European Union joins FTC probe into lack of Flash support in Apple's iOS

The European Union has decided to throw their efforts behind the publicity grab FTC investigation into Apple's lack of support for Adobe's Flash player and Flash cross-compiler on iPhone and iPad says the New York Post:

According to a source, the European Commission recently joined the FTC probe into whether Apple's business practices harm competition.

The investigation could last another four to six months, the source said.

Steve Jobs famously penned an open letter describe why Apple, a public, for-profit company in a nation founded on free enterprise, has chosen not to support Flash video or Flash cross-compiled apps on their iOS devices -- which comprise nowhere near a majority much less monopoly market-share in smartphones or mobile devices. (Though, hey, no one has made an iPad competitor yet, so maybe Apple has a monopoly on pads? Ready your torches and pitchforks!). Jobs said at the D8 conference that, like floppy drives, it's a dead-end proprietary technology and the future will be the open standards of HTML5.

That consumers who want Flash support can buy Android, BlackBerry, and Palm -- er, sorry, a couple of Android devices that now have the Froyo 2.2 OS on them (Adobe has still, some 4 years later, failed to ship mobile Flash for most devices or platforms) -- is apparently not enough in a competitive environment. That developers who want to compile in Flash can target the monolithic web platform and those same Android devices is likewise, apparently, not enough.

It's been rumored that Adobe complained to the FTC after Apple changed the language in iOS 4's license agreement to prevent the use of cross-compilers. Apple doesn't support code interpreters or ahead-of-time cross-compilers in iOS, be they Adobe Flash, Oracle Java, Microsoft Silverlight and ActiveX, or anything else. On Mac OS X, they do (and they've just worked with Adobe to get hardware H.264 acceleration into the latest Flash for Mac plugin).

Apple has explained that if they update iOS and add new features, they don't want to have to worry about developers who have become locked into Adobe (or anyone else's) cross-compilers having to wait for Adobe to update -- or worse, fail to update -- before users can get those features. Imagine for example if developers couldn't update their apps with iOS 4 multitasking support or retina display graphics because the cross-compiler they were locked into hadn't gotten around to it or decided not to do it until Android had the same screen resolution as well.

For developers using Xcode and Cocoa Touch, it's a non-issue. For Flash developers who want to keep developing in Flash but access the iOS platform, it's a game ender. However, I'm still failing to see what roll the government has in spending time and tax dollars investigating that, other than Apple gets great headlines?

(And for the record, I'd have the same reaction if the government decides to go after Microsoft for not having Flash or QuickTime on Windows

[New York Post, thanks to everyone who sent this in.]

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 34 comments. Add yours.

HungWell says:

"Though, hey, no one has made an iPad competitor yet, so maybe Apple has a monopoly on pads?"
No, Rene. That would be Kotex.

Dosomo says:

After they finish this "investigation", the FTC can start a new one... looking into why Bing isn't offered on any Android phones. Hmmm... how strange.

Glenn#IM says:

EU was the same folks that got MS to make a version of windows without the media player for their market. Their involvement will just drag this on.

Bunyip3 says:

Rene, did you spend some time in Australia and see the Ad.... "That's noo how you make porridge"......?

(Copy of) Dev says:

"Apple doesn't support cross compilers..."
You miss the entire point of a cross compiler - since the results compile down to native code, Apple does not have to "support" anything. It Just Works. (tm)
Apple is doing far more than not supporting, however; they are going out of their way to ban techniques and products that would work, and whose life or death could (to the benefit of consumers) be efficiently be decided by market forces.
If the FTC or the EC determine that Apple is using control of Essential Facilities to restrict access to a market in such a way, there is a century of legal precedent and justification for such an investigation. And no, Essential Facilities does not require the firm to be a monopoly, just that it holds a bottleneck over access to the market in question.)

Jeff says:

Weren't all the YouTube video's converted from Flash to h264? Wouldn't this be in violation of Apple's new policies?

csimpkins says:

Less editorializing, more reporting please.
There are other blogs (which I've stopped reading) that I can go to if I want to feel like part of the Apple fanboy community.

Rene Ritchie says:

It has to support it in the SDK license. The way McDonalds would have to support you wanting them to serve Burger King during a kids party...

(Copy of) Dev says:

@Rene
Ummm, no. "Support it in the SDK license" is the flip side of banning it by declaration. It is spin, not a separate act. It is the very act under investigation, and, as such, cannot be used as the justification to the investigators.

