Adobe is making a major push to capture the hearts of designers interested in building interactive Web applications with today’s launch of a new version of its flagship product, Creative Suite 5 (CS5).The announcement has, however, been soured by the developer agreement for the latest operating system for Apple’s iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. The terms of this agreement potentially undermine Adobe’s efforts to create content for these devices.
CS5 emphasizes the interactive side of Adobe’s design software and includes two new tools that let designers create content of this kind. The premium editions of the software include Flash Catalyst, which lets nonprogrammers design interfaces for Web applications. Flash Builder, which used to be a separate tool for software developers, now comes standard with the suite, and has been adjusted to work easily in conjunction with Catalyst.
Doug Winnie, principal product manager for Flash Catalyst and Flash Platform Workflow, says that designers today have to simultaneously deliver projects to more types of media than ever, including print, Internet, and mobile devices. He says the tools in CS5 help make this easier. With CS5, Winnie says, “I have multiple paths to get to all these different screens and services.”
Adobe has also made it easier for developers to work with the files they get from designers. The Flash Catalyst interface will be familiar to users of Illustrator or Photoshop; designers can import files from one of these programs and then select what parts of an image will contain moving parts, such as buttons or sliders. The software creates working code in the background, and a developer can use Flash Builder to add features that require more sophisticated programming. Flash Builder will also come equipped with a variety of features that make it easy to, for example, incorporate live data feeds into an application.
But Apple may have dashed Adobe’s hopes for one key feature included in CS5: Packager for iPhone. This feature was designed to let users export applications written in Flash in a format that will work on the iPhone and iPad, which do not currently support the Flash platform. However, a change made Thursday to Apple’s developer agreement, to accompany the launch of the new iPhone operating system, seems to forbid applications that aren’t written specifically for the iPhone, and that use programming languages that haven’t been approved by Apple. Experts say that this development is another setback for Adobe’s vision for the Flash platform, but also, ultimately, for Apple.
“From a developer perspective [Apple’s move] is bad news,” says Al Hilwa, program director for applications development software at research firm IDC, explaining that Apple’s legal language is so strict that it could stifle the natural evolution of applications, interfaces, and features that would normally occur on the iPhone and the iPad. “There is also something disturbing about this agreement language because it seems arbitrarily aimed at cutting out a whole swath of existing languages and cutting off the developers skilled in them,” he adds.
Though Adobe will clearly suffer because of the change, Hilwa says that it will have a much broader effect. If Apple truly plans to examine applications to determine their origin, he says, “It seems akin to digging into the genetic code of a human and saying you can’t get into this country club.”
Apple could not be reached for comment. In a statement, Adobe said: “We are aware of the new [software development kit] language and are looking into it. We continue to develop our Packager for iPhone OS technology, which we plan to debut in Flash CS5.”
Broadly speaking, Adobe’s strategy with Flash has been to let developers and designers focus on creating projects while taking care of compatibility with different browsers and hardware platforms.
Apple’s stance creates a problem for any company interested in developing software for multiple devices at once, says Jeffrey Hammond, a principal analyst for Forrester Research. Hammond says it’s not clear the strategy will be viable in the long term. “As the app market for iPhone becomes saturated, it becomes harder for individual developers to make money, which will cause them to look at less restrictive development environments like Android–if the device numbers are there,” he says.
If developers (and users) jump ship for Android and other platforms, Adobe’s strategy may wind up back on track. The company has made deals with all major smart phone vendors besides Apple to bring Flash Player 10.1 to their devices.