The new UI wars: Why there’s no Flash on iPhone 2.0

Adobe has been known to swing to its own unique interface tune on both Mac OS and Windows. Mac users have long complained about Adobe’s considerable disregard of Mac OS native technologies, from the pointed absence of full-fledged AppleScript in Photoshop for over a decade to the absence of 64-bit version of that app on Mac OS X when it will ship for Windows likely next year.

Adobe’s UI convergence

Adobe’s goal has always been to establish its own UI as a cross-platform, third alternative to both Mac and Windows native UIs. In the process, Adobe has not been shy to invent new UI conventions that clash with native UI patterns. A case in point is the rather funky window title/menu bar design approach in the upcoming Dreamweaver, Thermo and Fireworks apps:

cs4-windows.jpg

It can be argued that the company has been quite successful at it. By the time Creative Suite 4 ships, Adobe will have created UI patterns and a look-and-feel shared by most of its family of desktop content creation apps that work virtually identically on both platforms.

However, when it comes to stretching the boundaries of application interface nothing comes close to Flash, Adobe’s ubiquitous web media runtime. From bizarre “Skip Intros” to enigmatic UI widgets, everyone has a “Can you believe somebody actually designed that?” moment. Well aware of this, Adobe has been steadily expanding a set of (default) UI widgets and components in its Flex framework that has come to define the look and feel of many Rich Internet Applications around the web. Of course, one doesn’t have to use the default Flash/Flex UI controls as they can be varied by creating custom skins:

flex-skin.jpg

UI convergence on the mature desktop market may be a given for Adobe, but the next frontier is to establish Flash Lite (Flash’s mobile version) as the premier runtime and application development platform for mobile devices, now dominated by Symbian, Windows Mobile and Java.

Nokia, for one, will be rolling out Flash Lite 3.0 on its S60 series phones this year:

s60.jpg

Why not the iPhone?

While some version of Flash Lite is available on millions of phones, it’s conspicuously absent on the iPhone.

Many reasons have been floated for why Flash isn’t a good match for the iPhone: it’s slow, it hogs CPU cycles, it drains the battery, it crashes too often, it’s not optimized for Mac OS X and so on. As obvious as these reasons may be, even if all those technical issues could be solved tomorrow, there would still remain a huge divide between Adobe and Apple on the iPhone: who controls the UI?

Adobe’s conundrum

Adobe’s interface strategy on the desktop has been to avoid using native UI controls on the deployed OS in favor of establishing and leveraging its own unique cross-platform UI paradigm that its runtime engine can deliver consistently on multiple platforms.

Unfortunately for Adobe though, Apple is in the process of establishing the first mass-market, multi-touch platform with the iPhone and has already migrated it partially to its notebooks. Clearly, Apple (which acquired FingerWorks and its patent portfolio in 2005) has greater ambitions in establishing a broader multi-touch gesture paradigm, likely to cover other devices as well:

gesturelib.jpg

At its introduction, what immediately distinguished the iPhone among all other mobile devices was the pervasive and consistent application of a multi-touch UI. It was as big a jump from the WIMP (“window, icon, menu, pointer”) desktop metaphor to a direct manipulation paradigm as we’ve seen in the computer and consumer electronics industries.

flex-vs-iphone.jpg

Not unexpectedly, every other phone manufacturer has already lined up as the next “iPhone killer” with myriad prototypes and a few shipping products. It’s easy to see in the results that it’s quite problematic to duplicate the fluidity of the iPhone’s UI without infringing Apple’s numerous patents or creating groundbreaking advances. Most pretenders aren’t up to the task: here, for example, is a Flash Lite file that “transforms” Nokia S60 phones into iPhones:

iphone-ui-s60.jpg

Once you get to “secondary” pages (see video), the touch paradigm gives way to the ugly WIMP interface, which has been the common theme in the vast majority of “iPhone killer” attempts. Some competitors even tried to bypass multi-touch altogether. Samsung, for example, patented a rather impractical gesture-based UI where hand/finger gestures are tracked by a phone’s camera for interaction and navigation:

samsung-gestures.jpg

Apple: Not on my device!

With the iPhone, Apple has been slowly but surely creating a third major OS platform and UI aesthetics commensurate with a multi-touch driven, small scale mobile device. This is a company so obsessed with UI and user experience that it hasn’t yet introduced something as basic as copy and paste on the iPhone 2.0 because, as is rumored, it hasn’t quite nailed a proper UI pattern.

In this highly charged and competitive marketplace to establish the next UI paradigm for mobile devices, Apple is not about to give Adobe or any other company free reins to dilute its brand proposition by introducing cross-platform, common-denominator UIs and interaction patterns to be mingled with Apple’s carefully orchestrated multi-touch approach. So what does that leave Adobe with?

