Adobe shuts door on Flash for iPhone, blames Apple for decision

Saying that Apple “wants to tie developers down,” an Adobe product manager yesterday said his company would toss in the towel on a tool that lets programmers port Flash applications to the iPhone and iPad.

The announcement was the latest in the escalating confrontation between Apple and Adobe. Apple has repeatedly claimed that letting Flash on its iPhone would degrade performance, with CEO Steve Jobs saying that Adobe’s software “performs too slow to be useful” on the smartphone. Two weeks ago, Jobs flatly rejected the idea that Flash would be allowed on his company’s mobile devices.

At the same time, Apple changed the language of its newest iPhone software developers kit (SDK) license to ban developers from using cross-platform compilers, tools that let them write in one framework — say, JavaScript or .Net — and then recompile it in native code for another platform, like the iPhone. Days later, an Adobe platform evangelist said, “Go screw yourself Apple,” on his personal blog, which had been reviewed, if not vetted, by Adobe.

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Yesterday, Adobe took the war up a notch with an unusual move: It gave up on a feature it had once loudly trumpeted.

“We will still be shipping the ability to target the iPhone and iPad in Flash CS5,” said Mike Chambers, the principal product manager for developer relations for Adobe’s Flash platform, in a blog post late Tuesday. “However, we are not currently planning any additional investments in that feature.”

The feature Chambers referred to takes applications written in Flash’s ActionScript and recompiles them to run natively on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Adobe calls it “Packager for iPhone” and includes it with Flash Professional, part of Creative Suite 5 (CS5), which launched April 12, just days after Apple modified its SDK.

Analysts said Apple’s move was aimed right at Adobe. “It’s primarily directed at Adobe. The two have an oppositional relationship that goes back at least 15 years,” said Ray Valdes, an analyst at Gartner, in an interview last week.

Some of the firms that market other cross-platform compilers agreed. “It’s not a coincidence that this came out just days before Adobe launched CS5,” said Scott Schwarzhoff, vice president of marketing at Appcelerator, whose Titanium tool produces native iPhone applications from JavaScript and HTML.

Chambers said Apple had Adobe and Flash in its sights. “While it appears that Apple may selectively enforce the terms, it is our belief that Apple will enforce those terms as they apply to content created with Flash CS5,” he said Tuesday. “Developers should be prepared for Apple to remove existing content and applications created with Flash CS5 from the iTunes store.”

He said that there were more than 100 applications currently in Apple’s App Store that had been created using Flash Professional CS5 and the Packager. Adobe issued a beta of the development software last year.

“The primary goal of Flash has always been to enable cross-browser, -platform and -device development,” said Chambers. “This is the exact opposite of what Apple wants. They want to tie developers down to their platform and restrict their options to make it difficult for developers to target other platforms.”

He also took Apple to task for changing the rules midgame. “During the entire development cycle of Flash CS5, the feature complied with Apple’s licensing terms,” Chambers said. “However, as developers for the iPhone have learned, if you want to develop for the iPhone, you have to be prepared for Apple to reject or restrict your development at any time, and for seemingly any reason.”

Rather than play within Apple’s walled garden, Chambers suggested that developers should put their resources into Google’s Android operating system, targeting phones like Motorola’s Droid or likely Android-based tablets slated to ship later this year. “The iPhone isn’t the only game in town,” said Chambers, who called Adobe’s efforts to bring Flash Player to Android “very promising.”

Adobe and Google have recently been taking tentative public steps to combine forces. For example, late last month, Google said its Chrome browser would include Adobe’s Flash Player in its downloads and use Chrome’s updater to automatically push Flash fixes to users.

“I think that the closed system that Apple is trying to create is bad for the industry, developers and ultimately consumers,” Chambers concluded. “We are at the beginning of a significant change in the industry, and I believe that ultimately open platforms will win out over the type of closed, locked-down platform that Apple is trying to create.”

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld.


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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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