Opinion: Flash is the Real iPhone Killer


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.


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.


Flash developer since '98

HTML5 is a fat pig. If you write the same app with Flash/ActionScript and HTML5 the latter will run slower. You’ll also struggle with compatibility problems across different browsers.

With Flash you have professional grade tools that help you create something with a minimum of fuss, not just a text editor. Flash apps run on anything with Flash, and will look and behave as intended for decades (all my old stuff still works). With HTML5 apps may stop working with the next browser version or whenever the HTML5 spec changes.

I don’t care if native iPhone apps run faster than a scalded cat. Compared to working with Flash, development with Xcode and Objective-C is a slow process, and there’s still no guarantee your app will even be approved. It just doesn’t seem fair what they are asking of the developers. Until they lighten up on some of their policies I won’t concider the iPhone.

Frank de Groot

Flash is the most advanced cross-platform development tool out there, the apps you can make with it are slick, fast and stable, and Apple is making a big mistake blocking Flash for commercial reasons only. Your blog post is FUD.

Daniel Freeman

There’s a lot of confusion here. Liam Cassidy doesn’t seem to know the difference between a website and an application. And neither do most of the biased, yet ill-informed comments. Liam says “I’ve rarely seen a Flash site that I enjoyed.” That opinion is irrelevant. Has Liam used Adobe AIR? Has he browsed Adobe’s AIR marketplace?, and tried any of the applications? We are talking about the ability of Flash CS5 to convert AIR applications to the iPhone aren’t we? (The article was written prior to Clause 3.3.1). Why does Liam go off on a tangent and start bitching about Flash websites? Lets compare like with like.

Flash is a tool. It can be used badly by a novice graphic designer who makes a bloated eye-candy style over substance experience. But it can also be used well by an experienced ActionScript 3 developer. Which of these people do you think is more likely to make an application?


The author obviously biased against Flash.
I think Flash has brought to the multimedia world whatever it has promised, and much more. It allows for boundless creative web expression that conventional HTML pages cannot achieve. Above that, Flash also has many other uses other than using it as a web applet.


That Guy

How would that save you time? You think people would buy a device specifically for adobe products? I Think not.

You could always learn other languages that are friendly to all devices. The only thing flash is good for is Games and Video Streaming, I see no practical reasons other than that.


Who?… (It seems you’re asking to the article writer, but, what is really from the past is Flash, and the attitude of prefering to keep something obsolete and troubler in front of the efford of changing to new things)


I’m sorry but you have absolutely no idea what Flash can do now, do you?


We are one of those Flash (ers..?) who deployed Flash on the iPhone using Adobe CS5 beta.

The web experience can be seen here; http://media-fuse.com/Yahoo2010MostPopularEnglish/

The iPhone APP can be downloaded and compared here; http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/yahoo-el-bello-51-most-popular/id349571762?mt=8

The Android supports Flash.

The accurate statement in the article was in the first paragraph and it holds true via mobile; Flash = bright new world of rich multimedia content creation and delivery via what would otherwise be drab old web.


Wow!, you know?, I was one of those who hate flash due to de troubles it brings me, but that thought it wasn’t so bad that there was a “translator” if the result isn’t so resource consuming…
Well, that was until I have seen your app. Now I’m really scared, because I realized the real danger: It’s true that we can end up with the appstore triplet with this type of apps… This is just disguising those awful things that would make me use click2flash even if flash would not have been that resource eater that slow my entire system.

And you seem very proud of it…. wow…


flash sucks. big time. you type a URL and it shows a slow loading progress bar. you cant control click on MOST flash sites to open the link in a new tab. you cant copy paste text (sometimes you NEED to). its silly stupid.

flash’s biggest advantage is it allows non-techies to create compelling websites. i am a non techie. i can create a website with flash quickly which looks teh way I want it to look and a work the way iwant it to.

can I do the same with open web technologies? i am clueless when it comes to css, javascript, php, xhtml etc. cant hand code. so that does mean as a designer I will be redundant because I cant code?

if there were a web authoring tool that let regular people create fantastic content with a WYSIWYG feel it would be a real killer!

the coders that I know are too expensive, too slow, and too un responsive. flash liberates the non techie.


Wait.. what? you mean WYSIWYG like Dreamweaver? There are tons out there.

Also, I agree. Flash is slow, doesn’t respond right, and is generally a bad idea for general website purposes. I would NEVER use it for layout purposes.

