I’m a bit late to the party here, but the internet has been buzzing a lot lately with the ‘news’ that Adobe has killed Flash. Well, not quite.
First off let’s put this into perspective. They’ve killed Flash Mobile, more specifically the plug-in that comes with mobile phones in their browser. Does this mean Flash on mobile and tablet platforms is completely dead and gone? No, in fact the majority of Flash experiences on mobile and desktop will likely move to AIR.
Android phones can still use AIR, as will the RIM Playbook (ha ha.) iOS apps built with Flash are built in a different way, essentially having a version of AIR compiled into them – and iOS never permitted in-browser Flash – so it’s completely irrelevant to that platform anyway.
Matter of fact I would say this announcement is a good thing. First of all, Android and Playbook will still get Flash Player 11, which is way advanced for a browser plug-in for your phone. Still I think the Flash pipeline is starting to breach into some really cool territory, with fully fledged 3D hardware acceleration and the ability to finally produce fully native apps (see Captive AIR Runtimes and other AIR3 features.)
At least for the immediate future, AIR3 is a great step forward for game devs in Flash because it gives them a way to get their awesome experiences out to the world with minimal fuss.
Still, stigma is a big thing on the web. HTML5 is the future, primarily because the number is higher than HTML4. It has exciting things available like Canvas and WebGL which mean Flash will soon be redundant. Well. Someday.
Hopefully you can see that properly, it’s a really cool rippling water demo in WebGL (see preview image at right.) If you can’t – well – WebGL isn’t available to everyone for a few reasons. One would be that not all platforms and browsers support it. On one particularly important platform, it’s proprietary and only available to advertisers. Actually one other browser manufacturer that makes up fully 40% of the browsing world has no plans whatsoever to support it.
There’s a number of other issues – incomplete HTML5 implementations aside, we’re plagued with other problems like people who don’t or can’t upgrade their browser, performance and inconsistent behaviour (see above.) But we’re getting there. Still, it’s hard to understand why we’re accepting these drawbacks now when we have a plug-in (Flash) that all but eliminates these problems.
OK. So the word “Flash” isn’t sexy anymore in the tech world, especially not in the web world. More and more we’re seeing developers jump ship before the spectre of Steve Jobs crushes Flash for good. Personally I feel the jump to another platform is premature – especially HTML5 – but it seems to be raising awareness of another not-so-new contender in the web games arena, Unity.
Briefly stated Unity has some advantages over WebGL for game development that may allow it to really shine right now. For one, it performs consistently and quickly across all platforms. You’re not restricted to the browser – you can publish native apps for just about any platform, including all the popular consoles. It is a game engine and editor first – not simply a graphics library – so it can really help companies and developers play with ideas and publish something quickly. It does 2D handily as well as 3D, so it’s worth anyone’s time really.
There’s a couple caveats to this post I’ve written. Probably the biggest one is that yes, HTML5 really is the future. For web browsing. That’s important – just as important as it was to move on from frame-based websites and table layouts to HTML4. It’s a good thing we’re moving on. It really is. There are also tools emerging which will make game creation for HTML5 less painful – Stencyl (not yet but soon,) Construct, GameSalad and others are all great programs to keep your eye on if you’re someone curious about game development and the fantastic new world of compliant browsers. Flash is also really good if you’re exporting native apps – nobody has to know that you bundled AIR in there and you can certainly make excellent experiences with it. Plus Flash already has some support for HTML5 and you can expect them to build upon that in the future. The bottom line is that Flash has a great pipeline for animation into code and you can still make incredible experiences with it. If you’re concerned about what is industry sexy though, it may pay to learn a new trick or two!