Adobe’s iPhone choices

To put Flash on the iPhone Adobe may:

  • strike a deal to license Apple’s entire iPhone UI controls and interaction patterns and ship them with Flash, Flex and AIR development suites as components, much like its current default set “Halo.” Apple hasn’t yet shown any inkling that it’s willing go along with this.
  • decide to duplicate the iPhone UI and ignore a legal threat from seriously irked Apple IP lawyers. (For a company that once sued Macromedia for UI infringement that would be supremely ironic.)
  • leave the task of creating iPhone compatible Flash components and skins to third party partners and let them deal with the legal ramifications.
  • put itself in an unenviable position of having one UI paradigm for the iPhone and another for the rest of the devices it runs on, which would mean that a non-trivial application delivered for the Flash Lite runtime would end up being (at least visually) broken either on the iPhone or on other devices. After all, even the simplest of Flash UI patterns like dragging or double-clicking won’t work on the iPhone as they have entirely different consequences on this multi-touch platform.
  • abandon Flash’s long standing strategy of using its own “third-platform” UI paradigm distinct from the native look and feel of the OS it’s running on by using OS-native UI controls, thereby creating a litany of OS-specific headaches for designers and developers. After all, a UI designed for the multi-touch iPhone just wouldn’t be conveniently re-morphed to run smoothly on lesser devices and vice versa.
  • encourage developers to design and produce separate versions of their Flash apps for the iPhone and other platforms, but that simply defeats the whole purpose of using Flash to deliver seamlessly compliant multi-platform apps.
  • develop its own non-infringing multi-touch gesture library for Flash to either compete with Apple on the iPhone, or just ignore the iPhone and try to establish an anti-iPhone multi-touch platform. (In this regard, it may approach Google to make all or parts of its technology available to Android.)

Some of these theoretical choices are of course impractical as third-party applications cannot be legally loaded on iPhones without going through “The App Store” controlled by Apple.

Apple’s Flash choices

By being so different than other platforms, Apple’s multi-touch, direct-manipulation iPhone UI clearly upsets Adobe’s strategy of a distinct, non-native UI paradigm consistent across multiple platforms and devices. With its recent purchase of chip design house PA Semi, Apple has signaled that it’s aiming to further differentiate its iPhone platform by tying native capabilities to custom-designed system-on-chips, unavailable to third parties and cloners alike. It’s not difficult to imagine that various iPhone UI capabilities will be enhanced by the power of Apple-only hardware components. So it will be increasingly difficult for Adobe or others to battle with Apple either subversively on the iPhone or competitively on other devices.

So what about Flash on the iPhone? Can the iPhone succeed without it? That’s a two-pronged challenge for Apple.

When pundits refer to the absence of “Flash” on the iPhone, they usually mean streaming Flash video, the kind that put YouTube on the map. However, that was the easier problem for Apple to (at least partially) solve. Through an agreement with Google, Apple was able to convince the biggest conduit of Flash video online to make its videos available in the widely deployed industry-standard H.264 codec, which also drives QuickTime videos. Not too long after that Adobe switched to H.264 as its primary video codec in Flash Player 9.

The other missing part of Flash is the ubiquitous .swf runtime that delivers Rich Internet Applications in the browser, and now with Adobe AIR on the desktop as well. As we have discussed previously, unlike Adobes’ Flash, Microsoft’s Silverlight and Sun’s JavaFX, Apple doesn’t have a multimedia/RIA runtime. While all three companies have publicly expressed keen interest to put their runtime engine on the iPhone, Apple has shown no interest thus far. Indeed, despite great pundit pressure, Steve Jobs went out of his way to declare Flash “too slow to be useful” on the iPhone and Flash Lite “not capable of being used with the web.”

mobileapps.jpg

Apple’s “RIA runtime” is turning out to be WebKit, as we detailed previously. With the upcoming MobileMe apps Apple’s arguing that an Ajax-based UI in a web browser can be as effective as a desktop app or an RIA delivered via Flash. In other words, Apple is saying: if you want to natively deliver an app for the iPhone use Cocoa Touch and if you’re reaching for cross-platform ubiquity (including on the iPhone with Safari mobile) use Ajax. Not a complicated proposition.

As for Flash, last year an Apple developer document (“Optimizing Web Applications and Content for iPhone”) listed just one item under the section “Unsupported Technologies”:

“You’ll want to avoid using Flash and Java for iPhone content. You’ll also want to avoid encouraging users to download the latest Flash on their iPhone, because neither Flash nor downloads are supported by Safari on iPhone.”

Clearly, Adobe has an uphill battle to either re-engineer the Flash runtime for the iPhone or convince Apple to specifically accommodate it by demonstrating an indisputable need for it.

69 thoughts on “The new UI wars: Why there’s no Flash on iPhone 2.0

  1. Pingback: Multi-Touch: Not the Future « Rip/Rowan

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  4. Pingback: The case against Opera Mini on the iPhone « counternotions

  5. Pingback: Lensco.be | Blog | End of an era

  6. Pingback: CS5 macht Flash-Anwendungen zu iPhone-Apps

  7. > I honestly think that Apple is suffering
    > (as they long have) from ‘Not Invented Here’
    > syndrome

    I don’t think that is true at all. From Mach at the bottom to OpenGL on top they are happy to use good tech wherever they find it. Flash is not good tech.

    > The argument that Flash breaks the multi-touch
    > paradigm is hallow at best. The entire internet
    > breaks that paradigm. Flash does no better or worse.

    No, you are wrong. Flash a mouse cursor, and all of its interactivity is based on mouse over, mouse down, mouse out events. There is no way to code for multitouch in Flash because Flash does not know WTF multitouch is.

    Developing for runtimes has many advantages. The disadvantage is you are at the mercy of what the runtime supports. FlashPlayer requires a PC, a mouse, a keyboard, and a screen with 800×600 pixels or greater. iPhone has none of these things.

