Who needs Flash on iPhone more? Adobe or Apple?

Adobe to investors: we're working on Flash for iPhoneUpdated: Adobe says it will need Apple’s support to bring Flash to iPhone (see end of post).

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen says that, with or without Apple, the company plans to develop a Flash player for the iPhone/iPod touch platform.

During yesterday’s earnings call (see SeekingAlpha transcript), Narayen told investors that that Flash was “synonymous with the Internet and frankly, anybody who wants to browse the web and experience the web’s glory really needs Flash support”.

Having evaluated the iPhone’s official Software Developer Kit, Adobe can “now start to develop the Flash player ourselves”, says Narayen. “…we think it benefits our joint customers, so we want to work with Apple to bring that capability to the device.”

With new research suggesting that the iPhone has already established itself as the No.1 mobile browser in the U.S., and No.2 in the UK, Narayen would say that.

However, only a week or so ago, Apple CEO Steve Jobs poured cold water on the idea of Flash on the iPhone/iPod touch, saying that the version designed specifically for mobile devices – Flash Lite – wasn’t good enough, and that Adobe’s more powerful desktop offering runs too slowly on the iPhone. What was needed is a “missing product in the middle”, argued Jobs.

Is Adobe committing itself to building the missing version of Flash that Jobs demands?

Or does Adobe really believe it can go-it-alone?

Without Apple providing the hooks to enable Adobe to tap into the iPhone’s Safari web browser, it’s hard to see how a Flash plug-in could be implemented. Instead, Adobe might be able to create a work around: some kind of stand-alone Flash Player that opens full screen to play certain content. This would work best for playing Flash video but would be useless for viewing websites that integrate Flash with regular HTML components.

Therefore, presuming that Adobe needs Apple’s support – which I think is almost certain – and that users want the kind of experiences that Flash supports, how long can Steve Jobs hold out before agreeing to work with Adobe?

The answer: quite a long time, if not indefinitely.

Firstly, the biggest user of Flash video – YouTube – already offers a non-Flash version of the site designed specifically for the iPhone/iPod touch.

Secondly, rather than utilizing Flash to build “rich” Internet-aware applications (RIAs) for the iPhone/iPod touch, Apple is providing developers with an official SDK that will enable them to build native clients for a range of Internet services (as an example, think of the Google Maps application for the iPhone).

And thirdly, in Safari, Apple has already raised the potential of web-based applications by providing a very capable mobile web browser that supports modern so-called Web 2.0 coding standards. In fact, Adobe’s own Rich Internet Application Evangelist, Ryan Stewart, recently described the latest desktop version of Safari (3.1) as Apple’s own RIA platform, “complete with video and animation support (and offline storage).” Since Safari mobile is built on top of the same codebase as the desktop version, we can expect to see those same improvements brought to the iPhone/iPod touch very soon.

Update: In a written statement, Adobe has clarified Narayen’s comments, saying “Adobe has evaluated the iPhone SDK and can now start to develop a way to bring Flash Player to the iPhone. However, to bring the full capabilities of Flash to the iPhone Web-browsing experience we do need to work with Apple beyond and above what is available through the SDK and the current license around it.”

Photo illustration by Gizmodo.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

6 Responses to “Who needs Flash on iPhone more? Adobe or Apple?”

  1. Dave Zatz says:

    The biggest losers won’t be Adobe or Apple, it’ll be their customers like me. Though, I’m hoping the SDK allows folks to build those native apps as you suggest – all I want are things like Pandora. However, it’s a different sort of development skillset and process – and it’s unclear how the Apps store will work. Will it be as easy to update an app as it would be a webpage? Hmmm…

  2. John Dowdell says:

    “Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen says that, with or without Apple, the company plans to develop a Flash player for the iPhone/iPod touch platform.”

    Really? Where? I haven’t seen any such quote. Got link?


  3. Steve O'Hear (editor) says:

    @ John Dowdell

    The quote from Narayen that, having looked at the SDK, Adobe can “now start to develop the Flash player ourselves” seemed to imply that the SDK is enough to go-it-alone. However, I gather Adobe PR has backtracked on that statement. So I should update the post.

  4. John Dowdell says:

    There was one DowJones reporter who quoted wrong, and the blogosphere just ran with it. The next day they just ran with a “backtrack” story. The real issue was with the lack of suitable skepticism, in the quest for private advertising revenues.

    Try this:

    That “with or without Apple” line is still not supported by the evidence.

  5. Arron says:

    I hope they never release flash for the iPhone. I’m a die hard standards man and I hate flash. Unless actionscript becomes a w3c standard I hope Apple holds out and just improves their javascript support. it would be cool to see multi touch javascript events, one can only hope for a world where onPinch() is recognized.

  6. Joe says:

    Lack of flash support on the iPhone ticks me off so bad I get red in the face every time I think about it. All of my favorite websites use flash, including my own. My favorite sports sites, movie sites, tv sites, and stores all use flash. The fact that Apple and Adobe have ignored the massive outcry from their customers to get Flash support on the iPhone ASAP has me livid. The lack of flash support and the cheesy/lousy functionality of the GPS App left me feeling like I got ripped of big time with the iPhone G3. The rest of the stuff it does is nice…kind of…but in order to be truly useful to my lifestyle it needs Flash Support and a TomTom or Garmin like GPS Navigation system that not only plots your route but shows an angled route view and has voice commands telling you that your turn is coming soon and turn now and so on. Until it does, it’s just another crappy phone.

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