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The impact of Flash Professional CS5 exporting to the iPhone

By Matthew David

If you are a Flash developer then Adobe has big news for you. You can now export your movies as native iPhone Apps. Well, sort of. In this article you will find out what the impact of exporting Flash movies to the iPhone really is.

The problem with Flash on the iPhone
You do not have to go far in the tech business to find an article on the iPhone. According the press hype, the iPhone supports almost all technologies under the sun from HTML5, advanced GPS settings through to augmented reality solutions. Cool stuff. Interestingly, among all of these technologies, one dominant technology from the Web is conspicuously absent: Adobe's Flash. When the iPhone was first released in June 2007 Walt Mossberg declared that support for Flash was only a few mere months away. More than 30 months later and Flash is no-where to be seen. What gives?

Apple officially states that the OS will not support technologies that are either already supported on the iPhone or provide a method to circumnavigate their OS. Adobe's Flash falls squarely into the second category. The problem is that there are millions and millions of Flash movies on the Web. Just take YouTube. The Billion+ videos played each day are viewed using the Flash video player. It is more widely believed that Apple will not allow Flash to play on the iPhone for two un-official reasons.


1) The Flash player has a track record of consuming resources like a hungry pig on the Mac OS. The iPhone has a finite number of limited resources. Will the hardware die from a resource hungry software solution?
2) Flash solutions can step around the iTunes App Store and thereby deprive Apple of a revenue stream
Both reasons have merit.  But it does not take away the problem of not being able to run Flash on your iPhone.

The mountain must come to Mohammed
According to Adobe's PR and at their recent MAX conference, the ability to run Flash natively on the iPhone certainly exists and the decision is squarely in Apple's court. It is, however, clear that Apple does not want to play ball. So what do you do? You change your strategy.

At the recent Fall MAX conference, Adobe's annual festival to show the world what they are working on, they surprised audiences with an announcement that the new release of Flash Professional CS5 will allow you to build iPhone Applications using familiar Flash ActionScript technologies. This is a huge deal. There are several reason why Flash may quickly become the dominant platform for building Apple iPhone solutions. They are:

  • Flash Professional CS5 is the only Windows development environment for iPhone Applications
  • There are more than 2 million Flash designers/developers compared to the 65,000 iPhone developers
  • There are millions of Flash games begging to be converted to run on the iPhone

Adobe has done something very clever to enable your Flash content to run on the iPhone. They have not created a packaged version of the Flash Player and installed your Flash content inside of it. No, the Flash Professional CS5 iPhone packaging tool actually converts your Flash content into a real iPhone application. It is important to remember that your content is now no longer Flash but pure iPhone.

How Adobe is able to create iPhone content
The core to any Flash movie is the programming language ActionScript. ActionScript itself is based on the popular JavaScript language. The resemblance is so close that Adobe donated their ActionScript runtime engine to the Mozilla foundation to help speed up the processing of JavaScript. ActionScript has been improved dramatically through three different releases.

To create iPhone apps you can only use ActionScript 3.0. Sorry, version 1.0 and 2.0 ActionScript code will not work. The Flash movie is then processed through a program called a LLVM, Low Level Virtual Machine, to convert the content into a native iPhone IPA solution.

The conversion is Adobe's first release. To this end, there are some gotchas you need to watch out for. First, there are some video formats you cannot use. Interestingly, H.264 is one of them, even though the iPhone itself does support the format. Another is that you cannot use the cool Flash PixelBender technology released last year in your iPhone Apps. The third is that the iPhone itself uses a fraction of the power compared to a PC. Be careful what you program. It may look good on your laptop but barely run on your iPhone.

There will certainly be a learning curve as you convert your Flash solutions to run on your iPhone. My gut feeling is that the curve will be worthwhile. The iPhone App Store is exploding in popularity and is likely to spread to other products such as an Apple tablet. Now is the time to jump onto the iPhone band wagon and build great, compelling solutions with your existing catalog of Flash content.


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Matthew has written four Flash books, contributed to a dozen Web books, and has published over 400 articles. He is passionate about exposing Internet's potential for all of us. Matthew works directly with many companies as a business strategist coaching IT architects and business leaders to work tightly with each other towards common goals.
Related Keywords:Flash CS5, iPhone developers,

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