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No, Steve Jobs Is not Lying About Flash Not Working on The iPhone (nor is he doing an f-you to Adobe)

Posted in Business, Flex, Adobe, Flash Player, Mobile Flash by Joeflash on the March 8th, 2008

Everyone is all a huff as why the iPhone does not have Flash, in posts and comments all over the bloggosphere lately about Steve Job’s comments about Flash, spawning two main interpretations:

a) Steve Jobs is Lying about Flash on the iPhone, and is keeping the info to himself as a negotiating tool.

b) Steve hates Adobe, and is doing an f-you to Adobe.

…and a kinder, more rational explanation,

c) that Flash is not ready for the iPhone.

Okay, let’s get a grip, and a reality check here people. I am not normally one to fall prey to idle speculation, but some of the conspiracy theories floating about lately border on the ridiculous.

Personally, I don’t see any of these explanations as holding water, including the third.

First, Steve Jobs does not need to lie to anyone. He simply keeps his mouth shut on stuff he doesn’t want anyone to know about (yet).

Second, this is business, it’s not personal. That Apple would pull this as a stunt to piss off Adobe or use it solely as a leveraging tool does a disrespect to both parties. (more on this below)

And let’s not turn speculation on whether the iPhone will run flash into yet another *\*yawn\** flash-bashing session. I am sooo bored of pathetically uninformed Flash bashing that does not stand up to a grain of truth. Fullscreen, hardware-accelerated H264 Video in Flex and AIR — ‘nuf said people.

As for Flash running slow on Macs versus PCs, it’s a problem that occurs mostly in Flash Player 8 and below (or AS2/VM1 apps in FP9+), as a difference in the frame rendering engine between the two OSes. Any Flash developer worth their salt will know that if you set the frame rate of the FLA to 21, 31, or 41, that “bug” will disappear, and mac SWFs will run just as fast as their PC counterparts. Don’t blame the technology, blame the developer for being too clueless to know how to code a decent Flash app. And apps designed for the VM2 (AS3) runtime in the Flash player run at the same speed on the PC as it does the Mac without the hack. So let’s put that one to rest already.

As for Jobs not willing to put Flash on the iPhone, as a Flash/Flex developer I can see that as a perfectly reasonable assertion. I think this guy has the right idea: it’s not that Flash is not ready for the iPhone, or that the iPhone is not ready for Flash (the full version), it’s both, depending on which Flash player we’re talking about. One reason I won’t currently touch Flash mobile development with a ten foot pole is that the Flash Lite player is a pathetically chopped down version of the Flash player which requires a mix of AS1 and AS2 coding techniques with a “hackiness” that almost makes Lingo programming look robust. And the full Flash Player is just too powerful for the iPhone processor, so one could also say that the iPhone “is not ready” for Flash. Truth is, Adobe needs to create a new version of the Flash player for this “mid-range” computational device.

CAUTION: PURE SPECULATION AHEAD :

Given the Flex 4 roadmap lecture at a recent Flex conference I attended regarding the up and coming modular nature of the next version of the Flex framework, my money is on the probability that Adobe is already in the process of making a Flash 10 Player for the iPhone.

I am sure there are a fair bit of politics involved, but none of the current discussions I’ve seen take into account the pink elephant in the room: Quicktime. The FLV standard is currently kicking Quicktime’s butt all over the net as the current de-facto standard for online video, so it’s unlikely Apple wants to invite that wolf into their home without some serious adjustments. Adobe and Apple may even be in talks to establish Quicktime player capability in the next version of the Flash Player, who knows (again pure speculation). If we take into account the iTunes licensing model, it’s quite possible Apple will also want some form of DRM for video and audio in Flash as well.

As for the other assertion that Microsoft’s Silverlight will be “first to market” on the iPhone, well I personally don’t think Apple cares if Silverlight or Flash, both or either get on the iPhone. Steve is holding all the keys to all the doors of the iPhone. If it enhances the Apple brand without losing too much control, he’ll do it. But I doubt Apple is weak enough to be bought, bullied or cajoled into doing anything it doesn’t want to do, from Microsoft, Adobe or the user base crying out for either. Apple has long since become a monopoly in its own right, and despite its PR, is far from being the “company for the people” that it once was. You worship at the iChurch of Apple or you go home, and you don’t tell the priesthood how to operate.

Having said that, everyone assumes there’s this incredibly aggressive war going on between Apple and Adobe. What if there is no such thing going on, and Apple and Adobe are merely taking their time to sort out the mutual licensing rights, as it is definitely in both parties’ interests to come to a satisfying solution? Quicktime, PDF, iTunes, DRM, FLV, SWF, Flash Player, iPhone OS — all these are proprietary technologies, on both sides, and getting them to legally play well together will take time for the suits and the engineers to work out.

Personally, I don’t give a toss if the iPhone has Flash or not right now. I’m having too much fun developing Flex and AIR apps. Flash on the iPhone will come. And when it does, it’ll be cool. But I’d rather have faith that these two goliaths will work out a decent solution rather than give in to all the fear and loathing going on. So please, let’s give the limp “Apple is doing an f-you to Adobe” rumours a rest, eh?

