Adobe's coming updates to its Flash Builder and Flex cross-platform software development tools, announced Monday, don't do anything to address the exclusion of the Flash Player from Apple's iOS products.
What that means is that if you buy an iPad or iPhone, which all run iOS, you still won't be able to run Flash-supported media when browsing to an application on a Web site, analysts and Adobe confirmed. Applications for iOS installed in the iPhone or iPad are another matter, however.
What Adobe announced on Monday primarily gives its many thousands of developers the ability to use the Adobe Air software to build an app for Android and BlackBerry Tablet OS and iOS, with only minor changes to suit each platform, instead of needing to write an entirely new app for each platform, Adobe said.
Part of the importance of Adobe's tool update is that developers can more easily build installed applications for iOS "and they don't need the Flash Player to support native installed apps," Dave Gruber, group product marketing manager for Adobe, told Computerworld.
Developers can already use Action Script, a tool inside the Flash platform, to build iOS apps, Gruber said. But that process has taken more time if the developer was creating an app for iOS already written for Android, for example.
Those apps written for iOS in the past, and with the 4.5 updates coming in June for iOS, can make use of the Air runtime software to support animations and other features seen in games and other applications, Gruber said.
Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC, said that the current installed iOS apps written with Adobe software, and those being written with the 4.5 update, will run "exactly the same" on an iPhone or iPad as they would on an Android phone.
Some customizations of apps to meet Apple's standards for menus and fonts and colors could still be required for the installed iOS apps, Hilwa added.
One new feature in the Adobe updates should be of interest to enterprise-based developers, in that developers will be able to use Flash Builder 4.5 to build Flex mobile apps, Gruber said. Flex is an objected-oriented framework more widely used in enterprise settings than Action Script, Gruber said.
Aside from the ability to build mobile apps across several platforms, the Flash Builder 4.5 tool includes some improvements to the way developers also build browser-based apps. Those include templates of code based on best practices that can be dropped into browser based apps and other changes to enhance flexibility of the tool, Gruber said.
Ball's in Apple's walled garden
Ultimately, it is up to Apple to decide if it will ever adopt the Flash player. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has objected mainly on the grounds that the Flash player is inefficient, drawing too many resources from a device's processor.
Apple has pushed for HTML 5 as an alternative to the Flash, although some developers continue to criticize Apple's stance.
Gruber would not comment on whether Adobe has an ongoing effort to persuade Apple to incorporate the Flash Player in iOS devices, but said that Adobe "likes anything that promotes flexibility."
News of the latest Adobe updates to Flex and Flash Builder are "great for Adobe apps," wrote one commenter on a Computerworld story. "But Adobe Flash is still NOT ALLOWED on iOS devices. "That is still a huge problem for Web browsing."
Hilwa said he believes there's "little [device] penalty to running Flash," even though Apple has staunchly opposed installing the player on its devices. "Perhaps, some day, Apple will change its mind," he added. "Things do change."
Adobe used its 4.5 update announcement with words that seem to gently nudge Apple for not adopting the Flash Player. In its official news release of the 4.5 update, Adobe noted that the launch "comes at a time when Adobe Flash technology is taking massive strides forward in the mobile market. With more than 131 million smartphones expected to have Flash Player installed by the end of the yer, Adobe Flash brings rich browser-based content to desktops and devices."
Immediately following that sentence, Adobe noted all the devices that do include the Flash Player and the list did not, obviously, include iOS. Air, Flash Builder and Flex can be used to build and deliver rich mobile applications to smartphones and tablets, Adobe added in the statement, a number expected to reach 200 million smartphones and tablets by the end of 2011.
Gruber and Adobe have implied that greater ease in building installed iOS applications with the latest update could somehow reduce the need for the Flash Player on iOS, but that remains to be seen.