No App for That! Is Steve Jobs Failing Apple?

14 May
No App for That!  Is Steve Jobs Failing Apple?

“It’s Innovation, not Open Source. . .”

I just finished reading Gregg Keizer’s Computer World article, “Adobe escalates feud with Apple over Flash.” In his article, Keizer outlines some new developments in the ongoing Next Tech War. Specifically, Keizer links to a post on Adobe’s website titled, “Freedom of Choice,” which offers a letter from Adobe’s Co-founders Chuck Geschke and John Warnock. In that letter, Geschke and Warnock attempt to frame the feud with Apple as Open Systems vs. Closed Systems.  They brand Apple’s position as closed market, stating:

“We believe that Apple, by taking the opposite approach, has taken a step that could undermine this next chapter of the web — the chapter in which mobile devices outnumber computers, any individual can be a publisher, and content is accessed anywhere and at any time.”

Keizer’s article goes on to quote Michael Gartenberg, a blogger, tech journalist, sometimes evangelist, and an analyst with the Altimeter Group, as some kind of authoritative rebuttal, a voice of the “mass market” if you will, to Adobe’s position.

“All the talk of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ doesn’t matter,” Gartenberg’s quote reads.  He then adds, ‘That might be of interest in the coffeehouses of Silicon Valley, but we’ve moved beyond the point where the tech-savvy insiders make market decisions. The mass market makes the decisions.'”

Really?  Well, recall, Mr. Gartenberg, that the discussion is not about tech-savvy consumers, but is, instead, about a developer community estimated to number in the range of 3 million (according to Adobe’s website).  So, no tech-savvy consumers here, but Gartenberg is right about one thing, the Jobs/Adobe battle is not about Open Vs. Closed systems;  nor is this latest skirmish a reason to elevate the mass market as the only measure of marketplace value, which is what Gartenberg appears to be saying.  Look, I hold the mass market in the greatest respect, but if mass market product demand is the only measure of value inherent in a technology company’s product offerings, any company with a product that fails to gain mass market success might as well close its doors.  After all, the mass market doesn’t want it.  Moreover, employing Gartenberg’s reasoning means that a nice little sliver of  mass market demand gives a company, any company (think Facebook), a mass market-driven reason to push its weight around.  Well, let’s hope not.  “The mass market makes the decisions,” sounds lovely in theory, but in this, and many other instances, it is so far out of context as a rebuttal for Apple’s flame war against Adobe developers, that it forces us to the question:

Is Steve Jobs Failing Apple?

The question is provocative.  It is also fair.  In waging this pointless war against Adobe, Apple effectively dismisses the needs and concerns of Flash developers, relegating them to nothing more than “tech-savvy” with a disdainful sniff.  It doesn’t seem to matter to Jobs that his edicts affect a large number of developers.  It doesn’t seem to matter that  many corporations and smaller companies use Flash as a development tool, and that they have been requesting some sort of compromise for years.

What Gartenberg and Jobs refuse to acknowledge is that, like any other market, the tech market possesses an eco-system (see right).  This eco-system has been transformed over the past five years, offering a broader range of value, value derived from diversity of the producers.  Tool sets can be open or closed.  Platforms can be managed or completely open, but in this new system, we will call it the interactive marketplace, developers are so much more than tech-savvy consumers, they are value producers.  And no matter what their stripe (Flash, Silverlight, etc.) developers provide value-add to operating platforms, helping to create products that are desirable to the “mass market.”    This structure, inherent in  and  highly valued by what is essentially a new tech industry, is unlikely to change in the near future.

Jobs may be brilliant, and his product may be cool, but neither he, nor his company is capable of producing the requisite number of applications to make his development platform the best source for mobile entertainment, news, and whatever else the “mass market” wants from its mobile devices.  He could hire every available programmer from here to Timbuktu and still not meet all the “mass market” demand for apps.

Surely Jobs understands that Apps Developers drive the mass market to the iPhone/iPad.  Without their support, and the support of corporations that use Adobe products, Steve Jobs and his products run the risk of being “also ran cool,” kind of like the Apple Newton.  Of course, all of this is just a rehash of what has been said before.  Plus, it’s not really the point of what Steve Jobs appears to be doing with his tormenting of Adobe.

A Little Bit of Perspective

In my original post on this new Tech War, I said that this was a war over “Applications Development Platforms.”  So, despite  Geschke and Warnock’s attempt to frame Apple’s tactics as the actions of an evil empire, and despite Gartenberg’s focus on mass market as some type of all encompassing measure of value, none of these factors are really at play.  What is at play is Jobs’ attempt to force-shift the entire applications market onto the Apple Development Platform.  This seems to be nothing more than a transparent attempt to dominate in the Applications Development market.

Consider the illustration on the left.  It depicts a quadrant of Product Erosion. The top-right quadrant shows that the most significant products and those with the highest degree of differentiation are considered “Innovative Solutions.” Products with the least amount of differentiation and low degrees of significance are considered “Standard” or  “Commodity.”

Over time, innovative solutions erode in marketplace value as competitors bring similar products to market.  What was an innovation becomes a standard.  To gain or maintain market share, incremental differentiation must occur.

