Fretting Flash

Listening to Hugo Chavez or Steve Jobs is becoming eerily similar.

Dictators have some common but not commonly endearing traits.  They tend toward being monomaniacal, focused fiercely on their perception of order.  Anything or anyone that denies the beauty of their utopian vision challenges authority, and can later be found swinging from trees without needing to use their arms or legs.

Jobs is trying to string-up Adobe, and in the end might make Apple look like Il Duce on his last day.

For folks fond of the Silicon Valley geek gladiators — visionary founders who see business as war and as life — the latest rattling of cyber sabers comes from Apple and Adobe, with Apple’s insistence that Adobe Flash be banished from Jobs’ walled garden of iEverything.  Certain slurs have been sounded, including an odd instance by Jobs proclaiming that Adobe Flash was bug ridden.

Jobs is obviously not a Windows user, for he does not know the true meaning of “buggy.”

Such bogus blusters are convenient covers for real issues.  Flash currently commands a huge share of the Rich Internet Application (RIA) market by virtual of antediluvian virtualization.  Long ago, Flash did what people wanted, which was to add value to surfing the web while eliminating cross platform/browser/religious sectarianism.  Want to watch videos cute kittens or suicidal teenagers on motorcycles, or listen to the latest excuse for music coming out of Nashville on the web, regardless of if you are on a PC, Mac, Linux, minis, odd ducks, occasional mainframes, virtual desktops or smart phone?  Adobe Flash made it happen by bundling it for free into everything.

Except iPhones and iPads.

Therein lay Apple’s finest error (aside from the Newton).  As any performer will attest, you give the audience what they want.  Putting Snoop Dogg on stage at a cotillion is an error.  So is creating an information/media device that does not deliver information/media.  Since so much of the world’s content is and will for the foreseeable future remain in Flash, and since Adobe is not sitting still in extending Flash for ever better uses, banning it from hardware is inane.  It goes directly against what the audience (market) wants and thus gives them the motivation to consider alternate venues.

With any other outfit, this action would be inexplicable.  In Apples case the motivations are clear and the outcome could be disastrous.

Apple makes money on media (I hear they are in the hardware business too).  Apple has sold 10 billion files on iTunes, mainly for $1 each.  Assuming Apple gets a tiny sliver of that, we are still talking an amount of money large enough to impress everyone outside of congress.  Songs are just the tip of the digital goods iceberg.  iPads are book reading, movie watching, photo snarfing gizmos, and each content category has a very profitable backend.  The Internet changed the cost of delivery equation, improving music margins, books bonuses and video valuations.

Content is King, but Jobs wants the crown.

To control content, Jobs must own the means of distribution.  Hence, pesky interlopers like Flash must be eliminated.  Flash connects the content provider directly with the content consumer, cutting Apple out of the loop, which for someone who sold 10 billion songs is clearly unacceptable.  Thus Apple acolytes are assaulting Adobe.  You can have the cool new gizmo, but you can’t have Flash.

Unless Google makes the cool new gizmo.

This is where business models make or break empires.  Apple is heading down the IBM-like highway to Hoboken (which is like Hell, but without the ambiance).  Before Gerstner rescued IBM from itself, they had the monomaniacal mindset: everything was for the Grand Scheme with the marvelous mainframe in the center of all that was virtually holy.  Any IBMer who dared deny the sanctity of VM/CMS was banished to field sales, or to tech support for cardinal sins.  IBM was less than a year from bankruptcy thanks to their inflexibility concerning what the market wanted.

They preached to the pulpit — they didn’t play to the congregation, much less the heathens.

Now Jobs and Company are worshiping at the same altar, and the heretics at Google and the old priests at Microsoft are ready to exorcize a snake from the garden.  Microsoft has a tablet in ready mode, and by stealing (again) some Apple innovations, will serve the market with something cheaper … and with Flash.  Google is porting Android to tablets and will indirectly offer even cheaper options than Microsoft (because Google makes their money through service, not software) … and the GooglePad will have Flash.  Fifteen years of content will continue to flow everywhere, including Google and Microsoft pads.

But not to iDevices.

The marketing issue at hand is never to deny your market.  Apple will eventually suffer if they keep content from customers.  After all, we own gizmos to achieve things, be it making phone calls, watching movies, playing games, or impressing the cute red head at the bar.  Fail in this fundamental mission and the market will eventually turn to vendors that deliver.  Flash is only one instance where Apples “our way or else” mentality will be its undoing.

Erecting barriers never works in the long run.  Walled gardens are more wall than garden, as everyone who escaped AOL will attest.


Speak up! What are your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.