Orion2021 says:

I am in full agreement with Jobs on this. And the governments of the world have much, MuCH more important things to deal with than investigating Apple not supporting Flash when Adobe hasn't even released a mobile version.

cardfan says:

Never been much of a fan of Flash. The guy just runs fast. I'd rather see Apple support Batman. A Batman app would be cool. Much better than flash.

R. Mutt says:

Rene it think Copy of Dev is basically right. You would have to he very naive not to see that is very fishy the way Apple is doing a clear effort to discredit Flash and block any use of it. Of course you could say that that is only to offer user/developer experience consistency but that argument can just go so far. The truth is that Apple despises competition, any kind of it. They will try to discredit/attack ANY product or technology that some other companies are working to develop saying that their are either copying Apple or are irrelevant. I mostly like Apple products and have spent several thousand dollars in apple products in the last couple of years but I believe that by all means Apple shoul be invetigated for anti-competitive behavior. And by the way that's the point, no one thinks apple is a monopoly, the point is apple being anti-competitive.

Tweger01 says:

Maybe I'm missing something, but why should the government even care? On this concept, shouldn't companies that make diesel cars be investigated because thier cars don't support gasoline?

Shrike says:

@Jeff - "Weren’t all the YouTube video’s converted from Flash to h264? Wouldn’t this be in violation of Apple’s new policies?"
No.
When people say "Flash", it's dependent on the context. Adobe Flash is a set of multimedia technologies including video/audio file formats (containers), a development language, and browser plugin & OS runtimes. One could run an application on Mac OS or Windows that's built entirely in Flash. For iOS, Apple is currently saying they don't want any of that. They want people to use "natively" supported technologies which is MPEG-3/4, AAC, Objective-C and Xcode development tools.
Flash video, .flv files, is a "file container". H.264 is a compression, decompression technique. Many H.264 videos are contained in MPEG-4 part 14 "file containers", .mp4 files. The videos on Youtube were likely a mix of H.263 and H.264 videos wrapped in .flv containers. Google basically took the videos, which were typically submitted in .mp4 and .avi type formats with varying CODECs (H.264, H.263, VP8, DIVX, whatever) and converted them all to H.264 and .mp4. The developer agreement has no say in this.
So basically, if you support .flv, you are supporting an Adobe proprietary format. .mp4 and H.264 are patent pool, industry formats. IE, it's an agreed upon by a wide variety of companies.
The brouhaha is about Apple not letting Adobe put the Flash browser plugin and the Flash runtime (AIR) on iOS, and not letting developers use Flash development tools to develop iOS apps.

Jake says:

I also think (Copy of) Dev seems to be right here. The issue is not that Apple doesn't support flash. Nobody is asking Apple to code a flash interpreter. Nobody is asking Apple to code CS5. Heck, with CS5 all Adobe is asking is that Apple ignore it. Evaluate the app based on the same criteria as other apps, not what language it was written in.
Even with Flash, Adobe isn't asking much more than that. They are willing to write the interpreter. All they need from Apple is app store approval.
Truth be told, both these organizations should be investigating the whole app approval process, not specifically anything related to Adobe or its products. Heck, neither Apple nor AT&T (nor any other device maker/carrier) should have any say at all about what I run on a device I paid for.
Back in the day, if you wanted a telephone connected to the PSTN, you had to rent it from AT&T. If you wanted more than one phone in your house, you had to pay extra for it. Does that sounds familiar to anybody here?

Shrike says:

I really don't see the EU or the FCC having any kind of case here. They are going to be laughed out of the courthouse if they try to bring a case. They've got nothing.

Shrike says:

@Jake - "All they need from Apple is app store approval. Truth be told, both these organizations should be investigating the whole app approval process, not specifically anything related to Adobe or its products. Heck, neither Apple nor AT&T (nor any other device maker/carrier) should have any say at all about what I run on a device I paid for."
This is fine. This is your belief. I think it is the correct one. But. There's nothing wrong with Apple (or any other company) limiting what developers can do on an integrated solution (device + software) they own and sell. Nothing. The only possible case that the government can come in on is if a company has monopoly power. Apple is now basically the 3rd place smartphone vendor.

DeathGrip says:

Defend the precious Apple at all costs!

R. Mutt says:

@shrike You are partially correct. Apple can also be investigated (and will be sooner or later) for anti-competiive practices on their App Store.

OrionAntares#CB says:

It's like Microsoft trying to muscle out other browsers from Windows back in the day. Flash is a direct competitor with Apple's app store. If Apple allows Flash to operate on their idevices then it cuts into their profits.

sting7k says:

Coming soon to European iPhone's - At start up a selection screen to choose which video codec/viewer you want to use on your iPhone.

