image Hmm. Doesn’t Adobe Digital Editionsshown in a desktop incarnation–rely on Flash? If so, just what should we make of the news that Adobe is still struggling to bring Flash to the iPhone? Adobe and Apple are collaborating to get Flash there. But even Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen admits that this is a "hard technical challenge."

In a Bloomberg video—the iPhone-Flash discussion begins at 3:25—Shantanu sensibly won’t promise any immediate miracles. And yet iPhone owners want to enjoy already-bought books now. Despite the hopes of some, will we seen Flash running on the phone even by the end of 2009? No guarantee. And when will Digital Editions itself follow for the iPhone?

image If Adobe can’t overcome the Flash challenge in a timely way, will the company offer something other than Digital Editions for The Phone? Alas, if not, you’ll be out of luck if you use an iPhone or iPod Touch and want to read an Adobe-DRMed e-book, either a new one or an old favorite. This is yet  another reminder that with DRM, you lease rather than own. The result? Thanks to DRM, the Adobe brand will lose some value on one of the fastest-growing e-book platforms.

Now let’s say Adobe instead were focused on social DRM, a concept wisely talked up in the past by the company’s Bill McCoy; then people could at least enjoy their ePub books on other readers. And when Adobe came up with the competitive solution that I believe it’s capable of, they could happily switch back to Adobe and use it on the iPhone. Same for PDF books, which, if DRMed, can generally be read only with Adobe software.

Tough questions for consumers

Some tough questions arise here in an iPhone context, even if Flash is running on hundreds of millions of nonApple cell phones. Should Adobe rely so heavily on a problematic approach like DRM to keep people using its e-book software? Shouldn’t it instead align its interests closely with consumers and strive to create a better interface for the iPhone than, say, the one that Stanza offers.

But back to the current mess. May be in the end, if the Flash delays persist, that will mean a retreat from the present vision for Adobe Digital Editions, at least for the iPhone. If so? Not the greatest tragedy for Adobe, with all its talented people. The key is for Adobe to remember that, as important as Flash and its overall strategy are, publishers and consumers  should come first. Go with a nonFlash app for the iPhone if need be—perhaps even through a partnership with the Stanza or eReader people. The market is big enough to justify it.