    The only reason you can see the Web on iPhone is that Apple created a multitouch UI for Safari. The Web apps you are running in MobileSafari think you are clicking a mouse button when you tap because MobileSafari is doing a translation. FlashPlayer would have to be taught to do this translation by Adobe.

    > I just want it so that I can view 50% of the
    > internet that utilize Flash in some way.

    You have the problem backwards. It’s not that you need Flash to reveal the hidden movies, it’s that the website authors need to stop hiding the movies from you with Flash in the first place.

    > Does Apple REALLY think they can bend everyone
    > in the world to their will?

    It isn’t Apple vs Flash, it’s MPEG-4 vs Flash. MPEG-4 is bigger than both Apple and Adobe. And it isn’t a battle of wills, it’s pure technical necessity.

    On a mobile, you can playback 8 hours of MPEG-4 on a single charge if you use the built-in audio video decoder hardware. That’s why that hardware is there, same with iPods. If you use Flash instead to decode that same MPEG-4 video (which is what is going on with Flash today on the Web 99% of the time), all the video decoding will happen on the CPU and you will get 1 hour of battery life.

    In other words, for the Web to go mobile, the video has to come out of the Flash wrapper and run directly on the hardware. This transition is already well under way. If you go to YouTube or even (Microsoft) MSNBC.com on a desktop you’ll see Flash, but on mobiles you’ll see MPEG-4.

  8. I really enjoyed the article and the large majority of the comments.

    My two cents:

    The Adobe folks still have not figured out the technical problems with this and I think that is the largest stumbling block for getting Flash on the iPhone. Flash crashes my PC’s browser from time to time. I couldn’t imagine the havoc it would cause on the iPhone.

    I honestly think that Apple is suffering (as they long have) from ‘Not Invented Here’ syndrom. The argument that Flash breaks the multi-touch paradigm is hallow at best. The entire internet breaks that paradigm. Flash does no better or worse.

    I don’t really care to have flash as a replacement for the iPhone OS or desktop – I just want it so that I can view 50% of the internet that utilize Flash in some way. Does Apple REALLY think they can bend everyone in the world to their will?

    Brian Chen on Wired wrote about this a while back:

    “Flash would open a new door for application developers to get their software onto the iPhone: Just code them in Flash and put them on a web page. In so doing, Flash would divert business from the App Store, as well as enable publishers to distribute music, videos and movies that could compete with the iTunes Store.”

    Honestly I think this has little to do with technology or ideology. It’s business. It’s Apple selling a device used to buy things from them (iTunes and App Store) rather than an phone or internet device. They are doing what they have always done and technology locking people.

    This the reason they came this/close to failing before. And why something will have to give in the future.

  9. Paul: “if Adobe put its full weight behind a serious iPhone competitor…”

    But all the serious iPhone competitors are already engaged with their own OS.

    “create a seamless experience between the OS and the Web that could fully realize what Flash can do”

    While Flash/Flex has made huge advances in bridging the two, there remain a number of significant impediments in that combination. For most applications on the web, the Flash/Flex payoff is not sufficient to bother with a proprietary runtime.

    For handset manufacturers it also means they will never be in charge of the destiny of their own OS. After all, there was nothing stopping Palm from adopting Flash as their OS, they chose Web OS. No other serious player has been wedded to Flash either. In its current state, Flash will always be a plug-in, not the primary OS driver.

  10. Great article… your analysis is extremely thoughtful.

    It seems to me that many of the commenters here are approaching the issue from the standpoint of their own preferences, however — they are developers who hate Flash because [insert pet peeves here], and/or they simply dislike it from a personal standpoint. That’s fine, but I hardly think that’s the issue. The vast majority of consumer-oriented Web sites use Flash in some way, and as such, the iPhone is unable to deliver a huge swath of the “real” Web. Whether any of you think that part of the Web is stupid, worthless or worse is irrelevant — Flash is ubiquitous, and it is largely impossible to deliver many kinds of online experiences without it. The Web has shifted away from Flash in recent years, both toward more useful kinds of applications and toward other technologies, and Flash may well wither away at some point, but it’s going to be a significant factor for the foreseeable future.

    Whether Flash needs to be, or should be, available in all its glory/infamy on mobile devices is an open question. It’s pretty clear that the iPhone UI is fundamentally at odds with Flash on the most basic levels. However, the road Apple is taking is basically forcing content creators to build custom applications for anything beyond the most basic Web functionality. While this is enjoying an extended honeymoon period for the time being — everyone is flocking to build an app because they can finally monetize the stuff they’ve been forced to give away for years — it’s not a tenable long-term strategy. You can only fit so many apps on a phone, and at some point the novelty will wear off, and I just won’t want to install yet another stupid app that does something I could have done in a browser, if only the iPhone supported Flash.

    One issue I don’t think anyone has mentioned here is the fact that not all smartphones are limited to touch, nor is it a given that future devices will be. The G1 has a trackball, and it appears the Palm Pre does as well. To many people, putting a trackball on a touchscreen phone seems ridiculous; however, it does offer a potential way around the vexing issue of a multitouch UI vs. a WIMP UI. You could easily use multitouch for general OS functions, and use a trackball and pointer for interaction with WIMP interfaces (Flash and others). Whether or not this seems optimal, it would work, and it would allow mobile device users to access Flash-based Web sites fairly easily.

