Stephen Foley: Murder mystery of Apple, the forbidden fruit and the padlocked door

Click to follow
The Independent Online

US Outlook: Flash died on the morning of 29 April, 2010. Steve Jobs killed it. And while we may not mourn its passing, we ought to be wary of its killer.

As tech industry feuds go – and Mr Jobs has been in more than his fair share – the current battle between Apple and Adobe, which owns Flash, the platform used to create online video, is a doozey. By penning what amounts to "Flash: six things I hate about you" this week, Mr Jobs has decisively won the upper hand.

Ordinarily, the technological pipes behind the websites we visit needn't be of much interest to the casual browser, but the relentless pursuit of market dominance by Mr Jobs should be.

Apple has always refused to make its iPods, iPads and iPhones compatible with Flash – something that is an irritant to users, since it renders a fair number of websites unreadable. In the tech community, there has been a lot of support for Apple's stand. Developers have long complained about Flash's shortcomings, which are even more stark now that web browsing is often done on touchscreen mobile devices. Many have begun experimenting with the newer H.264, an open-source alternative, so Mr Jobs's blog post ought to persuade laggards to switch over.

But the feud with Adobe is enormously self-serving, and his characterisation of it somewhat disingenuous. While the Apple boss cloaks his criticisms of Flash in the language of "open-source" computing, he has developed the most tightly closed system for his company's devices that the tech industry has ever seen.

Not even Microsoft, the anti-trust evil incarnate, ever forced you to buy your software applications from it directly. The only gateway Apple allows is its official "App Store". The company prevents users from downloading apps that have not been officially sanctioned by its censors. It has outlawed the use of third-party technology in the apps created by developers. And it skims a cut of all developers' revenues to fatten its own profits.

Mr Jobs is most likely correct to say that this results in a higher quality experience for the iPhone user, and hurrah for that. But here's the downside. Developers must create their apps anew for each different mobile device, which will have the effect of raising costs and reducing choice. It also makes it impossible for users to switch from an Apple device to a rival without losing all the apps they have bought and the data they contain.

Yes, they are seductive, these iPhones and iPads. But beware. As Mr Jobs lures you in, he is padlocking the doors behind you.