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Can I Get Flash Player for iPhone?

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Flash player for iPhone
iPhone copyright Apple Inc; Flash copyright Adobe Inc.

Question: Can I Get Flash Player for iPhone?

Adobe's Flash player is one of the most widely used tools for delivering audio, video, and animation on the Internet. But the Flash player for iPhone is conspicuously absent.

Answer:

UPDATE NOV. 2011 - Adobe has officially ceased development of Flash for all mobile devices. As a result, you can feel as close to 100% certain as possible now that Flash will never come to the iOS.

That doesn't quite mean that you can't use Flash in some ways. Check out these Flash-enabled web browser apps for some options.

*****

As of March 2010, there is no Flash player for iPhone. Not because it doesn't exist or isn't technically possible (Adobe has created the software), but because Apple refuses to allow Flash onto the iOS (and, since Apple controls what can and can’t be installed on the iPhone via the App Store, it can prevent this).

Apple charges that Flash uses up computing and battery resources too quickly and that it’s unstable, which leads it to cause computer crashes which Apple doesn’t want as a part of the iPhone experience.

Apple's blocking of the Flash player for iPhone is a problem for any web-based games that use Flash or service like Hulu, which stream video online using a Flash player. Without Flash for the iPhone, those sites don't work.

So far, Apple hasn't budged from its position (and seems to be waiting on the Flash-free standards in HTML5 to replace some of the features Flash offers to websites). Whether Apple or Adobe wins this high-tech tug of war remains to be seen.

*****

April 2010

Apple's anti-Flash stance was controversial from the outset. It stirred so much discussion that Steve Jobs himself penned a letter explaining the decision for Apple's website. What follows below is my response to that letter.

In a post on Apple's website today, Steve Jobs details the reasons behind Apple's refusal to allow Flash onto the iPhone OS:

  1. Flash isn't open, as Adobe says, but proprietary
  2. The prevalence of h.264 video means Flash isn't required for web video anymore
  3. Flash is insecure, unstable, and doesn't perform well on mobile devices
  4. Flash drains too much battery life
  5. Flash is designed to be used with a keyboard and mouse, not the iPhone OS' touch interface
  6. Creating apps in Flash means that developers aren't creating native iPhone apps.

I'm not really in a position to evaluate most of those claims, but the one that I have encountered is that Flash is designed for a mouse, not a finger. If you've got an iPhone or iPad and have browsed websites that use drop-down menus for navigation, you've probably seen it too. You tap a nav item to get the menu, but the site interprets that tap as a selection of that item, rather than triggering the menu, which takes you to the wrong page and makes it hard to get to the right one. That's frustrating.

Business-wise, Adobe's in an interesting position. For the last decade or so, it's basically dominated web audio and video, and had a big stake in web design and development, thanks to Flash. With the growing influence and marketshare of the iPhone OS, Apple is threatening that position. Adobe is cozying up with Google to get Flash to Android, which should help, but may not be enough.

Adobe does have one option, though. Its Creative Suite - Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc. - contains the premiere apps in their spaces, crucial apps for many, many Mac owners. If Adobe withdrew Creative Suite from the Mac, or created a feature disparity between Mac and Windows versions, it could certainly hurt Apple. That would be a pretty desperate and unlikely move - as Jobs notes in his letter, Creative Suite for Mac accounts for 50% of the sales of the software - but companies do strange things when they get desperate.

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