Update March 20: Here’s the real state of Flash on the iPhone, right from the horse’s mouth.

6 Responses to 'No, Steve Jobs Is not Lying About Flash Not Working on The iPhone (nor is he doing an f-you to Adobe)'

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  1. Brett said,

    on March 8th, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    I think you’re wasting your time with speculation unfortunately. There is obviously no performance bottleneck when the iPhone was demo’d running the full 3D Super Monkey Ball game. There are political machinations afoot. And the outcome of those machinations basically negates any chance the iPhone will have Flash.

    From the iPhone SDK license agreement: “No interpreted code may be downloaded and used in an Application except for code that is interpreted and run by Apple’s Published APIs and builtin interpreter(s).”

    Now, the one shining hope in this statement is “builtin interpreters” which means that Apple is leaving the door open for negotiations between the two parties (Apple could always add future interpreters in an update). So Adobe and Apple, please work this out because you’re affecting millions of people with your monetary squabbling.

    It’s hard for us to know what demands each side has placed on the other. Although Apple seems like the major dick here, Adobe could well be trying to charge Apple some ridiculous licensing fee to use the player.

  2. Joeflash said,

    on March 9th, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    You could be right Brett. But at the end of the day, I don’t care who is the bigger jerk, just as long as they get Flash on the iPhone, because it means that (at long last) it will be worth developing mobile applications in Flash for the North American market. But I’d rather wait until they sort out the technical issues so that we get a decent Flash player on the iPhone (I hope) rather than Flash Lite 2 Redux, yech…

  3. Some geek said,

    on March 10th, 2008 at 8:16 am

    I’ll be more polite than I was over at Scooby’s blog:

    -Having dooked around with MobileSafari 1.x I can tell you it does not copy, paste, download or do plugins very well [tho’ the folders are there]. This may change with firmware 2.x — but until June, it’s all speculation.

    -Again there’s this ‘player’ thing. I do not see MobileSafari doing this. I do see other vendors stepping up like Opera with embedded plugins. I think Steve wants a *stable* env for the enterprise folks (who buy his $500+ dollar phones with up to $2K over two years upkeep) and adullts who won’t tolerate browser plugin bugs on their *phones*.

    - So you see Apple supporting instead a ‘runtime’ thing with Flash, JRE, etc. You can see this TODAY with the Jailbreakers and various runtimes available thru installer.app TODAY. This is not rocket science, this is a bunch of OOP coders doing things like compiling for PPC arm and then packaging for Installer.app.

    As a parallel look at the other Smartphones from the S60 series up. The default tools ‘just work’ and if you added Opera or Access Netfront etc and these things crashed ATT [in the US] would tell you to deinstall them. Apple also will have to ability for corp sysadms to do remote uninstall / deletes to endusers’ iPhones. This is a question of support, not a pissing match…

    Just my 2 pesos….ramble off.

  4. jacob said,

    on March 10th, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    Magic frame rates or not the mac still runs swfs slower. I just went through this testing out a processor intensive test with an 31fps AIR app. On the mac it runs at 9fps with Windows it stays at 21fps.

    Its the exact same machine as windows is running under parallels.

  5. Joeflash said,

    on March 10th, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    To my knowledge the frame rate speed differential has been cleared up in Flash Player 9, specifically for SWFs authored in AS3 for the VM2. Try the speed tests on this page and see if still get significantly differing results.

  6. Matthew Fabb said,

    on March 10th, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    The Nokia N800 and N810 have a processor that is slower than the iPhone, yet runs the full Flash Player 9. I don’t know how Flash handles on those devices, but online I’ve seen nothing up rave reviews for the device and for the fact that it has Flash 9, with no complaints of it running too slow.

    So yeah, Steve Jobs complaining that the iPhone runs Flash too slowly sounds really weak and hallow excuse.

    I think that your right about Quicktime being a major factor why Flash is not on the iPhone. For the past couple of years, Steve Jobs has been trying to reproduce the success of the music side of the iTunes store with the video of movies and tv shows. Apple has been pushing this hard with the video iPods, to watching videos on your computer to watching them on your tv via the AppleTV, which this year introduced “rentals”, a strange concept (or at least naming) when you consider the digital format. I think Flash video has dampened the success of iTunes video store. Especially when you look at Universal NBC, one of Apple’s biggest video content providers leaving iTunes. Then they go off and with FOX creating their own video service, Hulu.com using the Flash Player for their video and even supporting HD video, just days after Flash 9 update 3 came out.

    Meanwhile those developing applications for the iPhone with the SDK, have to go through the iTunes store to sell their apps, with Apple taking a 30% cut of the sale. Now if the iPhone had the full Flash player 9, developers could create Flash applications for the iPhone and completely skip Apple and the iTunes store.

    So there’s a couple of big business reasons for Apple not to include Flash, while little incentive to include it, as while a number of consumers have been asking for Flash on the iPhone, it doesn’t seem to have affected sales.

    Anyways, with Flash player installs now apparently averaging 12 million a day according to Kevin Lynch, John Dowdell points out that: “Total iPhone sales to date are still less than a day’s worth of installations of Flash Player on desktops. Apples & oranges, true, but….”

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