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Observations about Apple, the iPhone, PhoneGap, and the Flash Player

I have several developer friends who aren’t Flash Platform developers. Many of them have been down on Flash/Flex content lately – and a good deal of it has centered around the iPhone. After all – the iPhone doesn’t have Flash because of performance / battery life issues, right? Not exactly. In my opinion, it is something a bit deeper. While this post won’t change the whole Flash / iPhone saga, hopefully it will help educate you on some of the motives that aren’t always publicly shared.

In this while debate, I have made three observations about Apple that have shaped my perspective:

Observation #1 – Apple has proactively sought to eliminate any cross-platform development platform on the iPhone.

In many ways this is a good business more for them, but it highlights a bit of their true motives. Why aren’t projects like PhoneGap and the Flash Platform supported on the iPhone (even though both run perfectly fine on the device)? Very simple. Apple wants iPhone developers to be ‘locked into’ iPhone development. The last thing they want to see is one of their featured applications easily ported over to another platform (Windows Mobile, Android, Blackberry, Symbian, etc…).

Don’t believe me? Dion Almaer posted an article detailing Apple’s stance against PhoneGap last month on Ajaxian. He points out some specific verbage in the iPhone SDK agreement that outlines Apple’s position:

” An Application may not itself install or launch other executable code by any means, including without limitation through use of a plug-in architecture, calling other frameworks, other APIs or otherwise. No interpreted code may be downloaded and used in an Application except for code that is interpreted and run by Apple’s Published APIs and built-in interpreter(s).”

While this isn’t entirely bad, it was clearly inserted to keep other platforms like PhoneGap and the Flash Player from encroaching on Apple’s native iPhone development platform.

Observation #2 – The Flash Player hasn’t been approved because it is a threat to Apple’s App Store Revenue.

Currently, there is no way to create rich dynamic applications outside of the iPhone SDK. With web applications, you are just limited to traditional HTML / JavaScript applications. The Flash Player would change this. For developers and users – that is a great thing. The iPhone SDK would still provide things like data storage, hardware access, etc… – but, applications not needing that level of integration could easily be deployed on the web. Many of the applications in the App Store could easily be Flash applications deployed through the web and not through the App Store – hence the problem. Apple’s totalitarian domination of the App Store gives them a conflict of interest when it comes to what is best for the user.

Observation #3 – Apple is only interested in helping Mac developers.

Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but don’t think that their motives are entirely pure. Could Apple have taken the cue from projects like PhoneGap or the new Palm Pre and allowed developers to write native applications (not web apps) in HTML / JavaScript, Python, Ruby, etc… Absolutely. Why don’t they? First, they want to promote (and increase) their developer base (who already is familiar with Objective-C, XCode, Interface Builder, Cocoa, etc…). Second, their developer base generates a great deal of revenue for Apple. Their developer programs run anywhere from $99 to $5,000 (and in some cases there are free accounts) per developer / company. They also sell a lot of conference passes / sets of training material each year. While this wouldn’t be eliminated with other languages, it would lessen the developer’s dependence on Apple if they could write applications in a language they are familiar with.


In reality, I am an iPhone owner and a member of the iPhone Developer Program. I think Apple has done a lot of things well with the iPhone, but as usual – they do an even better job of spinning the truth to suit their needs. The myth is that the Flash Player wasn’t on the iPhone because of performance issues and battery life – it just not true. Adobe has even publicly stated that they have a completely functioning version of the Flash Player ready to deploy on iPhones. Why is it not approved? In reality – because of Apple’s revenue stream.

43 Responses to “Observations about Apple, the iPhone, PhoneGap, and the Flash Player”

  1. [...] Read the original:  Observations about Apple, the iPhone, PhoneGap, and Flash [...]

  2. JulesLt says:

    Some arguments against :

    1. The existence of free applications on the App Store leans against revenue being a reason – free applications cost them money (in bandwidth) but they do of course help sell the phone.

