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Apple Doesn’t Want Flash on iPhone

iPhone 3G

Flash should have a place on all mobile handsets, and Adobe is planning to make version 10 available for smartphones. But not iPhone. Now why is that? I’m going to tell you.

First this, ah, news flash. Today, Adobe showed off Flash running on Android-based smartphone HTC Hero. This is a dreamy handset. You want it. You know you do. Hell, I want it, and I recently bought a Nokia N97. While iPhone is all the rave, Android is where the big action is coming. Google gets the mobile-to-cloud applications stack better than any company, even Apple. Flash is part of the story.

Lots of people have asked for Flash on iPhone, and plenty of others have asked why Apple and Adobe don’t offer it. You can be sure that Adobe could make Flash available for iPhone. Many other handsets, including my N97, support Flash Lite today. Then there is iPhone OS, which is based on Mac OS X; the desktop OS fully supports Flash.

Apple doesn’t want Flash, and developers are most, but not all, the reason. Apple rightly treats iPhone/iPod touch and App Store as a mobile applications platform. Right now, Apple controls the early contender to becoming the dominant next-generation computing platform replacing the PC. But the company wants to get there on its terms and via development platform which it completely controls.

The mobile Web is all about the browser. Except iPhone, which arguably ships with a wonderful Web browser. App Store channels development away from the browser into a container of disparate and discreet functions. “There’s an app for that”—an Apple marketing slogan—means that people work with separate applications; separately from one another since background operations are restricted or prohibited.

Apple wants any video capabilities to occur within these applications, using its technologies (QuickTime) and H.264 codec. Apple has worked around Flash, rather than support it, by iPhone’s YouTube implementation.

The point: Apple sees QuickTime as a mobile competitor to Flash.

But the story isn’t that simple. Flash is also a rival development platform, and one Apple doesn’t control. If Apple lets Flash roam iPhone, uncaged and free, developers can create applications that bypass the App Store. By keeping out Flash:

  • Apple maintains tight control over the user experience
  • Apple avoids competition with a major third-party application platform
  • User interface stays fairly consistent across different iPhone applications
  • App Store becomes iPhone’s primary application development and delivery platform

Clearly Google isn’t bothered by Flash applications. Android is sure to benefit from Flash-enabled Websites and applications coming from Android Marketplace. YouTube is a Google service, after all.

Google’s mobile-to-cloud applications stack is more stabler and has a broader base than Apple’s. App Store may have 10 times the applications as Android Marketplace, but Google controls or is friendlier with the most desirable mobile applications and services, such as search and videos or social sharing. Google also provides Apps client software or access from all major mobile platforms. Additionally, Android is available on an increasingly wider selection of handsets.

Apple’s strategy is risky. Flash has a huge and loyal developer base, which even Microsoft couldn’t shake apart with Silverlight. The next 12 months will be crucial for iPhone and App Store, as the platform seeks to achieve enough momentum that mass adoption is inevitable. Despite the ridiculous amount of hype in the US press, Apple’s platform isn’t there yet.

Photo Credit: Antonio Tajuelo

19 Comments

  1. A couple of thoughts to add to what you’ve already said Joe. First, Apple and Adobe don’t seem to get along anymore. I don’t know why, but it’s been going on for some time. Adobe seems to have lost their edge in software development on the Mac. My opinion/my guess is that Adobe hasn’t made the transition from the Carbon framework to the Cocoa framework.

    Second, Apple seems to be placing their bets on HTML 5. HTML 5 is suppose to supplant the need for Flash and Silverlight. Google also seems to be embracing HTML 5 with their Wave product.

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  2. Joe, I’m cynical about Flash on an iPhone or any handheld. My case against it can be summed up in one word: Chernobyl. At least that’s what I feel like every time I hit a site running Flash on either my Dell or Mac laptops. Flash is a total resource and CPU cycle whore. My keyboard just about glows white hot when Flash-based ads and movies run. If I’m running on batteries, with Flash, I’m running on vapors in no time. So to even imagine Flash on any handheld strikes me as ridiculous.

