Flim-Flash

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an oddly ill-informed, pro-Adobe story by Ben Charny regarding the iPhone’s lack of Flash support: “Adobe, Apple, Hit Flash Point”. (Ha, get it?) It’s behind the Journal’s pay wall; the best way I know to read it for free is to follow this link from Digg. Some choice nuggets:

Videos for the iPhone have to be specially formatted to a file type that Apple endorses. Google Inc.’s YouTube is the only video provider now doing this, and only a handful of videos are available.

So YouTube is the only source for QuickTime or H.264 video on the entire web? And it’s true that only a subset of YouTube videos are currently available in H.264, but most people would agree it’s more than “a handful”, and, more importantly, the subset is skewed towards popular videos.

Adobe’s patience appears to be wearing thin.

And what happens then?

The standoff could be resolved by the end of the month, when Apple is due to release iPhone software tools that may include a way to make the iPhone compatible with Flash Player. That would cheer investors; any Adobe-iPhone tie-up would erase a lingering concern and likely give a lift to Apple’s shares. But the failure to end the stalemate raises the volume on the issue and puts even more strain on the companies’ relationship.

That’s how the story on the Journal web site reads this afternoon; earlier today, the story read (emphasis added):

any Adobe-iPhone tie-up would erase a lingering concern and likely give a lift to Apple’s beleaguered shares

It’s true that Apple’s shares are down to $121 from a high of $200, but (a) the entire stock market is down significantly this quarter, including Google; and (b) as MacDailyNews points out, it’s a bit rich to describe Apple’s stock price as “beleaguered” when it’s still up 45 percent from a year ago. The Journal’s editors obviously agree. Adobe’s shares, on the other hand, are down 19 percent from a year ago today.

iPhone sales seem to be taking a slight hit as a result of the kerfuffle, though no formal study’s ever been made. The lack of Flash Player is though an oft-cited reason why someone wouldn’t buy it, according to a number of different Apple online user forums.

In another change after publication, the first sentence of this paragraph is no longer in the article currently on the Journal web site. The second sentence remains, so, apparently, unnamed web site forum posts are valid sources for Wall Street Journal news reports.

[Update: Several DF readers confirmed that the word “beleaguered: in the previous paragraph and the first sentence of this one did not appear in the printed version of the article in the paper.]

The sketchy sourcing masks the gaping hole in Charny’s entire story: Adobe is under pressure to get Flash on the iPhone because the iPhone is clearly the leading mobile device for web surfing, but Apple is under very little pressure to put Flash on the iPhone because there is no competing device that fits in this sentence: “There are many people who were going to buy an iPhone, but, because it doesn’t support Flash, bought a ———— instead.” There are mobile devices that support Flash, but none that rival the iPhone.

The companies have a history of strained relations. Several years ago, Adobe dropped support for Apple’s Macintosh computers and then introduced other software products that were only compatible with Microsoft Corp. software.

Flat-out wrong. Adobe does have some Windows-only apps, but their flagship apps — Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat — are and have always been available for the Mac.

Here’s the crux of the issue. Charny himself describes Flash, in this story, as “an Adobe-made media player used to view Internet videos”. Viewed this way, you can see why Apple might have reason not to support Flash on the iPhone: they have the opportunity to establish QuickTime and H.264 as the de facto standards for mobile video on the web.

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