Flash on the iPhone: Don't hold your breath

If you're an omnivorous smartphone aficionado, rather than a straight-up iPhone nut, you probably are excited about the news that Flash 10 is coming to smartphones soon. You might even be intrigued by Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen's statement that his company will "work with Apple" to bring it to the iPhone. Of course, Apple cultists know that Adobe's been making these optimistic claims that Flash is coming to the iPhone any day now pretty much since the moment the first iPhone hit stores two years ago. "We think it's in Apple's and Adobe's best interest to make sure that Flash is a first-class citizen and we will work with Apple," Narayen said. "In order to deliver it as a browser plug-in, we need APIs and support and cooperation from Apple and we are constantly reaching out to them." Does that sound like a company "working" with Apple, or one that can't get its phone calls returned?

Apple's claimed in the past that Flash is simply too processor-intensive to work well on smartphones -- an argument undermined somewhat by the fact that Android phones, based on a processor with essentially the same specs as the one in the iPhone 3G, can run Flash just fine. With Android and the other smartphone OSes -- Symbian, WebOS, and Windows Mobile -- all supporting Flash, that makes it begin to look like Apple is missing the boat.

But I don't think it's a boat Apple is particularly keen to catch. The company has joined forces with Google and Mozilla to back HTML 5, an emerging version of the HTML standard that, it is hoped, will do much of what Flash and its competitors can do -- only directly processed by browsers, without the need for a plug-in provided by a third party that might compete with Apple. Adobe's John Dowdell was dismissive of the effort -- he called the pro-HTML 5 cabal a "consortium of minority browser vendors" -- but my guess is that Apple hopes that Mobile Safari will be able to do rich Internet apps on its own, based on an open standard, and not be subject to Adobe's whims.

(Note: The original version of this blog post attributed the "consortium of minority browser vendors" quote to the Adobe CEO -- apologies on my part.)

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