Adobe scraps work to bring Flash apps to iPhone

An Adobe technology to deliver Flash apps to Apple's iPhone has no future. But Adobe isn't going down without a very vocal fight.

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Stephen Shankland
4 min read

What a difference two weeks and a few words of legalese can make to the future of a widely used programming technology.

In that span of time, Adobe Systems has gone from touting its technology for building Flash applications that run on the iPhone to canceling future development of that technology.

When Apple changed the terms of its iPhone 4.0 software developer kit license, it effectively blocked Adobe's move. But in his Tuesday announcement that Adobe will cease future development of the Flash-apps-on-iPhone technology, Mike Chambers, Adobe's principal product manager for the Flash platform, let loose a tirade that indicates the battle between the two companies isn't over yet.

"As developers for the iPhone have learned, if you want to develop for the iPhone you have to be prepared for Apple to reject or restrict your development at any time, and for seemingly any reason," Chambers said. "The primary goal of Flash has always been to enable cross browser, platform and device development. The cool Web game that you build can easily be targeted and deployed to multiple platforms and devices. However, this is the exact opposite of what Apple wants. They want to tie developers down to their platform, and restrict their options to make it difficult for developers to target other platforms."

Adobe takes the matter seriously. It disclosed in a regulatory filing that its business could be harmed if the iPhone and iPad don't support Adobe technology. And Adobe could be considering legal action against Apple, too, according to one report.

In a response, Apple indicated its preference for a variety of up-and-coming standards that collectively compete with what Flash can do.

"Someone has it backwards--it is HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, and H.264 (all supported by the iPhone and iPad) that are open and standard, while Adobe's Flash is closed and proprietary," said spokeswoman Trudy Muller in a statement.

HTML5 is a revision to Hypertext Markup Language used to describe Web pages; CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are used to format Web pages; and H.264 is a video compression technology used in streaming video among other areas. Adobe isn't totally removed from these technologies, however: its Flash Player includes H.264 support, and its AIR technology has built-in HTML and CSS support through inclusion of the WebKit browser on which Apple's Safari is based.

Adobe isn't limited to lashing out on blogs. It's got a big ally in any competition against Apple: Google.

"Fortunately, the iPhone isn't the only game in town. Android based phones have been doing well behind the success of the Motorola Droid and Nexus One, and there are a number of Android based tablets slated to be released this year. We are working closely with Google to bring both Flash Player 10.1 and Adobe AIR 2.0 to these devices, and thus far, the results have been very promising," Chambers said.

Google is a willing ally, too, as evidenced by a Wednesday blog post from Andy Rubin, vice president of engineering for the Android effort, on Adobe's Web site.

"Google believes that developers should have their choice of tools and technologies to create applications. By supporting Adobe AIR on Android we hope that millions of creative designers and developers will be able to express themselves more freely when they create applications for Android devices. More broadly, AIR will foster rapid and continuous innovation across the mobile ecosystem. Google is happy to be partnering with Adobe to bring the full Web, great applications, and developer choice to the Android platform."

The alliance fits a common pattern of convenience in the technology industry, with challengers working together to take on an incumbent. Apple, with tens of thousands of iPhone applications available and strong sales of the phone, the iPod Touch, and now the iPad, holds a lot of power over developers. Even those who feel Apple is riding roughshod over them likely will think twice before choosing not to participate in a market that is vibrant and in many cases lucrative.

In a synchronized move, Adobe's Flash platform evangelist, Lee Brimelow, lauded Rubin's post and spotlighted demonstrations of 13 Flash and AIR applications running on Android.

The upcoming Flash Player 10.1 and related AIR 2.0 programming foundations are in private beta testing for Android now. The software, scheduled to arrive this quarter, will work on a variety of other phone operating systems, including Windows Phone 7, the BlackBerry OS, Symbian OS, and Palm's WebOS.

Rhetoric can have teeth, and Adobe clearly hopes to give Apple a bad reputation among programmers. Chambers, a programmer himself, is directing his own attention toward Android.

"I think that the closed system that Apple is trying to create is bad for the industry, developers, and ultimately consumers, and that is not something that I want to actively promote," Chambers said. "We are at the beginning of a significant change in the industry, and I believe that ultimately open platforms will win out over the type of closed, locked-down platform that Apple is trying to create."

The Adobe technology for bringing Flash-derived applications to the iPhone is now effectively irrelevant at the very moment when Adobe is bringing it to market in its CS5 product line. Chambers, though, argues it wasn't a waste of effort.

The work proved, he said, "There is no technical reason that Flash can't run on the iPhone."

By blocking Flash, though, Apple, has proved that there is more to programming than technology.

Updated 9:04 a.m. PDT to add Apple comment and 1:26 p.m. PDT to add Google comment and correct Muller's name spelling.

Via Mashable