Can I Get Flash for iPhone?

Adobe's Flash Player is one of the most widely used tools for delivering audio, video, and animation on the Internet. But the Flash player for iPhone is conspicuously absent, which has been a source of criticism of the phone since its launch. Does that mean you can't use  Flash on the iPhone?

Bad news Flash fans: Adobe has officially ceased development of Flash for all mobile devices. As a result, you can feel as close to 100% certain as possible now that Flash will never come to the iOS.

In fact, Flash is almost certainly on the way out everywhere. For instance, Google announced recently that it will begin blocking Flash by default in its Chrome browser.

The One Way to Get Flash on iPhone

Just because you can't download Flash for your iPhone and Safari doesn't support it, that doesn't quite mean that you can't use Flash. There are a number of third-party  Flash-enabled web browser apps that you can download from the App Store to access Flash content. The browsers have varying levels of quality, speed, and reliability, but if you're desperate to use Flash on iOS, they're your only option.

Why Apple Blocked Flash from the iPhone

While there was never a publicly released Flash player for iPhone, that's not because it didn't exist or isn't technically possible (Adobe created the software). It's because Apple refused to allow Flash onto the iOS (and, since Apple controls what can and can’t be installed on the iPhone via the App Store, it could prevent this).

Apple charged that Flash uses up computing and battery resources too quickly and that it’s unstable, which leads it to cause computer crashes that Apple doesn’t want as a part of the iPhone experience.

Apple's blocking of the Flash player for iPhone was a problem for any web-based games that used Flash or service like Hulu, which streams video online using a Flash player (eventually Hulu released an app that solved this problem).

Without Flash for the iPhone, those sites didn't work.

Apple didn't budge from its position, choosing instead to wait for the Flash-free standards in HTML5 to replace some of the features Flash offers to websites. Ultimately, that decision seems to have been proven right, given that HTML5 has become dominant, apps have matched many Flash-specific features, and most browsers are blocking Flash by default.

The History of Flash and the iPhone

Apple's anti-Flash stance was controversial from the outset. It stirred so much discussion that Steve Jobs himself penned a letter explaining the decision for Apple's website. What follows below is my response to that letter.

In a post on Apple's website today, Steve Jobs details the reasons behind Apple's refusal to allow Flash onto the iPhone OS:

  1. Flash isn't open, as Adobe says, but proprietary
  2. The prevalence of h.264 video means Flash isn't required for web video anymore
  3. Flash is insecure, unstable, and doesn't perform well on mobile devices
  4. Flash drains too much battery life
  5. Flash is designed to be used with a keyboard and mouse, not the iPhone OS' touch interface
  6. Creating apps in Flash means that developers aren't creating native iPhone apps.

I'm not really in a position to evaluate most of those claims, but the one that I have encountered is that Flash is designed for a mouse, not a finger.

If you've got an iPhone or iPad and have browsed websites that use drop-down menus for navigation, you've probably seen it too. You tap a nav item to get the menu, but the site interprets that tap as a selection of that item, rather than triggering the menu, which takes you to the wrong page and makes it hard to get to the right one. That's frustrating.

Business-wise, Adobe's in an interesting position. For the last decade or so, it's basically dominated web audio and video, and had a big stake in web design and development, thanks to Flash. With the growing influence and market share of the iPhone OS, Apple is threatening that position.

Adobe is cozying up with Google to get Flash to Android, which should help but may not be enough.

Adobe does have one option, though. Its Creative Suite—Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc.—contains the premiere apps in their spaces, crucial apps for many, many Mac owners. If Adobe withdrew Creative Suite from the Mac or created a feature disparity between Mac and Windows versions, it could certainly hurt Apple. That would be a pretty desperate and unlikely move—as Jobs notes in his letter, Creative Suite for Mac accounts for 50% of the sales of the software—but companies do strange things when they get desperate.