September 17, 2010, 9:18 AM — One of the most consistent issues the iPad faces with many consumers is the lack of Flash support. Apple has made it very clear that they have no intention of changing their stance when it comes to allowing Flash on iDevices. That said, as the iPad continues to build its install base, more and more video sites are coming out with HTML5-based players that the iPad's Mobile Safari browser can use. As time passes, the lack of Flash video support becomes less and less of an issue.
But of course there's more to Flash than video. Games, for instance. Most web-based casual games these days are built in Flash, and the casual game market is huge. Some of the bigger casual game developers, like Zynga, solve the problem by developing iOS-specific versions of their games. So you can download a Farmville app and use it to work on the same farm that you access via Facebook on a Flash-enabled PC. While this 'solution' works, it is very, very spotty and totally dependent on the whims of individual developers.
Enter iSwifter. iSwifter is an app (currently available for the iPad but planned for the iPhone and other devices) that streams Flash games to your iPad. You run the app which contacts iSwifter servers which are actually running the Flash. Ideally the effect is identical to running the app directly from a web page.
It's an interesting idea but so far not a perfect solution. I took the app for a test drive. The first problem is that iSwifter has to support the game you want to play. Right now (and to be fair this is still a brand new service) there's a choice of only four games, one from Kongregate, one from Facebook, one from Yahoo!, and one from AOL Games. Think of the app as a proof of concept for now.
iSwifter does have to do some fiddling to turn touches and drags into the mouse clicks that the native app expects, so there has to be some overhead on their behalf before a game is supported. The app is free, so it isn't clear what the revenue model is, unless iSwifter hopes to charge game publishers to include their games? Or maybe the app is just free while it's still being developed.
So how did the games play? Honestly, not that well. Both input and feedback felt pretty laggy. Many times I'd have to tap on a control more than once to get the input to register, and sometimes the game screen refreshed only partially. A lot of Flash games are timing sensitive and the lag made them impossible to play well as animation frames were dropped or taps ignored.
Keep in mind this is a new service and as I said, the app is free. Right now consider it an interesting tech demo and let's give the iSwifter people time to work out the kinks of their service before we judge them too harshly. Not very long ago I would've scoffed at the concept of a system like this working well, but having used OnLive to play 720P computer games streaming from some server farm somewhere, I'm now a believer. iSwifter could become quite a nice Flash-game portal for the iPad if they can get it working well (and build out the library a bit). Let's keep an eye on this one!
Here's a video of how the system would ideally work. Sadly my experience wasn't nearly as smooth.