Adobe explains: Why there’s no Flash on iPhone or BlackBerry

It might annoy the hell out of you when the front page of a site is a Flash extravaganza but there’s no denying that Adobe’s Flash format is all-pervasive in the online world.

Originally developed by Macromedia (which Adobe acquired in late 2005) Flash has become the dominant format for online video. By Adobe’s estimate it accounts for 80% of all Internet video viewing a statistic driven in large part by its use on YouTube and at a secondary level by its use in online TV platforms like the ABC’s iView.

Flash is widely supported on PC platforms being available across Windows Mac and Linux systems and in most major browsers (even Google Chrome supported Flash from the outset). However it’s a different story on mobile phones.

Adobe boasts that there will be more than a billion devices enabled with Flash Lite its mobile-specific version by early 2009. It’s working to add Flash support to the Google-backed Android platform which it says will happen in “the very near future”.

However that list doesn’t include arguably the two most iconic devices in the mobile world: Apple’s iPhone and RIM’s BlackBerry both of which are Flash-free zones. In the case of the iPhone the ability for the phone to play YouTube videos in a special YouTube application provides a tantalising hint of Flash Video in the phone – but alas it’s merely Quicktime Video playback. Apple got YouTube to convert most of its videos into MPEG-4 in order to be compatible with Apple rather than accommodating Flash Video in the phone.

As it prepares for this week’s MAX developers conference Adobe is maintaining the party line that there will eventually be an iPhone version of Flash. “We continue to work with Apple on developing that” Anup Murarka Director of technical marketing mobile and devices at Adobe told APC this week. However in typical this-is-Apple-and-we’ll-tell-you-when-it-suits-us fashion there’s no actual public timeframe on the horizon.

For BlackBerry the news is more definitive but less pleasing. According to Murarka the big problem is the use of Java as the core development platform for the BlackBerry. “We are not going to be able to get Flash running under Java” he said noting that the multiple layers of code interpretation that would require (Flash converted to Java converted to BlackBerry device code) impose a performance burden that can’t readily be overcome.

Murarka freely concedes that this has created some problems. “People notice” he said. “We see the need and we think there’s demand.”

Another problem for Adobe is that it has developed its licensing models for Flash Lite in the US and Japan where the handset market is dominated by carriers. That makes it harder to build support in markets like Australia and Europe where handset builders generally have the upper hand in negotiations. “That means it’s not nicely packaged in a single operator’s network” Murarka said though Nokia has added Flash support to its Symbian-based devices.

In the long term Adobe hopes that the Open Screen Project in which it is a key partner will provide a means for supporting portable applications including its AIR system as well as Flash on a range of platforms. However the first fruits of that project in the form of public code won’t be seen until late 2009 Murarka said. Neither RIM or Apple are currently members of the OSP.