The blogosphere is aghast with the latest salvo fired in the Apple vs the world war – this time it came in the form of an update to its iPhone Developer Program License Agreement that specifically bans the use of third-party compilers for creating apps that will run on the iPhone OS. Basically it looks like Adobe’s plans to create a workaround for Flash on the iPhone and iPad may have been stymied.

The news got me all sentimental remembering a ground breaking moment from my teen years. Who remembers this from 1984?

Hmmmm – anyone else feeling a little uneasy that Apple have, in an Orwellian twist, seemingly returned us to the days of Big Brother? It seems that the public also feel this latest step is one too far if a Facebook fan club and a bunch of replies to various post is any indication – feel the passion evident here!

Anyway… back to the new terms and conditions. I was chatting about this with a friend who is involved with a company that makes a web application that utilizes Flash heavily. My comment to him was that it seems the writing is on the wall, what with the market share, and more importantly share of the hearts and minds, that Apple has, it seems that the war for Flash has been lost.

His perspective was a little different, taking the line that Adobe seems to be in all this by saying that it’s a big web out there and no one company will succeed if it attempts to lock down users to one particular way of doing things. He also went on to suggest that Apple developers where experiencing something of a Stockholm Syndrome – and developing an empathy for their oppressor that is beyond all reality. personally I see it a little different – given the ridiculously large number of iPads that Apple sold in the first weekend post release, Apple developers realize that life under a dictator might not be pleasant, but if that dictator brings along with him potential revenue, sometimes what is “right” needs to be left to the side.

As this person stated:

The hassle Apple is introducing for everyone is everyone will need to write one app for iPhone app and one app for most other mobile devices.  Clearly, we, like thousands of other ISVs, would prefer to write once, run on any mobile device.  There are dozens of mobile app platform companies that have built a business on that value and produced tens of thousands of apps that will all now be in breach.  This is a big bummer for all of them and a sour move by Apple. This isn’t a attack on Flash it’s an attack on openness, innovation and freedom  – it’s the exact opposite of Google‘s open approach. 

The question here isn’t one of whether Apple are being “evil”. Clearly in an effort to both maintain consistency (good) and capture the position of default appstore for mobile devices (not so good if you like “open”) they’re making moves that have only their best interests at heart. But what will be fascinating to watch play out are two different things:

How deep does Stockholm Syndrome run?

Fanboy or not, no one can seriously contend that the iPhone user experience is anything other than supreme. Using Apple devices is poetry (in a kind of a “You will only use three words per sentence each having no less than two syllables” controlled way) the question is will those who are hooked on the poetry be able to break out of the user experience spell and look at the bigger picture – if they do they’ll potentially realize that Apple is taking us to a place that isn’t good for anyone other than Apple and in that there is a risk. Put simply – will people in this case rebel against the control that Apple is asserting.

Interestingly enough, looking at blog comments around the place, the majority of annoyed developers are complaining about not being able to use non-Adobe languages for the iPhone (Ruby on rails, soap, Unity, etc). While there are a number of upset Flash developers, the vast majority are just other coders that like their language and don’t want to write in C….  Just think what it means for small mobile application startups – someone with just one killer app that they wrote in their preferred language – the chances of securing funding at this point has just dropped steeply – who in their right mind would fund someone with Apple’s legal language that allows them to remove all their apps from the appstore whenever they choose. 

Is the touch web really bigger than Apple?

It’s important to remember that there were touch devices before the iPhone and seemingly every man and his dog has, or will have, a multitouch slate device in production in the coming months. In his formal response to the Apply move, Adobe’s CTO Kevin Lynch said that:

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

If what Lynch says is right, Apple could well be making a strategic error here and designing themselves into a corner. In a world (for example) where both Apple customers are the only ones who can’t utilize particular webservices AND Apple only has a small share of the touch market – Apple would have to scramble fast to meet the market’s expectations.

At the end of the day companies need to respond to market conditions today – it’s all very well being strategic but if a long term strategy risks short term viability there’s little use. Apple is the defacto industry standard for multi touch and, as such, any company tying it’s success to a multi touch world has no option but to play by Apple’ rules, no matter how bitter a bill they may be to swallow.

Update: Robert  Scoble and I must be thinking alike – we’re just a decade apart



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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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