Long may the iPhone remain Flash-free

! Warning: this post hasn't been updated in over three years and so may contain out of date information.

“When is Flash coming to the iPhone?” seems to be a commonly asked question of Adobe. It’s clear from the likes of Lee Brimelow that it is a question that causes great consternation within that company. They want Flash on the iPhone, of that there is little doubt. Flash is available on Windows, OS X and Linux and – assuming all goes well with the Open Screen Project – it will be available within the browsers of all smart phones bar the iPhone later this year. As a Flex developer and an iPhone user, I guess this should worry me. To be honest though, it really doesn’t. In fact, it fills me with hope for the future.

Back in the early days of the web, a bunch of scientists and geeks needed an internet based document system, and this resulted in HTML. One of the underlying principals of HTML was that it described what was to be presented to the user, not how. This idea worked well for those scientists and geeks. Had the web remained being used by just those folk, not much would likely have changed. The web was destined for so much more though and this “what, not how” was unacceptable to most other people. Flash helped address this problem by providing web designers with a way of controlling how content appeared in a consistent way across multiple browsers.

Times move on and these days HTML is finally coming of age. Rather than doing things their own way, browser makers are now falling over themselves to make their browsers ACID compliant. On top of that, HTML is starting to look like it will end up being supported by all the main browsers and JavaScript engines are running code ever faster. Such advances obviously call into question the need for Flash. Then there is the fact that Flash is not available on the iPhone and that the iPhone’s browser, Safari, is at the forefront of ACID compliance and HTML 5 implementation. This gives web designers and developers a real incentive to start using HTML 5’s features, which could be a very slippery path indeed for Adobe.

As I previously mentioned, I’m a Flex developer. I don’t use the Flash Professional tool, I don’t create web sites, but I do use Flash. I use Flash to create applications (or RIA’s if you prefer). As a Flex developer, technologies like AIR and the promise of being able to compile ActionScript into iPhone applications excite me. I’ve never much liked Flash on web pages, due to its use in intrusive adverts, inane “flash intros” and the slow-loading, accessibility train-wrecks that are full-blown Flash-only web sites. I want to see Adobe putting more money and effort into building the developer side of Flash use. Running a Flash game within Chrome on an Android phone doesn’t excite me. Being able to compile an AIR-like application for an Android phone does.

Adobe are a designer-orientated company. They appear to struggle to “get” us developers and what we can offer them. As a developer, I see the emphasis on getting the Flash Player on as many devices as possible a missed opportunity. The designer-first mentality of the company is driving the Open Screen Project in the wrong direction. AIR/ native apps on all platforms should have been the emphasis, for smart phones aren’t about the web, they are about apps. As a case in point, the BBC offer details of English Premiership football (soccer) games. The web is a pain to use though on a phone, so I bought an “app for that”. I chose a paid-for app over a free web site, for the installed application offers a superior experience over what a web page can offer and it cost less than a pint of beer.

Far too many of Adobe’s eggs are being put in the “Flash Player on the browser” basket and if Flash on web pages is doomed, then Flash as a whole may be doomed. This is of course just my opinion and time may well prove me wrong. Its an opinion that has grown in strength though as I talk to others and read “Not on our Christmas card list” type posts from the Adobe Platform team. When a company starts laying off staff, it’s time to question its business model. Perhaps its time to question whether Adobe’s future still lies with its Flash Player/ Flash Professional/ Designer past. Or whether its future lies with Flash Developer, AIR, native apps and developers like me.

2 thoughts on “Long may the iPhone remain Flash-free

  1. I feel that Adobe got cocky with its Flash browser saturation and stopped caring about quality. Flash runs like complete and utter crap on Linux and OS X. This is not something to be ignored.

    See, standards are important. In an effort to keep my comment short, I’ll simply say this: With standards, sites and applications can be built sanely for every browser that obeys them; and most attempt to. If Adobe wants Flash to continue to be a serious contender to standards, it needs to take it seriously and ensure that its user experience is quality across all platforms.

    Unfortunately, it may be too late.

  2. I think that Firefox Mobile will be bigger competition for the iPhone. Since it will not be ran on the iPhone and instead the Blackberry/Android. Flash is overrated in my opinion.

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