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Rumor gets reported there will be Flash on the iPhone. Rumor gets smashed. Rumor gets reported there will be unlimited music on the iPhone. Rumor gets smashed. Rinse and repeat.

What's going on? Why aren't we getting these stories straight?

Turns out maybe these stories weren't meant to be gotten. Turns out maybe these stories were meant to get us.

There was a time when media really was the fourth estate, when it reported the news. In something akin to the scientific method, media observed what was going on in the grand experiment that is society, looked for pattern and flaw, then contextualized it, gave it form and flavor, and broadcast it by mule and truck and cable and fiber to those who wanted or needed to know.

Now media is entertainment and is competing with itself and other forms of entertainment for your attention and your dollar. One of the ways to compete is to get mysterious "un-named sources" to give you the highly prized "sensational headline". And instead of digging for these sources and convincing them to come forward, the anonymous sources now trip and push past each other to get to the reporters first. Why? Because controlling the story is important. Information is power and spin is leverage.

Okay, soap-box, what does this have to do with the iPhone? Two interesting and very similar blog posts emerged recently shedding new light on both the Flash and unlimited music stories that have been all over the web lately. Let's take a look:

Flash first. GearLive heard it was good to go. Adobe said they didn't know. Steve Jobs said not so much. Adobe's CEO said the SDK would allow it. Then Adobe contradicted their own CEO. Is there really so much confusion? Is Adobe's CEO really that tech un-savvy? Is El Jobso?

Robert Scoble (via Fake Steve) calls shenanigans on all of them:

Today I got a note from someone I know who works closely with Adobe and Apple. [...] He says that he’s seen Flash running on an iPhone in a lab and that it’s been running for quite a while and that it’s not a technical issue that caused Steve Jobs to go public about not putting Adobe’s Flash on the iPhone. [...] So, what’s the reason, according to my source? Adobe is playing hardball with Apple over their PDF renderer. “Adobe wants Apple to use the Adobe PDF renderer.” His thesis? Steve Jobs is playing hard to get to get Adobe to give up this demand.

Unlimited music next. The Financial Times reported that Apple, long hating on the subscription model, was doing an about-face and embracing unlimited music, only to have Business Week report the exact opposite the very next day. Both cited high placed sources. Both can't be right, can they?

Matt Buchanan over at Gizmodo believes they can -- if only by virtue of opposing manipulations:

The labels, particularly Universal, are known to be hot on a subscription deal, since it'd provide more reliable revenue from iPods [...] Apple, on the other hand, is already [earning revenue] with iTunes just the way it is. [...] Since the labels really want a subscription model, it makes sense that label sources would play it up to the press, giving them more leverage at the negotiating table by showing the heavy buzz/demand the rumor is generating. Apple-side sources would spin the opposite way, since—if they really were considering a subscription model—it would give them weight to push down the price, both what they'd give labels and what they'd charge us. And as both the FT and NYT have noted, price is likely to be the major sticking point.

Nate Anderson coverage on Ars Technica also reminds us that the manipulations aren't just limited to Apple, Adobe, and the recording industry -- iTunes competitors aren't going to miss a chance to rattle the "monopoly" saber either:

The argument is a simple one. "Apple has a monopoly," [eMusic CEO David] Pakman told me Friday, citing their US market share at 80 percent. Companies in that situation have to play by a "different standard," especially when it comes to anything that could be construed as "tying" (recall that Microsoft was accused of exactly this sort of tying when it rolled new "features" like Internet Explorer into Windows and then had to deal with years of litigation). If every iPod comes with [the hypothetical service], that's tying," Pakman said. eMusic and others would certainly bring the matter to regulators' attention.

Could they be right? Is whether or not the iPhone can run Flash academic? Is whether or not some consumers might want the subscription model just as irrelevant? Are Adobe, Apple, and Big Media just playing games? Are would-be competitors playing along to send a message? Are reporters, desperate to fill column inches and make post counts, playing along? And are consumers -- the people to whom these issues matter most -- providing very loud, very public reactions, only to get played by all sides?

If so, this means iPhone users won't get Flash or unlimited music -- even if we want it, even if big business would make money and increase market share by giving it to us -- until "those who sit above in shadow" decide they've leveraged and manipulated every last little bit they can from us and from each other.

And we should know that by now, shouldn't we?