Adobe Opens the Flood Gates for iPhone Developers

Adobe dropped a surprise at the Adobe MAX Conference with the announcement that Flash CS5 will let developers create iPhone-native applications. The announcement means that iPhone app creation won't be limited to Mac owners with Apple's own developer tools, and it also means that Adobe has potentially opened the flood gates for the App Store.

The idea of including "Flash" and "iPhone" in the same sentence is full of excitement for some -- and fear for others -- because Apple's combination iPod and smartphone currently doesn't support Flash technology. Once Flash CS5 rolls out, that's not going to change despite the fact that developers will be able to use Flash tools to design for the iPhone.

Instead, Flash coders will use ActionScript to develop their apps and then compile them as full-fledged iPhone native code, no need for a wrapper that lets Flash run inside an iPhone app shell. Since developers won't be using Apple's own coding tools, there will be a few limitations such as the inability to use Apple's iPhone simulator app, and the inability to use native iPhone OS controls.

Despite limitations, Adobe's efforts to add iPhone app compiling to Flash CS5 means that the number of potential developers for Apple's handheld could jump dramatically, and that could happen before the end of the year. Adobe is planning on releasing a public beta of Flash Professional CS5 most likely in December, and it will be capable of compiling iPhone-native applications.

The crowd at Adobe MAX was excited about the prospect of using Flash to develop for the iPhone. "There was lots of applaus [for the announcement]," Heidi Voltmer, Adobe Group Product Marketing Manager for Creative Solutions Business, told The Mac Observer. "There were a lot of excited people."

In many cases Flash developers will be able to simply convert their Flash code into iPhone applications, making the transition from Web browser to the App Store relatively simple. The inability to load external Flash content, however, will slow down other developers as they rework their content to be iPhone compliant.

Adobe's work also means that Flash developers have a way to get their products in front of the iPhone and iPod touch crowd through a back door of sorts since Apple isn't supporting Flash on its handhelds.

"People want to develop Flash content for the iPhone," Ms. Voltmer said.

Along with the potential for an app explosion at Apple's iTunes-based App Store, there's also the potential for lots of interface failures. Adobe is hoping to help Flash developers create high quality iPhone applications through some guidance on its Web site. For example, Adobe suggests Flash developers take a look at Apple's Human Interface Guidelines documentation for app interface ideas.

Adobe has already teamed with a handful of companies to bring some Flash-based applications to the App Store. Several apps that started in Flash are available now, including Chroma Circuit, Trading Stuff, Fickleblox, Just Letters, South Park Avatar Creator, That Roach Game, and Red Hood. As more developers get their hands on the Flash Professional CS5 public beta, that number will likely climb quickly.

What comes next is up to Adobe and the quality of the iPhone apps Flash content creators churn out. Adobe, however, is looking forward to the prospect of having iPhone apps that started life in Flash in the App Store. "I'm excited for iPhone owners," Ms. Volmert said.