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Mike Riley

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Adobe's Upcoming Flash Builder Release

April 12, 2011

With yesterday's news of Adobe's upcoming Flash Builder 4.5 release, Adobe is leaping forward with both feet in recognizing the so-called 'Post PC' era of computing. Although they will no doubt continue to support the desktop for years to come, the new features touted in these updates highlight the ways creating Flash-based apps for non-PC devices will accelerate Flash adoption and utilization on Android, Blackberry, and iOS devices.

Although Windows Phone support isn't part of this release (though 'future versions' are expected to be), this is likely due to the fact that the platform is still playing catch-up in greater overall acceptance (i.e., marketshare). However, with Microsoft's recent Nokia deal, this may occur in time for the next major Flash Builder (6.0?) release.

Another feature missing in Flash Builder 4.5 is the inclusion of automated testing facilities for image and text area bounds checking across various devices. Flash developers are all too aware of the pain associated with manually having to verify that their UI elements play nicely across the range of supported mobile hardware. This is compounded by the fact that resolutions found in newer smartphones are defined not only by XY pixel resolution but also density.

And while development across different host operating systems is easier with the combined Flex/Flash/Catalyst workflows, Adobe continues to promote the requirement of the separately installed Adobe AIR runtime for non-iOS devices. The pragmatist in me says it makes sense to minimize redundancy in static compilations of libraries in multiple Flash applications on the same device, but the tester and support engineer in me fears that future compatibility will be a concern with every new update to the AIR runtime. At least I know that Flash apps packaged for iOS might only be impacted when Apple updates its OS versus the permutations of either the base OS or the AIR runtime shifting beneath the app's foundation. While it would be nice to think that Adobe could design a future build option to compile to standalone apps for these platforms instead, I don't see that option being seriously considered. Adobe has built its Flash empire on owning and controlling its runtime, and even though it may be stymied by Apple on the iOS, competing mobile platforms from Google, HP, and RIM are willing to let Adobe into their sandbox because they benefit from Adobe's technology and market value to further boost each platform's visibility.

Regardless of these current feature limitations, the fact that Adobe is bringing full support of its Flex framework to mobile Flash means it is serious about leveraging Flash in the enterprise. This is a smart move considering the number of mobile devices in the hands of corporations looking for a fast, cost-effective way to create cross-platform apps. And the new high-end Flash Builder 4.5 for PHP package further extends this Flex/PHP connection.

Adobe's commitment to assisting the migration of long-time Flash and Flex desktop developers to the 'Post PC' era in this update is crystal clear, and I'm looking forward to taking the new version for a spin. Stay tuned to Dr. Dobbs for a full review coming soon.

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