I really don’t care if flash ever gets to iPhone, I am an iPhone owner and really don’t care for flash.


” flash liberates the non techie.”
my answer is: At what price? it seems that those who are using flash to deliver what should have done by other methods, but they just don’t know how, just don’t care about the cost for the user isn’t too hight…

I know it’s not entirely their fault, is mostly Adobe’s, they in most cases just ignore the problem, and a minority know the problem but are too lazy to do it (or learn how to do it) in another way… Adobe make it so easy to port other CS works into flash and then build something with that with little effort, that is really difficult to resist…
That’s the real problem as I see it: Adobe isn’t interested in bringing the right tool to CS, since they want to impose their proprietary technology no matter what that mean for the users or for general technological evolution…


Please excuse the mistakes and misspellings in my post. English isn’t my language (not even my second one) and sometimes that became too clear… ;-)


Flash is an antiquated technology whose security vulnerabilities & performance issues make it deeply undesirable…pointlessly-animated applications … inconsistent, ill-conceived UI’s ???

I doubt the sum of 2M developers and designers is as bad as you describe here. Without Flash, Apple already has tones of apps that are really irrelevant, however quantity in the end increases the chances of finding real gems. 2M more developers will definitely bring more usable apps.

Apple promised a full internet experience, I find irritating that I can’t see content on my iphone because there is no Flash for it. I think if anything as consumers we should be given the choice of what I want to run on my phone.

Did you realize the banners conveniently located on your blog at the top and right side of this blog are made in Flash? I am sure someone thought there were pretty compelling in Flash otherwise they would be an animated (.GIF) Well if I visit your site in my iPhone Apple decided I can’t see those banners.

Just a nugget to think about.

Kind regards.



I agree with you, but I’d prefer to ALWAYS have the choice, I mean I would choose first not to have flash at all than no to be able to block flash, since there are very few cases that I’ll choose to play it. Off course, I think the best is to have by default a flash blocker/enabler (just for certain cases) a la “Click2Flash” (maybe now “Click2Flash$Gordon” since the Gordon flash enabler is appearing although still seems to be highly resource consumer) So users might have the choice to punctually enable certain chosen contents (for me, to be able to choose to block them is not enough, since most users just use the default options, and then just complain about speed, battery, etc…)


OMG you macistas are funny! I do not know about you, but I want my “mobile browser” to be an allroad kind of tool, to access ALL data or services anyone has chosen to put on the web. And it is doable. Just check N900/mameo – a device that has really taken smartphone browsing to next level.

And besides, 0-98% :). I do not what kind of technological vacuum mr. Jobs has been living in, but afa I can remember, I started mobile browsing five phones ago. I do not ALWAYS change phones every year so I recon it was c. ten years ago…


The flash problem on the iPhone will be a thing of the past. Recently this javascript idea popped up and makes flash work on iphone. It’s still a work in progress but it proves flash on the iPhone can be done regardless http://github.com/tobeytailor/gordon


Well, I do hope someone bring a blocker/enabler for it (Click2Flash&Gordon). Even it seems less resource consumer than flash itself, they say it’s still highly resource consumer, and anyway I don’t wan’t a way for flash creators to force me to see awful banners and waist iPhone resources without my permission.
I want to have as much choices as possible, but not at any price.


Unfortunately, I was unaware of the no-Flash problem when I recently bought my iPhone. And, for the first week or so, I reveled in the ease of my Internet access. Until one day I was on my way home and asked my fiance if she would like to see a movie that night. By that time I had just assumed that it would be as easy as looking session times up on Web and booking a ticket. Long story short – our plans for the night were ruined because our local cinema chose to implement their site predominately with Flash.

Bad site design? Maybe. But, anyone who sells me a product claiming to deliver a Web browser and that product does not include Flash support is a LIAR! Sure Flash is NOT a standard, but the ubiquity and maturity of Flash on the Web means that any browser that does not support it is substantially limited in its capacity as a ‘browser’.

Don’t give me any of the crap about Apple’s reasoning. They misrepresent their product when they do not provide warnings about this sort of thing at point of sale.

I remember the days when Microsoft was the big bad boogey man that was restricting their users in ways that they shouldn’t. Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t think Microsoft was ever as bad as Apple is now. So, to all those smug Mac users out there, good luck! I’ll stick with my Microsoft products on my desktop, Google (from now on) for my phone, and you can all suffer as much as you like while you smile and say “hey, its not so bad”.