    This will never happen on the iPhone, of course, but that’s because, as the article points out, Apple has a vested interest in multitouch as the only method of input. That doesn’t mean Apple’s competitors can’t offer such a dual-input scenario, and I have to believe they will (just as they are offering physical keyboards and buttons). I doubt that feature alone would give anyone a significant edge in the marketplace at this point, but it’s definitely not the case that Flash on a touchscreen phone is an intractable problem.

    I wonder, though — all ideology aside, because I really can’t be bothered with it — if Adobe put its full weight behind a serious iPhone competitor and worked with its creator to integrate Flash from the ground up, to create a seamless experience between the OS and the Web that could fully realize what Flash can do, and which could run virtually all existing Flash Web content in a browser, and do it well… if the marketplace would be interested in that. Running Flash Web sites is hardly at the top of most people’s mobile device wish lists, but if they actually were able to view anything they’re used to seeing on the Web rather than downloading an app or doing without, they might decide it’s actually important to them.

  11. I never use flash unless a customer insists. But the multi touch paradigm is just as problematic for html/css/javascript because all these technologies make the mistake of programming the physical interface instead of programming the metaphor. New web standards are needed so that applications can avoid having to program in terms of onmousedown and ontouchstart etc.

    Basically I just want to code something like div#map{acts-as:dragable;} in my style sheet, I shouldn’t have to care if the user has a mouse or a multi touch interface.

    meanwhile back in the real world….

  12. Hank Scorpio: “prevent its iTunes video sales and rental business from being undercut “

    Sure, the iTunes gateway is critical to Apple. Needless to say, there’s a competitive/financial angle to this. But my point is that even if there were no other such factors, the new UI paradigm Apple is promoting and banking on would make this marriage very difficult, without a direct settlement between the two companies.

  13. Interesting article, but what about the possibility that Apple is trying to prevent its iTunes video sales and rental business from being undercut by preventing iPhone users from going to competing sites that serve licensed video via Flash? You can’t watch a movie on YouTube, so Apple worked out a deal with them to allow their content. But if you want to watch a movie or TV show, you’ll be buying it from Apple or you’ll be doing without.

  14. I did not make it through all the comments above, but I can definitely see the merit in many many of the points mentioned. Especially the points about drag and drop in flash, and how that would reconcile with the touch cocoa UI.

    There was a comment made by Jam on Junk 18th that I take serious issue with. He say’s flash developers don’t pay attention to details. I think it is the exact opposite. I am a flash developer, and a trained Graphic Designer, and I love flash because of the attention to detail. I can actually embed and control fonts, I can make sure that spacing leading and design critical applications are consistent.

    To me, this seems like the type of Design beauty that apple generally applauds and encourages. But like I said, I can see where bad flash games, and the inconsistencies that can be raised by the touch UI would cause some problems.

    Why can’t they just release a Flash App for the iPhone so if I really want to visit the World Wide Web of Flash, I can suspend the touch Cocoa reality at least while I am in that application. This seems like it would be a good compromise and a test run. As much as I love good design, if a Flash App hit the top of the charts, and became a most used app, maybe apple would realize it is not such a bad thing after all. This brings to mind the Sony Mini Disc Format. I loved those little discs, but Sony kept the format closed, and eventually it led to it’s own demise.

    If the world was full of better designers, then this wouldn’t be an issue. Let’s face it, there are a lot of really really bad flash site – that would cause some problems.

  15. Mo: “Flash…delivers a consistent cross-platform experience.”

    Except where it doesn’t, like on the iPhone, Android and most other mobile devices.

    “…the browsers that are becoming increasingly useless as they are stuck in the primitive URL address bar world.”

    I’m not sure what you mean here. Linking is as important to Flash-based apps as it’s to browser-based ones. That doesn’t mean that all the business has to be conducted within the address bar at all. You can easily design a browser-based app that doesn’t ever show the address bar, if needed.

    “we are witnessing websites becoming applications that want to live OUTSIDE the browser an communicate to your desktop directly.”

    In this video you can see just how far Gears, for example, is about to go to integrate with not just your desktop but your device as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hapkRYxCU_8

    “Integration of 3D and Multitouch is already possible with third-party AS3 binaries.”

    That’s not the same as native support, until Adobe supports multi-touch natively and this runs the same across devices the same way (and it won’t be easy) Flash runtime doesn’t support multi-touch.

    “That framework will directly challenge App Store framework.”

    App Store is, well, a store. I’m not sure how Flash competes with a store.

    “Apple realizes this, this is why they are resisting Flash.”

    Sure, Flash is a competitive issue for Apple, as I have covered in various articles here, which makes it less likely for it to appear on the iPhone.

  16. I think you guys are missing the issue.

    Flash is the most powerful interactive technology for a simple reason, – it delivers a consistent cross-platform experience. The fact that Flash is a “closed” framework is an advantage, as it does not allow browsers and OS’s mess its content up.

    Coupled with its off-the-shelf availability, easy-as-lego design/coding process and a massive global distribution base, it is a formidable technology for interactive content.

