Does Adobe Flash 11 have a future on the Web?

apple ipad vs rim playbook motorola xoom dell streak 7 no flash 2

Adobe has formally announced it will be shipping Adobe Flash Player 11 and Adobe Air 3 in early October. Adobe touts the new versions as a “game console for the Web,” with graphics performance up to 1,000 times faster than Flash Player 10 and Adobe Air 2, thanks to full hardware-accelerated rendering for both 2D and 3D graphics and 64-bit support on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. However, while Adobe Flash remains common on PCs, Apple has famously eschewed Flash on its iOS mobile platform, and even stopped shipping it on Macs (although Mac users are free to install it themselves). This week, Microsoft announced the version of Internet Explorer for its Windows 8 Metro environment won’t support browser plug-ins — and that means no Flash in the browser.

Is Adobe Flash going to fade away in the face of HTML5 and online video delivered in formats like H.264 and Google’s WebM? Or will Adobe’s advances to the platform let it remain a major player in Internet development even as it starts to disappear from people’s browsers?

What Adobe’s Bringing to Flash 11 and Air 3

The flagship development in Flash Player 11 and Air 3 is Stage 3D, a new hardware-accelerated graphics architecture for 2D and 3D rendering performance. Adobe is touting Stage 3D as capable of delivering console-quality games, animating millions of onscreen objects smoothly at 60 frames per second, even on older computers that lack modern video hardware — like “Mom’s old PC with Windows XP.” The technology doesn’t just apply to games: Stage 3D and Adobe’s hardware-accelerated architecture will also deliver improvements to video conferencing and playback of high-definition video (complete with 7.1 surround sound support).

These improvements aren’t just aimed at desktop computers, but also to Internet-savvy televisions and, of course, mobile devices including Android, BlackBerry, and—yes, Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Video of what some developers are doing with Stage 3D shows the technology’s potential, especially compared to current “state of the art” Flash games.

To further enhance Flash’s appeal to game developers and content producers, Flash Player 11 and Air 3 will also support content subscriptions and rentals via Adobe Flash Access and Adobe Pass. The feature is aimed more at Internet-connected TVs so operators and content providers (say, perhaps a Netflix competitor) can offer pay-per-view and rental content, but the technology also scales to desktop and mobile platforms.

What about Apple’s iOS and Windows Metro?

So how is Adobe getting its technology onto iOS devices, where Apple has famously banned Flash? That’s where Adobe Air comes in: Adobe Air enables Flash developers to package their Flash-based projects as native applications for a variety of platforms, including Windows and Mac OS X, but also Android, BlackBerry (including the PlayBook), and Apple’s iOS. In broad terms, Adobe Air gives Flash developers a “Save as App” command.

The ability to roll up Flash projects as apps is important. The Adobe Flash plug-in might be banned from iOS’s Safari Web browser  —and, apparently, from Internet Explorer in Windows 8 Metro — but developers can build for those platforms by using Adobe Air to save out their projects as standard apps. On platforms where Air is built in, like RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook, those apps can be comparatively svelte and quick to download. Adobe says it expects Adobe Air will enable developers to build Flash-based apps for Windows 8 Metro, just like they currently can for iOS. As Web-browsing platforms drop support for Adobe’s Flash plug-in, Adobe Air is an increasingly important part of the company’s claim that its Flash technology can reach a billion people.

Apps built using Adobe Air have often looked gorgeous — many of Adobe’s primary customers are designers and media professionals, after all — and the platform has had some early successes, including mainstream apps like TweetDeck (which got acquired by Twitter), and the current top iPad game on the iTunes App Store: Machinarium. However, Adobe Air apps have also been roundly criticized for poor performance and hogging system resources. For instance, Machinarium is limited to the more-powerful iPad 2 and sticks with 2D (rather than 3D) graphics.

Flash’s value proposition

Adobe is touting Flash Player 11 (and Air 3) as the “next-generation for the Web.” The company argues more than two thirds of all Web-based games are currently powered by Flash, and Flash games have an audience more than 11 times larger than the Nintendo Wii. But this doesn’t change the fact that Flash is beginning to disappear from Web browsers: iOS doesn’t support it, Windows Metro won’t support it, and Macs don’t ship with it. Where Adobe Flash used to be a near-ubiquitous technology, the ability to deploy Flash content to Web users is increasingly shaky, and several high-profile security gaffes involving Flash haven’t helped the technology’s reputation in consumers’ eyes. In fact, yet another security patch for a Flash vulnerability in Windows, Android, Mac OS X, and Linux is due today, and it’s already being exploited on the Internet.