The marketplace is and has always been an environment of:

  1. Innovators
  2. Integrators
  3. Specialists
  4. Commodity or Long-Tail providers

The struggle of any innovator is to keep their products and services in the innovative solution quadrant. Organizations and leaders can do this with “wow” products, or with personality-driven press as they differentiate their products and services.  Apple has the wow, but  Steve Jobs seems to be employing personality with this irrelevant war and possibly even the lost iPhones.  In addition, with the demand that developers only use Apple’s Application Development Platform, he seems a bit behind the times, old school bravado trying to operate in a new and more collaborative value system.

So, back to the question, is Steve Jobs failing Apple by employing such a strategy?

Jobs Isn’t Failing, Only Flailing

The answer is, no.  He’s not failing, but in acting like Lord and Commander of the entire development value system, he is flailing.  A continued demand that developers choose the Apple Platform to develop products for access to his “mass market,” could result in Apple ending up with delayed product releases as developers move to other platforms where they are free to choose their tools.  Developers will then port their programs over to Apple’s Web OS using Objective C code generators.

No Guru is an Island

Jobs has made these mistakes before.  He seems to forget that Apple is, and always has been, an innovation company.  He understands innovation.  He is willing to gamble everything to keep Apple as an innovator in the marketplace.   With the iPhone, iPad, and other Apple products, the mobile marketplace has been reset.  It’s ready to grow again; but Steve Jobs, instead of basking in the glow of the accolades he so richly deserves, is picking fights about a whole lot of nothing.   Worse, he’s acting as if the developers who develop for Apple’s mobile applications are employees and not separate entities working within the market standardization and innovation quadrant, just like Apple.  He’s acting as though Apple is providing a benefits package and career advancement opportunities.  He is acting old tech bully in a collaborative tech value system.  In the end, for 2 million Flash developers, and countless other companies and corporations, there’s not enough benefit in the Apple platform to put up with the abuse and the outright disregard for the market’s needs.  After all, there’s a whole big world out there.  Jobs might be the one who built the thing, but once everyone else catches on, it’s only a matter of time before the innovation becomes standard and the fight for market domination begins in earnest.  Technology is not like the Project Runway Slogan: One day you’re in and the next day you’re out!  It is a Learning System, where failures can lead to great successes and incremental changes can lead to market domination.


Gartenberg is right.  It’s not about Open Vs. Closed Systems; but it’s not about mass market either.  And, while Jobs is trying to make it about the Application Development Platform, such a focus may prove to be a dead end.  Ultimately, this battle is about innovation, which is what Jobs should be focused on maintaining because innovation is his place in the Tech Eco-system.  If Jobs wants mass market domination, he will have to let go of innovation and focus on more mundane things, like product support.   Warring with other eco-system dwellers for market domination will only net the inevitability that someone other than Apple will dominate the mobile marketplace.  Steve Jobs just doesn’t have the patience for the incremental nature of market domination. In a year or two, when everything has run its course, Steve will be onto the neXT big thing.  If given the opportunity, he will, without a doubt, blow our minds again.  The iPhone and iPad will be classic, or discontinued completely like so many of Apple’s unsupported products (I still have one of those awesome Mac Cubes, which, while totally cool, was only supported for about six months by Apple).  Those of us who are tech-savvy know Steve J obs.  We’ve watched him wage these battles time and time again.  We have watched his disinterest in domination activities, especially after that next thing comes along.  We, the tech-savvy consumers understand.  Unless Steve Jobs changes dramatically, he’s going to get that innovation itch.  When that happens, his desire for total market domination will be tossed aside.  Like a fresh wind blowing away the stale air of technical mundanity, Steve Jobs will rise up, and he will innovate.

So don’t buy into the hype.  Instead, focus on Jobs’ next act in disruptive technology.  And, if you must have a war, watch what happens as the rest of the market battles it out for their place in the quadrant.

As always, I look forward to hearing what you tech-savvys (and even mass market folks) have to say.


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5 responses to “No App for That! Is Steve Jobs Failing Apple?

  1. Ram Bhat

    May 15, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Adobe is a Genius Team. They are also PERFECT ASS HOLES! Apple Team is genius. And they are also Committed. Thats the difference. Adobe must bend before it wants to do it all its way. Let me give you 2 examples: 1) When you want to review a SWF file from your HD, that takes you to adobe website. The settings window is so tiny – no one can read properly. There is no “Save” (save settings) or “OK” button. Its so poorly designed, I doubt the genius guys who designed Photoshop ever visited this window! 2) When you have a beautiful OS from MAC the adobe keyboard shortcuts simply convict everywhere. Did they ever plan the applications for Casinos or for running on top of MAC OS? This has been going on for years. If their purpose is to shoo one-upmanship – well everyone should love to hate adobe for that. For us OS is more important than application.

    • Bryant Avey

      May 16, 2010 at 5:37 pm

      It’s not just about Flash video. Flash is everywhere. Just think of the all the adds that are done with Flash. Also, there are a lot of pure flash sites. There are also a lot of Internet games and game sites that use flash to either play games or for interactive multimedia types of things. None of this content shows up on my iPhone or on an iPad or iPod.

