Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Using Cloud Browse to view Flash on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch

One of the consistent, monotonous complaints about the Apple mobile platform has been the inability of the iOS devices to run and display Flash applications.

Although there is little reason to believe this policy will ever change--much less in the near future--there is something helpful at which iOS devices excel. The iPad makes a fantastic remote display, as evidenced by a variety of VNC-inspired free and more feature-rich applications.

Cloud Browse is a free application that provides just such an environment. A generous benefactor somewhere in Asia (judging from the timestamps) runs an instance of Firefox on a *nix server, and the CloudB rowse application provides a window to view it. Considering the obvious geographical separation I had while testing it, I found latencies minimal. The external machine has no problems whatsoever loading and displaying Flash-based apps, so the iPad has no problem displaying them. (The app can also run on the iPhone.)

Firefox is not actually running on the iPad. Essentially, the user is looking at a "picture" of Firefox running somewhere else. There are certain limitations:

  • Because of hardware and network limitations, the application runs on a timer. When your session is up (apparently after about ten minutes), your instance is cancelled and the resource is allocated to someone else.

  • You may occasionally receive a message when starting the application that all instances are in use and you should wait a while.

  • Since the app is a picture of a browser running somewhere else, normal copy/paste functions will not work between other iPad apps and the Firefox browser running in CloudBroswe. A notable exception is made for pasting URLs and search text by clicking the "Web" button at the top of the interface.

  • The keyboard is controlled manually instead of automatically. Use the keyboard button at the top of the interface to display it, and the keyboard close button at the bottom right of the keyboard to hide it.

  • Since the Firefox instance is running externally to the ipad, there's no history or ability to save bookmarks or work in progress. The latter can be especially frustrating if the user is in the middle of a project.

The bottom line is that, for a free app, it's very very useful. You can find it at the app store by searching for Cloud Browse.

Questions: How important is Flash to you? Have you found any other app (free or otherwise) that does a better job than Cloud Browse?