Why Adobe Hasn't Rebounded From Apple's About-Face: It's the Software Cycle, Stupid

Last Updated Sep 24, 2010 11:26 AM EDT

It was only in April that Apple (AAPL) waged ware against Adobe (ADBE) by forbidding use of cross compiler tools for iOS development. The message was, "Build apps for the iPhone and iPad only or don't bother submitting something to the App Store." A recent about-face on the policy brightened Adobe's future, but apparently not fast enough, as there hasn't been a significant increase in sales of tools that could move applications to the iOS platform.

And this is surprising ... why? A quick review of some basics of software development and business realities reminds us that things never move as fast as you might think.

The recent Adobe earnings call provided the forum for the exchange that brought up the question:

Michael Olson of Piper Jaffray: Thanks. Just one quick one regarding the Apple stuff allowing apps developed with Adobe tools to be used on their devices. Other than being a good headline that kind of helps dissipate some of the clouds that are on that issue, do you believe it actually changes the demand for Adobe Creative products?

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen: Mike, what we did see was that the day Apple announced the removal of the licensing restrictions that a number of people who had created products using our tool submitted that to the Apple Store and were approved. I think it just continues to reflect the opportunity which we have with our tools, which is to help designers and developers continue to develop their applications and content in our tools and repurpose it to multiple different output media. In the short run, I would say the impact was muted.

There should be no surprise about a muted impact in the short run. Let's go through the sequence of events:
  1. Apple changed the terms of the developer agreement in early April. That signaled developers to move away from Adobe products for creating apps.
  2. Apple changes its policy again around Sept. 9, again allowing cross platform tools.
  3. On September 21 comes the question of the impact on Adobe.
That was less than two weeks. What could anyone have been thinking?

John Paczkowski at All Things Digital says that the lack of impact was "hardly surprising" because "[a]ny developer that's serious about writing apps for Apple's mobile devices is likely going to use its iOS SDK because it results in better apps."

That has a lot less sway than the practical implications of how software development happens. Here are some rough stages:

  • state the problem and intent
  • create the design
  • choose appropriate tools
  • create the application
  • test
  • release
When Apple originally put the hammer down, it told developers that they had to use other tools. Any projects in the conceptual stages between then and September had to assume that Adobe software was out of bounds. The only change in the last two weeks would be from developers who were about to start a new project and that wanted to consider other tools. But those that really wanted to port Flash applications have probably either done so or are in the process.

Think about it and the entire sequence seems like some smart competitive kneecap breaking by Apple. First it scares off developers from Adobe tools, knowing they'll end up committing to coding directly. Then it makes an educated guess that the people who would have used a Flash cross compiler would have already begun writing new versions rather than porting code they had. When Apple allows the tools again, it knows that the need for them is at a low point, and yet the company still makes itself look better in the eyes of regulators and the public. Pretty clever, if you ask me.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.