The iPhone is on the market for more than one and a half years – and there is still no Flash support. Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen gave some interesting insights within the Bloomberg interview at Davos – in short: “It’s a hard technical challenge”.
What is happening here? Why is it so hard for Adobe and Apple to include Flash into the iPhone and iPod touch? Is this only a technical challenge?
There are a lot of reasons why migrating Flash to the iPhone is not a walk in the park:
Challenge: Complete migration and optimization
Adobe is quite clever in marketing, when they say “over 800 million Flash enabled devices shipped” … because this does not mean that those 800 million “Flash enabled” cellphones can view websites with embedded Flash content. Those 800 million devices have a tiny version of a special mobile Flash player installed, which only can play special generated Flash Light apps. So, Adobe’s Flash Light is not a web browser plugin as we know it from the Mac or PC world – it is a mobile application environment, only. Apple probably is not interested to much in bringing Flash Light to the iPhone. Apple is indeed interested in offering complete Flash support for Safari on the iPhone. But this would result in a complete migration of the OS X Flash player to the iPhone OS and a hell of optimization: Flash on OS X (and on Windows also) is very resource consuming – and this is the last thing you want to experience on the iPhone: slow, battery consuming surfing on Flash enabled websites. The Adobe Flash Light team spent years on optimizing Flash Light to the specific mobile phone platforms – it will be even more work to finish the complete migration to the iPhone.
Challenge: Smooth integration of Flash content into the iPhone OS environment
Right now there is a clear difference between web and video content: If you embed a Quicktime video into a website the iPhone user can see a video play button on the website; if the user clicks on the video play button the video is played in a separate movie player view. How should a Flash container – displaying a video – react? What is the best user experience? Will it be possible to integrate Flash views within native iPhone apps? Plenty of questions … and plenty of work on the usability and user experience side.
Challenge: Competing application environments of Flash Light and the native iPhone OS SDK
There is a clear and straight business case for Adobe with their Flash Light product: Handset manufacturers or operators have to pay for every single installation on a handset. They pay Adobe to get access to a creative developer community of Flash (Light) developers with interesting and good looking apps for their mobile phones. Will Apple pay Adobe for getting Flash on the iPhone? I personally don’t think so! Apple does not have any problem to attract creative developers to their native iPhone OS SDK. Flash Light apps don’t make the iPhone more attractive – maybe it’s even the opposite. On the Flash side, Apple managed it to convince companies like Google / Youtube to encode their videos especially for mobile phones without the need of Flash. Apple just created this extremely successful native application ecosystem – with a strong and creative developer community on the one hand and a well suited storefront with the iTunes iPhone AppStore on the other hand.
This all makes clear, what Shantanu Narayen pointed out at the interview: “(…) the ball right now is in our court (…)”: Adobe has to do the job – it’s essential for their business to be present on the iPhone – and Apple will profit from well integrated Flash in the iPhone … but Apple won’t loose anything if there wouldn’t be any Flash support at all in the future.