Adobe realizes SDK not enough for Flash on iPhone

Adobe's CEO suggested Tuesday that the company could get Flash onto the iPhone using Apple's software development kit, but it's a little trickier than that.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
3 min read

Adobe has admitted it can't bring Flash to the iPhone just because it thinks that would be a neat idea.

Comments made Tuesday by Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen were widely interpreted Wednesday morning as confirmation that Adobe and Apple have figured out a way to make Flash available on the iPhone. Unfortunately, that's not exactly what Narayen said, and the company has now also clarified that it can't simply use the iPhone software development kit to bring Flash to the iPhone unless Apple approves.

Narayen's comments weren't exactly definitive, but they were judged by several media outlets to be a confirmation of Adobe and Apple's plans to put a Flash player on the iPhone. They aren't; they're merely a statement of what Adobe would like to do with Flash. Wishing things to happen and actually making them happen are sort of different.

Getting Flash onto the iPhone will require fancier footwork than getting AIM onto the iPhone. Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

On Tuesday, Narayen said, "We are also committed to bringing the Flash experience to the iPhone and we will work with Apple. We've evaluated the SDK, we can now start to develop the Flash player ourselves and we think it benefits our joint customers."

The comments came during a conference call announcing Adobe's quarterly earnings (the company did pretty well). Adobe obviously would like to get Flash on one of the most buzzed-about mobile Web surfing devices in recent history, especially coming off its deal to license it for Windows Mobile, but let's look a little closer at Narayen's statement.

First of all, working with Apple can mean very many things, and that seems to have been missed in the early reports. "Working with (company)" often means you're trying to sell skeptical executives on the merits of your idea, not actually collaborating on technical development. If you call up Apple with a great idea, and leave a voicemail on Tim Cook's extension with your pitch, technically you're working with Apple.

But Narayen also seems to have misunderstood the terms of the SDK, much like Sun executives did when they announced, then backed off, plans to release Java for the iPhone.

Flash isn't a mere third-party application, like a game or an instant-messaging client. It's a plug-in that would have to work very closely with Safari on the iPhone, and that's something Apple has declared off-limits to third-party developers at this time unless they get a hall pass.

And even if Adobe was granted a special dispensation to dig deeper into the iPhone, it couldn't actually distribute Flash onto the iPhone unless Apple approved its inclusion in the App Store or bundled it with the iPhone. That is, unless Adobe wants to hook up all those jailbroken iPhones with Flash, which I guess it could technically do but would probably ruin its chances of ever getting an official blessing for Flash on the iPhone.

Adobe clarified Narayen's comments in an official statement on Wednesday.

"Adobe has evaluated the iPhone SDK and can now start to develop a way to bring Flash Player to the iPhone. However, to bring the full capabilities of Flash to the iPhone Web-browsing experience we do need to work with Apple beyond and above what is available through the SDK and the current license around it." Key words there: "beyond and above" (I always thought it was the other way around).

Now, none of this means Apple and Adobe really aren't working to bring Flash to the iPhone. There are clearly benefits to having Flash, even Flash Lite, on a mobile device, and the two companies have worked closely for years. Apple CEO Steve Jobs' main problem with the technology is that he believes Flash is too big, and Flash Lite is too small, for the iPhone.

It's quite possible that the two companies are working together "beyond and above" on making this happen, and Narayen simply spoke out of school regarding their secret project. However, it's important to note any such collaboration is not what Narayen implied, which was that Adobe could just put Flash Lite on the iPhone using the SDK.

I asked an Adobe representative to comment on whether or not that technical collaboration was taking place, and they're looking into it. Don't hold your breath waiting for an update.