Like thousands of other developers, Joe Rheaume was excited to get his software – an educational game – onto Apple’s iPhone.
He originally created the game using Flash, a popular multimedia technology from Adobe Systems. But Apple prohibits Flash on the iPhone, so Rheaume was set to use a new conversion tool from Adobe that would make his game compatible with the smart phone.
Then about a week ago, Apple changed the rules: No conversion tools. Developers must use Apple’s tools.
“It just feels insulting,” said Rheaume, a programmer from Madison, Wis. “There’s no point in developing for the iPhone. They’re changing the rules in the middle of the game.”
As Apple and Adobe’s clash over Flash continues to escalate, Rheaume and legions of developers are finding themselves caught in the middle. And for some, they’re taking sides.
After Apple changed the rules for developers, John Addis, a Flash designer from Michigan, created a Facebook page called “I’m with Adobe,” which has gathered more than 8,500 members in one week.
Addis said Apple has veered into “evil” territory with its latest move to prohibit the use of conversion tools, something that exists for the Windows and Mac operating systems.
“It’s the equivalent of Apple rejecting bands from iTunes if they use a PC to mix their CD,” Addis said. “It’s a way of funneling every decision a developer makes through a single company rather than letting the market compete.”
Even before this, Apple has had a complicated relationship with many developers, who are excited about building applications for the iPhone but chafe at the strict controls and opaque review process they have to endure.
The grumbling hasn’t hurt the iPhone and its App Store, which now boast 185,000 programs and 4 billion downloads since it started almost two years ago.
But with the latest rules, Apple has angered a large contingent of mostly Flash developers who feel the company has gone too far. And it’s raised potential legal questions about how far the Cupertino company can go in forcing developers to use its tools.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs has railed against Flash – an interactive program that sits on almost every computer and gives life to most of the video, animation and games on the Web – and reportedly told employees at a meeting this year that it was buggy and caused too many crashes.
When asked on April 8 at an iPhone event if the iPhone or new iPad would get Flash anytime soon, Jobs said bluntly: “Uh, no.” Apple declined to comment for this story.
Adobe is reportedly considering a lawsuit against Apple for changes to its developer agreement. The San Jose company declined to comment for this story but Chief Technology Officer Kevin Lynch said in an interview with the All Things Digital Web site that Apple’s stance against Flash is “protectionist strategy” that is “bad for consumers.”
For developers, Apple’s hard-line stance feels like a big missed opportunity. In a survey of Flash developers by the Rich Media Institute, a Flash training provider, 40 percent said they were most interested in learning about converting apps for the iPhone.
Flash developers can make the transition to Objective C and XCode, some of the programming tools needed to build apps for the iPhone. But the transition can take months, time many feel they don’t have or don’t feel they should devote to the new tools when others are available. And it deprives them of the opportunity of adapting their work to other platforms.
Apple has always been a closed company to some extent, said Will Harbin, CEO of the Casual Collective, a San Francisco maker of Flash games. He said that approach is partly why Windows became the dominant computer operating system – Microsoft has been open to developers.
Going too far
He said the latest decision by Apple guarantees that his company won’t be building for an Apple platform. In the end, he said, Apple is going too far to protect its revenue.
“Apple is worried, especially on the iPad, (that) people would bypass the App Store,” he said. “People could go to any Web site and play a game in Flash, or they could go to Facebook and play games mostly written in Flash. They’re scared.”
Prohibiting the use of Flash conversion tools, however, can also lead to better apps that are unique to the iPhone and take full advantage of its tools. Jobs said as much in a recent e-mail to a developer.
“We’ve been there before, and intermediate layers between the platform and the developer ultimately produces sub-standard apps and hinders the progress of the platform,” he wrote to Greg Slepak, CEO of TaoEffect.
But some say the timing of the change to the developer agreement seems especially spiteful to Adobe and its Flash developers. Adobe introduced the conversion tool at a conference in October. Developers like Josh Tynjala have built iPhone apps using a beta version of the tool. Now Tynjala is worried that two of his apps already in the store will eventually get pulled.
“The fact that (Apple) waited so long to make this change bothers me the most,” Tynjala said. “I put many hours into creating my iPhone games.”
Consumers may be affected in the long run if developers avoid the iPhone, depriving users of added choice, said
R. Blank, founder and chief technology officer of Almer Blank, a Web and software design firm in Los Angeles.
Backlash may come
It’s unclear what backlash, if any, Apple might encounter. Developers are increasingly casting an eye toward Google’s Android operating system, which has a growing installed base and is free of many of Apple’s restrictions. But with the success of the iPhone and the iPad off to a strong start, the moves might not prove harmful.
“Apple’s a huge company. It’s run as a dictatorship – they can do whatever they want,” said Shawn Pucknell, director of FITS Events, which puts on global Flash conferences. “It’s too early to tell what the backlash will be. I just hope there’s a way to resolve this, whether it’s on Adobe or Apple’s side.”
Roots of rift?
Some observers date the clash between Apple and Adobe to 1996, when Adobe chose to throw its support behind the Windows operating system instead of the Mac OS. That meant that Mac versions of Adobe’s software were released months after the Windows versions.
And the company rebuffed Steve Jobs’ requests to build original versions of its software for the Mac, rather than adapting its Windows versions.
Now with Apple soaring, Jobs may be in no hurry to see things Adobe’s way.
E-mail Ryan Kim at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page D – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle