Apple Doesn’t Want Flash on iPhone

Flash should have a place on all mobile handsets, and Adobe is planning to make version 10 available for smartphones. But not iPhone. Now why is that? I’m going to tell you.

First this, ah, news flash. Today, Adobe showed off Flash running on Android-based smartphone HTC Hero. This is a dreamy handset. You want it. You know you do. Hell, I want it, and I recently bought a Nokia N97. While iPhone is all the rave, Android is where the big action is coming. Google gets the mobile-to-cloud applications stack better than any company, even Apple. Flash is part of the story.

Lots of people have asked for Flash on iPhone, and plenty of others have asked why Apple and Adobe don’t offer it. You can be sure that Adobe could make Flash available for iPhone. Many other handsets, including my N97, support Flash Lite today. Then there is iPhone OS, which is based on Mac OS X; the desktop OS fully supports Flash.

Apple doesn’t want Flash, and developers are most, but not all, the reason. Apple rightly treats iPhone/iPod touch and App Store as a mobile applications platform. Right now, Apple controls the early contender to becoming the dominant next-generation computing platform replacing the PC. But the company wants to get there on its terms and via development platform which it completely controls.

The mobile Web is all about the browser. Except iPhone, which arguably ships with a wonderful Web browser. App Store channels development away from the browser into a container of disparate and discreet functions. “There’s an app for that”—an Apple marketing slogan—means that people work with separate applications; separately from one another since background operations are restricted or prohibited.

Apple wants any video capabilities to occur within these applications, using its technologies (QuickTime) and H.264 codec. Apple has worked around Flash, rather than support it, by iPhone’s YouTube implementation.

The point: Apple sees QuickTime as a mobile competitor to Flash.

But the story isn’t that simple. Flash is also a rival development platform, and one Apple doesn’t control. If Apple lets Flash roam iPhone, uncaged and free, developers can create applications that bypass the App Store. By keeping out Flash:

  • Apple maintains tight control over the user experience
  • Apple avoids competition with a major third-party application platform
  • User interface stays fairly consistent across different iPhone applications
  • App Store becomes iPhone’s primary application development and delivery platform

Clearly Google isn’t bothered by Flash applications. Android is sure to benefit from Flash-enabled Websites and applications coming from Android Marketplace. YouTube is a Google service, after all.

Google’s mobile-to-cloud applications stack is more stabler and has a broader base than Apple’s. App Store may have 10 times the applications as Android Marketplace, but Google controls or is friendlier with the most desirable mobile applications and services, such as search and videos or social sharing. Google also provides Apps client software or access from all major mobile platforms. Additionally, Android is available on an increasingly wider selection of handsets.

Apple’s strategy is risky. Flash has a huge and loyal developer base, which even Microsoft couldn’t shake apart with Silverlight. The next 12 months will be crucial for iPhone and App Store, as the platform seeks to achieve enough momentum that mass adoption is inevitable. Despite the ridiculous amount of hype in the US press, Apple’s platform isn’t there yet.

Photo Credit: Antonio Tajuelo