By BEN WORTHEN
The punches that Apple Inc. is throwing in its fight against Adobe Systems Inc. are beginning to land, prompting some companies to shift away from Adobe’s video and animation technology and forcing Web designers to work with competing standards.
Programmers and Web designers say clients increasingly are asking that their websites or applications be compatible with Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Those sites can’t be built with Adobe’s Flash technology, which is used widely for online video and animation but which Apple has banned from its devices.
“Since the iPad came out we’ve had a lot of clients say that they just don’t want Flash on their sites,” said Chantelle Simoes, vice president at Ninth Degree Inc., a design firm in Dana Point, Calif., which has built websites for Sanyo and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. If current trends continue, Ms. Simoes said, her 10-person firm will need to hire people familiar with Apple’s development tools.
Choices made by Ms. Simoes and other Web developers, who are the biggest users of Flash, have implications for Apple and Adobe. The two companies are embroiled in a war over the future of online video. Apple has shut out Flash from its mobile devices and instead promoted its own tools and HTML 5, a rival technology to Flash that is under development.
On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated, whose website uses Flash extensively, unveiled a Web app built with HTML 5. “We’re going forward on more than one front,” said Terry McDonnell, editor of Sports Illustrated Group, a unit of Time Warner Inc. “The last thing that we want to do is make some decision that we’re not sure about.”
While that means having to maintain multiple versions of its properties, Mr. McDonnell said it doesn’t make sense to settle on one technology because Sports Illustrated needs to be able to reach readers no matter what device they use.
It’s a hassle for developers to build apps and Web sites for Apple’s devices separately. But Zach Williams, director at Venveo LLC, a Web-design shop in Blacksburg, Va., says he has little choice because the iPhone is so popular with clients.
Carnival Corp., which remade the home page for its cruise line without Flash a year ago because of the iPhone, is unlikely to continue using Flash on other parts of its website or for its online videos. “The iPhone and iPad have made us take a look at alternatives” to publishing in Flash, said Jordan Corredera, director and general manager of Carnival’s online business.
Flash still has a commanding share of the market, with about 75% of online video using the format. Online video site Hulu, which doesn’t have an iPad app, said this month it wouldn’t make its videos available in HTML 5. Among the reasons for the decision is that HTML 5 doesn’t have all the ancillary features of Flash, such as the ability to secure and track videos. Hulu is jointly owned by several media companies, including News Corp., which also publishes The Wall Street Journal.
The problem for some companies is that HTML 5 is immature and still years away from broad adoption, said Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst at Forrester Research. It also isn’t supported yet by the most widely used Web browsers, such as Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer.
In the last few weeks, the bickering between Apple and Adobe has escalated. Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, published an essay listing technical reasons why Flash wasn’t a good fit for his company’s devices. Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayenpublicly hit back and last week, the company took out full-page ads in several newspapers to express its displeasure with Apple’s no-Flash policy.
While analysts estimate that only about 5% of Adobe’s revenue is directly tied to Flash, the technology is incorporated in many of the company’s products. The bulk of Adobe’s revenue comes from software like Photoshop and Dreamweaver that are used for designing websites. Developers say they still plan to use these products. In the long term, however, the battle with Apple could create an opening for rivals to Adobe’s design software.
Meanwhile, Apple wants to protect the competitive advantage the iPhone has over rivals, specifically the vast number of apps that aren’t for other devices. Letting Flash on the iPhone would allow developers to simultaneously create apps for the iPhone and other devices that use Flash.
An Apple spokeswoman said the company believes in open standards like HTML 5 and called Flash a proprietary Adobe product.
Adobe on Wednesday added tools to its Web design software that support HTML 5. “Whenever technologies come out that people want to use we will support those,” said Kevin Lynch, Adobe’s chief technology officer. While the proportional amount of Flash development may be shrinking, Mr. Lynch notes that the overall amount is climbing and that the number of Flash developers grew 59% in 2009 to 3.5 million.
Apple’s decision to ban from its devices apps created with Adobe’s tools has forced some companies to go back to the drawing board.
Condé Nast Publications in February demonstrated an app for Wired magazine built with Flash but it was never released. The publisher is working with Adobe on a new Wired app for the iPad that “will be compliant with Apple’s new guidelines,” a spokeswoman said. But it is continuing with plans to develop apps for its other publications without Adobe’s technology.
Write to Ben Worthen at email@example.com