That is the sound of inevitability: Flash confirmed for the iPhone (again)

Updated

It finally looks like Adobe’s Flash platform, which powers YouTube and many other media-rich websites, has really, truly been confirmed for the iPhone. Kind of.

Adobe has been releasing hints about this in dribs and drabs for most of this year. During an earnings call in March, chief executive Shantanu Narayen confirmed that his company wants to develop an iPhone version of Flash — but when a number of bloggers (like me) jumped on the news, Adobe was quick to emphasize that everything was still preliminary. At the next earnings call, in June, Narayen said the company had a version of Flash working on an iPhone emulator on their computers.

Today, Senior Director of Engineering Paul Betlem told attendees at the Flash on the Beach conference in Brighton that his team is indeed working on Flash for the iPhone — not exactly huge news given what Adobe has already said, but still worth noting as additional confirmation. (In that respect, Flash Magazine does seem to be overstating the comment’s importance.) More interestingly, Betlem also said that if Apple approves the software, it could be available “in a very short time.”

And that, of course, is where questions remain. Initially, bringing Flash to the iPhone seems like a no-brainer — it enriches the phone’s web browsing experience by allowing users to access more sites (the Skyfire browser for the Windows Mobile and Symbian mobile platforms is great at this), and it seems to address Apple chief executive Steve Jobs’ concern that there needs to be a middle ground between wimpy mobile platform Flash Lite and the too-heavy demands of regular Flash. But there’s been a lot of talk about how Apple is resistant to Flash and would rather see more “open” apps that are not limited to either Flash or Microsoft’s competing platform Silverlight, so it’s not entirely clear what Apple will do. (Yes, we’re talking about how Apple could use the iPhone’s “closed” nature to push for a more “open” web. Somebody call the irony police.) Still, it’s hard to imagine that Adobe would have spent months working on this without positive encouragement from Apple.

The other question is what form the Flash support would take if approved? AppleInsider implies that it would be a downloadable application in the App Store. But it seems to me Flash would only be useful if it’s closely integrated with the iPhone’s Safari browser, rather than just another standalone app — the whole point is to make more of the web accessible during normal browsing. Maybe that’s another reason for Apple’s hesitation. Apple would have to release a new version of its mobile Safari for that to happen — it is working on a new version for the iPhone in version 2.2 of its OS, but Flash is nowhere to be seen in it.

Update: An Adobe spokesperson just emailed me and said: “Paul didn’t say anything new at the conference. We confirmed before that we are working on a Flash Player for the iPhone. While development work is in progress, we can’t share more details at this point. We emphasized in the past as well that we need to work with Apple beyond what is available through the [software development kit], its emulation environment and the current license around it to bring the full capabilities of Flash to the iPhone.”

[Photo from Warner Bros’ film The Matrix, which is also where I got the headline]


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