    We are already moving away from the local OS / Apps framework towards an internet OS / Online Apps framework. In this transition, it is the browsers that are becoming increasingly useless as they are stuck in the primitive URL address bar world. Look at SSBs ( will be integrated in Safari 4 btw ), – we are witnessing websites becoming applications that want to live OUTSIDE the browser an communicate to your desktop directly.

    This is why Flash is moving towards AIR runtime, which is a perfect technology to sidestep the browser for online-offline applications. Integration of 3D and Multitouch is already possible with third-party AS3 binaries.

    Flash has the power to takeover all RIA development in a world where applications need to deliver a CONSISTENT USER EXPERIENCE across Win, OSX, Linux, iPhone, Firefox, Safari, etc. That framework will directly challenge App Store framework.

    Apple realizes this, this is why they are resisting Flash.

  17. WTH – Why are people so convinced that Flash is “too much” and “too slow” when technology, transfer speeds, and even cell phone processors are getting more powerful and more affordable every year? I surf the net with Flash on a WinMo phone (Windows MOBILE… now that is slow!) – and the phone handles it fine, WHILE MULTITASKING (something else you’re “not allowed” to do). So your arguments are all moot to me.

    Stop making excuses for this obviously controlling corporation, who enjoy herding you all like cattle to the economic slaughterhouse. Know why Flash isn’t around? So they can add a feature to the next gen iPhone, and make you buy it AGAIN to get Flash support. They’re going to do this YEARLY – hold back features using koolaid to keep everyone calm until the annual version releases.

    They hope to the Lord, that some internet writers will write some article and produce a plausible and reasonable story on why they reject Flash – then respond to the story as “Yeah…! that’s why…! Right…!”

    Then when Flash is all of a sudden worthy, “You want our features, you can get them all on iPhone v3!”

    Don’t be fools.

  18. Pingback: So can we watch flash movies on the iPhone or not? | iphonenilla

  19. Thanks for the article, it really provides an interesting and elucidating angle on the Flash/iPhone situation.

    I think it may also serve as a wake up call for developers and clients to think seriously about their own future RIA strategy.

  20. Rich : “Multitouch is not an issue.”

    According to every company whose name is not Apple, it appears to be. Multi-touch is not simply a matter of gesture, it’s a hardware+software integration problem, not yet mastered by any shipping, mass-market platform other than the iPod touch/iPhone variety. Out of the box and by convention, Flash can’t even handle touble-tab or drag on the iPhone. Nobody is saying it’s impossible for Flash to have this, just that it doesn’t have a native multi-touch framework today. And if it were to sprout one tomorrow it would have to be compatible with Apple’s. What you’re missing here is the reality, of shipping frameworks.

  21. Multitouch is not an issue. Multitouch is a human gesture problem. Most good frameworks map human gesteres to application actions such as drag and drop. The layer that performs this also supplies the rendering and feed-back.

    Often there needs to be a hint from the application about what the windows button maps to, but that is isolated to a small amount of code.

    Is there something I am missing?

  22. Pingback: Flash Reportedly Working on the iPhone

  23. Jason Kreditch : “Flash is all about white label content”

    What’s that got to do with Flash not having a multi-touch framework suitable for the iPhone, among its other shortcomings as a mobile platform?

  24. I think that you have missed the point of Flash. Flash is all about white label content. In other words the reason that Flash has been so successful on the web is that it is not created by Adobe it is created by developers. It is the community that makes Flash successful. For instance the following amazing application was not created by Adobe:

    http://taggalaxy.de/

    It was created by a developer. Flash Lite has been very successful as well when the OEM works with Adobe to optimize it for the hardware and software on the device. Check out the following for more info:

    http://www.adobe.com/mobile/

    J

  25. Pingback: Basti - MobileMe, a prophecy?

  26. Adobe, in final analysis, stands in the most precarious position. Apple and Microsoft simply will not let it win. And Google will always advanced the progress of open source standards away from Flash. That is 3 against one. When websites change format from Flash to something else, half the people wouldn’t even notice.

    Web browser is just an app. Software will change. Standards will improve.
    At least with AIR, Adobe is fantasizing forward. Flash proponents are still stuck in the desktop web browser war days. On future mobile devices that are meant to be always connected to the Cloud, a plug-in meant for a browser meant to run separately on top of an OS makes no engineering sense. Major websites will want anybody to be able to access their sites by any device, plug-in or not. The success of the iPhone will put a dent on the popularity of Flash. By the v.3 iPhone the mobile OS X plus WebKit will be so efficient and seamlessly integrated that, the need to add browser plug-ins would seem counter-intuitive (you mean i have to install something every time I run into a different web design?). For a while RIMM and Symbian may work with Adobe to quicken their engineering and product advancement on their handsets, but sooner or later even Android and WinMo (MiniWin7?) will ‘go small, native, and open’ too. At least on WinMo Silverlight is non-issue.

  27. Pingback: blog.intuity.medialab » Blog Archiv » Random Thoughts: Flash, iPhone and the future of mobile web

  28. Troy, the direction Apple is taking in WebKit with canvas, downloadable fonts, SVG, CSS animation, CSS transformations, faster JavaScript, HTML5 audio/video embedding, exposure of multi-touch to JS and so on is precisely to create an open source alternative to the Flash runtime engine, without having to download a proprietary plugin:

    Runtime wars (2): Apple’s answer to Flash, Silverlight and JavaFX

    Is it there yet? No. But this is the trend and the intention of the company.