    You make good points about why Apple has resisted Flash. But I think too, Apple is trying to tell Adobe to do better. Flash was never developed to be economical to batteries or CPUs. And Adobe, being Adobe, has become big and arrogant. It’s a company that no longer listens to customers.

    Frankly, if someone can come up with something better than Flash that is really built for handhelds like my iPhone, great. But the last thing I want is to be looking at a Web site on my iPhone, only to watch my hand melt because of – you guessed it – Flash.

    To sum up: no thanks. I’ll pass.

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  3. There is also the other must obvious reason why they don’t want Flash:

    If they accept flash.they would have to accept Silverlight.

    The same goes for Silverlight.if Apple accepts Silverlight, they will have to accept Flash.

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  4. Why would they have to accept Silverlight if they accepted Flash (or vice versa)?

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  5. Because that would be seeing badly and can be considered anti-competitive since Flash is not only a third party plugin, it is a competitor company to Apple and Flash is third party non native code to Apple Closed iPhone Game. it is not a case of Apple paying for support of a technology like in ActiveSync and Exchange. they could have chosen Google to serve as the bridge for those but that would have been seen as circumvention and Microsoft would had been legally able to just block the iphone directly for avoiding what is the standard way.

    Sounds strange, but trust me. if they allow flash, then Microsoft would pressure Apple to accept Silverlight into the iPhone since then Microsoft would be able to cry foul of favoritism since they are benefiting a third party vendor without any base to give Adobe Exclusive Operation Right for what is a platform technology stack.

    The same goes for Adobe. if Apple accepts Silverlight first. they would be dumb to not pressure and cry foul that flash is more widespread and that it is not cool to not accept it if they have accepted Silverlight on the same argument i described above.

    it would be actually easier for Microsoft to get Silverlight into the iPhone if Apple accepts flash first since Apple is now using several Microsoft Technologies in the iPhone and OS X will also get more of them with Snow Leopard.

    So they need to shun all plugins or give guidelines for the plugins to be accepted. the obvious guidelines would be a required efficiency to enter and special support for operating in the iphone.

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  6. if SL and Flash gets accepted then even JavaFX would want to get accepted.. this one is easier since given Apple can input the guidelines.. for JavaFX to pass them would be harder than for Flash or Silverlight since so far every single JavaFX thing i have loaded if even heavier and slower than the slowest and heaviest flash/flex/shockwave content.

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  7. Talk about a duh moment. Brian, you get the gold star. Power consumption could very well be the driving force behind the decision.

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  8. Another reason why Apple would not want Flash.

    If they allow Flash then they are locked into the ARM processor forever.

    If they decide to change the processor in the iPhone then they will be forced to wait for Adobe (again) to rewrite Flash before they can do anything.

    Not to mention the fact that Flash is slow, useless and irrelevant.

    As Dave said, HTML5 is preferred over Flash. Flash is only useful for video at the moment and it looks like YouTube is going to switch to HTML5 from Flash.

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  9. There is nothing Microsoft could do if Flash was accepted but Silverlight was not. Apple can do what they like, it is not anti-competitive since Apple do not have control of the market for smartphones.

    They do not need to give guidance on what plugins will be accepted at all.

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  10. I agree with BillyBob on this matter (for a change ;-))

    Apple don’t have antitrust concerns around iPhone, they plot their own course, and if they wanted any one of Silverlight, Flash or JavaFX, they will do it.

    I think the model they have will server them well – I wouldn’t change if I where them.

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  11. My BlackBerry Curve plays Flash files from YouTube and a few other sites with surprising ease (especially considering that it’s only connecting via the slow EDGE network). I don’t do this a lot, but it works fine for the few times I need it.

    My ASUS eee PC901 running Linux also plays Flash, both via the net and also from the stored .flv file on its SSD. (SMPlayer does a beautiful job).

    Yeah, Adobe is the pits, but Flash is everywhere. It’s kind of like the on-line video equivalent of Windows on the desktop: You may view it as OK or you may view it as a steaming pile of dung, but it’s everywhere and that’s that.

