Apple against Adobe/Flash war and how can Microsoft/Silverlight profit from it?

Yesterday following the Apple’s release of the new iPhone OS 4.0 SDK, a specific change in terms made waves all over the internet and in many software developer’s lives. This specific change sounds like this:

Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

What this change means is that, a lot of software developers that previously were developing multi-platform and were using multi-platform devkits will be now forced to use Apple’s own tools. In other words it would mean going back to the programming technology of the ‘90s.

The most heavily affected will be frameworks like Titanium, MacRuby, MonoTouch and XML VM, but also, most important Adobe and their soon to launch Flash Professional CS5 which offers a tool to export Flash into native iPhone apps. Without going into details of what Apple suddenly has against Adobe and or Flash or whether they want to destroy their stock value in order to buy them later (which I am fairly sure will be discussed to death on other blogs), let’s stop for a moment and discuss a bit about how the recent changes will affect iPhone development in general and Microsoft/Silverlight in particular, even if the latter has no direct involvement in above mentioned iPhone software development.

Effect on iPhone software development – almost negligible. Regardless of how much the iPhone software developers all around will scream and complain about that, the truth is that iPhone’s installed base is too big and financially rewarding to be ignored. Maybe a very small percentage from the independent developers will switch sides, but mostly will stick with iPhone and just comply with the new requirements.

Silverlight is a Flash direct competitor which is gaining market adoption at this point. Last month I read an official estimate of over 60% penetration, which will only increase with the launch of Windows Phone 7 headsets later this year. The development tools for .NET and Silverlight are second to none (take my word for this). 2010 Winter Olympics, a hugely popular event used Silverlight without a hitch; Netflix also uses Silverlight to stream movies on many platforms as well. Thursday, Microsoft announced plans to work with Intel and Broadcom to put Silverlight inside set-top boxes, Web-enabled TVs and other consumer electronics devices. Also, IIS Media Services is already able to convert on the fly and stream to iPhones and probably iPads as well.

Now, of course Apple won’t accept Silverlight technology on their devices any more than they accept Flash, but if Microsoft really can push Silverlight onto other electronic devices including TVs and set top boxes, it might become more popular than Flash ever was, especially with Flash getting hit hard by Apple latest announcements. Apple is popular, but it doesn’t own a significant portion of set-top boxes (and I consider Apple TV a bad joke compared with a properly configured HTPC based on Windows Media Center) and they don’t have a presence in the TV market. Stay tuned, the next couple of years might prove to be really exciting. The app stores for set-top boxes and other consumer electronic devices are just starting to appear and Apple doesn’t reach there at this time.

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