  29. I totally dislike most intros, but Flash is a memory hog, buggy, slow…compared to what? Java? Javascript? Show me a nother interactive delivery with ability to render resolution independent and fonts, streaming.

    Having done RIA’s in Javascript, given the inconsistencies between browsers, having yet another flavor, to support multi-touch doesn’t sound particularly appealing.

    Also Flash can support multitouch already. People are already using it with the wii. It’s just they use a virtual mouse pointer instead of the single mouse in the system. Writing multi-touch+pressure, and/or gestures though is not something most developers are capable of doing well rolling their own as it’s non-trivial, especially on small devices. This is another reason why it’s smarter to push that sort of logic into hardware instead of interpretted.

  30. Pingback: Adobe’s Flash, user interface and the iPhone | FoxLand

  31. Pingback: Fed’s Bolsoblog : No Flash su iPhone 2.0

  32. Jordan : “every major website across the globe utilises flash”

    What does that say about the iPhone, a mobile device with a 3.5″ screen, ~600MHz CPU, and a multi-touch UI?

  33. “demonstrating an indisputable need for it”…

    I would have thought the fact that flash has a 90+ per cent install base and lets be honest, almost every major website across the globe utilises flash in some way, shape or form would suggest an indisputable need for flash on the iPhone

  34. Pingback: Flash is Coming to the iPhone at Johan Sanneblad

  35. Pingback: iPhoneFlaws.com » Flash Reportedly Working on the iPhone

  36. You say ‘Some of these theoretical choices are of course impractical as third-party applications cannot be legally loaded on iPhones without going through “The App Store” controlled by Apple.’

    Just thought I’d point out that it isn’t actually illegal at all. It just isn’t sanctioned by Apple. It’s the same as iPhone unlocking (unsanctioned but not illegal). It’s one of many inaccuracies in this article, but I do agree with many of the general points. Lets just stop this becoming a religious debate though!

  37. Flash is not even ready for the desktop yet.
    Flash is fundamentally broken;

    Flash does not support or perhaps must be forced to support;

    scrolling from the scroll ball (or wheel)
    two fingered scrolling
    find
    selectable text
    back
    forward
    bookmarks
    open in new tab
    open in new window
    enlarge or reduce text shortcuts
    css
    popup dictionary
    google search from selected text

    Apologies if I am wrong about any of these. Usually when I see Flash coming I cross the street ;-)

    Flash is popular only because it can create great eye candy.

    If only there was someone who knew how to create great eye candy for the iphone but could make it accessible like the rest of the web

  38. Pingback: Updated Twice: Adobe CEO Speaks! Mobile Flash Running on iPhone Emulation | The iPhone Blog

  39. The way I see it, Adobe has painted itself into a corner here. Adobe made the implicit descision that its cross-platform GUI would be WIMP based. After investing heavily in this, the iPhone appears and shines a light on that poor descision.

    I used to be a Flash developer for many years, but I no longer have anything to do with Flash. There are three reasons for this:

    1. Adobe needs to realise that although Flash does run as a plug-in for browsers, it needs to realise that a plug-in is nothing more than another browser, fraught with the same problems and constraints as Mozilla, MS, Apple and Opera.

    2. Flash is idelogically broken. A Timeline is not interactive in anyway, and compares poorly with hypertext interactiveity (though Flex does move away from this somewhat, there is still the legacy of the timeline floating underneath)

    3. Flash is bound to specific interactive metafore, namely WIMP. The web, for example, lets the descions of how best to layout content upto the individual user-agent/browser. Flash binds the presentation of the content within the SWF. Therefore, a Flash app designed to work under the WIMP metafore will not work easily without modification under a different metafor (gesture based, on the iPhone).

    The last point is the most prevailent here. Adobes much vaunted “write onece, run anywhere” does not apply to different interactive metafores, such as gesture control. However, this is something that the web excells at.

    At the end of the day, Adobe produces a browser with support for only propriatary content types, tied to a poor interactive model which is bound to WIMP only metafores. If this was anyother browser, it would be DOA.

    But saying all that, ActionScript 3 (Javascript 2) is awesome, and a joy to develop in!

  40. “One could build a iPhone-compliant UI in Flash ”

    Haha yeah you must be joking right?
    You could build a UI yes… but would to work anywhere near as nicely or even remotely consistent with the iPhone UI?

    ABSOLUTELY NOT

    This is the classic programmer who is not a designer mistake. They lack the attention to detail or even the understanding of why things work and feel good to use so when they roll their own controls hey stick out like a sore thumb next to some well designed controls.

    Take Mac Firefox for example, most programmers won’t be able to tell the difference between that and Cocoa, but to me the differences are like nails on a chalkboard: wrong spacing, wrong colours, wrong textures, different combo boxes, wrong text rendering, lack of default OS niceties like dictionary popups etc
    Can’t stand using that piece of trash and I wouldn’t want anything designed that sloppy on my iPhone and flash is even sloppier

  41. BBC iPlayer a flash based tv episode site works on iPhones because they have a MP4 version of every program which is shown instead of flash if browsing on an iPhone… Ironically its actually much much higher quality than the Flash version too

    so I fail to see what I’m missing without Flash, banners and bad quality video… greeeeaaat

  42. It seems that most of the people clamouring for Flash support are either web developers or IT freaks. How many non-technical people really care about Flash or even know what it is?

