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Summary:

When Flash appeared near the end of the last millennium it promised a bright new world of rich multimedia content creation and delivery via what would otherwise be drab old web pages. At a time when Geocities was the best the Web had to offer, Flash […]

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When Flash appeared near the end of the last millennium it promised a bright new world of rich multimedia content creation and delivery via what would otherwise be drab old web pages. At a time when Geocities was the best the Web had to offer, Flash was a tempting — and not to mention dazzling — new kid on the block.

Over the years, as web technologies evolved and matured, Flash proved to be problematic; for those who make websites (and care about accessibility and web standards in a way ordinary people just don’t) it has gradually aged into an unwieldy, outmoded platform.

Even for those enjoying the most remarkable fruits of early Flash labor — for instance, YouTube relied on the technology heavily in its formative years — Flash was simultaneously the bringer of video entertainment and the most common reason for all browser (and a great many System) crashes. Also — did I mention the security vulnerabilities?

I hoped (foolishly, it seems) that it was only the big movie studios who, paranoid we’re all stealing their stuff, were still insisting on Flash-based content delivery, but according to Erick Schonfeld over on TechCrunch, there’s a whopping two million Flash developers out there, and they’re simply dying to bring their Flash-authored wares to the last platform on Earth that has, so far, remained blissfully Flash free — your iPhone.

Limitations

The iPhone has always been marketed as a breakthrough Internet device, in spite of two limitations considered by some people to be significant — the iPhone’s browser, Mobile Safari, has never supported Java or Flash.

While the absence of Java is no big deal (honestly, is there anything more horrid than Java web plugins?) the lack of Flash support on the iPhone was considered debilitating enough that, in the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld viewer complaints and banned one of Apple’s iPhone commercials for ‘misleading’ customers with the line “All the parts of the Internet are on the iPhone.” It sounds rather like an over-reaction, but consider that in his 2008 WWDC keynote, Steve Jobs proudly announced, “Mobile browsing has gone from nothing to 98 percent with iPhone.” With so much mobile browsing going on, it seems any limitations matter profoundly. So, after almost three years browsing the web on our iPhones, how has the lack of Flash truly affected us?

Here’s the answer to that in three succinct syllables; not at all.

Seriously, has it so greatly inconvenienced anyone that they were driven away from the iPhone forever? (That rhetorical question will be read by our resident comment trolls as an open invitation to loudly proclaim their Android-based phones ‘superior’ because they do support Flash.)

Schonfeld offers an ominous prediction for 2010.

Adobe is going to bring its 2 million Flash developers to the iPhone, with or without Apple’s blessing. As it announced in October, the next version of its Flash developer tools, Creative Suite 5 […] will automatically convert any Flash app into an iPhone app. So while Flash apps won’t run on the iPhone, any Flash app can easily be converted into an iPhone app. This is a bigger deal than many people appreciate.

While Schonfeld thinks Apple’s lack of Flash support represents a “gaping hole in iPhone’s arsenal” I rather think the opposite is true. For all the iPhone’s inimitable prowess as a mobile computer, it’s not supposed to replace a laptop or desktop-class machine. What the iPhone brought to mobile phones (both in terms of functions and ease-of-use) was revolutionary in ways we readily take for granted today. But just think again of that figure; 98 percent browsing? That had never happened on mobile phones before, and it happened despite the lack of Flash.

Steve Jobs announces 98 percent of iPhone owners are using it for web browsing

But while I (perhaps incorrectly) assumed the lack of Flash was a usability consideration on Apple’s part, Schonfeld thinks the decision was motivated by a less obvious, and far more cunning, desire.

[Apple] wanted a chance to become ingrained with developers. Apple had to hold off Flash not so to control the video experience on the iPhone, but because it needed to establish its own Apple-controlled iPhone SDK. The last thing it needed was a competing developer platform getting in the way.

But Adobe Creative Suite 5 will provide precisely the magic button developers need to port their Flash apps to the iPhone.

…those 2 million developers will be able to keep working with Adobe tools and simply turn them into iPhone apps automatically. …if you thought there were a lot of iPhone apps now, just wait until the Flash floodgates are open.

This, frankly, scares me. I’ve rarely seen a flash site that I enjoyed. Even those which I thought impressive at first-blush rapidly became cumbersome and slow. And don’t get me started on the platform’s propensity for random crashing. If developers are granted the freedom to assault the stable, clean and comfortable world of my iPhone with gaudy, pointlessly-animated applications with inconsistent, ill-conceived UI’s, I can only hope there’s a quick and easy way to identify them in the App Store so I can avoid buying them altogether!

Schonfeld thinks CS5 will result in an avalanche of Flash-authored iPhone apps; I hope he’s wrong. Even on the desktop, Flash is something I prefer to avoid when I can. (I use three browsers — all of them employ a flash blocker — and as a result I feel my experience of the web improved markedly.) I honestly thought that, as 2010 gets under way, we’d all come to the same conclusion; that Flash is an antiquated technology whose security vulnerabilities and performance issues make it deeply undesirable.

If Apple can block these flash-authored apps, would it? Should it? Tell me how wrong I am, and why I’d better embrace it, in the comments below.

  1. No. If anything Flash is being frowned upon by my corporate clients looking for SEO friendlier solutions for both web and mobile content.