I’ll repeat what else has been said:

The PRIMARY reasons that Apple does not support Flash is that it (a) gets a sizable chunk of all app revenue, and (b) ensure that applications cannot use a shared code base to target other (competitor) devices.

It’s not about “controlling quality” as many put it. Flash is a cross-platform tool for mobile development. That’s the last thing Apple wants. (oh but Microsoft is the only one that plays that game, right?)

There’s cathedral vs bazaar, may as well as add ‘trendoid nightclub’ to the metaphor. Just don’t tell those patrons that they’re paying way too much for drinks, and while ‘diversity and freedom’ are their mantra they all seem to diligently line up (dressed the same) to pay the cover charge. ;-)

Nicolas E.

I do agree with the flash-garbage association as it is REALLY a freaky annoying technology that freaky annoying people used to make easy and shitty money or even sometimes not.
But I also do agree with some that says that from great dev will come great apps and that from great designers will come REALLY great stuff. Some guys are so good that it gives Flash all its value by itself. I would be sad to prevent them expressing this.

So my conclusion is: Ok, flash is shit. Replace it by a good alternative then. Until that time, let’s use flash for the good one and let’s hope that 1. Apple will block the shitty guys/apps 2. Shitty guys app will not want to come to iPhone. It is valid for Palm that will enable the Flash in its next webOS release. Which is great.

ActionScript developer

I agree that Flash is being used in places that it shouldn’t be used. For example, many of the Flash interfaces out there should be done in JavaScript. However, for a complex web app, I would develop it using ActionScript, the language of Flash, not JavaScript.
Firstly, the SWF format is open. You can download the open source FlexSDK and open source FlashDevelop IDE and create a Flash application using ActionScript3. You can also add and remove content to an SWF. As a game developer, I don’t see the need for buying Adobe Flash.
Secondly, each browser has their own implementation of the HTML5 standard and JavaScript. If you create something using one browser, it may not work in another. This risk increases when the application is complex, such as a game. Testing becomes difficult. With AS3, as long as you can get a SWF to display in the different browsers, you are gauranteed, at least on Windows, that the logic will behave the same across all browswers. You also can’t guarantee the performance across all browswer. For example, to showcase the canvas tag, a developer created a game with complex graphics and animations (I can’t remember what it was, but I think it was an attempt at a remake for a 90’s PC game). It worked great on Firefox and Safari. It was very slow to the point of unusability on Opera. It took a lot of memory on Chrome. It didn’t even display on IE. From my experience (on Windows), Flash behaves nearly the same performance wise on a machine and the same logic wise across all machine-browswers. The benefit
Thirdly, from my experience, AS3 is a better language than JS. In addition, as a developer, you want the compiler to help you catch errors, such as in incorrect typing. Adobe’s compiler isn’t the greatest at errors at compile time, but at least it’s a compiler.


even if you could convert a flash app to iphone it would still not be acceptable what we are looking for is flash in safari no on applications or be able to create applications. i have had an iphone for 2.5 years now and i can tell you how frustrating it is to go to a website and i can do anything because this peace of junk does not support it. and yes this is the reason i am going to switch phones as soon as my contract is over at&t sucks, and apple is to much off a big brother (maybe they should look at their on commercials from the 80’s). i love the IU and the way it handles but it doesn’t do what i want. ill see how WinMob 7 is cuz i really didn’t like the G1, i haven’t see the new Nexus, but ho well my contract isn’t over yet. and don’t get me started on how much i hate itunes……. just pisses me off just in case you were wondering i had not change before because other phones didn’t have flash and they suck. but as soon as one doesn’t suck and has flash… Peace I’m out apple.


You are scared of Flash? You run Flash blockers on your phone? You sound like a typical idiot apple whore.


Personally, I’m not scared, I don’t run flash blockers on my phone because luckily the iPhone don’t need that, and you sound like an unpolite troll, the typical uneducated reason-lacked who’s only possible comment is pure rubbish … (you seem to deserve all that flash…)


I rather think everyone is really missing something here. The problem seems to be an issue of content delivery more than anything. It has VERY little to do with code optimization and runtimes.