Nonetheless, Flash has a strong appeal to developers creating interactive content because Flash projects look the same and — kinda — act the same everywhere, regardless of platform. Although HTML5, JavaScript, and even WebGL have made significant strides in the last few years, those technologies cannot yet make the same claim: Wide variations in browsers, performance, and technology support make developing something like 3D games using open Web technologies difficult to near-impossible. Flash developers do face many platform-specific challenges—developing a game designed to work with a mouse is not the same as making a game that works with touchscreens and gestures, but Flash offers a far more uniform platform for interactive content than today’s open Web technologies. Flash dangles the possibility of — dare we say it? — a write-once, run-anywhere solution for interactive content.

flash-11-

Flash’s future almost certainly lies in interactive content like games, not the simple delivery of video and audio. Where Flash used to be the de facto platform for pushing video to Internet users, a study earlier this year found nearly two thirds of Web video had stepped away from Flash—that’s mostly due to the market pressure of Apple’s iOS platform, and the numbers are probably higher now.

Flash’s value contradiction

Adobe says Flash 11 is the “next-generation console for the Web,” but the simple fact is that Flash is slowly vanishing from the Web, or at least from Web browsers. It doesn’t matter if Adobe can crank up graphics performance. As a growing number of Internet users access the Web in browsers that don’t support Flash, Flash content aimed at Web browsers might as well be moldering in a cardboard box in the basement of some county courthouse. Or, perhaps worse, it might as well have been written with Java.

Native apps sidestep a ban on the Flash browser plug-in because they don’t require a plug-in, and don’t run in a browser. However, they also can’t appear embedded in Web sites, so Adobe Air isn’t a solution for Web publishers looking to embed audio, video, and (most importantly) interactive elements in their Web pages. Developing a Web site and developing an app — let alone an app targeting multiple mobile and desktop platforms — are very different things.

Despite Adobe’s focus on Web-based gaming with Flash 11 and Air 3, it seems clear Flash’s value to Web publishers is declining, even as its value to app developers might be on the rise. The question then becomes whether Flash and Adobe Air can compete with native app development tools. To date, with Flash Player 10 and Adobe Air 2, the answer is no. Perhaps Adobe can change that with Flash Player 11 and Adobe Air 3.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Features

Exclusive: The Surface Hub 2S will revolutionize work. Here’s how it was made

Exclusive interviews with the designers, futurists, and visionaries behind the Surface Hub 2 paint a dramatic picture of how Microsoft thinks collaboration will change your office.
Gaming

Kick off your streaming career with our complete guide to Twitch broadcasting

Streaming games on Twitch for the first time can be daunting to say the least, but with a few simple steps, it's remarkably easy to do. Here's how to do so using a PC, Mac, Xbox One, or PlayStation 4 console.
Computing

Chromebooks are laptops, but they do things a little differently

Chromebooks are an intriguing branch of laptops that are often cheaper and faster than their Windows counterparts, but they are a little more limited. Intrigued? Here's everything you need to know about Chromebooks.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Movies & TV

Ditch the torrents! How to legally watch Game of Thrones online

Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows on TV, but unless you're a cable subscriber, finding a way to watch isn't always easy. Check out our guide on how to watch online, whether you prefer using HBO, Hulu, or Amazon.
Product Review

You won't buy Microsoft's Surface Hub 2S, but it could still change your life

The Microsoft Surface Hub 2S wants to change the way you collaborate at work. That’s a lofty goal most devices fail to achieve, but the unique Hub 2S could be an exception. And trust us – you’re going to want it.
Emerging Tech

How emotion-tracking A.I. will change computing as we know it

Affectiva is just one of the startups working to create emotion-tracking A.I. that can work out how you're feeling. Here's why this could change the face of computing as we know it.
Computing

Meet the mastermind behind Microsoft's massive new Surface Hub

Microsoft Chief Product Officer Panos Panay gives us an exclusive peek at the 85-inch Surface Hub 2, and explains how innovation and collaboration will transform your workplace.
Computing

Microsoft reveals details of Surface Hub 2S, coming in June at $9,000

The Surface Hub 2 could be the most expensive whiteboard ever made, but it should be a powerful and capable one. With the ability to connect several of the 50-inch displays together, the picture at least, should be gorgeous.
Computing

Report says 20% of all 2018 web traffic came from bad bots

Distil Networks published its annual Bad Bot Report this week and announced that 20% of all web traffic in 2018 came from bad bots. The report had other similarly surprising findings regarding the state of bots as well.
Gaming

Learn to uninstall a Steam game and clear some space on your PC

Looking to learn how to uninstall Steam games? You've come to the right place. In this guide, we walk you through the process step by step, whether you want Steam to do it for you or handle the process manually.
Deals

Amazon strikes $100 off the price of Microsoft Surface Go tablets

If you've been eyeing Microsoft's Surface Go for its compact size and portability, now may be a great time to buy the tablet. Amazon has a $100 discount on the Surface Go, bringing the price of this slate down to just under $400.
Photography

Sweet 16: Wacom’s Cintiq 16 pen display makes retouching photos a breeze

Wacom’s Cintiq pen displays are usually reserved for the pros (or wealthy enthusiasts), but the new Cintiq 16 brings screen and stylus editing to an approachable price. Does it cut too much to get there?
Computing

Mueller report releases on CD, forces Congress to find PCs with disc drives

The Mueller report was released this week to Congress via CDs and congressional members had to find PCs with working disc drives to access the 400-page document. The redacted report was also released to the public on a website.