Apple’s refusal to allow Flash on the iPhone hurts innovation and is “like 1984 in a lot of ways,” Adobe Systems’ CTO said on Wednesday, implying that Apple has become the “Big Brother” it rebelled against in its iconic TV ad from that year.
“The story is bigger than HTML versus Flash. It’s about freedom of choice on the Web,” CTO Kevin Lynch said at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco Wednesday, when he was asked to comment on “the elephant in the room” during an on-stage interview
“I think it’s like 1984 in a lot of ways,” Lynch said later, apparently referring to Apple’s famous Macintosh computer ad, in which an athlete hurls a sledgehammer through a giant screen in front of an auditorium of gray worker drones. The face on the screen was seen to represent the dominant power in computing at the time.
Lynch also compared Apple’s behavior to that of the railroad companies in the 19th century, when progress was held back because different companies used different gauges of railroad track.
“That wasn’t good for the industry, the U.S. economy or competition, and that’s what’s attempting to be done right now, and that’s totally counter to the Web,” Lynch said. “The equivalent of the gauge of the railroads today is rewriting native code for applications on a particular operating system, and that’s expensive and inefficient,” he said.
It was the latest volley in a public dispute over Apple’s refusal to let applications that use Adobe’s Flash technology run on Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. CEO Steve Jobs has said it is because Flash will drain the battery life and slow the performance of its devices, and because it is not an open standard.
Lynch has already responded to those arguments and suggested that Adobe has given up on Apple, preferring to develop Flash for rival mobile platforms such as Google Android, the BlackBerry and Palm (soon to be part of Hewlett-Packard).
Meanwhile, U.S. regulators are reportedly considering an antitrust probe of Apple over the way it requires developers to use its own tools to build iPhone applications. Lynch seemed to allude to those reports Wednesday.
“I don’t think it’s the role of the company to exercise judgment on what people should use, that’s the role of society and the law,” he said.
“The technology issue Apple has with us is not that [Flash] doesn’t work, it’s that it does work,” Lynch said. “You can make a [Flash] application that works fine across OSes, and they don’t like that.”
There’s been much discussion at the Web 2.0 conference about how well Flash will compete with HTML 5, an upcoming version of the Web’s core markup language that will support such capabilities as video and animation, and which Jobs has proposed as an alternative to Flash.
Lynch made it clear Wednesday that Adobe won’t keep all its eggs in one basket. HTML 5 is “a great step forward” and Adobe will try to build “the best tools in the world” for HTML 5 development, he said. But he also thinks that Flash will stay one step ahead.
“There’s lots of room for Flash to keep innovating, filling in holes at a more rapid pace than what HTML has been moving at,” Lynch said.
Adobe is displaying a prototype tablet device developed by Nvidia and running Flash in Adobe’s booth on the show floor, Lynch said. Many devices like this will go on sale in the second half of the year, he said.
“All of the innovation that’s happening with a variety of companies is going to dwarf what’s happening with any one company,” Lynch said.