Why Flash won’t be coming to the iPhone anytime soon

Thu, Feb 19, 2009

Analysis, Featured, News

It was reported earlier this week that Palm joined Adobe’s Open Screen Projectand that the Palm Pre, not surprisingly, will start supporting flash sometime in 2009.  Of course, it’s impossible to bring up flash support for mobile phones without noticing Apple’s apparent reluctance to incorporate the technology into the iPhone.

Adobe’s CEO gets everyone’s hopes up..

A few weeks ago, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen said in an interview that Apple and Adobe were “collaborating” on bringing flash to the iPhone.  A few websites took this quote and ran with it, and before you knew it, the web was inundated with articles that would have had you believe that a flash supported iPhone was about to hit stores tomorrow.  At the time, I called BS on such speculation, noting that technical considerations aside, partners who are truly working hand in hand with Apple don’t typically comment on it while cooperation is ongoing.  Moreover, the word “collaboration” often seems to be used when Apple wants people to think that it’s actually going to do something when it actually wont.   Remember the spat between Cisco and Apple over the use of the ‘iPhone’ trademark, which by all accounts actually belonged to Cicso?  Well, as part of their settlement, Apple and Cisco agreed to collaborate and cooperate on a number of issues and iPhone-related opportunities that, two years later, seem to have never even gotten off the ground.

And then an Adobe spokeswoman brings everyone back to reality

Well I hate to say I told you so, but in an interview on Tuesday, an Adobe spokeswoman was quoted as saying, “It’s important to note that Adobe needs more from Apple to succeed than Apple ordinarily makes available to iPhone software developers.” In other words, Adobe desperately wants to put flash into the game, but Apple won’t even let it practice, let alone take the field.

Bad sports analogies aside, one of the reasons Apple isn’t gung-ho about flash is because it feels it might threaten the popularity of its App store, which is fast becoming a key selling point of the iPhone.  Think about it –  a flash enabled iPhone would only create an avenue for users to entertain themselves outside of the app store.  Why pay and download iFart if you could attain the same functionality for free from a flash app online?

Also, once you introduce flash, a number of potential problems arise that would inevitably affect the user experience, something Apple will never compromise on.  Even if Adobe is able to traverse some of the technical hurdles it faces, what happens when iPhone users try to view a flash enabled video on the web and get an error message saying that they don’t have the most recent version of flash installed?  What if Silverlight all of a sudden takes off?  Inevitably, any flash related glitches will be attributed to Apple, and as with all its products, Apple likes to control the entire device, and loathes the idea of relying on other companies to complete part of the user experience puzzle.

Adobe’s spokeswoman did note that “Adobe is still committed to bringing Flash Player to the iPhone”, but given all of the factors mentioned above, don’t expect to see flash on the iPhone anytime soon.  Of course, if flash on the Palm Pre turns out to be a stroke of genius, then maybe, just maybe, Apple might reconsider.


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