Why Apple Won’t Buy Adobe

This one’s pretty simple.

First, Steve Jobs wants Apple to feel like a small, focused company. They’re not a small company, of course — Apple’s most recent quarterly filing states they have 21,600 employees — but that’s what Jobs wants it to feel like. The company’s internal structure is a reflection of its product lines — simple and clear. Buying Adobe — a $20 billion company with a slew of products and nearly 7,000 employees — is not how you keep Apple feeling small and focused. And keep in mind that half of Apple’s employees are in retail.

Second, Apple, under Jobs, is only interested in best-of-breed products and technologies. The iPhone is the best phone in the world. The iPod is the best media player. Macs are the best computers. Mac OS X is the best desktop OS. iPhone OS is the best mobile OS. (Reasonable people may disagree about one or more of these “best” assessments, but I’m talking about Apple’s perspective.) There are exceptions, but only at the periphery of Apple’s offerings. Mac OS X Server, for example, isn’t generally considered the best server OS in the world, but it doesn’t get much promotional oomph, either. .Mac is .bad, but you wait and see if Apple doesn’t knock it down and replace it with something reliable and more relevant and useful.

What does Adobe have that Apple would want to own? Flash seems to be the most common answer amongst those who think Apple covets Adobe. Do you really think Flash is the best of anything? Or, more relevantly, do you really think Jobs and Apple’s engineering management think so? Flash is ubiquitous, but that doesn’t make it good. It’s the same reason why iPhone app development is based on Objective-C rather than a more popular, more ubiquitous language like, say, Java — because the decision-makers at Apple genuinely believe it to be decidedly better. If Apple wanted to own a technology like Flash they’d build their own technically superior version and distribute it to Windows users with iTunes. This goes double for AIR, which Apple, I’m certain, thinks they could do better than, and which unlike Flash doesn’t yet have any significant popularity.

The CS apps, you say? Why? To make sure there are good photo-editing, illustration, and desktop publishing apps for the Mac? Adobe is already doing that themselves, as an independent company. The only argument I’ve ever heard that makes sense for an Apple acquisition of Adobe is the idea that Apple fears that Microsoft might buy Adobe first, and then torpedo the Mac versions of the CS suite. But that would be a totally defensive move, and Steve Jobs is not a defensive thinker. Jobs plays offense. If it ever became necessary, Jobs surely believes that Apple could create their own replacements for Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. And the whole idea doesn’t make much sense anyway, given that if Microsoft wanted to sink a suite of popular big-ticket Mac apps, they don’t need to buy Adobe.

And so if Apple, under Jobs, is tightly focused, what is it that they’re focused on? It’s not the pro market. It’s mobility — iPhone, iPod, MacBook Air. Adobe is a good company with good products, but they don’t fit into Apple’s focus at all.