Can You Get Flash for iPhone?

Paparazzi using flash photography behind rope on red carpet
Caiaimage/Chris Ryan / Getty Images

Adobe's Flash Player was once 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. Does that mean you can't use Flash on the iPhone?

The End of Flash on Mobile Devices

Bad news Flash fans: Adobe officially ceased development of Flash for all mobile devices in 2011. As a result, you can feel as close to 100% certain as possible that Flash will never come to the iPhone. In fact, Flash is on the way out across the entire internet, not just on the iPhone. For instance, Google blocks all Flash content by default in its Chrome browser. Flash's days are simply numbered. Newer, better technologies — from HTML5 to Javascript to h.264 video and beyond — are replacing it on websites around the world.

The Only Way to Get Flash on iPhone

Even thought you can't download Flash for your iPhone and the Safari web browser doesn't support it, there's still one way to use Flash. There are some third-party Flash-enabled web browser apps that you can download from the App Store to access Flash content.

They don't install Flash on your iPhone. Instead, they let you take control of a browser on remote computer that supports Flash and then stream that browsing session to your phone. 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 an official Flash player for iPhone, that's not because it didn't exist or wasn't technically possible. Adobe created the software, but Apple refused to allow Flash onto the iOS. Since Apple controls what can and can’t be installed on the iPhone via the App Store, it was able to prevent prevent this.

An illustration of why Apple says iOS blocks Flash.
©Lifewire 

Apple charged that Flash uses up computing and battery resources too quickly and that it’s unstable, which leads it to cause app crashes that Apple didn’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 services like Hulu, which streamed video online using a Flash player (eventually Hulu released a native iPhone app that solved this problem). Without Flash for the iPhone, those sites didn't work.

Despite criticism and pressure from Adobe, Apple didn't budge from its position. It chose instead to wait for the Flash-free standards in HTML5 to replace some of the features Flash offered to websites. Ultimately, that decision was proven right, given that HTML5 has become dominant, apps have matched many features that only Flash used to offer, and most browsers are blocking Flash by default.

The History of Flash and the iPhone

Apple's anti-Flash stance was controversial at the outset. It stirred so much discussion that Steve Jobs himself penned a letter explaining the decision on Apple's website. Steve Jobs' reasons for Apple's refusal to allow Flash onto the iPhone were:

  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 iOS' touch interface.
  6. Creating apps in Flash means that developers aren't creating native iPhone apps.

While you can argue about some of those claims, it's true that Flash is designed for a mouse, not a finger. If you've got an iPhone or iPad and have browsed older websites that use hover-activated drop-down menus created in Flash 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 was in a difficult position. For most of the 2000s, the company dominated web audio and video, and had a big stake in web design and development, thanks to Flash. As the iPhone signaled the transition to mobile and native apps, Apple threatened that position. While Adobe cozied up with Google to get Flash to Android, that effort failed and Flash isn't available for Android anymore, either.

When Flash on mobile still seemed like a possibility, there was some speculation about whether Adobe would use its other software as leverage to get Flash onto iPhone. The Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc.) contains the premiere apps in their spaces, crucial apps for many Mac owners.

Some speculated that Adobe could withdraw Creative Suite from the Mac or create a feature disparity between Mac and Windows versions to force Flash onto the iPhone. That would have been a desperate and dangerous move, but as we can see now in hindsight, it might have been a futile one.