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Cross-platform - Not a Viable Business Model

Written by on April 30, 2010

Yesterday, Steve Jobs posted a long article about why he doesn't like Flash, and made it abundantly clear that Flash will not be on Apple devices - or even remotely support it on other devices.

Steve is pointing out that Flash is a closed system, that h.264 videos work everywhere, that Flash is the number one cause of crashes and a security concern, that it sucks the life out of your battery and since you need to create a separate touch based app anyway, why use Flash at all?

Then later yesterday, Adobe's CEO Shantanu Narayen defended his company in an interview with the Wall Street Journal by mostly avoiding the questions, and continually pointing out that Flash is cross platform.

It comes as no surprise to my long time readers that I agree with Apple on this. I don't think Steve is right about everything - but Adobe have lost it.

Consider this. If you can do the same without Flash, directly on the device, why use Flash at all? Flash is an extra layer, take away the layer, and you get fewer problems and much better performance.

There is nothing Adobe can do to change that. They are building a layer for a world that doesn't need one. It doesn't matter if this layer is cross-platform or not - it's still a layer.

Right now Flash still makes sense. HTML5 is not yet ready for prime-time. No browser or platform is fully supporting it yet, not even Apple's Safari.

But HTML5 it will be ready within the next 3 years. Apple might be accelerating its demise, but Flash is dying even without Apple.

Adobe shouldn't try to compete with Apple's business model, because that is not what this is about. Their competitor is HTML5. They should ask - "What can we do that HTML5 cannot - 3 years from now."

And if you think this is just an issue between Apple and Adobe, guess again. Microsoft is also fully supporting HTML5 and h.264 video with IE 9. Everyone is dumping Adobe Flash for HTML5. Microsoft even goes as far as to say "The future of the web is HTML5".

It's not about cross-platform

I have helped companies use the web for 13 years, and I have learned is that it is never about cross-platform. It's about cross-interaction.

The benefits of cross-platform are a myth, because you still need to create separate apps for each platform. Not because of the tools, but because of how people interact with them.

It is about three things:

First, it is about how you interact. There is a huge difference between how you interact with touch based devices and how you interact on a computer. But it doesn't stop there. How do you interact in a car? How do you interact while exercising? How do you interact while presenting in front of a crowd?

Secondly, it is about the interaction area. You can't make the same app for the Nexus One, the Nokia Shade, the iPad and your computer. The differences in the interaction area is too big. You still need to create an app that can take advantage of the size of the device.

We can actually see this quite clearly on the iPad. The iPad can run all the apps built for the iPhone, but the experience isn't very good. Just scaling up an iPhone app isn't working.

But, the most important difference is not the technical concerns. Instead, it is about where people use your app. I learned the hard way that just because people do something on their computer, doesn't mean they will do the same on their mobile.

Take this website. Many people read this site via their iPhone, but extremely few of them do so in the browser. Instead, they read it in an RSS reader.

A few years ago I created an iPhone web app for some of my clients. Each of them was simply the same concept as the website, but redesigned to look great on the iPhone. It didn't work. People do things for different reasons and in different situations - you cannot fix that by merely redesigning the layout.

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When Adobe says that Flash is cross-platform, they are trying to fool you into thinking that you can create one app for every device. That isn't the case. I cannot use Flash to turn my articles into a Podcasts so that you can listen to them while driving to work. Nor can I create one app that works well on every device.

Would I like if I could just use one technology for everything? Of course I would, because then I could use the same resources for every project. But, I cannot do that even if Flash were on the iPhone. I would still not be able to use the specific advantages each platform provides. I cannot even do that with HTML5.

As I tweeted earlier: @baekdal: Ever heard of a cross-platform sandwich? A sandwich that can be eaten by everyone? Who wants that? Sandwich makers? Sure. - People? no!

Cross-platform is not a viable business model. It's an excuse for not being remarkable.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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