    2. The additions Apple have pushed into WebKit ahead of official ratification of HTML 5 and CSS 3 (even pseudo-3D animations) mean that a lot of web apps that would need Flash support in IE6, are entirely possible on WebKit based mobile browsers (Nokia, Android ,Pre).

    3. The lack of a viable Flash 10 plug-in on any of these rival smartphones, and inferior performance of desktop Flash on OS X and Linux, does suggest some of the problem lies with Adobe. Of course Apple could probably help them if they were actually interested.

    3. It is possible to do Pre style development on the iPhone by throwing up a WebKit view and then doing the rest of your development in HTML/CSS/JavaScript – there’s actually a book on doing just this, and it is presumably what PhoneGap is also about. What Apple should have done is made this easier, by easily supporting widget bundles.

    [I wouldn't say that it's actually an advisable strategy given current device limitations, as comments about Pre performance and battery-life suggest, a bit like BASIC wasn't the best choice for games development in the early 80s]

    That said, I don’t disagree with your disappointment – I’d like to see support for MacRuby and PyObjC on the iPhone as on the Mac, and indeed support for developers to choose their language. Obj-C/Cocoa survives well in the OS X world because it clearly produces superior results to it’s competitors.

  3. Richard says:

    I’m not sure what your assumption that Flash player runs perfectly fine on iPhone is based on. Have you seen it?

    Generally speaking, Flash performance on Apple products has been quite poor. As an example, I have a year old MacBook. Watching any sort of online video (such as Hulu) sets my Macbook’s fans screaming. I think there is a reasonable argument to be made that Apple isn’t confident Flash wouldn’t be a big battery drain.

  4. David Tucker says:


    1. I disagree here. Apple makes a great deal of money from the App Store – and free applications serves as the best advertising. Apple has made more money from visitors entering the store to get a ‘free’ app (and ended up purchasing more) than they have through most anything else.

    2. That is true to some extent – but there are very few developers with HTML 5 experience (considering it will be 4-5 years before it is viable on the web – at which point there will be new features in the plug-ins that will not be implemented in HTML 5).

    3. It is true – but it still is obviously a move to prevent cross-platform development. Why don’t they support this out of the box. The truth is that they require every iPhone developer to go through XCode for every application. There is no reason for this to be the case with the technologies that are available today. Not only that – but as I mentioned – they are proactively preventing anyone else from doing it.

    I also agree that Obj-C is going to have better performance – but there are times when performance isn’t the issue. If you wanted to create a basic custom application for use within a small office (just as an example) – performance isn’t going to be your chief concern. If you are developing something like Cro-Mag – performance is the issue – and in those cases Obj-C is certainly the best choice.

    I don’t have a problem with the iPhone SDK – but I do have a problem with Apple preventing any other means of development.

  5. David Tucker says:

    @Richard – I have seen it on multiple mobile platforms (see the demos from Adobe’s past few conferences) without significant performance / battery issues. The fact is that performance is not the issue here. Adobe has publicly stated that they put some developers on this project to specifically address any of those concerns. The ball is in Apple’s court – and they have remained mute. If there were still performance issues – they would have made that clear.

  6. David Tucker says:

    @JulesLt – Also – Adobe does have a full version of FP10 running on multiple mobile smartphone platforms (release date not yet confirmed). This is actually the full Flash Player – and not Flash Lite.

    Android (as an example) –

  7. rob says:

    great read tuck!

    @richard, i’d check out your cpu because it shouldn’t be doing that for just opening a video. i have 2 macbook pro’s and both are a year old and never had that problem. plus i do all my development in a mac environment and never had flash player issues. check out fan control. you can use this in your sys pref’s pane to control the min/max temps for your fan.

