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Avo Reid

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Apples in the Walled Garden

June 02, 2010

Apple wants its users to have an optimal experience using its devices. That's what attracted people to the Macintosh and created the cult-like following that defined Mac Users and PC Users.

But it is interesting that not until Apple made the Intel Transition, changing the CPU of Macintosh computers from PowerPC processors to Intel x86 processors, in 2006-2007, that sales really took off, especially for laptop sales. The gate to the walled garden was opened to all who might wonder in to take a gander.

Arguably, many of these new users were like me, intrigued by Apple products, functionality and usability but hesitant to commit because of the high price to pay in terms of leaving behind the years of investment and familiarity in Windows.

What sealed the deal for me was the Mac now appeared to be more open, at least a little more open than before. Now I could install VMWare Fusion and have access to Windows and all the software I use for business, but still be able to use the Mac OSX and all of it's software. I was a new customer and I have to say it will take a lot to get me to switch back.

So why does Apple act so guarded against anyone entering its Walled Garden, is it really so that the user will have an optimal experience? Because I have to say I probably would not have become a user unless they opened the gate the way they did in 2006, intentionally or not.

Recently Apple has been making the case that Adobe Flash is an inferior, evolutionary 'dead-end' technology that won't be allowed entrance into the Walled Garden, i.e., Flash Videos and Flex/Flash Applications will never run on an iPhone or iPad. As Steve Jobs stated at the 2010 D8 Conference "We don't think Flash makes a great product, so we're leaving it out...Instead, we're going to focus on technologies that are in ascendancy. If we succeed, people will buy them and if we don't they won't."

In his now famous memo "Thoughts on Flash", Jobs writes, "Flash was created during the PC era -- for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards -- all areas where Flash falls short."

But what's most interesting about the memo is the definition of 'openness'. Steve Jobs writes that "Adobe's Flash products are 100% proprietary. They are only available from Adobe, and Adobe has sole authority as to their future enhancement, pricing, etc. While Adobe's Flash products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Adobe and available only from Adobe. By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system."

He goes on to admit that "Apple has many proprietary products too. Though the operating system for the iPhone, iPod and iPad is proprietary, we strongly believe that all standards pertaining to the web should be open. Rather than use Flash, Apple has adopted HTML5, CSS and JavaScript -- all open standards." We might also point out here that there is currently only one way to develop and publish an iPhone Application today, and that is to use Apple products.

John Warnock and Chuck Geschke in their rebuttal "Our Thoughts on Open Markets" state "If the web fragments into closed systems, if companies put content and applications behind walls, some indeed may thrive -- but their success will come at the expense of the very creativity and innovation that has made the Internet a revolutionary force."

They continue to argue for the consumer "We believe that consumers should be able to freely access their favorite content and applications, regardless of what computer they have, what browser they like, or what device suits their needs. No company -- no matter how big or how creative -- should dictate what you can create, how you create it, or what you can experience on the web."

This view of the world is reiterated at the "Open Screen Project" an industry-wide initiative, led by Adobe and backed by other industry leaders such as Google, RIM, Intel and Nokia, who as the site says "all share one clear vision: Enable consumers to engage with rich Internet experiences seamlessly across any device, anywhere."

The Open Screen Projec asserts that "The number and diversity of devices in our lives is exploding. Consumers want and demand the total Internet, with open access to websites, applications, and services using all devices. The challenge is that fragmentation across devices, operating systems, and browsers hinders innovation. The result? Consumer demands are not being met. The Open Screen Project was established to meet these challenges and expectations. It is an industry-wide initiative, led by Adobe with the participation of other industry leaders, to enable the delivery of rich multiscreen experiences built on a consistent runtime environment for open web browsing and standalone applications."

The Open Screen Project goes on to make an appeal to developers "With a consistent and broadly adopted runtime, stakeholders can focus more closely on developing the next-generation experiences that will differentiate their devices, software, and services. Consumers ultimately win with richer, more interactive, and universal user experiences across devices."

Steve Jobs makes his appeal to developers in the final paragraphs of his memo "Our motivation is simple -- we want to provide the most advanced and innovative platform to our developers, and we want them to stand directly on the shoulders of this platform and create the best apps the world has ever seen. We want to continually enhance the platform so developers can create even more amazing, powerful, fun and useful applications. Everyone wins - we sell more devices because we have the best apps, developers reach a wider and wider audience and customer base, and users are continually delighted by the best and broadest selection of apps on any platform."

It is impossible to say how all this will play out, what is certain is that portability between devices, at least between Apple devices and everything else will be an issue for developers in the coming years, at least until Apple owns the market.

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