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Mobile Flash is Far From Dead: Setting the Record Straight

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In light of recent announcements from Adobe, there has been a lot of confusion over the state of the Flash Platform - specifically in regard to Flash content on mobile devices. This article seeks to clarify many of the misconceptions that exist by addressing the main points of confusion around these announcements regardless of the initial, monumental, and absolutely unbelievable blunders from failed public (and private) relations messaging and general marketing surrounding these announcements.

November 9th, 2011

On this day, Adobe was scheduled to have its regular analyst meeting to talk about how things were going for the company and lay some groundwork for the direction of the year ahead.

A variety of technical publications began declaring "Flash is dead"...

A press release and blog post released that morning stated that Adobe did intend to drop all future mobile browser work on the mobile version of the Flash Player. Even more alarming than this fact was the language used by Adobe, which centered around the dismissal of the mobile Flash Player with statements indicating that HTML was the superior technology. This rightly upset a good number of Adobe’s strongest supporters in the Flash and Flex community.

Later that week Adobe posted more information about their plans for Flex and revealed that the SDK would be contributed to the Apache Foundation and maintained by Spoon, Adobe, and the community at large.

To say that the community was shocked by these statements would be putting it mildly. A variety of technical publications began declaring "Flash is dead", and then the real PR-nightmare began as those of us with investments in the Flash Platform became flooded with inquiries from publishers, editors, clients, and the general public - all demanding clarity.

Mobile Flash Player in the Browser

So, what really happened that day? What did Adobe really say? Adobe stated that they would be halting development of the mobile web browser version of Flash Player for Android. This effectively places future versions of Android on the same level as iOS regarding Flash Player.

They are doing this as part of a massive company reorganization to shift resources to HTML support and tooling, and to focus mobile Flash efforts to AIR on Android, iOS, and other potential systems like Windows 8 Metro. Overall, this is a good thing and, if presented differently, would not have had nearly the negative impact that it has.

It is important to note that mobile Flash Player 11 is not going away on Android (for now) – but if Android handsets want to continue with new versions, they must license the porting kit from Adobe and compile it for their customers. It will remain available for download and use in the meantime.

Mobile Flash Player source is being licensed to those who wish to compile for their own platforms (like Blackberry does now). So, mobile Flash Player may not be going away at all in some circumstances. It all depends on what the partners want to do.

Apache Flex

With regard to announcements surrounding Flex: the SDK is being donated to the Apache Software Foundation and will receive continued (hopefully invigorated) support by the Spoon project, Adobe itself, and possibly other corporate contributors.

Flex has seen a good deal of adoption by Flash developers for use in mobile AIR-based projects due to increased, near-native performance in recent builds and for the excellent layout and structural resources it provides. Many mobile developers have a large investment in the framework, and are rightly concerned.

Flex is now an Apache "incubator podling", and is a very active project within Apache. Assuming that the Apache Flex team is able to organize everything enough to put out a release or two (normally achievable over 4-6 months), the project is expected to graduate to full Apache project status – putting it on the same level as ANT, Tomcat, HTTPD, and other well-known, popular projects used worldwide.

Note that PhoneGap (now, Apache Cordova) was also contributed to Apache by Adobe directly after the Nitobi acquisition – so this is by no means a death sentence or dismissal of the framework.

With Flex in the hands of the wider community, there are actually more resources available in light of the number of individual contributors. Even if you are not an Apache contributor yourself, if you have a patch for Flex that would be useful for others – get in touch with a contributor to see whether they might see value in the patch and perform the contribution in your stead.

Don’t forget that a number of contributors are Adobe engineers and the company has stated that although the runtimes are still under their care – they will align releases in light of what is going on at Apache.

Adobe AIR (Mobile Flash Apps)

Adobe is "doubling-down" on AIR for mobile.

As stated, Flash content delivered through mobile AIR on iOS, Android, and Blackberry is going nowhere and is in fact being provided with more resources. This is what most developers have been working with when it comes to mobile– not Flash Player in the browser.

I believe that AIR is still quite valuable for mobile application development and especially valuable for gaming with the upcoming Stage3D support. Buried amid the 11/9 announcements is a repeated statement that Adobe is "doubling-down" on AIR for mobile.

One of the reasons cited for dropping mobile Flash Player in the browser was to divert resources to mobile AIR. Furthermore, Adobe's new line of Touch Apps for Android are (almost) all built upon AIR for Android. All of these signs, along with continued development of the runtimes, points to an active future on mobile for the Flash Platform.

Closing Thoughts

Recent announcements from Adobe really aren't nearly as bad for developers with investments in Flash technology as it would seem. Mobile Flash Player in the browser was (and still is) nice to have. Since November 9th, 2011 – Adobe has pushed out a number of updates to both Flash Player 11 and AIR 3 on mobile. They are actively supporting Flash Player 11 on Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich".

Publishers like O’Reilly and video2brain have both published materials from myself and others since the announcements. My employer and clients value skilled developers who know how to work with Flash on devices, desktops, and even servers.

Things will even out as the reality of the situation becomes clear and people stop freaking out over the announcements. In fact, Adobe is running a "Flex User Group 2012 Tour" in North America to dispel some of these myths and rebuild trust within the community. Flash definitely has a home on mobile – it just might take a different form than what we initially expected.


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