Did Apple just exile Adobe from iPhone OS 4?

Adobe has technology that packages Flash apps to run on iPhones, but new Apple license terms could block the approach for iPhone OS 4.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote 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
2 min read

Apple's distaste for Adobe Systems' Flash went a step further Thursday with new iPhone programming terms that could shut down an Adobe tactic to slip its technology onto the iPhone through the back door.

Flash is a widely used foundation for applications and video-streaming sites on the Web. Apple doesn't like it and blocks it on the iPhone and iPad, though it's ubiquitous on PCs and laptops.

Adobe sidesteps this ban with its upcoming Flash Pro CS5--due to be formally announced next week--which can package Flash applications so they run as standalone programs on the iPhone. Last week, Adobe boasted that more than 100 programs in the Apple App Store use the Flash technology.

With the upcoming iPhone OS 4 announced Thursday and released to developers, it looks like the situation is changing.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball pointed out the change in the new iPhone Software Developer Kit license for iPhone OS 4. This provision was added: "Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited)."

Apple didn't respond to a request for comment about the move, and Adobe only said, "We are aware of the new SDK language and are looking into it. We continue to develop our Packager for iPhone OS technology, which we plan to debut in Flash CS5."

But Gruber couldn't figure a way out of it for Adobe and sees implications for a range of programming tools, many of them designed to let programmers target different devices with the same project. Another one is Novell's MonoTouch, which lets programmer's using Microsoft's C# programming language and associated .Net technology write for the iPhone and iPad.

Regarding MonoTouch, Mono project leader Miguel de Icaza didn't sound as concerned. "MonoTouch already has an option to compile to C + XCode, just call mtouch --xcode program.exe," he said on Twitter.

Not all were reassured, though, given that the SDK says "originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript," not originally written in another language and moved to a permitted language as an intermediate step. "The agreement uses the word "original" when talking about the source code. It's a gray area and may not be enforceable," tweeted Phil Nash, a programmer who wrote a Risk-like strategy game for the iPhone called vConqr.

Another multi-device developer tool company that could be affected is Unity Technologies, but Chief Executive David Helgason made this statement: "We have no indication from Apple that things are going to change. We have a great relationship with Apple and will do everything we can to comply with Apple's TOS [terms of service] (also, these are 'beta TOS,' and these easily get changed) so that we can provide uninterrupted service to our more than 120,000 users."