Adobe's Troubles Aren't Apple's Fault

Adobe Systems (Nasdaq: ADBE  ) is starting to look ridiculous on the issue of mobile Flash software. Today is a lynchpin in the fortunes of Flash -- can Adobe get it right?

The lack of Flash support on Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) hardware like the iPhone and iPad has prompted some very public mudslinging from both sides of the fence. So far, I have tended to side with Adobe in this debate, as it shouldn't be that hard to include a simple piece of software on a high-end piece of gadgetry. Corporate politics shouldn't weigh heavier than real-world user demands when making design decisions, after all.

Things that make you go hmmm ...
But Apple may not be at fault here. Consider how many non-Apple handsets you can find on today's open market with full Flash support: zero.

Oh, some Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android phones support the crippled Flash Lite instruction set, and the Froyo update to the operating system brings full Flash functionality to Android in general. Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) has included this technology in its Symbian phones for years, and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) supports Flash Lite for Windows Mobile phones. So far, so good.

But Flash Lite isn't good enough to play most Facebook games, for instance -- sorry, Zynga fans. This is not the whole package. As for Froyo, it is available for Google's own Nexus One handset but is not yet the standard software even there. It takes technical know-how to get it all working.

That's where the "here and now" comes into play. Adobe just released version 10.1 of the mobile Flash platform to numerous partners. Adobe needs to get this release right -- but it may already be too little, too late.

But wait -- there's nothing more
Palm
(Nasdaq: PALM  ) is the lab rat of choice, here. After more than a year of promises, including an evaporated "end of 2009" deadline, Palm and Adobe claim to be working on the implementation together but wouldn't commit to a new deadline. The acquisition of Palm by Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) sealed Palm's lips, and Adobe wasn't talking either. Flash 10.1 had better blow our minds right out of the box, because it is way overdue on a dying platform.

I'm sorry, but something seems rotten in the state of Adobe. Can you really blame Apple for dragging its feet on Flash support when you can't deliver the goods for a willing partner? Meanwhile, web developers have started to design around the issue by leaving Flash out of their site designs. With emerging tools like HTML5 and a growing slate of Javascript toolkits readily available, it makes more sense to lose Flash altogether than to spend the time and money to have Flash and non-Flash versions of every page.

The mushroom cloud
I now expect the entire Flash-on-iPhone debate fading to black in short order. The rise of mobile Web browsing will continue apace and put greater demands on site designs to avoid leaving blank spaces or error messages where those Flash widgets would normally appear. If Adobe can't get its act together and push out the full Flash experience to Palm users for starters, the whole platform is destined for the scrap heap of computing history.

And it'll be Adobe's own fault for not getting the software up to snuff in a timely fashion at this critical juncture. The boat has already set sail on the M/S Mobile Internet, and Adobe is missing the departure. Management must know this very well, but seem powerless to do anything about it. The technical obstacles that Steve Jobs has been alluding to must be very real, or else Adobe's management truly clueless. The more likely explanation is that Flash just doesn't move smoothly to mobile hardware.

The aftermath
None of this will kill Adobe outright, of course. Analysts estimate that less than 10% of the company's sales come directly from Flash, even if Flash authoring is a selling point for other Adobe products like DreamWeaver as well. With or without Flash, Photoshop still owns the image editing market, for example.

The end of the "Flash everywhere" era will render the $3.4 billion buyout of Flash creator Macromedia nearly worthless and trigger some hefty goodwill writedowns. Then Adobe hits rock bottom and starts to bounce, as Mr. Market gets over his Flash grief and starts to treat Adobe as the digital media giant it still is. When that happens, Adobe will be undervalued and a great stock to buy. Stay tuned for updates on that development; if the writedowns don't come by 2012, I'll eat my hat ...

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. He is shopping for tasty headwear, just to cover his bases. Microsoft and Nokia are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple and Adobe Systems are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors


Read/Post Comments (12) | Recommend This Article (8)

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  • Report this Comment On June 28, 2010, at 2:06 PM, btblomberg67 wrote:

    This is all on Adobe. Apple is about the user experience and shipping a plugin that doesn't work (or work well) and may never work on their iOS devises would reflect badly on Apple and they know it. So for all the complaining there is a reality that Flash may not really fly on any mobile for a while. And when it does it will be too late. I hear the 10.1 release on android doesn't even do everything the desktop does. So is it Flash Lite 2.0. It's not like the base software is very good to begin with. It may make it easy to create stuff for the web, but it fails at delivery way to often. If Adobe could make the platform work Apple would include it, but they have not proven that yet and that's with 3 years of iPhones in the market. Adobe it not fixing the real issues with Flash just putting on bandaids leaving a problematic platform. Oh, and Adobe stop claiming Openness. There must be an assumption that we are all stupid in everything you do.

  • Report this Comment On June 28, 2010, at 2:17 PM, blogzack wrote:

    I would reverse the blame and put it squarely on Apple. Steve Jobs appears to have done a masterful job of "smearing" Flash but the underlying root cause appears to be Apples own way under-performing graphics drivers - see the notes here:

    http://takethe5th.com/wp/?p=1582

    and

    http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&item=linux...

