the issue is for the company. In a conversation with the press during the MAX conference, CTO Kevin Lynch was asked about Flash on the iPhone yet again and stated “Flash needs to get there to remain relevant on the web.”

Ultimately, Adobe’s strongest tactic is its mobile partnerships with everyone except Apple. Once the full version of Flash is available for RIM, Symbian, Windows Mobile, Android, and Palm’s webOS, it will leave Apple as the singular outlier. For Adobe and its partners, implementation may be the best revenge.