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Adobe tilts at windmills with image apps for iPad

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Adobe has asked Photoshop product manager John Nack to help build a new breed of Adobe imaging applications for tablet computers. And yes, that includes the Apple iPad.

Nack will do so knowing that the Jobsian software police may not allow his applications into its App Store - even though the dead-simple Adobe Ideas "digital sketchbook" has already earned that honor.

"In many ways, the iPad is the computer I've been waiting for my whole life," Nack says in a blog post. "I want to build the most amazing iPad imaging apps the world has ever seen.

"But will I be allowed to do so? And who decides?"

It would appear that Nack and crew are developing an iPad version of Lightroom, Adobe's photography workflow app. Nack fears App Store rejection not only because Steve Jobs carries some sort for pathological animosity for Adobe Flash, but also because there's precedent with Lightroom. Apple doesn't carry Lightroom in its brick and mortar stores, selling only the Apple-built workflow app, Aperture.

"That's okay; Lightroom is doing just fine against Aperture, thank you. But what if the Apple store were the only store? How would Apple customers get the benefits of competition?" Nack asks.

"Would Apple let Lightroom for iPad ship? It's almost impossible to know."

As Nack points out, the Apple police have been known to approve apps, then bar them for duplicating tools that come with the iPhone - such as apps that relied on the banned Google Voice. But the police aren't exactly consistent. Sometimes, they approve apps that compete with Apple services, such as NetFlix and Amazon's Kindle app. Other times, he says, they approve something like the Playboy app, while barring apps that seem quite similar. "Maybe they'd let Lightroom ship for a while, but if it started pulling too far ahead of Aperture - well, lights out."

He also wonders whether Apple will frown on apps that experiment with new types of multi-touch. In his infamous open letter on Flash, Jobs said he had barred the technology from the iPhone and the iPad in part because it wasn't suited to multi-touch - or at least Apple's idea of multi-touch - and Nack fears the man in the turtleneck will go even farther.

"We have some really interesting ideas for multitouch user interfaces - things you've almost certainly never seen previously. Of course, 'groundbreaking' almost inherently means 'inconsistent with what's come before' and Apple can reject an app if, say, it uses two-finger inputs in a new way," Nack writes. "They do this to preserve consistency - until, of course, it's time for them to deviate innovate. (Think Different, as long as you're Apple.)"

Nack's post begins by pointing readers to Adobe's new ad campaign, where it tells the world that it loves Apple, but doesn't love Apple's recent efforts to so tightly restrict what can and cannot be done on its devices. But for Nack, the epic standoff between the two companies isn't about Flash alone. It's about something much larger.

"Apple's decision to deny customers the choice of whether to use Flash on iPads/iPhones is just one part of a bigger, more interesting question: What maximizes innovation & ultimate benefit to customers?" he writes. "You shouldn't care about this stuff because you love or hate Adobe. You should care because these issues affect your choices as a customer & a creative person."

To show that Jobs' actions have affected more souls than just the folks at Adobe, he points to Apple developer Jonathan "Wolf" Rentzsch, the man who outed the existence of Apple's Gianduia, a Flash alternative based on open standards. This week, Wolf canceled an independent Mac developer conference known as C4, saying that the iPhone SDK change that bars translated Flash from the iPhone had "broken my spirit."

The new Section 3.3.1 of the iPhone OS 4.0 SDK forbids applications that have been translated from languages Steve Jobs doesn't approve of. It says that native applications must be "originally written" in Objective C, C, or C++, forbidding developers from accessing Apple's APIs using any sort of "translation or compatibility layer."

Wolf canceled the conference not just because of this SDK change, but also because he's fed up with the capricious and draconian ways of the App Store police. "By itself Section 3.3.1 wasn’t enough to cause me to quit C4. I’ve weathered Apple lying to me and their never-ending series of autocratic App Store shenanigans," he says.

But it's the SDK change that took him over the edge. And his ultimate point jibes with the message delivered by John Nack. The SDK change ensures that developers are "wholly reliant on Apple for software engineering innovation," and that, Wolf says, isn't a good thing.

"Apple is crazy-innovative in terms of hardware and software design, but I can count the total number of software engineering advances they’ve made on one hand." ®

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