News Flash: No Flash

At the end of December, Andru Edwards scored a scoop for the theretofore obscure Gear Live: screenshots (and a few days later, video) of the iPhone 1.1.3 update, which Apple didn’t release until January 15.

Yesterday, banking on that credibility, Edwards reported that Flash is coming to the iPhone “very, very soon”:

Well, we’ve just got word from a reliable source that Flash support is on its way to the iPhone, and it should be coming very, very soon. Speculating a bit further on our own, we are guessing that it would be pretty convenient for Flash support to be introduced alongside the iPhone SDK, wouldn’t you say? Now, we know that there isn’t much information here, but you also know how strong our sources are too - Flash on the iPhone is coming, just take our word for it, okay?

I’m going to take a pass on taking his word for it. I don’t buy it.

For one thing, unlike his December scoop, this one isn’t backed by any sort of screenshot or video evidence. The 1.1.3 update was seeded rather widely within Apple — most Apple engineers had access to it weeks in advance, apparently to help field-test the Maps app location triangulation feature. There were hundreds of possible sources for Gear Live’s 1.1.3 scoop; the upcoming SDK release has not been seeded so widely within Apple.

For another, it doesn’t make sense. Edwards dismisses the notion that there are technical hurdles:

We already have had a couple people ask about the supposed battery and CPU issues that were holding Flash back from being included on the iPhone in the first place. From what I am hearing, it was a complete fabrication. Flash has not yet made it to the iPhone solely due to business negotiations.

The political issues between Apple and Adobe are real, but so too are the technical issues. Flash is CPU-intensive. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but if Apple does release an iPhone update with Flash support, it’ll be despite the technical hurdles, not because the hurdles don’t exist. (Think about MobileSafari’s arbitrary page zooming — even QuickTime movies don’t play back live within MobileSafari web pages.)

But why exactly would Apple do this? With fewer than eight months on the market, MobileSafari — sans Flash support — already has the largest market share of all mobile web browsers. Companies large and small are writing MobileSafari-optimized web sites and web apps, using HTML/JavaScript/CSS. Apple is on the cusp of releasing the Cocoa-based native SDK. The single most popular thing people use Flash for is to watch YouTube videos, which you can already watch a subset of using the native Mobile OS X YouTube app. In short, is the lack of Flash keeping people from buying iPhones and iPod Touches?

I’ve been wrong before, but no guts, no glory. I say no Flash on the iPhone any time soon.