Apple Abandons Flash, Goes Corporate

In a recent BusinessWeek Article titled “Apple Goes Corporate” author Peter Burrows posits that with Apple’s stock down 35% this year, consumer spending declining as we head towards a recession, and the iPod market highly saturated, Apple needs new growth. Much like a burst blister needs new growth. In this case, the blister is the iPhone, and Jobs’ new vision for pumping a fresh supply of puss into it – corporate customers. So in addition to tomorrow’s rumored announcement about an iPhone SDK (that’s Software Developers Kit), it is believed that Jobs will also announce better integration with Microsoft Office & Exchange Server, so iPhone users can use their phone for corporate email.

But this is only part of the challenge. From a Chief Information Officer’s point of view, they want to support as few phones as possible, because every phone means new software, new patches, and exposure to new security holes. When a company decides to support your BlackJack, for example, that doesn’t just mean they pay your cell phone bill. It means manageability. You’re not browsing Gmail on that thing. This is not an iPhone commercial. You’re plugging the phone into Exchange servers that host the company’s email. And what about theft? With a Windows Mobile phone, a company doing high-security work can turn off the SD Card reader in phones so people can’t smuggle things in & out. They can turn off the camera. And if some idiot’s phone – which happens to have customer contact information on it – ever gets stolen – IT can remote-wipe the hard drive so the company doesn’t get sued with its pants on.

These are all things that Apple will have to build. And ultimately, every step you take towards being embraced by corporate IT departments’ manageabilty expectations is a step away from consumers, innovation, and user experience. This is the fundamental challenge that Microsoft has always faced -bridging that divide – and the challenge that Apple, Since Steve Jobs’ return – has chosen to avoid by steering clear of corporate customers entirely. Jobs is quoted in the article as saying it’s nearly impossible to serve both of those audiences well. Consumer companies have to shmooze corporate customers, provide immense flexiblity for their customers, and partner well. These are 3 things Apple does not do well. Take this example from the BusinessWeek article:

Visto Chairman and President Brian Bogosian found out just how much Jobs dislikes outsiders mucking with Apple products. Last summer, hours after Visto unveiled an e-mail system to make the iPhone work with Outlook and other e-mail systems, an irate Jobs called Bogosian. “He was ballistic,” recalls Bogosian. After convincing Jobs Visto had not illegally hacked the device, Bogosian made a pitch for Apple to support Visto’s software, which is now being used by 3,000 companies. Jobs hasn’t gotten back to him.

What does all this mean for you? In the short run, it means if you work at a small company without a lot of security concerns, the iPhone will probably work with your Outlook email pretty soon. So if you’re willing to part with your Crackberry or Crackjack, you’ll be free to. However, don’t expect large corporations to adopt it in droves anytime soon. In the long run, I think this is bad for consumers, because Apple will focus more on chasing soul-less corporations than on our hearts & minds. For Microsoft, this might be a good thing, cuz while Apple is busy coming out with an iPhone 2.0 that supports corporate customers & works on a GSM network, but without significant user-experience-innovation, Microsoft can focus on building Windows Mobile 7 to win hearts & minds.

The second huge rumor floating around? According to this post on the Scobleizer, Apple Stabs Adobe in the Back, Apple will not support Adobe’s Flash on the iPhone, as many people were hoping, and may instead go with Microsoft’s Silverlight. According to transcripts of the Apple shareholders meeting, Jobs feels that Flash itself is too heavy to run on the iPhone’s OS, and Flash Lite is too stripped-down to add any real value. He asks for “the missing middle product” which Adobe seems to have no plans on building, and this comment has sparked rumors and comments from Scoble that iPhone might actually ditch Flash for Microsoft Silverlight. In fact, at today’s MIX Conference in Vegas, during Ray Ozzie’s Keynote, Scott Guthrie raised eyebrows when suggested that with Silverlight now supporting Windows, Mac, & Linux, and Symbian Mobile OS, the team would work to get Silverlight onto every mobile device – and here’s the quote – “anything with an SDK.” This has got to be a reference to tomorrow’s rumored announcement of and SDK for the iPhone. Which means that Scoble indeed may be correct – we might very soon see Silverlight rich apps running on the iPhone.

There are two reasons that Apple might not want to support Adobe’s Flash on the iPhone. First, the user experience will be terrible because it’s such a heavy technology. The iPhone’s OSX & processor simply won’t handle it well. But, if we’re really thinking about this from the point of view of the end user’s experience, what the hell is the point of “the internet in the palm of your hand” when all the most powerful internet apps run flash, which you don’t support. Second, Daring Fireball points out that it’s not in Apple’s best interests to cede control of the rich mobile app space to Adobe. It has been rumored since the last Adobe-Apple tiff a couple weeks back that Apple may be developing their own competitor to Flash & Silverlight. Apple has always wanted to own this space and may resent that QuickTime never took off in the way that Flash did. But the mobile space is wide open for anyone to take on.

Question: Even if Apple doesn’t support Flash, when Apple released the SDK, couldn’t Adobe simply port Flash over themselves? Daring Fireball suggests that Apple’s SDK will not get developers that level of control, and any development at the system level will probably have to go through Apple. Which brings us back to that comment about Silverlight supporting “anything with an SDK” and Scoble’s inference that Apple will go with Silverlight. This seems unlikely to me. I think Apple will never willingly relinquish any real estate to Microsoft. They distrust MS too much. I think Apple will announce their own competitor to Flash & Silverlight – something like Quicktime for Mobile – and they’ll have to at least hint at it tomorrow to keep from feeling severe blowback.

What does this one mean for us? It means Google’s gonna hafta keep converting YouTube videos to work on the iPhone, and in the the meantime you can’t do anything interesting on it. In the short-term, it means that a proprietary standards war for the mobile space is on the horizon with a highly fractured market until someone wins, with Silverlight picking up momentum, Adobe being dealt a big blow today, Google Gears for Mobile getting into the game, and Apple possibly in the game as well.

And the game’s afoot… 

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One thought on “Apple Abandons Flash, Goes Corporate

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Jason Rakowski

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