  8. I believe this argument about lack of Flash player on the iPhone has been dissected enough. However there are a number of die hard myths about it when it comes to mobile development:

    1) Flash requires to code/design every aspect of the UI: iPhone users like the interface of their device and the style of the UI, Flash can’t have any kind of access to the hosting platform UI widget, it is up to the developer to reproduce everything including transition and so on. It is not difficult to imagine that a couple of transparent layers with animation will bring the down the rendering speed to the floor (while iPhone can handle a stack of those without any slowdown). Flash developers would have to spend more time to emulate something that is already available rather than concentrating on what they want to achieve with their application. Talk about productivity?

    2) Flash has not direct way to access the hosting platform features like: GPS, Bluetooth and so on. Only recently in one platform (Nokia S60 5th edition) finally something like this has been achieved, the rest of Nokia devices can make use of half baked solutions that using sockets can retrieve/transmit data to/from the Player. However such a thing do not exist outside Nokia 3rd Edition and requires the SWF to be shipped along C++ compiled code. Also, there is no concept of multi-touch in the Flash player, only one button/pointer event at the time can be handled; this will not only requires changing complete the input mechanism but also require modifications to the IDE and base classes.

    3) Non native code execution: currently FlashLite interpret the code in a sort of byte compiled fashion. In any case light years behind the speed of execution of C++/Obj-C (to the point that even Nokia papers on FlashLite discourage from using it to create “complex” application or with a lot of code)

    4) iPhone requires Mac and XCode for development. True, but with Nokia you need Windows and can use only that to develop, despite the fact Carbide is written in Java (so you can justify that 4Gb of RAM mounted on your PC); same applies to Windows Mobile. After 12 years of mobile development I prefer a solution that is homogenous, powerful, consolidated and, why not, free. This means everybody is dealing with the same thing, and it is very easy to exchange information, code snippets, tips and so on. To be hones I’m not interested in having the ability to write application in 50 different languages, 20 different IDEs and 10 different runtimes, look again at Nokia: potentially you have a number of runtimes, none of time excels in any particular area, not even the native C++ one, wasn’t better to spend time consolidating one first and then add others and avoid the jack of all trades and master of none effect? If you know how to program, upgrading your skills from Flash to Obj-C/XCode takes only a short time (less than what it takes to adapt to the new interface changes of each new Creative Suite version). Of course if entire life is invested in “ActionScript” and even AS3 makes you knees tremble, anything will appear as a threat. A lot of Flash developer moved to Obj-C and are quite happy with that.

    5) Assuming 10,000 applications of those in the AppStore are torches, flash lights, iFarts and so on, there are still another 40,000 of them which are nice, funny, useful and easy to use (and to buy and to download and to install…). It seems that only a few handful keeps complaining because they cannot code in Flash. FlashLite has been in the market since 2002, apparently in 1 billion devices and there are more Flash developers than iPhone ones, but still I fail to see any significant number of mobile applications developed in FlashLite, not to mention the quality/variety

    6) In a video presentation from Adobe, they have said that “Flash Player 10 for mobile devices will sport all features for the VERY HIGH END smartphones [whatever that means], while all the other will get another [watered down] version still identified as Flash Player”. It is only a PR and marketing exercise, the last attempted to unify everything under the “Flash” brand, and if it really works only on “very high end” devices, who cares.

  9. Taylor says:


    I think you’re right on with your points. The lack of Flash on the iPhone is not because of battery life or any other fanciful, fabricated reason. It is about control. Apple has decided to maintain its control over the platform they created in order to extract as much revenue from it as possible. It is a smart strategy that makes perfect sense but not one that I think can last indefinitely. The smart folks running Apple may well agree with this and, if so, have likely calculated a better return on investment overall by taking this approach (for as long as it can last.)

    For better or worse, Apple has long been a company with a chauvinistic corporate vision ( That attitude cost them dearly through the eighties when they maintained strict control of their platform while IBM PC “clones” (so called) flooded the marketplace. That blunder nearly finished off Apple altogether (until Microsoft bailed them out, that is).

