Flash Platform is dead. Long live the Flash Platform

Adobe MAX has this year been an interesting and epic experience, in many ways. We have seen Adobe doing a lot of progress on the HTML5 platform, and no critiques can come and say, that they are trying to limit it’s possibilities in an attempt to favor Flash. Seing programs like Adobe Edge and Adobe Muse, shows a bright future for users, that are not tech-savy – bringing them new tools to make dynamic and interesting sites using web standards.

Some will say, that Flash is thereby obsolete. They may even use the “Flash-killer” word, but in my opinion that tells me more about there insight and knowledge about the platforms responsibilities, than HTML5 is superior when it comes to the sites of the future. HTML has always had the responsibility of bringing webpages to the user via the browser. The Flash Player has always been a plug-in, that made it possible to satisfy users demands in terms of interactivity, video etc. and complemented HTML, where it wasn’t sufficient. Now with HTML5, nothing has changed there.

The Flash Platform is dead

I will bring some love to new new HTML5 features in another post, but let me dvelve a bit on the head line. When I say, Flash is dead, I actually mean, the previous well known (and hated) use of the Flash Player is dead. Using Flash to make complete sites with the need of seekable information, and “efferent reading” has to stop. The small banners that pops up, with no reason at all, has to stop. If that is what you have used Flash  to produce, you should seriously consider broaden your mind – we have HTML for that, now. When it comes to aesthetic reading, engaging and entertaining the user. When it comes to breaking the boundaries, and search for new possibilities in what the web and devices can deliver, please continue. Flash has never intended to kill HTML, it depends on it. But the misuse  of technology from developers (myself included, from time to time) has given the technology a bad name.

Long live the Flash Platform

Fortunately, the platform is strong and very much alive, and the latest version of Adobe AIR and Flash Player brings signs of a bright future. When I discuss the topic with developers, they actually do not have a clear answer, when it comes to compatibility across multiple devices. Native Android developers, can’t enter en iOS sphere, and Xcode developers are forever doomed to live in the walled garden. Both of them, can only argue, that the other should join them … why not give the user a choice. I think that the Flash Platform is one of the best attempt to actually be agnostic in terms of platforms. I think it’s time to look at some of the features I find interesting

64-bit support

I don’t know what took them so long, actually. I am not aware of the complications that are involved in making 64-bit versions of software. I guess there must have been internal complications regarding codecs or other 32-bit stuff not yet upgraded or just the fact that making a 64-bit version of the AVM or the like isn’t a walk in the park. Anyway, now it’s available and works like a charm in my 64-bit version of Internet Explorer as well as my other browsers on both Windows and Mac OS. I haven’t tried the Linux version, but I haven’t heard anyone with complaints. Please post your experiences with performance, if you are a Linux user.

Captive runtime

Captive Runtime is captivating :-) Now developers have the choice to embed the AIR 3 runtime in the App, so people no longer need them as an external download. That, of course, brings a larger file to the devices, and it is therefore not just something you would do in all cases. In larger projects, and definitely on desktops, that seems like an obvious choice.

You can read about Captive runtime at http://www.adobe.com/devnet/air/articles/air3-install-and-deployment-options.html

Accelerated 2D

Flash is all about experiences. There is no need to use Flash, if you don’t wan’t to engage the users. If you just have some plain information to present, there is no need to roll out the big canons. The Flash Player is a plug-in that takes over, when the other give up, and can’t deliver – at least not with an economically reasonable solution. It is the easiest way to make impressive visual results, that works on all major platforms. Because of that, it is also a very demanding job, that takes a lot of processing power. With Flash Player 11 and AIR 3, Adobe has made it possible to port most of the calculations to the graphic card, so the processor is free to other tasks. That increases the performance immensely, all the previous examples (like those on http://www.bytearray.org/?p=3371) would have made the fan fly out of my MacBook Pro after 4 seconds … now there is silence.

One of the most prominent examples are the Starling Framework. Starling is very intuitive, and use well known word like Sprite and addChild() and genrally build upon the concept of the Display List.

To get this performance boost, Flash takes advantage of Stage 3D, and that is only available for desktops at the moment. Adobe is working hard to implement it in the mobile version, but Android have to wait until a later update. That also means, that we are in a time, where some content actually can’t be played on mobile, even though they are at the same player level … that’s not good, but hopefully sorted out in a near future.

JSON

Everybody is talking about JSON these days, and for a reason. The format makes it possible to exchange data in a readable way using a JavaScript like syntax. Both JavaScript and ActionScript 3.0 derives from the same standard, making it easier to work with and understand for some, in contrast to the XML language. You have always been able to read JSON into a Flash document, but the internal support makes is consistant and faster to get the data ready for use. Actually, we are are talking one line here to get it all parsed.

Adobe MAX gave a sneak at the next version of Flash (codename Reuben) that exported a sprite sheet of a characters walking cycle. That shows something about JSON as a serious and integrated way of making 2D games and motion in the years to come.

