The truth about the iPhone, Flash video and battery life

Does playing Flash video really sap an iPhone's battery life? We find out using our exclusive set of tests.

One of the most bitter and unresolved disputes in the technology industry is the war of words between Apple and Adobe over the issue of Flash Player and the iPhone. Most online videos are encoded in Flash, but the iPhone (and other iOS devices such as the iPad and iPod Touch) don't support it. Why not?

In an open letter back in April 2010, Apple chief executive (CEO) Steve Jobs listed several reasons why Apple has declined to include a version of Flash Player on the iPhone. One of them was the claim that Flash videos drain a smartphone's battery more quickly than videos in Apple's favoured H.264 format.

In response, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen called Jobs' list of technical issues a 'smokescreen'. He specifically stated that Jobs' concerns about Flash's effect on battery life 'patently false'.

Since Flash Player isn't publicly available for the iPhone (if it exists at all), it's difficult to tell who's right. Nonetheless, we decided to undertake our own series of tests to find out what effect playing Flash video has on the battery life of an iOS device and our results will surprise you.

What's At Stake

The spat between Apple and Adobe could have big implications for the tech industry.

Apple's favouring of H.264 over Flash has helped increase the popularity of H.264. For example, YouTube has converted its entire library to H.264 for playback on iOS devices. If Apple's claims about Flash's effect on battery life are true, then Flash's popularity could decline as smartphones and other similar mobile devices, such as tablets, become more popular.

In a wider context, if Apple is right, then Flash, one of Adobe's primary products is severely unsuited, for a growing, and potentially huge number of mobile computing devices. The company could therefore lose out financially unless it embraces Flash alternatives.

If Adobe is right, then Apple's policy of strictly controlling its products is seriously flawed by denying its iOS customers use of a popular technology that is available on rival Android devices.