    True, Apple has long been an innovator and the market will reward them for that, as it sees fit. After all, their products are for the most part of superior quality (albeit with a price point to match) and the business model they have developed has proven its worth (for a time, at least). However, you would think that in this age of open platforms, Apple would realize that keeping theirs closed will only lead to a slow death. Coddling a platform will eventually suffocate it. (Again, Apple may well agree to this point but still predict the best profit from this approach.)

    Perhaps I am mistaken (wouldn’t be the first time), but the future seems pretty easy to predict:
    - At some point, another hand-held manufacturer’s product will surpass the iPhone/iPod line in quality and eventually market share (though the two aren’t necessarily mutually-inclusive).
    - Unless Mac’s market share grows considerably, developers will continue to shy away from investing their efforts in learning a one-platform language (i.e. ObjectiveC/Cocoa API).
    - Successful competing app store/iTunes services will emerge.

    It isn’t a question of “if” these things will happen. It is more a question of “when”.

    One comment for Jules:

    You say: “Obj-C/Cocoa survives well in the OS X world because it clearly produces superior results to it’s competitors.” (sic)

    I hate to disagree, but frankly that’s a red herring. On current Macs, Objective-C compiles to Intel-based machine code in the same way that C or C++ would. There’s no rational reason why another compiler (say one for C or C++) cannot ouput equivalent machine code. Objective-C “survives well in the OS X world” because the owner of OS X (i.e. Apple) has mandated it (and the Cocoa API) as the de-jure standard OO language for that OS.

  10. ryan says:

    i agree with taylor… apple is really not the underdog they claim to be… they merely play that angle to attract developers to yet another closed platform…

    seriously? have iphone developers not yet seen the light?

  11. John Dowdell says:

    Thanks, David… sensible, and well-presented too.

    One of the difficulties Adobe has here is maintaining partner relations, in pursuit of Adobe’s larger goal of universal publishing. (ie, it’s hard to return polarization with polarization… we’re looking at the long term.)


  12. Ian Chia says:

    I agree with @Emanuele’s points. I also think that two of the biggest factors comparing Flash Player performance to a Cocoa Touch app (aside from a whole bunch of user interface issues such as multi-touch and GPS etc.) are performance and memory management.

    I don’t see many sophisticated apps with truly gorgeous UI using Flash on phones, even though FlashLite has substantially the same rendering abilities as FP10 (aside from PaperVision and 3D transforms.) The reason is that we have a tiny amount of RAM to use, and a nebulous Flash runtime “clean up when we feel like it and then maybe not” garbage collector, that still doesn’t dispose of media assets in a timely fashion.

    On the other hand, the Cocoa framework gives the developer very finegrained control over the whole memory management scheme, which allows for some sophisticated look UI like Weightbot, the E*Trade Mobile app, Eucalyptus, Star Walk etc. I’m not saying that these UIs can’t be replicated with Flash (at least on a desktop) – I personally don’t think that they can be done with the current Flash framework and memory management scheme on a mobile device – even a beefy-ish device like the iPhone 3G and 15-18-ish MB of RAM to play with. (Want more info – read – then think how the Flash Player woud sit on top of that. WILD FUN AND GAMES! Not.)

    What’s the Flash app going to do when the system sends low memory warnings? Wait hopefully for the garbage collector to kick in? (-; Likely the system will terminate your SWF app long before then. And I can’t wait until Mobile Safari starts crashing after I’ve visited a couple of sites with Flash ads – it’s bad enough with it’s existing memory leaks already.

    Plus there’s the whole Open GL ES support. I guess there would be a minority of games on the app store (ie. the biggest category of selling apps) that are possible using a Flash rendering engine (ignoring the already mentioned serious memory issues), but competing against OpenGL ES games like Rolando? The Sims? Ummm … I don’t think so.

    Not to bag Flash on mobile devices – I think it serves a useful niche, but I don’t see how giving Flash developers access to iPhone development is going to open up a new world of application possibilities on that platform.

