Friday, 30 April 2010

Jobs vs Flash: Just which battle has Apple won?

I read with interest Steve Jobs' open letter about Flash and why Apple won't use it on iPad, iPod and iPhones. Well constructed is the least one could say about it. It's been followed by a WSJ interview with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, summarised on WSJ blogs. Both are well considered by Charles Arthur on Technology Guardian - here on Jobs' letter, and here on the Narayen interview.

It posed two questions for me. The first is 'has Apple won this battle?' My bet is yes. And I think this has at least as much to do with the time Adobe seems to be taking to bring fully-featured Flash to mobile platforms, as to do with Apple's behaviour. Will Flash be as key on mobile devices as it has been on desktops and laptops? Don't think so.

But the second, and more interesting question, is exactly which battle has Apple won? Is it just about Flash on mobile devices? I suspect not. Here's the hypothesis:
  • Mobile device (smartphones, tablets, media players, etc) uptake, I think, is growing faster than desktop and laptop, and will continue to do so
  • So, mobile devices account for larger and larger shares of use, and begin to set the direction, rather than desktop / laptop devices. We'll see (five years? ten?) a time when mobile establishes the pattern and desktops and laptops follow. Already there are signs of this in user interfaces and application design.
  • At the same time, and symbiotically, consumerisation of IT proceeds apace. So, developments in consumer technology point the way for corporate computing. Think about it - Apple vs Adobe in setting consumer technology standards relating to media. Make a call.
So, the battle Apple has won (or the war it is winning) is surely against Flash overall. Note that most of Jobs' arguments don't apply to mobile devices alone. If this is true, then there are implications for the corporate IT world too. This includes how long we go on using Flash for web applications.

But, that's only part of it. Apple's strategy for corporate penetration seems very different from (say) 20 years ago. Then it was about attempting to demonstrate that the Mac was a better solution for the corporate desktop - I remember a KPMG-produced analysis arguing that the Mac had better corporate connectivity than the PC, for example. Now, the strategy includes ensuring that there is a foundation for integration with eg Exchange, but the battle is fundamentally being fought elsewhere. The pattern I see is Apple fuelling and riding the wave of technology consumerisation and then surfing it all the way to the corporate desktop (and perhaps more importantly, whatever follows on from 'desktop').

So, watch how this one plays out. It's about much more than iPhone apps and browser functionality.

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