Can I Get Flash for iPhone?

Paparazzi using flash photography behind rope on red carpet
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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?

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 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. Flash's days are simply numbered.

The One Way to Get Flash on iPhone

Just because you can't download Flash for your iPhone and Safari 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 another 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 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. 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 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 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 has 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 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 basically 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, we've since seen that effort fail.

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.