    As far as I can see the biggest impediments to Flash running on the iPhone are the performance and expectation by developers that people will be browsing on a desktop computer.

    So many of the multitouch UI gestures seem incompatible with Flash as it is used on the web that I can only see problems. For example, drag and drop is not even supported by Safari in HTML/JS/CSS web applications because the drag gesture is used for scrolling and panning around a zoomed in page.

    How could this be expected to work on a Flash website that’s been designed to use drag and drop to move on screen elements around or scroll through photos as in the S60 demo above..? Do Adobe disable drag and drop in the Flash plugin too? Do they prevent zooming in on Flash plugins? Do they come up with a new UI approach to handling drag/drop in Flash? Whatever happens, there would have to be compromises and that means no one’s ever going to be 100% happy.

  43. While the decision not to include Flash on the iPhone/iPod Touch was likely to be mostly a business decision, I still agree with Jobs’ words – Flash IS too slow to be useful on the iPhone. Hell, most of the time it’s too slow to be useful on the web, browsing from a computer over ethernet. It becomes a hinderance. It’s also a closed platform. I don’t see it as being the future of the web.

    Browsing habits have moved away from just a computer and have become a mobile activity. Developers need to realise this and cater for it.

    I don’t want my websites all prettied up. I want them to be efficient and serve me information as quickly as possible in a format that I can easily view. So, thank you Apple, for not including Flash on the iPhone. I hope your decision moves the web forward.

  44. Pingback: [Klimbim] 2008-06-18

  45. Kontra – the cross-platform support that the OpenLaszlo team is adding/building is great. Prior to Adobe coming out with Flex I had considered their tools and recently did again for a project – especial the DHTML deployment option.

    Thanks, again, for a very constructive dialogue.

  46. David Geller: “there’s so much that Flex and Flash (or Laszo or Silverlight) can do”

    David, I think you should check out this blog entry from OpenLaszlo folks:

    “Which raises the issue: what about using OpenLaszlo to develop for the iPhone? Well, in some ways this is a very natural fit. Besides enabling the style of UI that the iPhone has embraced, OpenLaszlo 4 works very, very well with the Safari 3 (desktop) browser, and does not require Flash or Java to deliver rich applications — which is great, since the iPhone has neither Flash nor Java.”

    OpenLaszlo and the iPhone

    As you know, OpenLaszlo compiles to DHTML, but OpenLaszlo cites these very important issues on the iPhone:

    Poor JavaScript performance
    Limited JavaScript memory allocation
    Input field problems
    Native UI controls vs. synthesized UI controls
    UI paradigm incompatibilities

    Obviously, much of that would also be applicable to Flash. It’s not a cakewalk that Apple is nonchalantly dismissing.

  47. Pingback: Getting Flash On The iPhone : A.J. Wood - All Hail Photoshop!

  48. I’d like to see Flash because it would mean I could create apps once and be sure they would run everywhere. Eyejot runs on every modern browser on every platform. Never before have I enjoyed such great platform and browser independence for my development efforts than when I started using Flex. Doing so with some of the HTML/CSS/Javascript toolkits that are out there might be possible – but with way, way more work. And, even then, there’s so much that Flex and Flash (or Laszo or Silverlight) can do that none of the “pure” HTML/CSS/JS platforms can touch. Plus – implementations vary so widely across browsers. Adobe has shown themselves to be masterful in getting their player so widely deployed.

    If you love other toolkits – use ‘em. Yahoo and Google’s HTML toolkits are really cool. But really different. Which one do I use? How about the new Sproutcore stuff? Looks amazing.

    I fail to understand why any of this needs to be a “religious” war or and either-or scenario. Tables and fancy fonts used to be taboo on the web – back when we were just moving (slowly) from Gopher to HTML. People that hated the idea that sites were becoming too “published” had a great option – they could choose to ignore them. Why not take the same approach here? Having Flash available won’t ruin anything else. But, if it makes some sites and tools work better – then it’s a win for some!

  49. David Geller: “Flash has been running on the iPhone for a while”

    This what Adobe CEO Narayen said yesterday on the F2Q08 Earnings Call: “We have a version that’s working on the emulation. This is still on the computer and you know, we have to continue to move it from a test environment onto the device and continue to make it work.”

    Notice he doesn’t say at all that Flash is running natively on the ARM CPU inside the iPhone. And once again, as I point out in the article above, technical problems may be solved by Adobe, but cross-platform runtime compatibility and multi-touch UI frameworks remain as serious impediments.

  50. Dave Mora:

    Those bastards, right? They’re keeping Flash at arm’s distance. It’s my choice, no, my RIGHT to have a slow, buggy and memory-hogging runtime on my phone.

  51. Dave, why in God’s name would you WANT Flash on your iPhone? As far as I’m concerned you could remove Flash from the Interweb tomorrow and the world would be a much better place for it.

  52. There is a way for Flash to get on the iPhone. Only it’s not Adobe or Apple who have to do the work … it’s the publishers of Flash content.

