The Real Reason Flash Isn’t on Apple’s iPhone?

Recently Wired posted an interview with The Mozilla CEO John Lilly. Towards the end of the interview Wired asks the question.

Wired: Are you going to develop a version of Firefox for the iPhone?

and the response?

Lilly: No. Apple makes it too hard. They say it’s because of technical issues — they don’t want outsiders to disrupt the user experience. That’s a business argument masquerading as a technological argument.

After dwelling on this I thought, this response could be applied to any number of technologies and applications. Not just Fire Fox. Everyone is now familiar with Apple’s response to the Flash Player going on the Apple iPhone. What if that response was also nothing but “a business argument masquerading as a technological argument”?

On the flip side if Apple were to make it easy for any such ‘outsiders’, as Lilly puts it, to get on its beloved new device then it could be the thin end of the wedge. For arguments sake if Apple were to allow Fire Fox with its XULRunner offline runtime engine on to the iPhone, then surely there is room for Adobe (Flash Player), Sun (Java Runtime) and even Microsoft (Silverlight) to all call foul play?

I dont know the technical capabilities or requirements to each of these runtime technologies. But making it diffiicult, or saying it technically cant be done does make for an easy way to keep a platform closed. I am not sure the advantage to Apple to shut these other technologies out? Is Apple acting in the best interest of its iPhone users and the user experience they receive? Or is something more sinister going on? Is it an attempt to lay claim to the mobile web, blocking out the competition while pulling those lovely user experiences and interfaces over our eyes?

What ever the reason, currently the message seems clear, with Apple and their iPhone, regardless who you are. Its do it Apple’s way or not at all. Maybe iPhone doesn’t need flash, but as a flash platform developer and an Apple user, it seems a shame that its missing to me.

23 thoughts on “The Real Reason Flash Isn’t on Apple’s iPhone?”

  1. If Apple becomes able to dominate the smartphone market while it still keeps the iPhone a relatively closed device, then what difference does it make. Palm has been open for years and I don’t see it going anywhere but down. Sure, I’d like to see Flash on the iPhone because a lot of sites are using it. Photography sites seemed to be loaded down with Flash to the point of annoyance even on my MacBook Pro.

    Still, I’m willing to take the couple of bads with the majority of goods. Otherwise I might as well go out and purchase some WinMo handset that maybe isn’t as good for other things. There are always going to be drawbacks to every platform. If Firefox won’t be ported to the iPhone, too bad. Safari works well enough. I feel fairly confident the iPhone will dominate the smartphone market in approximately a year and a half if not slightly sooner. Why? Because of iTMS and the App Store.

  2. While it is impossible to argue with the logic presented. It appalls me the apathy with witch you regard your sense of choice and free will.

    “I feel fairly confident the iPhone will dominate the smartphone market in approximately a year and a half if not slightly sooner. Why? Because of iTMS and the App Store.”

    I mention the mobile industry is young, yet you are willing to accept Apple’s solution for delivering content and applications is already as good as it gets, a solution that still includes a component that still only “works well enough”.

    Sorry if i don’t feel quite so willing to accept mediocrity as a level of accomplishment. In the office i am working is a sign, it reads:

    “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” – Michelangelo

    With out open competition how will we know how high the bar can go?

  3. Dave, sounds like Google’s Android is more up your ally.

    If apple wants to run a closed platform that their right. Time will tell whether or not they are exercising that right foolishly or not.

  4. If people want flash, Apple should allow it. Who cares if it drains battery life or if other applications is a power hog. Just let the user know if they run power hungry apps then their battery will drain quickly. Give the user the ability to turn off flash and be done with it. The user will know upfront what they are getting into and if they don’t, they can return the phone for something less sophisticated. A replaceable battery would be the ideal solution but this is beating a dead horse. Apple is too pig-headed here and all pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

  5. @Dave
    “It appalls me the apathy with witch you regard your sense of choice and free will.”

    Oh come on, to describe the iPhone and app store as mediocrity, is disingenuous. There is nothing approaching the quality of Apple’s mobile solutions either currently or, being mooted.

    “yet you are willing to accept Apple’s solution for delivering content and applications is already as good as it gets”

    IT IS as good as it gets and nothing else comes close, what planet are you living on?

    Look, it’s one thing to say you don’t like Apple or Jobs whatever, but quite another to pretend that they are not setting the pace for the mobile industry. It may not always be the case but for now Apple are the company to watch.

  6. @Hari I didn’t describe App store as mediocre. I don’t have an iPhone and haven’t used app store so I would not cast judgement without experience. I was commenting on Safari “working well enough” so safari appeared to be mediocre, acording to the previous posters comment.

