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Apple and Adobe: The Odd Couple

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Mar 24, 2009 4:00 AM PT

For more than two decades, Apple and Adobe Systems have enjoyed a mostly cordial relationship that have benefited both companies, especially in the worlds of professional design and photography. As might be expected, though, the enterprises have had their tiffs with each other and the balance of power between the two has shifted over the years.

Apple and Adobe: The Odd Couple

During the early days of the relationship, Adobe played a dominant role, but in recent times Apple has often had the upper hand, especially outside the design arena, such as in the mobile space. What's more, Apple's value to Adobe, although still important, has diminished as the PC has gained ground in the publishing realm.

"Even though most of the heavy-hitter designers that everybody knows are Macintosh users, the people in the trenches are largely PC people," Adobe Photoshop guru and author Deke McClelland told MacNewsWorld.

Other Partners

Adobe's decision to straddle both the Macintosh and PC universes has been a rational business one, even if it has created tension between itself and big bud Apple, according to Jeffrey Tarter. Tarter is currently the executive director of the Association of Support Professionals in Watertown, Mass., but for years he was editor and publisher of an influential newsletter on the software industry called Soft•Letter.

"With Adobe's help," he told MacNewsWorld, "Windows has turned into a pretty competent publishing platform."

"It was clear that Microsoft was going to eventually catch up to Apple in terms of output quality, and when that happened, there would be no reason to tie themselves to Apple," he said of Adobe.

In Adobe's Apple-centric days, Photoshop ace McClelland noted, there was no uncertainty about who topped the company's favorites list when it introduced new versions of products. New versions of Adobe Illustrator for the Mac, for example, would always be released before its PC counterpart. "As a result, Corel Draw completely ate [Adobe's] lunch on the PC," he maintained.

Now, he continued, the reverse is true. Photoshop Elements for the PC, for instance, is already in version 7, while the Mac edition is only in version 6. Moreover, "Elements is way better on the PC than on the Mac," he contended.

Why Go Outside Apple?

"If Adobe is feeling it's having trouble competing with Apple, it's in the consumer department," he added. "Apple has the consumer experience on the Macintosh completely wrapped up."

Apple and Adobe have had their differences on the professional software side, too, observed the author of Adobe Photoshop CS4 One-On-One.

For example, Apple undercut Adobe's Premiere program in the Mac professional video editing space with Final Cut Pro. "That program had a really big adoption rate among professionals," he said, "to the point that Premiere on the Mac wasn't viable for Adobe any more."

"There was some genuine rancor between the companies over that one," he added.

Apple also submarined Adobe in the area of workflow software for professional photographers.

Adobe had been working on a workflow product for years, but Apple beat them to market with Aperture. However, the Adobe product, Lightroom, eventually gained market prominence, according to McClelland, because Adobe was able to build on its cross-platform strategy and integration with Photoshop. "There are diehard Aperture fans out there," he said, "but Lightroom has been much, much more successful."

The Matter of Flash

As Apple flexes its muscle beyond the personal computing realm, it's again bumping heads with Adobe, as is illustrated by the ongoing flap over running Adobe Flash on the iPhone.

Spreading Flash technology into the mobile market is important for Adobe's overall "dynamic media" strategy. "Dynamic media continues to be a key growth focus for Adobe," Adobe CEO and President Shantanu Narayen said in an earnings conference call earlier this month.

Apple's concern with Flash, however, is its potential to undercut the company's App Store revenues, according to Ross MacMillan, an analyst with Jefferies & Co. in New York City.

"Apple doesn't want Flash executables to be available such that developers could circumvent the App Store and post Flash-based applications to the iPhone," he told MacNewsWorld.

"That's a walled garden issue that Apple doesn't want to concede to," he continued.

He explained that Apple's strategy in the mobile market is different from other players there because the iPhone is so far ahead of the competition. "Apple has the opportunity to own the development community, the development tools, application access and all that," he asserted. "The other cell phone manufacturers seem to be more supportive of letting Flash [be] a resident player on devices."

Nevertheless, the relationship between the companies is an important one for both, he argued. "Adobe and Apple have to have a symbiotic relationship, because Adobe knows that a very significant proportion of the creative professional community are Apple users," he said.

The companies are indeed important partners, maintained Michael Gartenberg, vice president of strategy and analysis at Interpret in New York City.

"They will continue to partner on many initiatives going forward, and I don't see that changing dramatically over time," he told MacNewsWorld. "At the end of the day, though, they are separate companies, and they're not always going to have their interests perfectly aligned, but that doesn't mean that they're not going to continue to work together."

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