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Noah Kravitz

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Adobe: A Pawn in the Apple/Google War?

Posted: 06/21/10 07:10 PM ET

Google, Motorola and Verizon take to the stage Wednesday, June 23rd, to announce the "Next generation of Droid" smartphones with hanger-on Adobe in tow. We're expecting to see the Droid X, an EVO 4G-alike touchscreen phone with a 4.3-inch display and a high-def camcorder, and possibly the Droid 2, a sequel to the massively popular original featuring a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. Thursday it's Apple's turn when the next-generation iPhone 4 hits stores and mailboxes across the U.S. and four other countries. "Game On!" in the World Cup of Smartphones, Summer 2010 edition.

Unlike Copa Mundial, this Cup won't be decided by mid-July; instead, the Smartphone Wars promise (threaten?) to go on for at least another year or two, by which time our conception of "phone" could have gone out the window altogether. Still, Google/Moto/Verizon's decision to launch the next Droid the day before iPhone 4 hits the streets speaks to the stakes in play for everyone at the table.

The player with perhaps the most on the line right now is Adobe, considering that neither Apple, AT&T, Google nor Verizon is going anywhere just yet, and Motorola's mobility division was basically given a second shot at the big time by the rise of Google's Android mobile operating system. Despite having failed to turn the success of their iconic RAZR phone into any sort of long-term sustainable strategy, Moto's back in business behind a stable of Droids. In fact, they recently announced plans to spin the handset division off into a debt-free, cash-infused, stand-alone company called Motorola Mobility by early next year.

But what about Adobe? Why will CEO Shantanu Narayen be joining execs from Google, Motorola and Verizon at the Droid launch June 23rd? What does Adobe, a software company, have to do with the smartphone game? The simple answer boils down to "Flash" and the Apple-Google war. The complicated answer hinges on factors as far ranging as Google TV, developer agreements, emerging Web standards and, well, the Apple-Google war.

Apple and Google are duking it over the mobile phone and mobile advertising markets, and the battle may soon extend to online music sales and Web-enhanced TV as well. That's no secret. Adobe has become something of a player - or is it pawn? - in the war thanks to Apple's persistent refusal to allow the company's Flash technology anywhere near the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch lines of "iOS" powered mobile devices. Over the past few months both sides have stepped up their rhetoric, with Apple proclaiming Flash a dead technology already replaced by an emerging HTML5 standard that does the same job better than Adobe's tech. Adobe, on the other hand, says Flash performs well enough to be used by millions of people worldwide, thanks, and that Apple is wrongfully forcing consumers and developers into using their tools under the false pretense of "supporting Web standards." Google has stepped in by increasing support for Flash in Android - and their new Chrome OS platform for netbooks and tablet computers - and also talking more and more as of late about support for other Adobe technologies in Android, Chrome, and the recently announced GoogleTV initiative.

All sides, of course, are talking about how they want what's best for their users. In fact, Adobe, Apple and Google all claim to be in support of "Open Standards." They just differ in how they define "openness," and which standards they support. Adobe says Flash will be on more than 250 million smartphones by the end of 2012. Apple's Steve Jobs says Flash is dying out just like the floppy drive, which Apple famously left off of its first-generation iMac computer before other PC makers eventually followed suit.

Apple has already succeeded in shepherding several of the Web's biggest sites away from Flash and towards HTML5 versions of their video/multimedia content, though Adobe's format is by no means dead just yet. Question is, what happens to Adobe if Apple wins out and the Web is all but devoid of Flash-based videos, games and ads in a year or so? Yes, Adobe has more up its sleeve than Flash, and it's already retooling its CS5 suite of design tools to better support HTML5, but Flash (and to a lesser extent, the AIR platform) is big business for Adobe.

Can Google throw Adobe a lifeline by supporting and promoting Flash content in Android and Chrome OS? Will they continue to broker partnerships for high-profile devices featuring integrated Flash support, as the new Droids are rumored to feature? And in the end will it even matter, or will the sheer might of Apple sales figures force Flash from mobile devices -- and the Web in general -- once and for all?

 

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