    @NoOneInSpecific I personally feel that the work gone into allowing non technical people to update and control there device, iPhone, iPod through through iTunes is nothing short of genius. I have recently said as much in a presentation I gave. It is the best available process and experience that an end user could hope for, at the moment.

    What I disagree with is that its the ONLY one available. What if I don’t like iTunes managing my MP3’s, iPhoto managing my photos, or apple controlling which apps I want to install on MY new iPhone.

    Another company tried to lock users into their software. They got hit with Anti trust suits. I would say Apples control, locks and restrictions go far deeper than Microsoft ever did.

    I am not anti Apple, the MacBook Pro I use on a daily basis is far better than any PC/windows machine I used before. I like the build quality & the attention to detail that they instill in there products. However.

    As a consumer I have every right to expect the goods and services I pay for to allow me the freedom to use them as I want and in conjunction with a choice of any other devices, services and media. Currently Apple does not seem to be forwarding me that curtsey.

  7. Flash runs code. Firefox and other web browsers run code. Apple explicitly prohibits apps from running external code – i.e. apps running their own apps. If anything, the primary reason is that this introduces severe security problems on the iPhone. It allows the possibility of viruses and other Malware running on the iPhone. It greatly complicates the task of maintaining a consistent, stable, user-friendly environment for making phone calls – the primary use of the iPhone.

    Apple consistently improves its software. No one else updates their smartphone software as often and as consistently as Apple does. So if you call the current App store “mediocre” despite it being the best app store out there, then be assured that it will continue to get better over time. And your iPhone will get better over time. This is completely unlike any Palm, Windows Mobile, Symbian, or Linux smartphone. If you buy any other smartphone, you are STUCK with what you have. The iPhone, in strong contrast, keeps getting better with time. This is why other smartphone cannot compete.

    Apple made the iPhone in order to make the BEST cellphone experience in the world. I totally agree with this. The iPhone is the best cellphone I have ever had.

    The key to having the best is knowing what to LEAVE OUT. It is like creating a sculpture out of marble. You remove that parts that are not part of the sculpture. Then you can have something akin to Michaelangelo’s David rather than a piece of crap. Apple has done this with the Macintosh, the iPod, and the iPhone. This is why they are so easy to use, intuitive to use, so productive to use.

    If you want everything but the kitchen sink, then get Windows Mobile. You will find every kind of program running on it. Crash it all you want.

    If you want the “freedom” to run whatever you want on your iPhone, then jailbreak it. Then you can run anything. Of course, you will then take updating the software as your responsibility since Apple washes its hands of you when you do so and further updates from Apple may not work. But then, you have the choice. If Adobe wants flash to run on the iPhone, it can write it, couple it with Firefox, then tell people to run it on a jailbroken iPhone.

    The other important reason and probably the most important reason for not having Flash on the iPhone is to keep Apple INDEPENDENT of Adobe.

    Having Flash makes Apple dependent on Adobe for updating Flash. But Adobe has a history of mediocre programming of its own Flash engine, and of relegating Flash on Mac products to the second tier – behind updates on Windows. Adobe doesn’t put Apple first. Rather, it puts Apple last. Flash is also NOT A WEB STANDARD. It is proprietary. Adobe has been changing Flash consistently through the years. It is a moving target. Quicktime use to run Flash apps. But because Adobe kept changing the Flash specification, it kept breaking Apple’s version of the Flash engine. How frustrating it was for Apple. This is why Apple ripped out Flash from Quicktime.

    The only way that Flash will be on the iPhone is if either Adobe releases Flash as an open source standard so that third parties can create their own Flash engine, or Apple buys Adobe so that it owns and can standardize Flash.

    If Apple owned Flash, then it wouldn’t – unlike Adobe – have to make money off of Flash. It can release free tools for making Flash – just like its free development tools for the iPhone and the Mac. It can freeze the Flash specification and submit it as an open standard, etc. Apple can make Flash the web standard it has always aspired to be. In Adobe’s hands, Flash is not a standard.

  8. There are TWO main reasons Flash isn’t on the iPhone.

    1) Flash KILLS battery LIFE.

    2) Flash isn’t an OPEN STANDARD.

    – – –

  9. “If anything, the primary reason is that this introduces severe security problems on the iPhone. It allows the possibility of viruses and other Malware running on the iPhone. It greatly complicates the task of maintaining a consistent, stable, user-friendly environment for making phone calls – the primary use of the iPhone.”