(Copy of) Dev says:

@Shrike
I don't necessary disagree with your beliefs on Apple, but you are mistaken on the need for a monopoly for the government to pursue a case. Essential Facilities explicitly does not require the firm in question (Apple, in this case) to have a monopoly, only that they control a bottleneck into a market, and are using that bottleneck unfairly. (As of a recent case against Verizon, the lack of regulatory body may also be a requirement in the US, but not in the EU. The Wikipedia article has a good summary: http://bit.ly/dggKwG )
Assuming the FTC/EU is defining the market in question as "The App Store", Apple definitely meets those conditions to trigger an investigation, with a solid bottleneck on the market, and the demonstrated willingness to be heavy-handed and somewhat arbitrary in its application. If the market in question is "Mobile Apps," Apple probably still meets that definition, as when the FTC announced the investigation in 2009, Apple App Store sales accounted for 99.4% of that market (source: http://bit.ly/bwPGbR ), which means Apple's bottleneck applied to all but 0.6% of that market, as well. If the FTC/EU defines the market in question as "smartphone sales," then no, they do not, as Apple's bottleneck would not apply to a large segment of the market.
But -- and this is the important thing -- the regulatory body, not Apple, not Adobe, and certainly neither Shrike nor (Copy of) Dev, decides the scope of the market they are investigating.

Shrike says:

@R. Mutt
I didn't say that Apple couldn't be investigated. I said that if the FCC and the EC bring a court case, they'll be laughed out of court. The FCC has to sue Apple to make them change behavior. They don't have anything. They can investigate Apple all they want, but they won't have anything to make a successful court case.
The only thing that'll change Apple's behavior is market failure. That is, if Flash becomes necessary for Apple to compete in the market.

Shrike says:

@(Copy of) Dev
Yeah, I knew someone would bring up the good old "Apple makes 90+% of the money in the mobile apps" market. We've already been through this multiple times. I highly doubt any regulatory body will declare "mobile apps" as a market. It's like saying Apple has a monopolistic power on "economics". Every smartphone platform vendor and their brother has the capability to run apps. How could anyone have monopoly power on that? They can't because it's not a "market". Moreover, Apple hasn't limited any developer in development for other platforms.

sidpena says:

I agree with Steve's reasoning and I think that there are so many more worthy issues that the FTC and EU could focus their resources upon that would actually benefit consumers.

Bruh-Man says:

HRMPH.... Thats Strange. My HTC EVO 2.2 Supports flash? Is this a problem eventhough Adobe doesn't have a mobile version. Who's email address should I send the code to?

Tebow says:

@Rene... are you really so sad that your Monkey Toy doesn't support flash that you have to bash it at all times?? face it guy, the iProduct is becoming obsolete.. enjoy 3rd place Rene..
Good Luck.

VAGitarian says:

My iPhone supports Flash, just slide to jailbreak. Frash works quite well.

Don says:

Apple's ban of cross compilers is also a ban on mainstream computer users developing iOS apps. I would love to be able to develop an iPhone app. There are some really important things that are just missing.
I am not willing to get a Mac just to write iOS software.
Imagine what apps could exist for iOS if development wasn't restricted to users of only 7% of all computers.

Jon says:

There are two issues here: support of the proprietary Flash plugin, and the Adobe-made cross-compiler. In the interest of clarity to readers, it would be smart if TiPB drew a distinction (because they're completely separate issues, although I suspect Adobe is leveraging the latter to force Apple to allow the Flash plugin on the iPhone).
@(Copy of) Dev
"Essential Facilities explicitly does not require the firm in question (Apple, in this case) to have a monopoly, only that they control a bottleneck into a market, and are using that bottleneck unfairly."
Please explain in what way Apple's decision not to support a proprietary plugin which undermines the performance of the device is inherently unfair. Or are you simply talking about the cross-compiler issue?

icebike says:

Rene: The snark level of your posts is increasing to the point of critical mass instability. Take some rest. Find a beach to lay on.
Flash works well on every Android phone I've seen, and no, it doesn't kill the battery, and doesn't bog down the phone.
Still Apple should not be forced to have it.

OrionAntares#CB says:

There's a difference between not supporting and flat out banning. Apple has BANNED Flash from showing up on their idevices in any shape or form.

johncblandii says:

Check your reporting. No one complains about Windows Phone 7 + Flash because Windows Phone 7 is getting Flash.