What if Apple ruled the world?

I don’t know how many of you out there have been following the skirmishes between Apple and Adobe, but it’s a battle that could have some big implications for the future of the Web at large.

Apple doesn’t allow Adobe Flash to run on its hugely popular mobile devices, the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Steve Jobs recently shared his thoughts on  Flash, saying that Adobe runs a proprietary system locks users into the Flash language and into Adobe’s service. Jobs makes a few other claims about Flash, but that’s the big one.

Jobs writes:

Apple has many proprietary products too. Though the operating system for the iPhone, iPod and iPad is proprietary, we strongly believe that all standards pertaining to the web should be open. Rather than use Flash, Apple has adopted HTML5, CSS and JavaScript – all open standards. Apple’s mobile devices all ship with high performance, low power implementations of these open standards. HTML5, the new web standard that has been adopted by Apple, Google and many others, lets web developers create advanced graphics, typography, animations and transitions without relying on third party browser plug-ins (like Flash). HTML5 is completely open and controlled by a standards committee, of which Apple is a member.

Newsvine founder and CEO Mike Davidson writes that Apple’s system can be just as closed and proprietary as Adobe’s:

In order to get my stuff onto an iPad or iPhone, however, I must receive explicit approval by a human being working for Apple after this human being has manually reviewed my work, derived my intentions for the product, and made a value judgement on what my creation brings to the device. As long as that process exists, there shall be no arguments that the iPhone or iPad are more open than just about anything we’ve ever seen before… including Flash. To claim that because Apple is pushing open standards like HTML5 (really for their own benefit) means they are somehow more open than Adobe is folly.

The reason for Apple to keep itself closed is interesting too, Davidson says. Companies like Microsoft and Adobe sought to control their markets, to win all the customers and then have the power to set their own terms.

Apple, on the other hands, keeps itself closed just to differentiate itself from its competitors, which Apple hopes consumers will see as inferior to Apple itself. Apple maintains its exceptionality by being closed, and “Apple will stay closed as long as being closed is a net positive to their business.,” Davidson writes.

Interesting stuff. Davidson’s post and Jobs’ letter are definitely worth full reads. Also of note is this, from Davidson:

Flash has taken a slightly different path towards public distaste and I actually don’t blame Adobe for most of it. When Flash first came out, only the most talented design visionaries used it. When a new Flash site came out in 1999, each one was like a new DaVinci… beautiful works of art that moved the web from a tame, ugly typographically poor medium to a center stage for creativity.

Then the advertisers got ahold of it.

When most people speak ill of Flash, they are actually speaking ill of ads. Watching Flash video on YouTube doesn’t crash your browser; visiting a news site with five annoying Flash ads all trying to synchronize with each other does.

It’s almost enough to make me yearn for the Web of 1996 again. Almost.