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HTML5 assault on Adobe Flash heats up with ClickToFlash

Adobe's mobile strategy for Flash

While ClickToFlash works to kill Flash on the desktop, the existing battle between Adobe's Flash and HTML5 has been waged squarely in the mobile realm. Apple introduced the iPhone without support for either the desktop version of Flash or Flash Lite, a subset of Flash aimed at smartphone devices. As Apple became increasingly adamant in opposing Flash on the iPhone, Adobe reported that it had a Flash Player for the iPhone under wraps and nearing completion, and suggested that Apple was even involved in working on the project.

That changed with the announcement this week that Adobe would be releasing a new version of Flash Player 10 for other mobile platforms over the next year, with an initial public beta for Windows Mobile and Palm's WebOS by the end of the year, followed by betas for Android, Symbian, and RIM's BlackBerry OS sometime in 2010. Missing from those announcements was the hottest mobile device on the market: the iPhone/iPod touch.

(Updated since original publication to note that RIM is working with the Open Screen Project; Adobe says "The collaboration is expected to bring the full Flash Player browser runtime to BlackBerry smartphones.")

Adobe addressed iPhone development with the announcement that its upcoming CS5 Flash development tools would enable the production of native iPhone apps. The resulting applications are not Flash, and this does nothing to enable Flash playback on the iPhone, either within standalone apps or embedded in web pages.

Creating iPhone apps using Flash CS5

Flash "applications" replace open and standard web content created using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript with Adobe's proprietary .swf, a closed binary file that wraps up web content files (such as graphics and movies) with the company's own variant of ECMAScript (JavaScript), called ActionScript. In CS5, the Flash development tools will allow new Flash projects to be exported as standard iPhone apps rather than .swf files.

Adobe is doing this using LLVM (Low Level Virtual Machine), an open source compiler technology supported by Apple and used in its Xcode Mac and iPhone development tools. The next version of Adobe's Flash development app will simply compile Flash ActionScript into native iPhone code, much as existing tools already allow iPhone developers to write their code using Java, Scheme, or other languages, and then compile the code into C or Objective-C as a native iPhone app.

The iPhone is designed not to support any alternative languages via any sort of virtual machine, which prevents it from running "raw" Java, Flash, .Net, Silverlight, or anything else apart from its native C/Objective-C compiled to the ARM processor. This is enforced in the terms of Apple's SDK agreement. There is however no restriction against compiling any existing code into native C/Objective-C and creating an iPhone app from it.

Making iPhone apps with Flash CS5

On page 3 of 3: Porting the many faces of Flash to mobiles.