    Apple and Steve Jobs have a lot of 'splainin to do.

  • Report this Comment On June 28, 2010, at 3:21 PM, djsantamonicacal wrote:

    You are catching on. First of all, a company as big as Adobe is KILLING itself allowing this dispute to go this public, and this negative. To play the victim in a world where they dominate so many market spaces, with 98% saturation on Flash, is irresponsible and they should fire the CEO immediately. No joke. I have significant stock positions in both companies, and there's no question it's all on Adobe. Flash is the biggest cause of crashes on Mac OS by far. This is a fact. I've experienced the problems many times, but further, Apple tracks such data and Flash is the worst culprit on the platform. Not even close. Right there, for this to be a fact, and for Adobe to be crying while still owning 98% of the market is completely damning as far as I'm concerned. Inexcusable. I'm surprised people aren't picking up on the market share issue because it's huge. It's Adobe's own fault their software doesn't work better. They're making cash -- pay someone to fix it!! Which tells me that they're doing what they've always done, and most developers do -- spend more money on Windows because it's a bigger platform, leaving Apple holding the bag, and Apple is saying, your software comes between our users and our OS. If we implement you, we depend on you, and we can't depend on you, so go away. And that's the way it works in life. If the CEO doesn't get it, he should go. And he doesn't get it. For Adobe to play this whining game in public and cloy for sympathy (undeserved and improperly placed) from the universe of Apple-bashers (who are out in force and are about to be severely blown away by Apple's MONSTER June Quarter) makes me want to dump the stock. But I can't because the price is too low for the money they make. And why is the price so low? Because Adobe is trying to solve its problems via PR rather than just fixing its software. Message to Adobe: FIX YOUR SOFTWARE!!! And take responsibility. Flash doesn't work on any mobile platforms yet. Whose fault is that?? IT'S ADOBE'S!!! And get off of Steve Jobs' back so he can keep making brilliant devices where WORKING software can be deployed.

  • Report this Comment On June 28, 2010, at 3:25 PM, djsantamonicacal wrote:

    Biogzack -- so you're saying that Mac's OS and hardware are to blame for Adobe's buggy-ness and poor performance? You don't develop software for a living, do you? Software developers need to write their software to the hardware and drivers they're given. How do so many software products, as well as HTML 5 work without a hitch on Mac OS then? You are barking up the wrong tree, Broseph. Adobe software crashes more than any other product on Mac OS, by far. They need to hire more developers and fix their bugs. Next you'll be saying Apple needs to give them developers to do Adobe's job.

  • Report this Comment On June 28, 2010, at 3:35 PM, djsantamonicacal wrote:

    blogzack -- please tell me you didn't just link to an article from Engadget analyzing Apple's graphics performance. Do you really think that a company that committed a crime trying to steal Apple's industrial secrets can be objective about Apple after the much publicized incident? And again, no matter how fast or slow the drivers, if Adobe wants its software to perform better, they can do that themselves. Software development is time vs. money vs. features. You plays the game, you makes your choices, you takes your chances. More taking responsibility, less pointing fingers. Please.

  • Report this Comment On June 28, 2010, at 3:39 PM, djsantamonicacal wrote:

    And one more thing, Blogzack. Both links refer to the same test posted by Engadget. The testers (Phoronix) used a Mac Mini to do their analysis. Hardly credible in any sense of the word.

  • Report this Comment On June 28, 2010, at 10:12 PM, blogzack wrote:

    @djs... It was not Engadget that got caught "purloining" Apple iPhone but Gizmodo- see here: http://gizmodo.com/5520164/this-is-apples-next-iphone

    An apology to me and Engadget are expected.

    Also it is worthwhile noting that to date Apple has not elected to take any civil action against Gizmodo other than barring their reporters from the Apple WWDC where the iPhone 4 was announced.

  • Report this Comment On June 28, 2010, at 10:33 PM, rlcato wrote:

    @ blogzack; you're not going to come back with the tired response of 'It's my phone and it's my choice if I want Flash on my phone' and 'Apple should make a button to turn Flash on & off like some Android phones'. Duh -How stupid is that? It would be a PR disaster if Apple allowed either of those 'things' to grace the platform. So tell me, if you go walking down the street and you come across a large deformation in the footpath, do you go home, get a pick, a shovel and a wheel barrel and come back to fix it yourself for the benefit of others?

  • Report this Comment On June 29, 2010, at 1:58 PM, YouHeardItFirst wrote:

    As a designer-developer it seems fairly clear that iPhone users should be able to make the decision to use or not use Flash for themselves. My Android defaults to checking my gmail account every 5 minutes which is an unnecessary energy hog. The good news is that I can change this default - but it's my choice.

