Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Flash on iOS devices with Puffin

Flash on the iPad? Has Hell frozen over?

Not quite. Puffin is a web browser that lets you view Flash content on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. However, it doesn’t make Flash run on iOS. Instead, it uses one of three US data centres to render web pages - including any Flash elements - remotely, and then streams the resulting display to your iPad.
Hang on. Post-Snowden, I don’t feel quite so comfortable about US-based data centres...

Well, if you have nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to... No, you’re right, of course. Developer CloudMosa insists that while it will comply with law enforcement requests, it encrypts everything that passes between your device and its servers, and once you log off, it erases your history from its cache. Aside from enabling it to serve Flash content, CloudMosa also reckons offloading all the processing work to a server is quicker than tasking your iPad with retrieving every part of each web page itself, so browsing will be faster all round.

And is it?

Kind of. On our iPad, Puffin completed the SunSpider JavaScript test in 253.9 milliseconds; Safari took 1285.2ms. Like Safari, Puffin scores 100% in the Acid3 CSS test, so there’s nothing to choose between them in terms of web standards compliance.

Stats are only half the story, though. In general use, Puffin sometimes felt a bit laggy. For example, it impacted our score when using the test quizzes at MyMaths (, an education site built using Flash, where we were able to answer 16 questions on an iPad 3 and get 15 right within a two-minute limit. On a regular Mac, we worked through 67 questions in the same time and scored 65. When your score depends as much on how many questions you see as on how you answer them, real-world speed is crucial.

At EducationCity (, we completed a French test on the Mac in one minute 40 seconds, and on the Puffin browser in two minutes 14 seconds

Puffin doesn’t support the latest version of Flash, currently topping out at 11.2, while Adobe is shipping 13.1. Nor does it support Microsoft’s rival, Silverlight.

How about Flash video?

Puffin does let you play Flash videos, but when embedded in web pages these were sometimes jerky and blocky in our tests. You also need to be aware that routing everything through the US means you’ll be identified as a US user. So UK-specific services like iPlayer’s TV content are off limits - although iPlayer works fine on iOS without Flash, so that’s academic. ITV Player didn’t work for us via Puffin even when we entered a UK postcode. On the other hand, you may find you can access US services you normally couldn’t, although you might be breaking their T&Cs.
And all this is free?

Not quite. The free version of Puffin only plays Flash during what it calls ‘daytime’ - currently 9am to 4pm, but this could change without notice. If you want to watch at other times, you need the £1.99 app. Alternatively, you can sign up for an auto-renewing subscription to the Flash rendering service, at 69p for six months.

Should I download it?

If you need to access Flash sites on iOS, Puffin is probably your best bet. It may not be as quick as a flash, but nor is it just a flash in the pan [you’re fired - Ed].

Try the free version from the iOS App Store and see if it works for you. Flash rendering is free round the clock for the first two weeks.

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