The Flash platform evolves quickly

One of the distniguishing characteristics between Flash and Web Standards is the rate at which Adobe advances the Flash Platform. Every 18 months or so a new version of the Player and authoring tools is released with additional features, performance enhancements and general improvements. This pace can be maddening (and expensive) for developers to keep up with, but it also really drives innovation.

In the grand tradition of Max, Adobe launched, announced, or otherwise went public with a flood of new things for the industry to wrap its head around. Here is a cheat sheet to help keep some of the Flash related advancements straight.

Adobe Air

Adobe Air 2.5 is now publically available (previously available in public prerelease). Air is Adobe’s runtime used to build applications using Flash, HTML and PDF content. These applications are installed and managed on computers and devices in the same way that native apps are.

This version of Air brings wider support for devices including: Android (v2.2+), BlackBerry Tablet OS, and Samsung’s SmartTV line.

Improvements to Air include: geolocation and accelerometer support, access to camera and video applications, multi-touch and gesture support, and a 50% faster JavaScript engine. Also, the new StageWebView provides the ability to display native browser controls within the application for the integration of HTML and .SWF content and SQLite support.

When used with the Blackberry Tablet OS SDK, Air 2.5 can build Playbook apps from ActionScript only SWF files.

Adobe is working to roll out support for Windows Phone 7 as well.

There is no clear word yet about Air being available for Google TV, which will definitely support the Flash Player within its browser; but the educated hunch is that when Google opens that platform for third party apps, Air 2.5 will be supported as it is on Android mobile devices.

The iPhone packager is lagging behind AIR due to time off during the blockade by Apple. Adobe is now working to update APIs, but currently iOS is still on Air 2.0. It lacks access to camera, microphone and StageWebView.

With regards to Air on TV’s. While Samsung will have blueray players and TVs running Air 2.5 next year, Flash Lite for Digital Home is likely to be the most prevalent version of Flash on TVs for a while. Not only are current Flash enabled TVs shipping with Flash Lite, but I expect that given the hardware requirements for Air 2.5, several TVs will continue to ship with Flash Lite for the foreseeable future.

Flash Builder

A new version of Flash Builder, codename “Burrito,” is available in public prerelease. Key improvements include:

  • Developing mobile and multi-screen applications
  • Accelerated coding for Flex and ActionScript projects
  • Improved designer/developer workflow (in conjunction with the latest prerelease of Catalyst)
  • Updated platform support and improved performance

Flex

The next version of Flex, codename “Hero,” is also available in public prerelease. It includes support for Android applications that was teased at last years Max. It includes components tuned for mobile and built-in navigation models (pushing pages left to right with and consistent back stepping) as well as support for saving and reloading states. The goal is to simplify the creation of behaviors common in most mobile (phone-sized) applications.

Flex can’t be used on the BlackBerry Tablet yet, but I read that it the BlackBerry workflow will eventually be supported.

Additionally, Hero has not yet been optimized for use in the iOS environment.

Molehill

Adobe is working on a new API for hardware accelerated 3D rendering. The demo game (starting at 2:30) in this video is really, really impressive.

Flash -> Web Standards export

This early “sneak” (no promises that it will ever make it into a product) of a tool that is able to convert an FLA (animation only) to Web Standards technologies. If spits out a bunch of PNGs, SVG and other elements. While the practical uses may be limited, it is a great indication that Adobe is considering a wide range of possibilities for merging Flash and HTML5.

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