James Governor's Monkchips

Honey, I Broke The Runtime. From Flash Lite To Flash Like

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Earlier this week Adobe [client] announced support for Flash on the iPhone. Kind of.

The story has been covered pretty extensively by both Adobe haters and fanboys.

What do I have to add at this point? Not a great deal. But one thing struck me pretty strongly. Having argued in the past that Adobe could open source the core Flash runtime and still offer a solid user experience, but been told that it was verboten to fragment the runtime from a User Experience perspective I am still kind of puzzled about the decision to recompile from Flash development tools to ARM runtimes in order to get onto the iPhone. That is – Adobe’s “Flash Platform” Actionscript tooling now generates something other than Flash, thus – to my mind at least – breaking Flash portability. One unknown remains- what moves Apple will make with respect to Flash-like apps in the App Store. It all depends on how Apple feels, in this new world of the permission-based web.

We know that Apple can show some flexibility here. Phonegap [another client, just signed this week] are just a couple of guys making trouble with dev tools that allow you to develop in HTML and Javascript but then deploy to Android, Blackberry, and iPhone with native system calls.

An express goal of the PhoneGap project is for the project to not exist. We believe in the web and devices should too. The web is moving off the desktop and into the pockets of people all over the world. Phones are the new window to the internet and, currently, they are second class. PhoneGap aims to move your device to a nice first class window. With a foot rest. Maybe a pillow.

Apple banned these apps at first, but then relented so who knows what Apple’s next move will be in terms of Flash-Like apps.

I should point out there was plenty of really positive news from Adobe at its MAX conference. LiveCycle Mosaic ES2 for example is going to change the game in enterprise panes of glass for reporting, social tooling and data integration. Congrats to my friend Matthias Zeller, the guy behind the post-portal era portal, for bringing it home.

James Cameron couldn’t have made Avatar without Adobe tools – and movies are going to get more digital, not less, over the next couple of years. They showed us some rushes at MAX and I was pretty blown away. Mostly because it looks like Hollywood could finally make a decent first of Michael Marshall SmithsSpares. 😉

ColdFusion is now a full citizen in the Eclipse-based Adobe development tools. LiveCycle is too, now. Ben Forta’s teams are doing some really amazing integration work. I can’t help thinking Adobe is now planning seriously for life after Flash. ColdFusion is all about the Web. PDF is a really crucial enterprise standard, and Livecycle is a runtime Adobe can sell.

So why not open source Flash? Open source the core, keep building more around IP around it. Its a hybrid source world. Talking of world, I should also point out something that Silicon Valley firms seem to forget. There is a world out there where not everyone has an iPhone. It may be the only game in town, but its certainly not the only game around.

Android completely rocks, for example. At least it does on my HTC Magic.

And with Android what are you going to do – write off an open source ecoystem with craploads of phone manufactures signing up? Microsoft could buy RIM, the enterprise’s favourite handy, to get back in the game. Apple? The best packager of tech standards wins in any tech wave… but another wave always comes along.

Adobe is moving to the cloud, makes powerful tools, is about creating digital experiences rather than consuming them, and is making the transition from consumer to enterprise as others try and move from enterprise to more consumer-like. It will be fine. But Flash itself could never be enough to keep revenues coming in-because its free – whether on the iPhone or anywhere else. Where else are revenues? In the cloud, for one, – see my post on Adobe’s Omniture acquisition for more thoughts in that space.

Still thinking about this one – but I try not to confuse the future of Flash with the future of Adobe. Is it OK to “break” Flash? Apparently the answer now is yes.  Adobe has extended its world, but broken Flash compatibility. Flash Lite is dead. Long live Flash Like.


  1. James Governor’s Monkchips » Honey, I Broke The Runtime. From Flash Lite To Flash Like http://bit.ly/oJb13 thoughts from #adobemax
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  2. That is – Adobe’s “Flash Platform” Actionscript tooling now generates something other than Flash, thus – to my mind at least – breaking Flash portability.

    Flash portability, or its ability to be deployed across platform is primarily about allowing developers to target multiple operating systems and devices. It is not about users moving SWFs across platforms.

    So, viewed at this angle, the iphone compilation fits into that model. A developer is still using ActionScript and Flash, and can target that content to multiple platforms. For example, if I build an iphone application in Flash, that content will be able to run anywhere Flash Player 10.1 runs (including the desktop, palm pre, android, Adobe AIR, etc…).

    Of course, I may have to tweak some of the content for screen size and user interactions, but in many cases I will not.

    mike chambers

    [email protected]

  3. When Adobe says that they don’t want to fragment the runtime, it means they don’t want different users discovering different experiences when they visit a website or load an application built with Flash technologies due to implementation incompatibility. Targeting the iPhone with a native app is something completely different. You will always have one experience because you have a single executable compiled with everything it needs.

