Many people don’t realise that the snazzy banner on their website built with Flash doesn’t play on an Apple iPhone or iPad. Blackberry doesn’t allow Flash either, but iPhone users are a more lucrative market – it has been shown that more than half of all users who regularly use their cell phone to view websites online, are in fact iPhone users. The iPad has the same restrictions.
Most people believe that it’s just a matter of time, but the reason has nothing to do with technical problems; it’s all about Apple’s strategic vision for their devices.
So what’s the problem?
Flash is expensive — in terms of bandwidth and CPU usage that is. Flash, especially on the Mac, is hungry for computing power. It’s also agonisingly slow. If Apple were to get Flash to work on the iPhone, it would almost certainly eat the battery for breakfast and probably won’t run fast enough to be a good user experience. But… even if they did figure out how to optimize it and get it to run relatively well, it still wouldn’t matter.
It wouldn’t matter because Flash isn’t something consumers use by choice — it’s something developers use to build iPhone apps. Many new designers are taught Flash at college, because it doesn’t require programming knowledge to build interactive elements.
Apple already has a powerful set of tools to make native application development possible. The reason: they have to ensure that the apps created by third parties are good and feel at home on the device.
Apple provide UI presets, icon builders and usability guidelines to ensure people’s apps are as good as their own. They distribute these apps through their closed marketplace — again, to try and maintain a certain standard.
Apple want to tightly control what is developed for the iPhone because the product’s selling point isn’t the hardware, it’s the software — the user experience. Hardware can be copied — a user experience cannot.
Allowing third party applications on the phone means that Apple is no longer the sole architect of this experience. Apple are doing their best to keep a firm grip on this to ensure they are the ones setting the strategic direction.
Back to Flash
If Apple were to implement Flash for the iPhone, developers would get another tool with which to make their apps. They will also have a completely open channel for distribution: the Web. This means no control for Apple. People will make Flash apps without their guidance, toolkits or distribution.
These Flash apps would all look different, feel different, and probably won’t run very well given Flash’s performance issues. What the user will get are a lot of slow, sloppy, silly applications and games that eat the phone’s battery and look out of place on the device. Apple’s sacred user experience will be shattered.
This doesn’t fit at all into Apple’s strategy for this device. That’s why there is no Flash for the iPhone today and why Apple won’t be implementing it in their mobile Safari browser in the future.
With enough pressure from iPhone users, we may see an application packager that converts Flash for iPhone – and it’s something Adobe is working on because this incompatibility is killing Flash as a “development tool”, but on the browser front, Flash isn’t coming.
So sorry, your Flash website is always going to be “sight-unseen”.