Apr 12 AT 11:28 AM Matt Demers 42 Comments

iAd, and what it means for Android


To borrow an old Canadian adage, owning a phone other than Apple’s iPhone is like sharing a bed with an elephant. No matter what it does, or how much you want to ignore it, you are affected by its every movement.

Yesterday proved no different, as Apple revealed details about its iPhone OS 4.0. With the announcement comes many improvements, many of which (folders, dedicated e-mail app, etc) are already present on Android. However, Apple made one move that’s going to be causing a few waves: iAd. As a mobile advertising platform for iPhone apps, it gives developers a chance to split the revenues of advertising 60-40 with Apple. Thankfully, the developers get the 60.

Stupid naming scheme aside, iAd is part of Apple’s recent strategy to set precedents. Apple, as many people in tech will point out, dislikes working with Adobe product. This has resulted in a lack of Flash support for both iPhone and iPad. This lack of support became a large issue when the company decided to release their iPad tablet, as Adobe claims that Flash is installed on 98% of Internet enabled desktops, and 75% of all video online is viewed through their technology. How would they be able to tout the iPad as the “ultimate browsing experience” if it could not see half the videos and a large amount of ads that are on the Internet?

Apple then did what it does best, and set a precedent.

Enter HTML5. Slowly gaining steam within web circles lately, this update to a developing language makes videos and ads a plugin-less experience on the Internet. Gone would be the days of users having to install Flash and (shudder) Shockwave in order to view content. As long as a browser were up to date, users would be able to see what site designers wanted.

Android is not averse to HTML5, as any device with 2.0 or better has support for the format. Hell, Ian Hickson, the HTML5 Editor (yes, that’s a formal title) is a Google employee. This should mean that we, as Android users, should have nothing to worry about… right?

Not necessarily.

Along with the iPhone 4.0 came its software development kit (SDK), which included the following lines:

3.3.1 – Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. 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).

This segment of the agreement effectively locks out the use of Adobe’s Flash-to-iPhone compiler. Developers have used this program to import their designed apps into a format which the Apple App Store can, in turn, process. This means that developers who have been developing using this tool will have to find another way, just because Apple doesn’t enjoy that platform.

The company is looking to send a statement which is “You work our way, but if not, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

This was especially evident with the iPad launch, as developers were scrambling to grab a piece of the early-adopter pie. Because everyone doesn’t want to be late to the party, they’re all the more quick to adopt whatever Apple tells them to. The Wall Street Journal doesn’t have HTML5-compliant video and adspace? Well, it better damn well get some if it wants to be part of the tablet revolution.

Apple has little to lose if publishing body doesn’t want to play by their rules; they’d have about five thousand other publications willing to make the changes so they can enjoy the “Featured App” space on iTunes and the money involved with being available at launch. The advantages of a company complying with these demands are huge – they get to be part of the new wave, and in some cases, set precedents on how they price their apps.

However, the setbacks Apple brings to developers who have been doing everything “right” by their standards (up until now) rubs me the wrong way.

My main concern is Apple’s ability to just impose these new standards. It would seem more beneficial to the web in order to have a standard (such as HTML5 or Flash) that maximizes accessibility, instead of a splintering between the two mediums. It’s as if Apple’s snubbing of Flash turned on big red signs in newsrooms and development studios around the world, flashing “DROP EVERYTHING AND CHANGE YOUR VIDEOS TO HTML5 IF YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR TRAFFIC UP.”

What I don’t want to see in the future is Apple eventually deciding that HTML5 is not as good as something they could do in-house. Suddenly at Apple’s behest, developers will have to make another switch to iPlugin 2.5x, and devices that aren’t compatible (and aren’t selling as well anymore) are left crippled. The developers have no incentive to include apps for older hardware (because of labor costs or the elimination of features), and early-adopters get shafted.

It’s worth to mention that Admob, the largest SDK for mobile ads, is both owned by being acquired by Google and is available to develop for Flash. At the moment, it has three SDKs: Flash, Android and iPhone. Now that it’s directly competing with Apple’s iAd, it will be interesting to see if Admob will change to Apple’s new standards or perhaps cater more to Android developers.

Ultimately this situation seems to be similar to the argument that people have been making between the Android Marketplace and Apple App Store have been making for a good long while now: what freedom of development are they willing to sacrifice in order to reach both greater audience and greater profits? Are developers going to allow themselves to be influenced by one company’s actions? How will people react to Adobe’s response?

Some part of me enjoys just being caught in the middle of it.

UPDATE: At the time of this posting, Google has acquired Admob, and is going through proceedings with the FTC to legalize the sale. The Federal Trade Comission is concerned about the lack of competition for the merged companies, but with iAd emerging, this seems less likely to be an issue.

Matt is a Toronto blogger who enjoys writing opinion columns about culture, comics and of course, Android. You can find more of Matt's work on his personal site.

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