Adobe clueless about Flash on iPhone, technical hurdles remain

Adobe clueless about Flash on iPhone, technical hurdles remain

Ben Wilson
3 min read

If Apple is planning to enhance the iPhone with Flash playback capabilities, key Adobe employees that would be instrumental in the process are either being coy or have not been let in on the secret.

Mike Downey, product manager for Adobe AIR (and formerly for Flash) claims that there is nothing going on inside Adobe that he knows of, and it would be a surprise to him if Apple develops a player by themselves.

Ryan Stewart, Rich Internet Application Evangelist for Adobe, recently posted the following on his blog:

"I assume someone at the high levels of Adobe knows what the status is but I don't and everyone I talk to doesn't. That's because only Apple really knows anything about it. If you want Flash on the iPhone I'd keep bugging Apple. I'm really stoked about what's going to come with the iPhone SDK and believe me, I want Flash on it just as much if not more than most of you. But no one aside from Steve Jobs has any idea if/when it's coming. [...] everyone I talk to doesn't know anything. And I have no idea how Apple would implement it but if anything is happening it's happening at a really high level and that's because it all rests with Cupertino."

Hence, if Apple is indeed planning to introduce Flash support on the iPhone in the near future, the company is working on a clandestine project with select Adobe engineers, keeping product managers and evangelists in the dark. Or, more likely, Apple isn't planning to introduce Flash support -- or at least full Flash support -- on the iPhone anytime soon.

Flash performance and usage is abysmal on current mobile devices that support playback. With regard to performance, mobile device processors -- including the iPhone's -- simply aren't fast enough to handle most Flash-laden sites. Flash Lite, the scaled down standard designed specifically for mobile devices, is even too much for most devices, and isn't widely used.

Furthermore, Flash Lite is not a replacement for standard Flash in the sense of a full browsing experience. Thus far it's been used primarily as a means for implementing custom interfaces on mobile devices or delivering proprietary content built specifically to perform well within the bounds of a mobile device's performance/memory limitations. Since the iPhone does, in most ways, deliver the full strength Internet, watered down Flash might not mesh.

Jens Chr Brynildsen, a Flash expert who maintains a number resources for the standard including Flash Magazine, told us that the iPhone's processor -- a 600 MHz ARM processor that actually runs at 412MHz -- simply won't pass muster.

"I really don't think 600Mhz is going to cut it. I'm just testing out the Nokia E51. It has a 369Mhz processor and totally sucks performance-wise with Flash Lite. The extra 230Mhz won't provide the required juice. [...] I doubt they want to ruin a the user experience just to satisfy the need of a rather limited user base. Just imagine entering a website with five Flash banners."

With regard to usage, most mobile devices (phones) that include Flash support are hampered by poor Web browsers that make navigating actual Flash content unwieldy. In fact, most of these devices have Flash support turned off by default due to usage complications and the significant drain on battery imposed by playback. The iPhone has a stellar browser by mobile standards, using an engine similar to the Desktop versions of Safari. But rendering Flash content could introduce stability and navigation problems.

Our guess? If Apple does implement Flash support on the iPhone, it will be extremely limited -- perhaps only including the ability to playback embedded Flash videos encoded in the H.264 format within MobileSafari but aggressively restricting the types of content that will load (there's already a bookmarklet dubbed iTransmogrify! that will launch embedded YouTube content in the iPhone's native YouTube player). Interactivity and full support for sites displayed with Flash simply don't make sense on the current iPhone generation.

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