Adobe Flash apps come to iPhone--sort of

Flash programmers can use Adobe's latest developer tools to produce iPhone applications available through Apple's App Store, but not through its Safari browser.

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Stephen Shankland
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In a surprise announcement, Adobe Systems said Monday that Flash programmers now can bring their applications to Apple's iPhone, a domain of high interest that's been off limits for the programming technology.

Because of Apple restrictions, though, Flash isn't coming in the form in which most people experience it, a Web browser plug-in. Instead, programmers will be able to change Flash applications into native iPhone applications using Adobe's Flash Professional CS5 developer tool, currently in beta testing, then offer their programs as an Apple App Store download.

"This is a great first step in the right direction," said Heidi Voltmer, Adobe's product marketing manager for Flash.

The approach spotlights the tension between Apple, which controls the iPhone tightly in an effort to ensure a good user experience, and others, which want a place on the premier mobile device on the marketplace today.

Chroma Circuit is a Flash game now available as a native iPhone app.
Chroma Circuit is a Flash game now available as a native iPhone app. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Adobe's back-door approach still is a significant move for the company, though, which wants to ensure that Flash is a major foundation for Internet-based applications. Programmers familiar with Flash could find the Adobe method an easier way to bring their applications to the iPhone world if they're not experts in coding for the phone and its close cousin, the iPod Touch.

Apple didn't immediately comment for this story.

Some Flash Professional CS5 beta testers are taking advantage of the technique, including BlueskyNorth, Breakdesign, FlashGameLicense.com, Muchosmedia, PushButton Labs, and Bowler Hat Games.

"With the ability to create applications for iPhone in the Flash Professional CS5 beta, I don't need to learn a new programming language or the plethora of development tools that inevitably come with it," said Josh Tynjala, founder of Bowler Hat Games, in a statement. "Instead, I'm able to spend more time exploring ways to make my games like Chroma Circuit more fun on mobile devices like the iPhone and increase my business revenue."

Adobe's ultimate goal remains the same: to get Flash on the iPhone integrated with its Safari browser. "My view is there is only one Web," said Chief Technology Officer Kevin Lynch in an interview. Adobe demonstrated the Flash applications at its Max developer conference in Los Angeles Monday, where Lynch gave the keynote address.

Flash Player 10.1, due in beta form later this year and final form in the first half of 2010, is spreading to just about all the other smartphones out there: Google Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm WebOS, and Nokia Symbian.

Why not the iPhone, too? "The Apple iPhone SDK (software developer kit) license terms do not allow runtime interpreted code, so Adobe is not able to deliver Flash Player in Safari on the iPhone without support from Apple," Adobe said in a statement.

Voltmer didn't comment on the state of present discussions with Apple to build Flash Player directly into the iPhone. But she did say people visit Adobe's Web site looking for it.

It's not immediately clear how easily Flash applications translate to the iPhone, and most folks won't get a chance to try it until the beta is released publicly later this year. There are some limitations, Voltmer said.

For one thing, the Flash software must be written in ActionScript 3, not the earlier ActionScript 2. For another, they can't use video because of Apple restrictions, she said.

There also could be practical limits on memory, processing power, and graphics. Last year's PC running Flash Player has a lot more computing capability than a modern iPhone 3GS.

The iPhone and iPod Touch have some features that are well-suited to mobile gaming, though, and programmers will be able to use them. That includes the multitouch interface and accelerometer that detects device orientation, said Adrian Ludwig, a Flash team member at Adobe.

Updated at 1:48 p.m. PDT with further comment from Adobe and no comment from Apple.

Adobe developer tools let Flash programmers turn their applications in to native iPhone software.
Adobe developer tools let Flash programmers turn their applications into native iPhone software. This is a Flash game called Chroma Circuit. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET