No Flash on Your iPhone? How About Silverlight, Instead?


It’s been a double-edged sword, this no-Flash-on-the-iPhone business. On the one hand, we don’t get the complete Internet. On the other hand, the web pages we do get are less likely to crash or drag-along at a snail’s pace. And really, who wants to see yet another “Smack the monkey” banner ad?

Just as we bemoaned the lack of MMS functionality, some of us complain endlessly about the absence of Flash support on the iPhone. But following a demonstration at Microsoft’s (s msft) Professional Developers Conference, it looks like we may see that software giant’s Flash competitor, Silverlight, appearing on the iPhone in the not too distant future.

Reporting for, Scott Fulton writes:

It was an impressive demonstration, once they got it working: H.264 video streaming wirelessly (and slowly, at least during the caching sequence) using Microsoft’s Silverlight video streaming, to an Apple iPhone… You’d think Apple would have stood firm against Microsoft at least as aggressively as it has against Adobe, if not more so. How did this happen? We asked Microsoft User Experience Platform Manager Brian Goldfarb last week at PDC 2009, and the answer was a huge surprise…followed by some caveats. But it contained these four amazing words: “We worked with Apple.”

OK, quick recap for those of you who don’t know what Silverlight is all about. Silverlight was launched by Microsoft in 2007, and provides a toolset developers can leverage to build rich multimedia and interactivity into websites. In this sense, it’s like Adobe’s venerable Flash. But unlike Flash, Silverlight content is based on a flavor of XML which means…well, it all gets very nerdy from here on in, so I’ll stop there. The take-home message is that, for the most part, Silverlight is a more modern, powerful and less crash-tastic alternative to Flash. It’s also more standards-compliant than Flash, depending on who you get to build your Silverlight web apps, and that matters a lot in an age when more and more of what we do happens in the browser. (Before I get flamed in the comments, please note — I didn’t say Silverlight is standards compliant — it’s just less horrible than Flash. And yes, I do realize that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.)

It’s precisely the browser technology in the iPhone that helped make Silverlight video streaming a possibility. Brian Goldfarb told Betanews:

“The promise of Silverlight is that it’s a cross-device, cross-browser, cross-platform solution, and it works the same on Macs as it does on Windows. The iPhone is a unique scenario. We talked to our customers…and they said, ‘Look, we just need to get our content there, and it’s mainly in the media space like broadcasting, and we want to put it on the iPhone.’ They have a great solution for that; if you’re surfing the Web, and hit YouTube and hit ‘Play,’ it’ll play your video because [Apple] created an environment where they can safely play media, and they’re comfortable with that.

Goldfarb is talking about the native YouTube app found on every iPhone. The YouTube app sorta helps, but usually only for YouTube-hosted video. Want to play videos hosted elsewhere? Good luck. Some H.264 QuickTime-encoded videos will play, but as you likely already know, it’s all a bit hit-and-miss.

“So we’ve worked with Apple to create a server-side based solution […] and what we’re doing is taking content that’s encoded for smooth streaming and enabling the content owner to say, ‘I want to enable the iPhone.’ The server will dynamically make the content work – same content, same point of origin – on the iPhone. We do this with the HTML 5 tag, in many ways.”

And there’s the magic bullet right there. Silverlight works because (in conjunction with Microsoft’s Internet Information Services technology found on Windows Servers) it exploits HTML 5’s native video support — and Mobile Safari is a decent HTML 5-compatible browser. All the video encoding trickery is taking place on the remote server; it identifies when an iPhone is requesting a video stream and bundles it into a format the device can handle.

Silverlight-powered streaming video on an iPhone – image from

Although Goldfarb says Microsoft “worked with Apple,” he elaborated on the degree of that collaboration. Turns out, it wasn’t a lot; “We did all the work. We just made sure Apple was comfortable with it.”

Could this represent a potential lesson to learn for Adobe? Despite the enormous market penetration of the Flash player technology (Adobe claims 99.7 percent of browsers are capable of displaying Flash content) it’s widely criticised for being an antiquated, less-than-optimal platform for delivering multimedia. (Except, it seems, in L.A. Have you noticed how many Hollywood Studios doggedly insist on building their movie websites entirely in Flash?)

Who would have thought that the best solution, and lead runner in the race to provide non-YouTube video streaming for the iPhone, would be Microsoft? There’s something about that which is almost… poetic.



Use this link as alternative solution to get silverlight and flash application on any iDevices. It little bit ugly and not have sound, but working in basic on iPhone and iPod too.


Saying that Flash Player is buggy & crashtastic is like blaming Apple for app crashes on the desktop. Flash Player is a runtime platform, you can write buggy crashtastic apps with it, or powerful stable apps with it. It’s up to your skill as a developer, just like with any other object oriented development language & tools. The fact that you experience buggy flash apps enough to care means that Flash is being used that frequently, and unfortunately by many poor developers. HTML & Javascript can just as easily crash your browser, perhaps more so because HTML & Javascript do NOT have compile-time error capture. Flash Player 10.1 will have a global error handler, so if used properly by the developer should not crash unhandled. And it’s just good sense for a browser to sandbox itself against plugin crashes, anyone notice how Safari 3 crashed far less than Safari 4? Was that Adobe’s fault? Did they forget to remind Apple to maintain a stable plugin environment? The same problems encountered by Flash developers, and their audience will exist independently of the language used. But the Flash team has a nice head start, you still can’t do A LOT with HTML5 & JS.


Anyone know if silverlight support means netflix streaming support on the iphone?


As Oli mentioned. This announcement has absolutely nothing to do with Silverlight. It has everything to do with IIS SmoothStreaming which is a server side technology. In this context think of it as a transcoder. You are on an iPhone so it serves you a video that the iPhone can handle. Netflix support relies on Silverlight plugin because of the DRM that is used in on the video.

What I’m hoping is that large events that use IIS SmoothStreaming (DNC, Olympics) will not use DRM so that they can be streamed to devices that don’t have the appropriate plugins (mobile phones, TVs, game consoles, etc). I’m perfectly comfortable with them using Silverlight for premium features (multiple audio streams, multiple angles, Pic-In-Pic, subtitles, etc)


With RIM’s acquisition of Torch Mobile, virtually all “native” smartphone browsers will be WebKit based:

iPhone = WebKit
Android = WebKit
WebOS = WebKit
Symbian = WebKit
Blackberry = WebKit (soon)
WinMo = WebKit (with a 3rd-party browser)

WebKit brings great HTML5 support to mobile devices. Fennec & Opera Mobile are also expected to provide great HTML5 support.

Streaming with HTML video seems like the best & easiest way to get video to smartphones, since it eliminates the need for CPU intensive & battery draining addons like Flash & Silverlight.

Matt Rix

If by now you don’t understand the purpose Flash serves on the internet, I don’t know if you ever will(hint: it’s not banner ads or information heavy sites).

Also, keep in mind that flash is mostly just slow and awful on Macs… On decent PCs it actually runs quite well. I don’t know whether it’s Adobe or Apple that screwed up(I’m guessing both), but it’s a well known fact.

Tom B

Calling BS. Flash sucks equally on Windows. Adobe is just out of touch with users.


I’d wish these studio big wigs will understand something: if we want your media, we can take it whenever we want. With or without Flash or Silverlight. This is the worst kept secret on the net. Eventually you will have to trust your users and hope they do the right thing.

If they want to use flashy animations then do it with open standards in HTML5 and not proprietary solutions.

Silverlight is going nowhere and Flash is dying a slow death. Thank [insert preferred deity here].


So Silverlight isn’t really needed. They could just directly stream h.264 video directly to the browser or to a regular iPhone app, and it would be all good. And there’s no mention of the usual DRM that broadcasters just MUST have otherwise they would go out of business because of piracy, so it’s unlikely the implementation would support DRM on the iPhone (just like they didn’t bother with it on PPC Macs).

This will be just more of the ‘works best on Windows, kinda sorta works elsewhere, might work for you’ stuff MS keeps putting out.


Silverlight isn’t even part of the picture. All the work is done at the “Smooth Streaming” end (on IIS). The only reason Silverlight should be mentioned is because that capability was added to IIS for Silverlight. That’s it!

The article is misleading in pretending that we’ll see the Silverlight runtime on the iPhone, while Adobe couldn’t do that.

Matthew Fabb

Note that Flash video encoded in h.264 can also play on the iPhone using the HTML5 tag. It just can’t play inside the Flash Player, just as this Silverlight example isn’t playing inside of the Silverlight plugin on the iPhone.

Apple is all for developers pushing video to the iPhone via the video tag and doesn’t care where that video originated from.

Comments are closed.