Adobe Huffing and Puffing to Push Out Flash for Macbook Air
When Apple started shipping its new MacBook Air, it did so without including Flash, an Adobe technology used for many types of Web video. Apple has long forbidden Flash from the iOS platform, but not from Mac OS X. Mac users can still download a Flash plug-in, though a version optimized specifically for Mac is still in the works. CEO Shantanu Narayen says that project is now in beta.
Adobe is in the process of optimizing Flash for the Mac, and the project has already reached the beta stage, CEO Shantanu Narayen announced at the Web 2.0 summit in San Francisco earlier this week.
He indicated that Apple's problems with Flash were Cupertino's fault, saying that Adobe didn't get early access to hardware acceleration.
"To some extent, it's not that Flash isn't efficient, it's that Apple simply won't allow Flash to be efficient," Dmitriy Molchanov, an analyst at the Yankee Group, told MacNewsWorld.
"Generally, this makes sense," Molchanov added.
"Why purchase a song from iTunes if you can just get it for free off Hulu or a streaming music website running Flash?" he explained.
"Performance, stability and battery life are top priorities for the Flash Player team," Emmy Huang, group product manager for Flash Player at Adobe, told MacNewsWorld. "As such, we are continually working on improving performance on Mac OS X as well as other platforms and operating systems."
Apple did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Slicing Open the Apple
Although Apple has forbidden Flash to run on iOS devices like the iPad, the technology has long been compatible with Mac OS X. Why is it that Adobe needs to tweak the application?
Flash works better and faster on Microsoft Windows than Mac OS X. Adobe executives told Ars Technica earlier this year that this was mainly because Mac OS X doesn't have APIs comparable to the ones they use for running Flash on Windows. These missing APIs include one that lets Flash access hardware-based H.264 video decoding.
H.264 is a standard for video compression that Apple supports in iPhone, the iPod touch and the iPad and for the HTML5 video tag in Safari. Apple has been touting HTML5 as the replacement for Flash to serve videos on the Web after CEO Steve Jobs publicly lashed out at Flash in April for being dated, for not being open and for being a severe drain on battery life.
Apple doesn't support Flash on its mobile devices running the iOS operating system, and it shipped the MacBook Air without Flash. The Air was the first OS X device shipped without Flash preinstalled, but purchasers can download and install that application themselves.
However, in its Mac OS X 10.6.3 update, released late March, Apple added a Video Decode Acceleration Framework for accessing H.264 decoding hardware in the Nvidia GeForce 9400M, 320M, and GT 330M graphical processing units. This was one of the APIs Adobe was waiting to get, Ars Technica reported.
Adobe immediately said it would begin working on a new Flash Player release that would include support for hardware accelerated video decoding for Flash Player on Macs based on the new API, The publication reported. This release would follow shortly after Flash Player 10.1.
Why Not Crack a Mac?
Could Adobe perhaps have bought a Mac and reverse-engineered the hardware accelerated video decoding format Apple uses?
"It's more than a matter of just taking apart a Mac," the Yankee Group's Molchanov pointed out. "It's getting Adobe software to interact appropriately with Mac OS X software."
Adobe's going in the right direction, Molchanov opined.
"To Adobe's credit, I think they're doing everything they can to create a more efficient product, but other parties in the ecosystem have done plenty to make things difficult for them," he said.
Looking at the Adobe-Apple Battle
Apple and Adobe have been publicly at loggerheads since Jobs released his open critique of Flash. Adobe's Narayen told Web 2.0 Summit host John Battelle that the feud between the companies is about points of control.
The two are battling for developers, Narayen said. He also accused Apple of wanting to keep technology closed and proprietary.
"Once again, there's this personality battle," William Stofega, a program director at IDC, told MacNewsWorld. "In the past week, we saw a demo that underscored Flash on a potentially competitive product to the iPad -- the RIM Playbook. I just wonder sometimes if Apple's making life more difficult than it should or has to be," he added.
Ultimately, the customer suffers.
"The classic line I heard was from my next-door neighbor who's oblivious to the Apple-Adobe spat and only wants to know how come she can't get Adobe Flash on her iPhone," Laura DiDio, principal at ITIC, told MacNewsWorld. "Users don't know why and they don't care," she added.
"It seems Apple's personal vendetta against Adobe is getting in the way of doing business and helping customers," Stofega said.