    We already have a good working solution – let’s not add more mess to it. I REALLY LIKE the “write once, run anywhere” mantra – it’s sort-of 90%-ish with the current platform. Once we add Flash to the mix, I can only see that percentage go downhill because memory/performance.

  13. Ian Chia says:

    Just wanted to add that I think Flash is a great graphics tool in my build chain for iPhone dev. It does many thinks great, and the outputted assets saves hours of work versus other solutions. And many other dev houses, like the devs behind Pocket God and Tapbots think the same.

    Not knocking Flash (heavy Flash dev since the stone age.) But I can’t see it contributing anything to solid iPhone products unless there were major changes specifically for an iPhone Flash Player.

  14. Tink says:

    “Adobe has even publicly stated that they have a completely functioning version of the Flash Player ready to deploy on iPhones. ”

    Did they? I aware they said that they are working closely with Apple to get a player on the iPhone, but I wasn’t aware of any statements stating that they have a completely functioning version available. Do you have a link to that statement?

    If there was a wrapper for Flash apps to be added to the App store, I’m pretty confident it would increase Apples revenue, as there would be so many more great apps available, so I’m not sure its entirely about their revenue.

  15. Samoiloff says:

    100% agree.
    Apple is aimed on world domination.

  16. [...] hich also offers cross platform development.  This article by David Tucker is a great read Observations about Apple, the iPhone, PhoneGap and the Flash Player.  It provides some food for thought about Apple’s strategy to “lock in” [...]

  17. [...] which also offers cross platform development.  This article by David Tucker is a great read Observations about Apple, the iPhone, PhoneGap and the Flash Player.  It provides some food for thought about Apple’s strategy to “lock in” [...]

  18. [...] which also offers cross platform development.  This article by David Tucker is a great read Observations about Apple, the iPhone, PhoneGap and the Flash Player.  It provides some food for thought about Apple’s strategy to “lock in” [...]

  19. [...] In more details this issue is descibed by Brian X. Chen and David Tucker. [...]

  20. [...] is an example of how tech journalism goes bad. (Lesson for yours truly.) David Tucker made some thoughtful observations about this possibly-eternal gap between Flash and [...]

  21. igniguy says:

    This is absolutely true.

    Apple rejected our phonegap app even though it breaks none of the terms (The app does not download any code from the internet at all – the whole html code is in the app resources).

    Phonegap does not use any ‘alien’ apis, it just displays a webview with some extra bindings for javascript.

    We even removed phonegap and just went for an app that would simply display a web page, yet, apple won’t allow anything like that at all.

    Sorry Apple, our app is already in the Android market store.

  22. Dr. Jazzy says:

    I love this discussion. I am not a professional programmer but I like to make some apps.
    I was thinking about buying an Iphone because it has a better graphical interface on the market today.
    But really for me this is the only advantage over the others top smartphone in the market today.
    If you consider all the points you will realize that the Iphone is behind many others.
    Think on the possibilities that would have the Iphone with Android OS or Windows Mobile OS with flash player and java VM.
    It would makes much more flexibility for developers. I will not talk about cameras with 10 megapixel and others cosmetic things that other smartphone has for some time ago.
    I want a smartphone that I can do some apps for It. If I decide to buy an Iphone (I a PC guy) then I have to buy a Mac to program for Iphone. I am not going into discussion comparing Mac and PC as well but the cost would be not only the machine but also time to learn a new computer language in the case Objective-C.
    I think the PC world gives much more flexibility then the Mac would and the truth is Apple will have to change the
    market conseption because at momente Apple is moving in the opposite direction of the crowd and will end up drowning.
    People is thinking on open source and flexibility while Apple thinking other way around. I am not saying that Apple have to go to open source and bla bla bla because I am not crazy. But maybe have to be flexible when crossing the road.
    Apple will not change the world, but Microsoft, Nokia, LG, Adobe, Motorola, Sun and others have to open the eyes.
    Apple adopted a very aggressive market strategy.
    Now Mac is operating with the Intel CPU that is making the possibility to run the Windows OS as well. With dual boot the migration from Windows to Leopard will be much more smooth, and the price of Leopard is much much cheeper than the Windows. Apple is forsing developers to use Mac platform program (Xcode) to program for Iphone. If Apple had used this strategy perhaps 20 years ago maybe the world today
    ware Mac. But now the market of IT is well segmented and Apple will not win this fight. because Apple is just one fighting against hundreds of others strong company in the market.
    When a top company makes a smartphone with a graphical interface better than the Iphone Apple will feel a very strong feeling because Apple just has the Iphone.

