Six Burning Questions About Flash on the iPhone

By  |  Tuesday, September 30, 2008 at 5:21 pm

It may be the single biggest thing on the iPhone to-do list that’s not completely under Apple’s control: getting Adobe’s Flash working on the thing. Yes, there are cynics,lovers of lightweight surfing, and haters of animated intros who will contend that the iPhone is better without Flash. But anyone who’s ever tried to visit a useful site that uses Flash knows that the iPhone’s Internet has been more of an almost-but-not-quite-real Internet than the “real Internet” that Apple touts.

There’s lots of hubbub on the Web today about a Flash conference in the UK where an Adobe executive mentioned that the company is working on Flash for the iPhone. As Silicon Alley Insider notes, this isn’t news–Adobe’s said it’s on it before. But it is an excuse to think about the implications and ask a few questions. Such as:

1) How would it work, exactly? Would Flash content show up within Safari, or in a standalone browser? Would everything work, or just certain Flash applets? Would it attempt to resize stuff for the iPhone’s screen, or leave it as is? The idea of Flash on the iPhone is a lot more exciting if it’s comprehensive support, but we don’t know if that’s what Adobe has in mind.

2) Would it be a drag, bandwidth-wise? The whole idea of Flash is to do very fancy stuff without requiring a lot of bandwidth, but the world is full of Web sites that make you wait…and wait…while a Flash intro loads, showing that the technology can be used to slow Web sites down as well as speed them up. I’m not sure if Flash content that feels snappy on a PC or Mac would bog down even an iPhone 3G, or if there’s anything Adobe could do about it if it did.

3) What would the deal be with video? Apple got YouTube working well on the iPhone in part by working with YouTube to reencode everything in an iPhone-friendly format. But there’s still zillions of hours of interesting Flash-based video that’s not on YouTube, and is therefore unavailable on the iPhone. Thinking about bandwidth again, I’m not sure whether simply putting Flash on an iPhone would make this video usable or not.

4) In general, how usable would it be? Putting Flash on a phone is such a formidable project that it’s possible that Adobe would do it in a way that technically worked but was too onerous to be much fun. If it’s slow and makes you pan around, Flash on the iPhone might not be worth the effort.

5) Would Apple welcome Flash with open arms? I’d hope so, since well-done Flash support would be a boon for iPhone users. And for Flash support on the iPhone to be really good, Adobe would almost certainly have to work with Apple to hook it into Safari. But back in March, Steve Jobs spoke unkindly of the propsect of Flash on the iPhone, saying it would be too slow to be useful. The good news is that Jobs has a long history of explaining why something doesn’t make sense for Apple until the moment it happens, so I’m not overly concerned about his apparent lack of interest.

6) Would Apple actively prevent Flash from being available on the iPhone? I just said I wasn’t too concerned; I lied. Recently developments suggest that among Apple’s criteria for rejecting iPhone Apps fromn the App Store is if it sees them as being potentially bad for Apple. And while Adobe is a friend and partner to Apple in some ways, it’s also a competitor: Flash, like the iTunes Store, is a means of distribution for audio, video, and applications. The nightmare scenario is that Adobe does come up with a great Flash Player…and Apple decides it’s too good and kills it. At the moment, Apple’s actions with the App Store are so mysterious–intentionally so, since it’s using the iPhone NDA to stifle discussion–that it’s easy to get paranoid and imagine the company doing anything.

(Daring Fireball’s John Gruber has an interesting take on Apple’s reaction to Flash, and smart advice for Adobe: If it wants Apple to let Flash onto the iPhone, it should develop a version for Android.)

That’s a lotta questions about an application we know very little about. (Did I remember to ask when it might arrive?) Your answers, speculation, or additional questions would be welcome…


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5 Comments For This Post

  1. bud Says:

    Apple should make Quicktime available for Android at least.

    I don’t think Flash ever should have become a Video Media wrapper. Animated Vector Graphics, sure. Too bad it became the default conduit for video.

    Oh the good side, the absence of Flash on the iPhone means less annoying bandwidth hogging never requested ads.

    Android could be more of a threat to the iPhone, if it was not a T-Mobile exclusive. Will Sprint and Verizon adopt Android handsets, or is it giving up too much control?

    Oddly, I think Google wants to promote more open standards as well, which might also keep Flash from being on Android. Because Flash is nearly ubiquitous, does not mean it is not proprietary.

  2. Daniel Says:

    I think that there should be an option for people to disable Flash on webpages so the critics/cynics don’t whine and complain as usual…also, there should be an option that disables Flash objects until the user clicks on a box which says, “Click to play Flash object.” That would let people skip the darn annoying banner ads, which eliminates the issue of wasted bandwidth and RAM for stupid ads.

  3. James Katt Says:

    I would love to laugh at Flash on the Android G1 – which runs at 300 MHz – half-the speed of the iPhone 3G.

    I would laugh if it wasn’t the full, comprehensive, Flash as well. No way should Apple approve Flash on the iPhone 3G that is NOT EQUAL to the features of the desktop version of Flash.

    If anything, Adobe should give Flash away to Apple – source code and all. This way, Apple wouldn’t be dependent on Adobe.

    Adobe has a history of crippling it’s Apple versions of its products compared to the PC version. It is also often late in producing an Apple version of its products.

    Let Android be the guinea pig.

    Remember, that the iPhone only has about 100 megabytes of RAM for all the applications together.. This is very tiny compared to the needs of a full featured Flash.

  4. zahadum Says:

    no, No, NO!!!

    apple should NEVER support flash on the iphone/itouch.

    flash represents the ANTITHESIS of the web ethos – it is closed, proprietrary, and GROSSLY buggy platform!

    flash can not be intrinsically indexed or searched on the web because it is not ‘real’ (W3C) web content – and apple is wise to stress the standards-compliant approach of safari (and it is a bonus that wekbit is opensource as well; it is a double bonus that webkit is now the de facto
    standard web platform for mobiles!)

    flash is a threat to the integrity of the open web.

    apple should protect iphone users from ever having to put up with this shiite (flash is slow, buggy – and uses an out-dated video codec).

    stop Flash pollution now!

    what apple should really do – about flash – is buy adobe (for this and many other reasons): then the interactivity of flash could be rolled back into the quicktime environment (and then rebuild quicktime player so that it is a joy to use, not a pain in the ass!).

  5. Adam Cleaver Says:

    This is great news for anyone wanting to deliver brand experiences on mobile phones – it’s just a shame we still don’t know when it will happen. The powerful combination of the iPhone interface with the rich interactivity of Flash is something agencies, marketers and consumers will find hard to resist. Interestingly, we can also envisage a potential cost saving for clients as pre-existing Flash content is repurposed for mobile.

    At present, it looks like there is only talk about the Flash plug-in on the Safari web browser. As such, Flash widgets per se are not really on the cards yet. Native iPhone widgets/applications in Flash are still a good while away, but we wait with anticipation for the opportunity to use this new technology.

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