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Apple's Closed World is Bad News for Flash Developers

Apple's new iPhone developer agreement bans the use of Adobe's Flash-to-IPhone compiler.


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Apple's refusal to allow Adobe's Flash technology into any of its products -- a position forcefully reiterated by Steve Jobs at the recent D8 Conference and in his open letter "Thoughts on Flash" -- is bad news for the Flash developer community.

Flash is present on about 95 percent of PCs and is used by about 99 percent of all Internet desktop users, according to Adobe. Among mobile devices, Flash is less successful as Apple refuses to allow third-party runtimes on its iPhone, which accounts for more than 60 percent of global smartphone web traffic, or the iPod touch, which accounts for about 95 percent of mobile Internet device traffic.

[login] Consequently, Adobe cannot market Flash as a ubiquitous mobile platform -- although it runs on most mobile devices, except Apple's.



Apple's stance -- for good or bad, like it or not -- forces Flash-using developers to build different versions of their software for Apple's walled garden and for the rest of the world, or to choose between putting all of their development resources into Safari-friendly products and everything else.

To achieve the former, developers were using cross-compilers to translate Flash into a Jobs-certified application. But, that avenue may be permanently shut.

Apple's new iPhone developer agreement bans the use of Adobe's Flash-to-IPhone compiler, writes blogger John Gruber, aka Daring Fireball, www.daringfireball.net

Section 3.3.1 of the agreement reads:

Applications may only use documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

Gruber's reading of this new language is "that cross-compilers, such as the Flash-to-iPhone compiler in Adobe's Flash Professional CS5 release, are prohibited. This also bans apps compiled using MonoTouch -- a tool that compiles C# and .NET apps to the iPhone. It's unclear what this means for tools like Titanium and PhoneGap, which let developers write JavaScript code that runs in WebKit inside a native iPhone app wrapper."

The gist of Apple's stance is summed up early in Thoughts on Flash. "Adobe has characterized our decision as being primarily business driven -- they say we want to protect our App Store -- but in reality it is based on technology issues. Adobe claims that we are a closed system, and that Flash is open, but in fact the opposite is true.

Adobe's Flash products are 100 percent proprietary. They are only available from Adobe…By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system."

Jobs goes on to say that "Rather than use Flash, Apple has adopted HTML5, CSS and JavaScript -- all open standards…HTML5 is completely open and controlled by a standards committee, of which Apple is a member."

Apple's CEO also points out Apple even creates open standards for the web, such as WebKit.

Jobs then attacks Flash's reliability, security and performance issues.

"Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. We also know first-hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash. We have been working with Adobe to fix these problems, but they have persisted for several years now. We don't want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods and iPads by adding Flash.

In addition, Jobs notes that Flash has not performed well on mobile devices.

Jobs' main problem with Adobe is that he doesn't want Apple to "be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers."


   
Herman Mehling has written about IT for 25 years. He has written hundreds of articles for leading computer publications and websites.
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