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  2. Unless something has changed in the last week or so, the whole “porting Flash apps to the iPhone” thing is not what it seems. when it was first announced, all the other tech sites were saying that it was a misconception and that aside from using Flash to show movies, Flash apps couldn’t “really” be ported and that it was primarily just a marketing blitz from Adobe.

    I’m not enough of a developer to know the details, but I don’t think you *will* be seeing any of those crap Flash games on the iPhone any time soon, and even if you did … they would still look like junk compared to a native app using the SDK anyway.

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    1. There are lots of tools out there that convert code automatically from one language and environment to the other. There are several for the iPhone, for example, that let you write once and “port” to iPhone and Android. They work fine.

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  3. Absolutely agree with Schonfeld. The reason Apple didn’t develop Flash for the iPhones is for the SDK. At $99 a pop to join the clan and 28,000 developers out there (without counting those who purchased the SDK and didn’t submit an app), that’s at least $2.8 million in revenue for Apple.

    But even if CS5 makes it possible to create apps, will developers still need to join the iPhone Developer Program? If that’s the case, then we might see a transition from iphone apps to Nexus apps…

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    1. you don’t purchase the SDK it’s free. You’ll still need to pay $99 to submit Flash garbage

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  4. Flash (and Silverlight) enabled websites could offer much of the functionality that the App Store presently supplies so Apple have “technical” challenges around this is no surprise.

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    1. @Rob, I think not: remember how vociferously devs objected to the “you can do web-based apps” message at the iPhone intro? … and how the iPhone took off based on a full, native app development environment?

      Those tools may be fine for browsers, but the world of mobile apps is so much more than that.

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  5. Apple will not allow Flash in the iPhone ecosystem for many, many reasons.

    1. Flash is a perfectly good waste of bandwidth, processing cycles and battery life that is almost always unnecessary, even more so with the dawn of HTML 5.
    2. Flash is proprietary, if it doesn’t work efficiently or correctly, Apple has to wait on Adobe to fix it. In a handheld, mobile device, that is unacceptable. Remember how fast Adobe was getting out new versions of Photoshop and and Flash for Mac OS X? Neither do I.
    3. In spite of all the propaganda about how “closed” Apple is, Apple has actually pushed for open standards, technology and codecs on the internet—Webkit, AAC, HTML 5, H.264, Quicktime. Any internet plugin/codec/technology that is proprietary is bad for everyone, especially if it becomes “to big to ignore.”
    4. Flash has the ability to become the de facto UI on a mobile device. Like Apple is ever gonna let that happen.

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    1. AAC and Quicktime can hardly be open standards. You have to pay to license the right to make AAC Files. Even if Apple pays it for you, and Microsoft (I hear) started paying for in Windows 7.

      Are you forgetting the Apple makes you pay to sell your app, then you pay them for each download, and that is when the finally get to ‘approving’ your app for quality? hello Fart app, good-bye Google voice mail app? not closed… ok!

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  6. Flash apps versus Flash-containing websites are two very different beasts, as the proposed Adobe functionality makes manifestly clear. Flash may be an easy, if not terribly compelling tool for developing simple apps, but its implementation on the user side has, to date, been awful in Apple’s experience (mine, too).

    Apple has been overwhelmingly and apparently, unexpectedly successful with the iPhone due to the App store offering low barriers to developers. That’s a formula they won’t want to mess with. Adobe wants to let devs translate Flash into something resembling native iPhone code? Wonderful!

    Note that apps are mechanically checked at submission time for a variety of technical flaws such as memory leaks, which destabilize or crash any platform (even more so under full multi-tasking). That’s the huge difference between a Flash-authored app and a website that puts up a buggy Flash script or inadvertently trips a flaw in the Flash runtime. Mac users see those flaws all too often… Flash (and Silverlight) are always close to the top of my crash logs for Safari.

    So I think Apple is very wise to prohibit Flash runtimes until such time as Adobe can create a better runtime, or until Apple can put Flash into its own very protected box, so that bad Flash crashes only that page, and not the browser or system.

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  7. I really can’t understand why so many people still think that flash is really needed. I’d tell them just that I don’t change the peace of mind I got after installing Click2flash in all of my machines: I got the “multicolor spinning ball of death” reduced in about a 98% just by blocking flash!!! (and I’m not talking here about vulnerabilities, that’s another chapter) and my eyes also feel really much better without all those annoying banners, really Flash isn’t worth at all the troubles it brings…

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  8. Please do better research.

    The main reason Flash isn’t on the iPhone is because Adobe is unable to get it to use less process power (it drains the battery tremendously more than any other app).

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  9. “But even if CS5 makes it possible to create apps, will developers still need to join the iPhone Developer Program? If that’s the case, then we might see a transition from iphone apps to Nexus apps…”
    Please, Flash developers, as an iPhone owner I beg of you, go develop Flash for the Nexus, leave the iPhone alone. That will certainly kill the Nexus if it isn’t dead already.

    For anyone with a straight face to think they could produce a flash app that compares to native Obj-C Cocoa app reveals a very, very deep cluelessness.

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    1. Do you think you could tell which apps already in the app store were authored using Flash versus Apple’s tools? Can you point them out without referencing a press release?

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    2. Idiot.

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  10. Man you talk such shit.

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    1. you smell like it…

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