    Oh, and Firefox with AdBlock Plus installed (on Windows, Mac, and Linux) makes all of those Flash-based ads silently disappear as if they never existed. People who are still complaining about Flash-based ads sound to me as if they are west-bound travelers still complaining that their covered wagons are having trouble crossing the Mississippi.

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  12. “Flash has a huge and loyal developer base, which even Microsoft couldn’t shake apart with Silverlight.”

    Full disclosure: I’m a .NET developer, so I’m partial to Microsoft developer technologies.

    That said, this comment is based on results for which the jury is still out. Silverlight 3 promises to be an amazing tool. Will it destroy Flash? No. Flash will be around for a long time because it has, as you say, a lot of loyalty and legacy. But the debate is far from over, and Microsoft has only just cleared its throat.

    It took a decade, but the .NET Framework has effectively supplanted Java in new development for the Windows platform. Silverlight has a good shot of doing the same to Flash on the Internet. This race isn’t over yet.

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  13. My PS3 running Ubuntu for PowerPC does not run Flash, neither does my new futuristic CPU from 2012. Both of them will run HTML5 if there is an open source browser that supports it (which there will be). It took Adobe years to finally come out with a 64-bit version of their plugin, how long would it take for a minority CPU/Platform?

    I predict that YouTube will move to HTML5 video with a downgrade to Flash for IE users once Firefox 3.5 is out. They will be followed by the likes of Vimeo and the BBC iPlayer. This will hopefully be the key turning point. YouTube and the iPlayer both make special cases for the iPhone and serve up plain h264, it would be easier for them to just use the HTML5 video tag with a fallback.

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  14. Agreed. Once I started reading about HTML5, I finally became hopeful that Flash will eventually go by the wayside and Silverlight’s deadly lock-in to Microsoft won’t take hold and ram-rod Microsoft down the throats of everyone in the world. (As in, I do NOT hate broccoli, but I do NOT want to be force to eat nothing else EXCEPT broccoli all the time. And when I eat something other than broccoli, I do NOT expect to be sued for patent infringement by the broccoli monopoly.)

    Here’s to the future! (clinking of glasses in the background). Let us hope that HTML5 comes quickly enough to allow ALL platforms, Microsoft, Apple, Linux, smart phones… EVERYONE.. to have the same level of function and enjoyment.

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  15. Here’s hoping that HTML5 video will actually bring MORE features than what we have now.

    For example, HTML5 allows chroma keying and face recognition with only a few lines of Javascript code, YouTube could provide this feature which is not even available in most video editing software.

    http://hacks.mozilla.org/2009/06/connecting-html5-video/

    Remember all of this is being done inside the browser and does not use any special extensions.

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  16. still betting on this scenario. lets see which one comes first or if none of them get into the iphone in 2009.

    But right now there is already replacement for this. a group of ex-adobe developer got a a way so you can develop in as3 and then the app gets translated to iphone native code.

    the same goes for Mono/Moonlight project that got a way so you can develop the app in Silverlight/Moonlight and then convert it to the iphone native code.

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  17. @Avatar “the same goes for Mono/Moonlight project that got a way so you can develop the app in Silverlight/Moonlight and then convert it to the iphone native code.”

    Hmm, that’s interesting. Do you know what that projects called, or what the limitations are?

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  18. @Nick:

    Of course:

    MonoTouch is the version of the iphone:

    http://www.mono-project.com/MonoTouch

    1.0 MonoTouch limitations:
    http://www.mono-project.com/MonoTouch:Limitations

    MonoTouch 2.0 is the one that will have silverlight/moonlight on top of what they offer with Mono
    http://www.mono-project.com/MonoTouch_Roadmap

    Mono is already in Android Market for that matter. a version of MonoTouch for android 1.5 and WM6.5 should follow after MonoTouch iphone 1.0 launches or 2.0 launches since Miguel stated that Silverlight/Moonlight to app will be cross platform.

    http://tirania.org/blog/archive/2009/Jun-29.html

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