Stage 3D

When Flash introduced the ability to work with z-coordinates and move 2D objects in a 3D space (in CS4 i guess) the crowd went wild – everybody was happy. Then they realized, that i actually wasn’t as good as real 3D, and the need for manipulating real 3D objects was on the rise again. When Adobe released the first previews of Flash Player 11, it was jaw dropping. Thibault showed a red car driving around in a virtual street, and no one in the room could believe their eyes. But it was real, and with the release, they showed Unreal Tournament 3 from Epic Games, running in a browser.

That tells me, that the Flash Player has taken it’s responsability as a plug-in serious, and goes for the balls, that HTML5 has a hard time to catch. I am sure we are going to see web experiences in the years to come, that we had a hard time to imagine only a year ago. On top of Stage 3D’s low level API a range of external companies has build frameworks for us to use. Some of the well known are Alternativa, Flare3D and Away 3D. Of course you could dive into the low API, but the other way around is much easier for normal developers and designers.

Aside from that, there is a project called Proscenium on Adobe Labs, that is a code library used to acces the low-level API, to easely create 3D content in Flash Player 11.

Read more about the wonderful world of Stage 3D at http://www.adobe.com/devnet/flashplayer/stage3d.html

Native Extensions

On the mobile platform, there is a constant demand for speed and integration with the system. Native tools like Xcode and Android SDK has an advantage over runtimes like AIR, in that they have full control over the system. AIR isn’t able to access the inner workings of the mobile platform, so you could not access the local API. AIR it self is making progress, like native keyboard on devices and frontface camera access, but the big leap forward here is Native Extensions. Now you can program an extension to AIR in the native language of the device, and AIR is then able to attach to it and communicate with it. There has already been examples of Map View on iOS and connection to Kinect controller without a proxy. I haven’t tried native extensions in myself, but it seems like it’s going to be a big deal if it runs smoothly.

Content Protection

I love the way that HTML5 has taken websites seriously again. I like the easy way, that video is treated. If all browsers could agree on the codec, it could end up as a good solution. The problem is that there is no protection embedded with the video. You could just copy the link and download the movie. Many content providers aren’t that happy about that. There are solutions to solve that, but I sense that they are moving away from the clean HTML5 solution. Flash and AIR has build in Flash Access that secures the content. Initially it only works with desktop and Android, and I guess that the way into Apples heart is a bit longer :-)

Heal the Web, make it a better place

This is just some of the news. You can read more at the Flash Player 11 feature page and the AIR 3 feature page. This is an epic release, that will mark the start of a new era – the 3D era. We will se browsers taking HTML5 to the max, and transitions like fade and slide, will be everyday for the common designer. But when the smoke disappears, the need to do the extraordinary will emerge – this is where Flash kicks in. Flash Player will fulfill it’s role as the plug-in, that helps HTML getting things done. AIR is taking a different path down the mobile path. It is an interesting path, but it is not quite there yet. It is there in terms of being able to deliver a more than decent result on various devices, but the “works on Android, soon on iPhone” makes it not quite stable yet. It will be, hopefully soon.

I think that this release, shows that there is a world, where both technologies can live in harmony – and truly believe they will. We haven’t talked about topics like all the Smart TVs that supports the platform. We have only briefly talked about Epic Games, but Unity has also shown support to deliver on Stage3D. Aside from that, there is the Open Screen Project, that count a broad range of manufacturers , interested in making a common platform for Rich Internet Applications end experiences.

I know that the Flash Player aren’t allowed on iOS – well no plug-ins are, no harm there … but AIR are. AIR, may end up being a long term solution, if they fix the minor incompatibility. Flash Player is now a solid 64-bit plug-in, and yes – everybody is trying to find exploits and security breaches on it, but then again. It is on a lot of machines, end therefore a perfect target, across platforms. Adobe should be on it’s toes to close these security issues and gain trust in the platform, and then – when iOS settles at a reasonable level, the market will decide if users with the plug-in is more interesting than those without.

… only time will tell.



2 Comments on "Flash Platform is dead. Long live the Flash Platform"

  1. nice read – strange title – but what the heck it aims on the right segment…

    long live “the popping champaign and fireworks” of the web – flash

  2. ockley says:(Author)

    Yes, I know – strange title. It derrives from “The King is dead. Long live the King” – a well known phrase, when a new monarch is proclaimed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_King_is_dead._Long_live_the_King.)

    In this regard, it refers to the old Flash Player, that made banners and simple transitions, because of lack of HTML features. The new Flash platform, proclaimed with Flash Player 11, aims at a different segment, with a high focus on interactivity, games, 3D and interactive experiences.

    That is what I see as a new era for Flash, and we will see a completely differnt kind of interactive experiences in the coming year, than we have been used to, previously.

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