Apple’s Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hyde Routine with Developers Continues

TechCrunch just announced that this is the year for Flash to come to the IPhone.  (Oh, wait, it’s already kind of been there with YouTube, the world’s largest flash app, for the past 2 years, but whatever.)

TC’s Erick Schonfeld rightly points out that this is a big, big deal for users as well as for Flash Developers, as they can build once (in Flash) and have the app automatically turn into an IPhone application:

Once Adobe publicly releases CS5, Flash apps and video still won’t run on the iPhone. But those 2 million developers will be able to keep working with Adobe tools and simply turn them into iPhone apps automatically. In contrast, there are only an estimated 125,000 or so iPhone developers. This will lower the barriers to making iPhone apps even more than they are today, which may ormay not be a good thing. But if you thought there were a lot of iPhone apps now, just wait until the Flash floodgates are open.

I think this is right on.

For me, though, the thing is that this will further weaken the IPhone as a specific developer platform–meaning using the Apple SDK exclusively.

Apple enthralled developers with the opportunity and promise of the IPhone, and for the past 2+ years, they’ve basically run the table.  Any developer who was building a cool mobile app had to look at the Iphone first.  The Palm thing isn’t viable, Android wasn’t quite there.   But Apple’s treatment of developers has been so poor on the dimensions developers care most about–specifically being able to build, ship and update code quickly and hassle free–that there is a lot of badwill out there.  I’d be willing to bet, though can’t prove, that the quantity of badwill is proportional to the skill of the developers working with Apple.

I’ve written earlier about my thinking that Google’s Nexus One and Android strategy throw one very large shot over the bow of Apple’s IPhone ecosystem strategy.  With Adobe opening the gates for its developers, it will help Apple get even more apps, a good thing.  But it will likely marginalize Apple’s own developer efforts even further.

Strategically, it seems Apple has some decisions to make.  First is whether it wants exclusive app content, or whether it wants to be one of several mobile platforms for which all app developers build.  This is just like the game console business in my mind–you’ve got the PS3 and the XBOX–they will each fight for a few exclusives, but most apps are on both.  Iphone and Droid will likely end up in this position for mobile apps.  In this case, then, Apple then has to think about how it wants to retain that–on its own SDK or with Flash or other platforms.  Probably some mixture of a few.  And finally, it will be forced (i’d think) to revisit its approval process–its ability to retain control is correlated to the momentum it has.  As the momentum fades, so does its leverage on the app approvals.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Apple’s Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hyde Routine with Developers Continues

  1. Patrick

    FYI, the iphone’s YouTube app only serves up content that is in the H.264 format. Flash based video from YouTube is not available.

  2. thanks patrick for the distinction. i was trying to point out that apple iphones *could* run flash, but apple has resisted enabling that. i get that apple has wanted to have complete control over its developer ecosystem. but i forecast that the more tightly apple exerts its grip, the more developers will start slipping through its fingers.

    thanks again for the comment!

  3. Patrick

    Flash must die!

    • 🙂 this is what’s so great and unique about developers! they are the ultimate vigilante’s, watchmen roaming the lanes of the technology universe, looking to liberate intelligence and squash lameness. this group–more than any other–will i think determine the tectonic plate shifts in the emerging world of smartphone application platforms.

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