    The same should go for Flash on the iPhone. People are more than capable of making decisions for themselves, and if Flash truly presents a problem that the USERS take issue with, they should have the right to reject apps or plug-ins for sites that have the Flash issues discussed by Jobs. It is Apple's duty to warn it's customers that Flash could be a problem for them and provide a method to disable it, but it's not their duty to push the limits of monopoly law, which is exactly where this debate belongs.

    Telling people they can't use Flash on the iPhone is like blocking them from going to porn sites because they could get a virus. Realistically, the porn site is much more likely to pose a security risk - but Jobs would never try to do that, would he?

    And unlike the porn site, which will always be dangerous - Adobe is more than capable of fixing their issues. The development teams at Adobe have produced some of the most powerful and impressive software in the world. I'm sure whatever the difficulties are, they can be overcome - it just wasn't important enough to do it before.

    Obviously it's important enough now.

    I hope they get it figured out. I like Adobe. It's always been a respectable company and I think they deserve better than this.

  • Report this Comment On June 29, 2010, at 8:25 PM, markadoherty wrote:

    Anders,

    Here are some basic facts covering the bulk of your article to help provide some context from our perspective at Adobe.

    Please don't hesitate to contact me regarding any of the items below.

    Regards,

    Mark Doherty

    Adobe Systems, Mobile team

    Fact: Flash Player 10.1 is available on the Nexus One today, and it runs beautifully - http://vimeo.com/12831411

    Fact: We have demonstrated Flash running well on iOS devices, there is no technical issue. http://vimeo.com/10557778

    Fact: Flash Lite has shipped on over 1.2Billion devices, paying royalties and has been a huge success, delivering multi-million unit devices from LG, Samsung and Sony Ericsson.

    Fact: Flash Lite was not created to play Facebook games, but it has created a huge multi-billion dollar industry in Japan. http://bit.ly/bOlF2b

    Fact: Flash Lite 4 can play Farmville on Facebook - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9whFavOb2U

    Fact: 19/20 OEMs plan to release Flash Player in their upcoming devices.

    Fact: Palm are required to pass our certification tests and nothing more.

    Fact: We love HTML5 and our customers will be using it. Here are Google's reasons for using Flash over HTML5 today use cases http://bit.ly/bDmUrY

  • Report this Comment On June 30, 2010, at 2:56 AM, Drunkio wrote:

    @blogzack's obviously an Adobe holder/shill. Engadget is a GAWKER property just like Gizmodo. Way to be disingenuous there.

    I'll let a nameless analyst from Zerohedge do my talking for me.

    (begin his take from half a year ago):

    "Let me get this straight...

    If you did a good job supporting MAC OS X, for example, then you should reasonably expect to get a shoe in on 'OS X lite' or the Iphone-OS derivative products.

    But that didn't unfold and I guess that is what might happen if:

    You don't actively cultivate your relationship with Apple (client),

    Outsource to India/Asia, Layoff or Lose most of your core domestic software talent through 'enlightened' personnel management policies, and,

    Because of the above, Apple has to do much of the coding and heavy lifting internally to make up for the 'cognative defficiencies' and facilitate the use of the Adobe product (not their core focus and not their job to begin with),

    Making the whole exercise a major headache for Apple?

    Seems to me Adobe just let the Apple relationship whither and dont like the results when they find themselves unneeded at Apple.

    Adobe's response? A temper Tantrum of a PR campaign, IMHO.

    By not innovating domestically and by not being *pro-active* with Apple in the support of thier new products...they've obsoleted themselves.

    Maybe if they hadn't had more corporate focus on outsourcing and cutting costs and spent more time truly innovating and not coasting on the laurles of the past, they would be in a better place right now, and with Apple.

    That is my opinion on it from what I've gathered from those working in and around the developer industry.

    Kinda sux, but looks to me that Adobe did it to themselves.

    Maybe if they whine enough though, do they think they can get acquired?"

    (End his take)

    MY TAKE: Adobe is substituting PR for technical acumen and basically has since the Macromedia merger.

    To the PR flack who felt the need to jump on an independent thread: You guys were saying this 6-12 months ago. The article is valid and stands until you PRODUCE. Which you have not. "Real soon now" is a tired excuse.

    Adobe's in an equity hole after all their M&A. Why else would they have to trot the founders out of the glue factory? Why? Because the CEO has no cred.

    Jobs was right to refuse these losers. Narayen has blundered. He should step down, and Adobe should go back to what they do best: Tools. Not plugins. Of course it's EASIER to make a plugin. For most software corps, even johnny come lately Microsoft.

    Since Adobe seems (in their PR and recent moves) like they want to be the $MSFT of old, maybe they're angling for MSFT to acquire them?

    Macromedia made the same noises before Adobe acquired them, and we can all see how this turned out. Maybe the kids at Adobe need a Redmond sized stick over their heads to perform.

  • Report this Comment On June 30, 2010, at 3:46 AM, Drunkio wrote:

    My bad. Engadget was founded by a CO-FOUNDER of Giz (soft G of course). Read all about it in Wikipedia. They're both so shrill and I remember the drama like it was yesterday, I mistook them for both being spawn of Gawker. Backs to mah drank.

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