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Is the iPhone Application Store the Problem for Adobe Flash?

Mathew Ingram writes about the iPhone as razor/razor blades, but he’s missed the most important part.  The handset is indeed a razor, and I suppose you can see the service as razor blades that benefit the carriers.  But where is Apple’s razor blade play?

It’s the iPhone Application Store.  Apple has bet heavily on the idea that the iPhone is a platform.  It’s why thye’re so ballistic about unlockers, and why they’ve allowed the carriers to get the recurring service revenue on the deal in an apparent retrenchment to traditional models.  Apple sees that it can radically stimulate growth, make the carriers more eager to embrace the iPhone, and give the unlockers a serious setback all in one strategic move.

What does this have to do with Adobe Flash and the fact I can’t get it on my iPhone?  Somewhere, I read that the SDK prohibits you from placing an interpreter on the iPhone.  That’s when the light bulb went off.  Flash is an interpreter.  Why would Apple care?

An interpreter is a piece of software that creates a “virtual machine.”  To the hardware, the interpreter looks like a single application, but it can run any number of applications written in its interpreted language.  Java is an interpreted language.  The JVM is the Java interpreter.  Flash is an interpreter, and Flex is a language and framework that run on that virtual machine.

Putting it into Apple’s terms, if they let Flash onto the iPhone, you pay them once for that application, and then you’ll have a backdoor through which any Flash/Flex application can gain entry without having to pass through the Application Store.  It’s a revenue leak of biblical proportions, and one the market would be sure to exploit.

So what’s a poor Adobe to do?  It’s a tough problem.  They’d need to provide Apple with a special version that only runs apps that are certified at the iPhone Application Store.  Adobe is probably loathe to do something so specialized, and it likely conflicts with their religion about what Flash is.  Worse, there is a lot of Flash out there (the vast majority) that is not applications.  It’s animations or ads or streamed video.  It’s not obvious how to tell the difference between an app Apple wants to charge for (they get 30% of the revenue and the app owner gets 70%) and an ad or other piece nobody would pay for.

Don’t look for the problem to be resolved very soon, and if it is, look for some Draconian measures to have been taken around Flash.

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