    Surely all of laptop/desktop products come up against this problem, but they have managed to work around it.

    Also many phones have been running the Flash player successfully for some time now, so I really don’t believe its a security concern.

  10. The real reason Flash is not on the iPhone is that Apple believes that the functionality that Flash provides can be done without Flash using open Standards instead of proprietary plugins. It’s Ironic that people claim The iPhone to be a closed platform yet the goal of Safari only is to promote using Web standards instead of proprietary plugins. Safari on the iPhone has implemented proposed HTML Javascript standards that will make Flash or Silverlight irrelevant in the future. Apple is trying to move the industry into a more standards compliant future by getting website developers to use AJAX instead of proprietary plugins for the iPhone. It may not be the best for users in the short term but it will be great for consumers in the future if Apple is successful in removing the need for Flash or Silverlight.

  11. My reading of Apple is that they take a slow and steady approach to product development. While this is frustrating when you want to have every feature available right now, I do appreciate their discipline in sticking to the plan.

  12. Look, if you want Flash on the iPhone, tell Adobe to improve the Mac OS X implementation to the point where most of Apple’s Safari crash reports aren’t Flash-related.

  13. One of the things Apple learned about making computers easier and more pleasant to use was the importance of optimizing and standardizing the user interface. As long as developers use Apple’s UI toolkit to build apps this will remain true for the iPhone. But if Apple allows arbitrary application platforms such as Java and Flash on the iPhone, it is likely that we will see a rash of cheaply ported, crashing, ugly, slow, non-(iPhone)-standard crap. The last thing Apple wants is for its device to be judged based on such programs.

    Yeah, they are being control-freakish about this. But the reason the iPhone stands out as such a fabulous device is because of Apple’s deep concern for doing things “right”.

    Let the the lazy developers who just want to cheaply port their apps go peddle their “platform-agnostic” wares on other phones.

    If there is enough demand for an particular type of application, someone will eventually fill the need with a proper iPhone program.

  14. @Frank:As mentioned earlier I believe Microsoft was taken to court for similar ‘anti competitive’ practices with its browser on Windows. Why are these actions any better on the iPhone in the mobile space?

    I would argue as consumers we risk loosing more.

    @Others:My Original post was not (just) about flash on the iPhone. The post was also meant to be about the choices Apple or any hardware/software company are making for us as consumers.

  15. The iPhone is intended to support only it’s runtime environment. All the complaints about Apple’s “closedness” come from people that want the iPhone to become something that it was never intended to be: a general purpose pocket computer.

    One of Apple’s greatest insights is realizing that limiting options and “controlling the whole widget” can actually be a good thing if what you are trying to create is a simple device intended for non-techies.

    Simple devices are easier to operate and to support. Apple creates products and ecosystems optimized for the majority of non-technical users while allowing competitors cater to the smaller, more demanding geek crowd.

    You can view that as being limiting to consumers, but I see it as focused product design. Consumers that feel Apple is too controlling can always opt for a non-Apple device. That’s the beauty of a competitive marketplace.

    I think Apple’s tremendous success is due to their recognition of the previously untapped market of people who want powerful devices that are easy and fun to use, and don’t require technical savvy and software maintenance.

    Too many smart phones seem as if they were designed BY engineers FOR engineers. The revolutionary iPhone was like a breath of fresh air. I for one hope it stays true to its goal of being a smart phone for the rest of us.

  16. @Brett Your last comment is a very well explained response and your are completely correct. Thank you for posting.

    I regularly give presentations that include the line “You are not your target market”. Of course in this case as you point out, I am not the target market.

    It still concerns me the amount of control that Apple now have over its users, regardless how technically minded, through iTunes and App store. Perhaps more importantly how they will use that control. I suspect that is a far more subjective discussion that could continue a long time.

    Thanks again for posting.

  17. I think some we are missing the point here.

    We the flash developers want the flash player on the iphone, users don’t care, they just like or hate the way things look and work, accept it.

    How hard would it be then to learn the tools needed to build apps for the iphone if that’s what you need/want to do?

    I haven’t seen anyone complaining about digital cameras, lcd or plasma tv’s lacking flash player support, get it?

    I hate to put it like this as a flash developer for 10 years now, but that’s the true, stop whining.

    Just for the record I’d love the flash player on the iphone too, as it is now I can’t take part in it as a developer, so sad, but as a user I can live with that.

  18. I could care less about the technical side of this flash debate. I just want to view porn on the iphone. The End! Give me something that works like flash that will let me watch videos. Yes I’m a pig, save your flamming for someone else.

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