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Flash On The iPhone: Well Almost

by Mark Driver  |  October 6, 2009  |  3 Comments

My colleague Ray Valdes has posted a nice blog entry regarding the announcement on Monday at Adobe’s Max Conference that Flash applications will be deployable to Apple’s iphone.  Here’s my take…

A major theme of this year’s conference was the upcoming 10.1 release of the Flash player targeted specifically at a wide range of smart phone devices.  Adobe has covered nearly all the bases but Apple remains the missing piece — a massive missing piece — of the Flash ubiquity story.

It pretty clear why Adobe wants Flash on the iphone but Apple says no, pointing to potential performance issues as the major reason.  Of course, this is smokescreen in this analyst’s humble opinion.

The main reason Apple says no to Flash is in order to maintain tight control over rich application experiences through its application store. In other words, if I can access cool Flash games via safari with built in flash then why would I pay for them or more specifically why would I pay Apple for them?

Effectively, a true Flash experience on the iphone (or any device for that matter) makes it impossible to police the content on the device (from porn to games and everything in between).  This is unacceptable to Apple.

On Monday Adobe announced Flash applications on the iPhone. But… not really… at least not entirely.

Basically the next generation of the Flash developer IDE will allow you to compile Flash applications down to native iphone code passing the need for the flash run-time player altogether. However, these applications wont run in the brower  and must still be accessed and installed via Apple’s app store.  So Apple loses nothing and Adobe get less than they wanted — far less.

However there’s still real value here.  Developers get another tool set to develop iphone applications.  Apple gets a massive influx of new applications to its device.   So Adobe get its foothold on the iphone — maybe a toehold.  No true “Flash on the web” experience but standalone applications are the next best thing. Overall its a good move for everyone involved except…

1.  I’ve always been weary of cross compilers.  If the process turns out to be truly turn-key with complete compatibility and performance then GREAT.   If not then it could lead to a nightmare of forked code.

2. As a more subtle but longer reaching issue, I fear that Adobe’s announcement may damage its own the long standing message behind Flash.  The run-time has been the key but now (when push comes to shove) it doesn’t seem the run-time is as important as it might appear. If Flash can create native compiled applications for the iphone then why not RIM and Palm as well?

Personally I’m torn.  Yes its cool to have Flash applicaitons (if not the  ‘Flash” runtime) on the iphone.  However its also not the true ‘Flash as an integral element of web’ message that Adobe evangelizes either.  Its a step forward no doubt but it doesn’t close the book on the issue by far.

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Mark Driver
Research VP
12 years at Gartner
27 years IT industry

Mark Driver is a vice president and research director in Gartner Research, where he specializes in application development technologies and open-source software. Within Gartner, Mr. Driver serves as a principal analyst for Java technology, as well as the Microsoft .NET framework. He is also the principal analyst covering the business and technical issues of the open-source software model. He covers many aspects of open-source software, including adoption challenges, best practices, market impact and development models.Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Flash On The iPhone: Well Almost

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Driver. Mark Driver said: Flash on the iphone! well almost […]

  2. Brad Hubbard says:

    I disagree with the statement that “The run-time has been the key” As a Flash developer reaching clear back to the Macromedia Director days, I can tell you that Flash has always supported a “Compile Standalone” version, for both Mac and PCs. In the PC, this took the form of a .exe that could be run by users with neither the Flash plugin nor any other install. Though I don’t develop Flash anymore (moved on to Ruby), my understanding is that this feature exists in the very expensive toolchain that Adobe continues to sell.

    I imagine the iPhone versions will not be terribly different from this. Pre-compiled slugs that execute using the native libraries on a machine, beholden to no Adobe install or runtime, or even the Flash moniker.

  3. Seth says:

    I believe a micro-version of the flash runtime is compiled into each app as it’s being exported.

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