Adobe on Monday announced plans to roll out mobile versions of its Flash platform to several smartphones. Apple’s popular iPhone, however, is gaining a lesser Flash experience.
At its worldwide developer conference in Los Angeles, Adobe said it would be releasing Flash for mobile platforms including Microsoft Windows Mobile, Palm’s webOS and Google Android. But don’t expect Flash to come to the iPhone’s Safari mobile browser. Instead, Adobe is adding support to its Flash Professional CS5 developer kit to convert software written in Flash into standalone iPhone applications.
Let’s put it this way as an example: Ever watch videos on Hulu? If you own a Windows Mobile-powered phone, or the Google-Android G1, you’ll be able to watch Hulu videos through your phone’s browser. But for the iPhone, Hulu would have to use Adobe’s new development tools to create an iPhone appcontaining the Hulu experience.
Why the segmented experience for iPhone customers? Apple declined to comment, but some iPhone developers speculate Apple opted against a full Flash experience because of technical problems it could raise on the handset, such as battery drainage or sluggish web browsing. They also noted Flash apps could pose potential conflicts with Apple’s App Store policies. By requiring such applications to be submitted to Apple for inspection and approval, the Cupertino corporation retains control over the iPhone OS experience.
“These [smartphone] processors are going to become a lot more powerful now, but I think right now between battery and memory and raw processing power, performance is a major issue,” said Bart Decrem, CEO of Tapulous, developer of the popular iPhone game Tap Tap Revenge. “As an app developer I’m very focused on performance. I can see how Flash may not have the right performance characteristics yet.”
Many consumers have complained that the lack of Flash on the iPhone causes them to miss a major chunk of the internet. Several websites rely on Flash to support their streaming video, and a plethora of Flash applications and games are also available on the web. In the UK, two customers complained that Apple was falsely advertising the iPhone in a TV commercial by saying “all the parts of the internet are on the iPhone” when the handset does not support Flash. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority deemed the ad misleading and pulled the ad.
In November 2008, iPhone developers told Wired.com they did not foresee a full Flash experienceappearing on the iPhone at any point. The iPhone developers’ terms-of-service agreement prohibits Flash from appearing on the iPhone.
“An Application may not itself install or launch other executable code by any means, including without limitation through the use of a plug-in architecture, calling other frameworks, other APIs or otherwise,” reads clause 3.3.2 of the iPhone SDK agreement. “No interpreted code may be downloaded and used in an Application except for code that is interpreted and run by Apple’s Published APIs and built-in interpreter(s).”
Previously, iPhone programmers also pointed out that supporting the Flash framework would open a backdoor for Flash apps to appear on the iPhone, which could conflict with Apple’s approval guidelines for its App Store. Third-party software that Apple would prohibit from the App Store, such as apps containing malicious code, could possibly make it onto the iPhone via Flash.
Also, Flash apps could pose competition with Apple’s App Store. And while the App Store continues to flourish, recently exceeding two billion downloads served, there’s no economic incentive for Apple to rush to deliver a full Flash experience, said Scott Meinzer, co-creator of iPhone development house Tap Tap Tap.
Meinzer added that he wouldn’t expect a full Flash experience to arrive on the iPhone anytime soon. He said even on desktops, Flash is not a smooth experience, often causing sluggish browsing and frequent crashes. Thus, running on a phone, a full Flash experience would not be any better, he said.
“It seems like for Flash to work well on the iPhone, Apple has to bless it in some way,” Meinzer said in a phone interview prior to Adobe’s announcement that it would support coding Flash apps for iPhone. This compromise of Flash apps rather than a full Flash experience, then, appears to be Apple’s blessing.
Adobe said a public beta of Flash Professional CS5 will be available by end of 2009. Some Flash iPhone apps are already available in the App Store.
The jury is out on whether consumers will find individual Flash iPhone apps a sufficient substitute for a full Flash experience. What are your thoughts? Vote in the poll or add your comments below.