Adobe resurrects Flash-to-iPhone app tool

Apple's loosened developer restrictions reopen the door for Adobe's Packager for iPhone tool, and Adobe chose to walk back through. Flash still faces challenges, though.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

In the wake of loosened Apple restrictions, Adobe Systems has restarted work on a tool called Packager for iPhone that lets developers make native iOS apps out of Flash programs.

"We will now resume development work on this feature for future releases," Adobe said in a blog post Thursday. "This is great news for developers and we're hearing from our developer community that Packager apps are already being approved for the App Store."

Apple relaxed its iOS developer rules on Thursday, removing the restriction that had blocked Packager for iPhone applications and permitting advertisements supplied by Google's AdMob once again. It also detailed the full set of App Store admission rules for the first time.

The restored fortunes of Packager of iPhone (which also covers the iPod Touch and iPad) is important for Adobe, much of whose clout with developers resides with Flash. The technology is widely used on desktop computers for games, streaming video, and interactive applications; one of its virtues is letting programmers' software more easily span different computer types. That cross-platform nature was one of the specific reasons Apple specifically barred the technology from iOS devices.

But Flash faces big challenges today: Adobe is trying to bring Flash to the mobile realm, where processing power is scarce, screens are small, and user interfaces are different. And a range of Web technologies--an alphabet soup including HTML, CSS, SVG, JavaScript, and WebGL--are edging in on Flash's turf.

Letting Flash programmers target the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch--the hottest mobile devices today--is very helpful for Adobe's ambitions. But unlike how things have turned out with Google and its Android mobile operating system, Adobe's Flash still won't run directly on Apple's iOS devices.

"We do want to point out that Apple's restriction on Flash content running in the browser on iOS devices remains in place," Adobe said. "Adobe will continue to work to bring full Web browsing with Flash Player 10.1 as well as standalone applications on Air to a broad range of devices, working with key industry partners including Google, HTC, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Palm/HP, RIM [Research In Motion], Samsung, and others."

Adobe announced the Packager for iPhone feature in 2009 and shipped it as a part of Flash Professional CS5, released in April. But the feature essentially was dead on arrival: Apple barred the Flash-to-iPhone approach by changing developer agreement license terms on April 9, and Adobe announced it would cease future development of Packager for iPhone on April 21.

Adobe went down fighting, though. Two weeks after Apple CEO Steve Jobs publicly derided Flash in an open letter on April 29, Adobe launched an ad campaign that criticized Apple for restricting developer freedoms.

Apple still has the final say, though. The 113 App Store rules it released Thursday made clear there are plenty of reasons it'll reject applications it considers subpar--and Jobs made it clear he thinks the cross-platform nature of Flash means it's harder to make applications that feel like native citizens of the iOS community. But the fact that Packager for iPhone apps are arriving in the App Store again means that Adobe's tool has regained its relevance.