Adobe Upgrades Flash Player, Adds Gaming Features

Adobe says Flash now supports hardware acceleration and native C/C++ code libraries, shares plans to charge developers a fee for using premium features.
Adobe may have abandoned its effort to bring its Flash Player to mobile devices, but the company remains committed to Flash as a development technology and is trying to raise its game by appealing to game makers.

When Adobe announced last November that it would no longer invest in Flash Player for mobile and would focus on HTML5 instead, it may have seemed as if the late Steve Jobs had finally triumphed in his war against Flash on iOS devices.

But Adobe never gave up on making its tools useful across multiple devices and platforms. As Danny Winokur, Adobe VP and general manager of interactive development, stated then, "Our future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores."

Adobe delivered on that promise on Wednesday when it introduced Air 3.2, Flash Player 11.2, premium features for gaming, and a partnership with Unity Technologies, a leading maker of game development tools.

Adobe's updated software provides developers with the option of using hardware-accelerated graphics and/or sandboxed native C/C++ code (Adobe calls this "domain memory") in their Flash-based games. These are essential technologies for graphically sophisticated commercial games. Adobe's updated software will also allow Unity users to build their games to be run on the Flash platform.

[ Read Google I/O Sellout: Devs Cry Foul. ]

Flash games, once packaged using Adobe AIR, can be run on OS X and Windows desktop systems and on mobile devices running Android, iOS, or BlackBerry Tablet OS. They can also be run in a browser using Adobe's Flash Player.

So Jobs's effort to keep cross-platform code off iOS didn't quite work out. And that's perhaps for the best since HTML5, which has been touted for years as the platform of the future, still isn't quite ready for those making games. The HTML5 development tools and middleware options are not yet mature enough, and certain aspects of the HTML5 specification, like audio APIs, are still being ironed out. Despite the abundance of impressive technology demos from HTML5 boosters, most recently Mozilla's BrowserQuest, Adobe's Flash platform remains a leading contender for those looking to code large cross-platform gaming projects.

It should be noted that AIR is not Flash. It's a cross-platform runtime that lets developers create graphically rich Internet applications outside of the browser using Web technologies like HTML and JavaScript, in conjunction with Flash and Flex code. AIR provides insulation against the problems that past iterations of the Flash Player exhibited on mobile devices, problems like security, suboptimal battery drain, and poor performance.

In conjunction with the new technological capabilities in AIR and Flash Player, Adobe is introducing a new licensing model that applies only to those using both new premium Flash features (hardware acceleration and domain memory). Starting August 1, creators of Flash applications that use these features--mobile apps created with Flash are exempt--will be required to pay Adobe a revenue share fee of 9% on application net revenue above $50,000.

Unity engineer Lucas Meijer in a blog post characterizes Adobe's plan as an effort to position Flash alongside other major software distribution channels. "Make money through the App Store, Apple takes a share," he said. "Make money through the Android Market, Google takes a share. Make money through Flash, Adobe takes a share."

Adobe's new licensing scheme may not go over well with all developers. Developer Joa Ebert in a blog post criticizes the shift, calling it a "speed tax."

"Limiting the capabilities of a runtime--by defaulting back to software rendering for instance--will make it less attractive to use it in the first place," he writes.

In this interactive virtual event from Dr. Dobb's, Developing With HTML5, top business technologists, experts, and solution providers will discuss the present and future of HTML5 as a Web- and mobile-development platform. When you register, you will gain access to live webcast presentations and virtual booths packed with free resources. It happens April 12. (Free registration required.)