Flash-built apps heading for the iPhone

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Adobe announced Monday that its developers will be able to use the upcoming version of Flash Professional to create apps for the iPhone and iPod touch. That revelation, made at the company’s Max developer conference in Los Angeles, coincides with the unveiling of its Flash Player 10.1.

Flash Player 10.1 will be operable with a large number of smartphones—but that doesn’t include the iPhone. Apple’s smartphone doesn’t run Flash in any form, and Monday’s announcements don’t change that. What has changed is the ability of Adobe developers to use the Flash platform to build standalone apps for Apple’s mobile devices.

New features in the upcoming Flash CS5 Professional will allow developers to write applications and compile the code to run on the iPhone and iPod touch. Applications can target the iPhone OS 3.0 and later.

“We are ecstatic to announce that we’re enabling you to use your Flash development tools to build applications and compile them to run natively on the iPhone,” said John Loiacono, head of Adobe’s Creative Solutions business unit, who made the announcement at Adobe Max.

A public beta of Flash CS5 will be available on Adobe’s Web site later this year. (The final shipping version could arrive anywhere between March and September of 2010, according to Adobe’s typical upgrade cycle.) The CS5 version will contain a feature that allows developers to export Flash’s native FLA files to IPA, the iPhone app format.

From Adobe’s perspective, this is a genuine opportunity for all concerned. “What we’ve heard from our developers is that they want a way to get content on to the iPhone,” said Heidi Voltmer, group product marketing manager of Adobe’s Creative Solutions business unit. “They want to use their existing skills in developing Flash content to get that out there.”

Thus the developers can create brand new content, or repurpose content they’ve already built, for the iPhone. “In some ways it’s more exciting, because they can actually charge for the apps and get revenue coming in,” Voltmer added. “Apple’s going to be excited because they’ll see more revenue from all these new developers; and end-users get more choices.”

Because the code and assets are reusable across Adobe AIR and Flash Player, it gives developers a way to easily target additional mobile and desktop products.

Adobe demonstrated some Flash-created iPhone applications at the MAX conference, including a game called Chroma Circuit. Also currently available from the App Store are the South Park Avatar Creator, Fickleblox, Red Hood, and others—all built by developers participating in a private beta program. Adobe announced that a number of additional apps are being submitted to the App Store, including the company’s Acrobat Connect Pro Web conferencing software.

Though Aodbe is still unable to offer a standard Flash Player for the iPhone or iPod touch because Apple’s license terms prohibit plug-ins for the built-in Safari browser, these new Flash apps are different: iPhone apps built with Adobe Flash Professional CS5 don’t include any runtime interpreted code, according to Adobe. Moreover, such apps would go through the same approval process, and follow the same rules and procedures, as other iPhone apps to be sold in the App Store. For example, Flash developers will have to join the iPhone Developer Program and follow the program guidelines. And a developer certificate from Apple is required to test and deploy applications to iPhone.

Flash Player 10.1, due in beta form later this year and final form in the first half of 2010, will be available for many smartphones: Google Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Palm WebOS, and Nokia Symbian. Adobe holds out hope that eventually, Flash will arrive in its full form on the iPhone, in spite of complaints about the mobile version from the very top of Apple. “We do know that people are looking to have a Flash-enabled experience on their iPhone,” Voltmer said, “But it’s really up to Apple to finalize that and to let us get that working. We’d love to work with Apple, but Apple does control the hardware, and at this point we’re waiting for them.”

Having Flash programs run natively on a device, outside the browser, will give them some limitations, like being unable to browse Web content, or download SWF files that show how data should be represented.

Adobe is trying to make Flash a ubiquitous platform that developers can write to across PCs, netbooks, phones and TV set-top boxes.

While the iPhone capability will be offered initially only in Flash Professional, the goal is to eventually offer it with Flash Builder and Flash Catalyst as well, CTO Kevin Lynch told reporters in Los Angeles.

James Niccolai of IDG News Service contributed to this report from the Adobe Max conference.

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