    Portability isn’t a problem either. I built Chroma Circuit, one of the first apps unveiled at MAX, and I used existing ActionScript from an earlier version of the game for the web, with some tweaks here and there to support new APIs and to optimize my code better. It appears to me, based on what Adobe showed at MAX this last week, that they’re trying to keep the APIs generic to avoid portability problems. For instance, I know that the new multi-touch events aren’t iPhone specific, and all these new device capabilities are exposed as flags if someone wants to build an app that could run in more than one place. In theory, you should be able to use the same code to target future versions of Flash Player and AIR.

  4. re: fragmentation, it’s a different order of things. Microsoft successfully fragmented consumer support of Java. Exporting your work to a different runtime doesn’t reduce the predictability of your audience’s experience.

    (Adobe pays big bucks for high-performance audio and video codecs, and we don’t have rights to give away their source code and patents, so (aside from Tamarin & frameworks & all) “completely open the Player” is still logically difficult.)


  5. Hi James, nice article — sorry I missed you at MAX!

    I’m not sure if I can agree with you here, don’t see the Flash CS5 export to iPhone ARM binaries as in some way breaking the Flash Platform.

    We’re not talking about having Flash content run in the browser on an iPhone (which could cause incompatibilities) but rather being able to have full fledged standalone applications.

    In that sense its not different from other export options, though those are less impressive like exporting to a quicktime movie, image sequences etc.

    With Adobe focusing on mobile, and cross device deployment as a major driving factor for them, something had to be done about the iPhone with Apple holding things up.

    Also worth noting from the sneak peeks is the ability to use FXG (new declarative graphics format used in Flash Platform products) and render it in HTML5/Canvas.

    In that way they are breaking through the confounds of Flash content deployment and no longer focusing solely on the Flash Player as a delivery mechanism.

    With AIR 2.0, while they still strive for apps to be cross-platform compatible, the ability to create native executables for a specific platform (.exe, .dmg, …) and bundle native code no longer enforces this.

  6. James – I want to echo John’s sentiment above. I think that if we could make Flash a truly open standard, we would. We have done this with PDF, Tamarim, Flex SDK and way more. We love O/S.

    Also, the bytecode that runs on the iPhone is not running in the FlashPlayer so it does not impact Flash. True that it will allow developers who use flash authoring tools (CS5 timeframe) to build apps for the iPhone. I hope Apply really opens up the iPhone.

    Glad to see PhoneGap get their way. Awesome community work!!!


  7. Honey, I Broke The Runtime. From Flash Lite To Flash Like http://j.mp/1w2URA
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  8. thanks for piling on guys. a few points.

    firstly i never intended a call to open source Flash. we’ve been through that a few times and both sides have FAQ t-shirts at the ready. I really do understand your reasoning.

    secondly i may not have made clear that I actually think it make senses to target specific platforms other than Flash – Adobe is a company that makes money selling tools, not Flash runtimes. Whether or not one thinks Flash is essential to a “proper” web experience, the Web definitely needs to be at the heart of the platforms Adobe builds, targets and supports. As Peter Elst, Flash guru but non employee notes – HTML5 support has to be built in.

    thirdly – I think your answers acknowledge that this question can be viewed at from a couple of perspectives. Breaking Flash Platform? No. Breaking the runtime. hmmmmm… Saying to your development community- go ahead- take the red pill, i mean tick iPhone deploy, no Flash player required. That’s a big change which will create new challenges, and acknowledgment of what we might call market realities.

    Flash-like is going to be interesting. And now maybe Adobe can stop worrying about the iPhone question. That has to be a good thing,

    There are plenty of other challenges out there for the company. And some really solid work in back end data services to invest in, where the enterprise money is.

    Duane- can you think of any other Adobe technology ares worth investing some more resources to?

    I am interested in a lot of stuff but at heart i am an enterprise developer advocate – lets just say the ones that came to MAX will not have told their boss the big news was about the iPhone, or probably even mobile generally, as I laid out above.

    But as an industry watcher the iPhone is a fascinating, market shaping phenomenon – thus worthy of comment. And of course worth Adobe’s investment and support.

  9. thanks to the Adobe peeps for some excellent commentary on my post yesterday about Flash iPhone etc http://bit.ly/nZ3pq
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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  12. Honey, I Broke The Runtime. From Flash Lite To Flash Like http://j.mp/qhjJG crossplatform dev is hard in general, but very hard on such …
    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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