Is shoehorning a Flash player onto the iPhone such a big issue? Given the time spent on it by the CEOs of Adobe and Apple, it may be.
Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, during a conference call with investors, that Adobe is “committed to bringing Flash to the iPhone,” and, “We have evaluated [the iPhone SDK] and we think we can develop an iPhone Flash player ourselves.”
Narayen continued, “The [iPhone SDK] will let Adobe build a Flash player for the iPhone.” However, this seems not to be the case, precisely.
An official Adobe press release, sent to eWEEK, reiterated Narayen’s initial statement, saying, “Adobe has evaluated the iPhone SDK and can now start to develop a way to bring Flash Player to the iPhone.”
But the release continues: “However, to bring the full capabilities of Flash to the iPhone Web-browsing experience, we do need to work with Apple beyond and above what is available through the SDK and the current license around it.”
In other words, with the release of the iPhone SDK, Adobe will be able to explore its options regarding building a Flash or Flash Lite client, but using the SDK will not be enough; Adobe will need to work with Apple, in ways other developers will not have to or will not be able to. (Both Flash and Flash Lite have been dismissed by Apple CEO Steve Jobs as not a good technical fit for the iPhone.)
“I believe that Adobe would have to come to some sort of special agreement with Apple to get Flash running on the phone,” said Mark Onyschuk of Marketcircle, a developer of Mac OS X and possibly iPhone applications.
“The way that applications are installed on the phone, each application gets its own ‘sandbox’-a piece of the file system all to its own and made inaccessible to other applications,” Onyschuk said.
He continued, “So the standard procedure for installing plug-ins into an application like Safari doesn’t work in the iPhone world. There’s no common /Library/Plugins folder that’s accessible to third-party applications.
“I think Apple’s intention is to eliminate from the iPhone one very common source of system instability and insecurity-applications and their settings being accessible to each other. So plug-ins of any sort, be they Flash or Java, will likely only appear on the iPhone with special blessings from Apple and as part of a system software update.”
Large hurdles for Adobe
Mike Lee, owner of United Lemur, also saw larger hurdles for Adobe, though he took a different tack.
“It’s not a matter of whether developers can write Safari plug-ins,” Lee said. “There’s no way to stop Adobe from writing anything they want.”
He continued, “If nothing else, WebKit is open-source software. … Adobe could use Apple’s own code to build a competing browser that looks just like Safari, but with Flash. The question is whether Apple will let them run it, because nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to be running anything on iPhone 2.0 without a remotely revocable security certificate from Apple.”
This security certificate, Lee explained, is key for ensuring securely “signed” applications.
“Not only does my digital signature prove I wrote the application, it also proves that the application hasn’t changed since I’ve sent it. If the operating system refuses to run any application that lacks a valid signature, the virus model of ‘rogue code’ would simply cease to work. It also means developers no longer have to worry about piracy, as [Apple’s] App Store will apply DRM and the iPhone will enforce it,” Lee said.
He added, “If Apple gives Adobe a certificate, and Adobe uses that certificate to sign a Flash plug-in, they still have to submit it to Apple for approval. If Apple says no, it doesn’t go in the App Store and there’s no way to put it on the iPhone. If Adobe hacks the iPhone to install Flash anyway, Apple revokes Adobe’s certificate, and all their iPhone software stops working immediately.”
Other sources suggested that Adobe would also like Apple to license its code for displaying PDFs, and that the public noise over Flash is a pawn in that game. But whether the issue is Flash or PDF rendering, whether the two companies are going to clash or collaborate is in question.
When asked about these concerns, an Adobe representative said the company would not release any comments other than what was in its initial press release.