Currently flash can be used to provide some annoying content. So can ObjC. Apple chose to make a deal with youtube to convert its entire library to a video format that was compatible, and youtube accepted that deal. Remember, when the iPhone first came out, not all youtube videos were available. It took time for the backlog to be completed. So the real question, is not how much does Flash suck, but why has Apple not made a deal with Adobe to make an optimized Flash API for iPhone?

The fact that Adobe is working to do exactly that, and compile code written using Adobe tools into a runtime that is supported by the iPhone platform, seems to indicate a desire on Adobe’s part to make that deal.

No, all existing Flash “enabled” sites would not automatically work. Apple will have set the standard for Flash apps in the requirements they set for the iPhone optimized Flash API. Adobe gets to move their product to a platform they want.

I’ve worked with embedded machine technologies and I know that you can run a Windows environment with .Net technology on a vending machine. Why do that? Its extreme overkill. That is the point everyone wants to make when they say that Flash is bad for the iPhone. Battery life, screen limitations, and other factors would come into play if you wanted to run OS X on an iPhone.

Obviously, Apple wants to work with other parties (youtube) to enable content. The fact that we can’t watch Hulu on an iPhone only means that Hulu is not re-encoding all content into iPhone compatible formats. I have Hulu Desktop. I like that application. I imagine that they ARE probably working on something for the iPhone. But Apple didn’t go to them up front. They partnered with youtube.

For flash based applications, we are talking again about content. Data access, charting, vector graphics, unique user interfaces, all these things are content. A Flash API optimized for iPhone could be a way to enable 2 million programmers an easier entry point for iPhone development.

I think the real concern is that the negative user experience of having a flash banner flashing in their face on a webpage has people not seeing the forest because their view is obscured by some leafy growth immediately in front of their eyes.


Hey no one wants to use flash to develop for the iphone. We want to use a windows development tool such as .. idk.. maybe C++?!


Oh, come on — that’s nonsense. One can do no more damage with a big, shiny compile-to-iPhone button than can be done compiling to iPhone native format directly.

Apple’s opposed Flash inclusion because a full-featured Flash player running in the browser would provide an alternative to buying apps from its App Store, not out of concern for its customers’ user experience.


I think that the main article is very anti flash. And maybe you should stick to just plain html pages.


I think the web educated world has become anti Flash and for good reasons. Its development environment an is unstable memory hog, its runtime is an unstable memory hog and its company (Adobe) is an unstable money hog.

Add all this to Adobe’s lack of commitment to excellence on the Mac platform and you get a lot of Mac people whose blood curdles every time they here the word Adobe. Even those of us who use Windows have become awfully tired of Adobe’s shenanigans.

Even the luddites agree, it is time to let Flash die.

Henk Duivendrecht

Wow, seldom have I read such a biased article that expresses a personal distaste as a universal truth.

There are several reasons why flash is rapidly becoming a more competent development platform than HTML5, for example:

– Actionscript3 is a real object oriented development tool meant for building applications, and using standardized, open source libraries.

– HTML5 is still based on the idea that you’re building a text page. If you want to build a state-based application, it quickly becomes a javascript nightmare full of hacks. HTML developers spend weeks debugging and arguing about standards.

– Complex javascript applications are far more clumsy and choppy than complex flash applications. There’s only a few really good javascript apps out there (gmail, wordpress) but just consider the huge amounts of effort that was needed to build these apps! I dare say that the same app can be made in flash or flex in 10% of the development time.

Mind you that I’m talking about applications, not about text-based web pages. We can all agree that there’s less and less reason to use flash components in a page based traditional website.

The fact that flash is used for annoying banners and that you shouldn’t need flash for web video is frequently used as an argument against flash, but isn’t it really an argument against annoying advertising and against the fact that “modern” browsers still haven’t decided on a standard for video?

And last but not least, the complaint that flash is less open source and that you need a flash developer for every little change in the app is also rapidly becoming outdated. Modern flash apps are just as open as a javascript application.


Henk – Maybe you are right, Flash is used where it really shouldn’t be used. Most web site can easily do what they need to do with good old fashioned HTML. With perhaps some javascript and good old Perl/CGI etc. Moving into applications then that is a different game, here you do need a proper environment, whether flash is the answer is of course a matter of opinion!


Oh – so right. Flash tends to rhyme with trash! Whenever a site uses Flash you know it will be slow, full of gratuitous imagery slowing down the information gathering process.

One of the worst and most frustrating sites I have to use occasionally is Adobe’s – I wonder why!

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