      This is a battle over the development platform, the developer tools, and indeed the developer community itself. Unfortunately, this tech war is being re-framed as open vs. closed system. It’s not about open vs. closed systems. It’s about innovation and the ability for developers to choose the tools they use to create content. Any web-enabled device should be able to access all the web content, especially when that content technology is being deployed on an overwhelmingly large percent of sites.

      If the content is buggy, then developers will stop using it and they’ll use whatever tool works the best. Apple is acting as judge, jury, and executioner. Adobe does need to bolster it’s products, or it will soon lose out to Microsoft’s Silverlight. I’ve already begun switching to Silverlight myself, because it’s just better, in almost every way, including development environment. Plus it will work with the XNA framework and the new Windows Phone platform, and with SharePoint.

  2. Ram Bhat

    May 15, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Sorry, 2 typos : 1) “convict ” should read “Conflict”. 2) “shoo one-upmanship ” should be “show one-upmanship”

  3. Joseph Minafra

    May 18, 2010 at 6:05 am

    I agree with your final statement that Steve Jobs and Apple don’t dominate usually they just move on to the next big thing… remember Steve Jobs is a Leader and he needs his Apple to innovate. Remember is NeXT computer was Not wildly successful… it was not until Steve had his Apple back that he had resources to push innovation to the disruptive levels of today that only his obsessive nature could allow. I disagree that Steve is failing or Flailing as your final assessment seems to point out. You are correct that Steve does not like wasting resources on yesterdays developments. This is not a fault but a benefit to those companies that are not leaders but market dominators. Once an idea is released then copycats and those that choose to steal ideas will dominate due to supply and lower development overhead (many copycat companies do not have R&D overhead). Microsoft stifles innovation only if it is the only platform. Since there are alternative OS available of quality standards which are now available we should allow each company to do what it can in its relative market place. Who are we as users and consumers to complain or judge? We are just content developers, consumers and unable to build and deliver those amazing platforms and enjoyable experiences that provide for our enjoyment. You seem to like Sharepoint… I hate it as it is expense to deploy and stifles my ability to provide innovation and customization often required by my clients. You enjoy the windows platform but I am always distracted by windows users because various issues arise that my clients need me to help them clean their system or update patches when I could be providing new resources, applications or science education products to general public. For you Windows works and your happy. For me Apple and Linux/Unix works and I am happy. I respect your position and am glad I do not need to help you maintain your platform as your a capable person. You would be surprised how many “Genius” scientists out there that still have issues just syncing their digital lives. For them Apple just works and those Apple folks don’t waste my time as those windows folks seem to always need that extra bit of help. In my world there is enough room for all and like the auto industry there are those that innovate and lead and those that dominate and make cheap useful cars. What do you drive? I am blessed to make enough money and have the time to keep up with Steve Jobs and his next big thing and enjoy every minute of it. It is funny how no matter what Apple produces there are those folks who relentlessly criticize and need just one more feature or think they can run Apple. They are often misinformed as we all are because leaders make new markets. Those that criticize or expect the next best thing for next to nothing usually don’t provide much benefit to anyone. For the most part most news or blogs are not productive except for an outlet for personal feelings and sometimes… sometimes although rarely something useful or beneficial is enlightening. We all have opinions and yet there is room for all of us. My advice Don’t criticize or Judge but welcome and commend the leaders who take lofty risks and start new platforms, business and ideas that provide for new opportunities for the creative media developers and enable anyone to create. We all benefit and have a voice. Apple was not the first MP3 player but they solved a Big problem that no one company seemed to be able or willing to solve. Apple helped enable millions of small music artists and some big name ones as well by providing the tools and a market place. Apple provides inexpensive media creation tools and now anyone can make Movies and Educational podcasts. Finally Small software application developers never had a chance to make enough money from an idea as they do now with the Apple App store. Every company both hardware and software are trying to copy what Apple is doing. Why because people want to create something and Apple helped pave the way to enable anyone to create. Many Windows and Adobe innovations are originally from apple but their purpose is making money thru domination Not usability. Who really wins? In Apple’s case the users… In Microsoft’s case the stockholders and in Adobe’s case… Adobe. I want to thank you for your post. I rarely if ever feel compelled to write a reply. You seem level headed and not typical of most news and media. Keep up the good work. I feel better already.

    Cheers, Joe

    • Bryant Avey

      May 18, 2010 at 5:47 pm

      Thanks for your post Joe. I really appreciate the feedback, and I’m so glad you commented.

      In your comment you said:
      “welcome and commend the leaders who take lofty risks and start new platforms, business and ideas that provide for new opportunities for the creative media developers and enable anyone to create”

      That was exactly my point. No one is being evil here, people are just doing their best trying to make it in the market. We need leaders like Steve Jobs even if you love to hate him or hate to love him.

      I enjoyed for your comment about the post being “not typical of most news and media”. It seems that there’s a lot folks who like the controversy and enjoy drama. I just wanted to post something that took a look at the market and business strategy. Not enough of us pay attention to those things, and they’re what’s driving most of this “drama”.

      Thanks again for the encouragement. Take care and enjoy the battle.


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