  23. Chris Nienhuis says:

    Great discussion. I am a UI designer who codes almost exclusively in object oriented Javascript (ExtJS framework) and am currently evaluating PhoneGap vs the native Iphone SDK. Being able to reuse my custom Web JS objects for mobile devices is alone reason enough to go with PhoneGap, but Apple not approving PhoneGap apps is cause for concern.

    @Dr. Jazzy
    Apple has the most popular mobile device in the market today. It seems like every day that passes someone else I know picks up an Iphone. I personally think that the app store (and the developers who pump applications into it) have made the Iphone so popular. Mr. Tucker’s observation that Apple is protecting their revenue stream is very accurate. By not allowing cross-platform development “protects” (read locks in) their developer base, which protects the stream of applications flowing into the app store (and allows them to control the quality of the applications through their native SDK / Interface Builder standards), which protects their bottom line $$$’s.

    That being said, the Iphone is a dominant force in the market place. If you want to tap into the mobile device user market share, brushing off Iphone owners is like throwing money into the fire.

  24. Chris Nienhuis says:

    Found the following that illustrates my previous point more eloquently:


    Why is Apple Rejecting PhoneGap-Built Iphone Apps?


    3. Apple May Not Want Cross-Platform Apps

    The third possibility may be that Apple is rejecting PhoneGap apps because they are cross-platform and could work on Nokia phones or the forthcoming Palm Pre. Presumably many developers would choose the iPhone if they had to choose, and market share could be protected by app exclusivity. (“There’s only an app for that here.”) Though we think this kind of anti-competitive strategy is more likely to be a convenient result of an actual technical problem.

  25. Lee says:

    The issue with phonegap wasn’t that they were using the UIWebView and making calls down into Objective-C from JavaScript. The QuickConnectiPhone framework has been doing this for longer that PhoneGap has been around and the applications have been being approved. It may have been that PhoneGap originally required the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to reside on a server, thus running into the downloading clause, or it may have been someone extended the framework using a private apple framework. I have seen that in some attempted PhoneGap application rejections.

    QCiPhone, the first such framework, always had the web files included in the application and has not been rejected.

  26. Dr. Jazzy says:

    Dear Chris Nienhuis,
    Have a look on N900 by Nokia. I am sure You will get my point.

  27. The processor is described as a little recent model number however it and the GPU are likely the same pace as the 3GS. The old Touch with the same CPU and GPU since the 3G was quicker. Apart from getting the clock pace turned up greater the Touch has much less software to run since its not a telephone. It should do better than any iPhone to day in performance.

  28. The processor is branded as just a bit recent design amount but it and the GPU are most likely the same speed as the 3GS. The old Touch using the same CPU and GPU since the 3G was faster. Besides having the clock speed turned up higher the Contact has much less software programs to run because its not a phone. It should beat any iPhone to day in performance.

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  32. Mobile browsers are still kind of crude if you compare it to the desktop browsers we use on PC.’.-

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  35. Tony says:

    I personally can’t stand flash. Objective C gives you true control over the platform and in no way flash will ever give you the same fine experience as a developer.

    Go Apple!

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  37. i have seen a few mobile browsers and used some of them, they are still a bit slow ‘.`

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