Thoughts on Apple and Adobe

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Update: Fake Steve agrees with me that it was a bad romance.

It dawned on me recently that the best way to understand the very public and continuing spat between Apple and Adobe is to think in terms of a marriage gone bad, one that’s been heading south for quite some time.

In Good Times and in Bad

During their honeymoon, Apple and Adobe did (insanely) great things together. SJ (Steve Jobs) calls this period their “golden years”, reminiscing how “the two companies worked closely together to pioneer desktop publishing and there were many good times.”

But over the years, the relationship has gone through multiple ups (product launches on Apple products like Postscript, Photoshop, and Illustrator) and downs (product competition like postscript fonts vs TrueType fonts or Lightroom vs Aperture; technology transitions like PPC to Intel, Mac OS Classic to Mac OS X, Carbon to Cocoa, etc.) Lately, it seems like more of the latter.

Today, it’s clear that the two aren’t the same companies as when they first met. SJ feels “there are few joint interests” in which to build a strong relationship while Kevin Lynch, Adobe’s CTO, is moving on: “we have already decided to shift our focus away from Apple’s iPhone”.

Simply put, the star-crossed companies are caught in what Lady Gaga calls a “Bad Romance“:

I want your love and I want your revenge
I want your love, I don’t wanna be friends
I want your love and I want your revenge
You and me could write a bad romance

Role Reversal

Based on my experience at both Apple and Adobe, the relationship has soured because the two no longer share the same passion for innovation. The former continually invests in the longer term while the latter cares more about the quarterly bottom line.

Ironically, there was a time when their roles as innovators and bean counters were reversed. During the 90’s, Adobe revolutionized document sharing with PDF while Apple clung to ever-diminishing market share and to proprietary OS innovations that were becoming commoditized.

During the post dot-bomb years, the two companies moved in opposite directions. Adobe abandoned its innovative roots, emulating Microsoft-style tactics like combining all of its point products into a single Creative Suite. Protecting the bottom line of existing products became more important than exploring new ideas. Apple, on the other hand, began embracing innovation again, laying the foundation (such as Mac OS X and iTunes) for their success today. In spite of failures like the Cube, they showed a willingness to take risks like launching the iPod, whose sticker shock had generated widespread criticism in the beginning.

Apple rebooted its innovative culture while Adobe turned its culture into a managerial bureaucracy that has lost sight of what’s important.

Starting Anew

Flash has become Adobe’s modern-day Postscript. There was a time when Postscript dominated the industry; now, it’s a technology that has been commoditized. Luckily, co-founders John Warnock and Chuck Geschke were prescient enough to recognize the limits of the Postscript platform. They invested heavily in graphics applications like Illustrator and Photoshop because they knew Postscript would, as former CFO Bruce Nakao puts it, “run out of gas”.

So rather than feel bitter about its failed attempt at romancing the iPhone, Adobe should learn from the mistakes of Apple’s wilderness years and heed the lessons of its own past successes: invest in fresh technologies to grow the company over the next decade instead of protecting old technologies that sustained it in the last.

Here at Ansca, that’s exactly what we’re doing. A couple of years back, we looked at where mobile hardware was headed (e.g. hardware accelerated graphics, novel input methods like touch, etc.) and looked at the existing software technology out there to enable great mobile experiences. Almost all the technology out there was created with PC’s in mind and simply fell short. For the kinds of developers we were thinking about (that’s you!), nothing out there existed.

So we took a cue from Alan Kay and invented Corona. It was written from the ground up so that you can deliver graphically-rich mobile apps on iPhone, iPad, and Android — faster and easier! In addition, we’ve got more innovations coming which we’ll be showcasing or sharing on labs, so be sure to come back often!

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This entry has 2 replies

  1. Atro says:

    I actually bought a macbook pro to use Corona. That should tell you yore doing something great as it would never happen with anything else.

  2. Tahir Alvi says:

    Is Flash Builder 4.6 not supported the IOS and Android Application directly?