    - publishers of Flash apps have to port their apps to native Web apps if they want to run inside a Web browser going forward because the Web has moved off the PC, you can’t accessorize it with PC software anymore, WebKit is so small and light and cross-platform that it is the plug-in now, inside iPhone, iPod, Nokia, Android, iTunes and other Mac and Windows apps

    - publishers of Flash video have to deploy MPEG-4 H.264/AAC if they want to run inside an audio-video player (on any device) going forward, the decoder chips for this are already in EVERYTHING, from iPod to Blu-Ray to NVIDIA GPU’s

    Most of the world has already done both of the above, including Google and Apple. This is not the beginning of the end for Flash, it is the end of the end.

  53. Constructive, thoughfully written post. Thanks!

    By allowing all of us to create apps for the iPhone Apple is, effectively, releasing their lock on the UI. Sure, most apps, by default, will use the native controls provided through the SDK that will make our simple apps look and act like Apple-created objects – but that’s not a forced model we have to pursue. Witness all the new games coming out.

    Contacts inside Adobe have long claimed two things: Flash has been running on the iPhone for a while and that the argument over its official deployment has been related to Apple not ceding responsibilty for PDF viewing to Adobe and, instead, relying upon their own viewer in the iPhone.

    There’s a lot of good stuff you can do with Flash, and other, similar technologies that go beyond what’s practical with just an HTML/CSS/Javascript framework. I hope Apple and Adobe can work out their differences to allow Flash on the iPhone.

  54. Good Article. But, I think we are giving too much credit to both Apple and Adobe. The bottom line is this. If everyone will decide to do the following.

    1 – Demand Flash Support and the ability to Copy and Paste on iPhone on July 11

    2 – If not we wont buy the phone

    3 – We are still waiting and we are still not buying

    I am sure by July 20th Mr. Jobs would announce Software 2.1 with Flash . But, sadly that wont happen because the iPhone, like the Elmo Doll a few years back, is currently the “Hot” item to have. Regardless of its flaws and lack of good applications the iPhone will sell.

    Unless we start today “No new iPhone until we have Flash and Cut and Paste”

    Lets all say it together. (lol)

  55. Sebhelyesfarku: “Flash objects are mostly embedded into a webpage in the browser like YouTube movies…”

    I hope you understand that the iPhone’s web browser Safari does not allow plug-ins, which rules out Flash. An embedded YouTube movie is not played inline in Safari, it actually is played back via the QuickTime player.

  56. People are missing the point of the article, I think. The point is not “technical challenges” that can eventually be overcome, the point is Apple is taking steps to establish multi-touch as the true and rightful successor to the mouse-and-desktop interface.

    For that to occur, Apple is strategically preventing anything that had the potential to break the multi-touch experience. You CANNOT rely on Adobe or any other developer to avoid the scenario of having double-tap launch on app for some apps while it zooms in other apps. Double tap ALWAYS needs to be zoom and Flash on iphone would by default break this because Flash developers are going to develop from a WIMP frame of mind.

    By enforcing the use of Apple-only APIs, Apple ensures multi-touch is not only pristine, but practical. Flash has absolutely no value in establishing the multi-touch paradigm – in fact, it’s highly detrimental. For this reason ALONE, Flash will never be on iPhone.

    Adobe and pro-Flash pundits are like amateur chess players trying to convince the world they can win a chess match if they only capturing the other guy’s Queen with their Bishop NOW. Apple is Kasparov thinking 10 moves ahead and systematically taking apart the other side, piece by piece, unperturbed by all the commotion of spectators.

    Which is to say, Apple is not trapped by the dogma of established thinking.

  57. “Flash Lite “not capable of being used with the web.”
    Flash lite 3 is Flash 8… it is capable of using a bucket load of the web.

  58. Spot on! Great article. I’m starting to fear that Apple is pionnering today to stagnate again like 20 years ago if it’s getting the way of “my own UI metaphore and my own PA Semi chips so everybody else gets out of game”.

  59. Snafu: “One could build a iPhone-compliant UI in Flash…”

    That isn’t the point, even if it were true. As I pointed out above, because Flash doesn’t have a multi-touch UI framework, even such rudimentary interaction patterns as dragging and double-clicking do not map at all on the iPhone. That nullifies the principal value proposition of Flash: write once, run on multiple platforms. Please read the article, this isn’t about what Flash can do, it’s about what it cannot do on the iPhone.

  60. This article is full of BS. Flash objects are mostly embedded into a webpage in the browser like YouTube movies, menus on webpages etc., not fullscreen applications.

  61. But then, isn’t each and every webpage in the world its own specific UI case, specially when it is a Web 2.0 thingieapp?

    I don’t mind Adobe establishing its own apps’ UI that much, specially when the case is CS3′s wonderful multipane one (Apple could learn a thing oe two here for its own Pro apps). That’s one of two trends: favour portable UI knowledge at the OS level or the app level (the later was typical in the 3D apps’ world): each approach has its pros and cons.

    But in this battle of the web runtimes, UI-wise it’s not about Flash vs. Java vs. AJAX vs. Silverlight vs. Sprout Core. It’s about the designer’s decisions. One could build a iPhone-compliant UI in Flash (and it wouldn’t surprise me see Adobe provide some help there if they produce Flash for iPhone), or create a tragedy of UI vía AJAX (which was an Apple-approved iPhone app development path).

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