User experiences are going to get a lot better and online gaming is going to get a lot more exciting with the launch of Adobe Flash Player 11 and AIR3 - that was the view developers as the technology launched this week during the Adobe MAX conference in Los Angeles.
New attributes in AIR 3 include native extensions, which allow developers to take advantage of existing native code libraries and deep native hardware and OS capabilities, such as sensors (gyroscopes, magnetometers, light sensors, etc), multiple screens, native in-app payments, haptic/vibration control, device status, and Near Field Communications.
"The native extensions are exciting," said Steve Lund of development and consulting company Digital Primates. "We work with a company developing medical applications who are now moving into the mobile space so we'll be able use this. To get on the tablet, to be able to interface directly with devices through the native extensions is pretty exciting for the enterprise customers."
Adobe also introduced a captive runtime facility, which allows developers to automatically package AIR 3 with their applications to simplify the installation process on Android, Windows and Mac OS in addition to Apple iOS.
"It's going to save our clients a lot of money, by allowing us to develop once and deploy to many [platforms]," said Danny Jackson of rain. "Over the last couple of years we've been developing for iOS and developing for Android and in essence there's not any code that's shared between the two, so you're essentially building it twice. So our clients should be excited and we hopefully should get more work."
"AIR is the application future for Flash content," said RJ Owen, experience planner at Effective UI. "I think Flash Player now is just to going to be all about video and 3D/2D games on the Web. AIR is where Apps run. They're going to run native on your devices or native on your computer."
Also new on the Flash platform is the ability to utilise hardware accelerated 2D and 3D graphics rendering through the Stage 3D API (formerly Molehill). With dramatically faster (up to 1000 times) rendering performance over Flash Player 10 and AIR 2, Stage 3D enables new classes of console-quality games and immersive apps smoothly rendered at 60 frames per second.
"Adobe Flash Player 11 provides unique functionality, including Stage 3D and native 64-bit support and asynchronous bitmap decoding, to allow us to leverage both 2D and 3D components for the best gaming experience possible," says Anton Volkov, CTO of Alternativa, creator of the game Tanki Online (above). "Now, we can make game images sharper, shinier, and more realistic for a richer experience than traditional online games. It will keep players coming back time and time again."
Also at the keynote, Emmy Huang, group product manager for gaming solutions at Adobe, introduced Starling, which allows 2D content to be created on top of the 3D GPU APIs in Stage 3D. It can thus use the GPU to accelerate 2D graphics to an incredible level. Starling will be one of the features of the next version of Flash Professional, codenamed Reuben.
Andrew Stalbow, general manager of Rovio, revealed that a Flash version of Angry Birds as well as a brand new Angry Birds engine is in development. "We're very excited about bringing this experience to Flash," said Stalbow. "The Starling framework really allows us to create great special effects. The new explosions, smoke and lighting effects that you're going to see are thanks to that, and it really enables our game to run smoothly at 60 frames per second. We can use the power of the GPU to enhance our 2D experience to get the best performance and visual effects for users of Angry Birds. Just as an example we've got five times more particles in our explosions and special effects than we've ever had before."
French company Digitas was another of the pre-release developers using the Stage 3D technology -- this week it has released a highly interactive user experience app for the Nissan Juke for Flash Player 11 and AIR 3 (below).
"As a development tool, the difference [as opposed to Flash Player 10] is not so much about Flash -- it's about 3D," said Julien Terraz, creative technologist at Digitas. "You have to manage 3D assets and 3D concepts, but what you are now doing with 3D in Flash is exactly same way as you create 3D for games. You send the same kind of information to the GPU. Flash just opens this up [to interactive developers]."
"The news about 3D and GPU-accelerated 2D is great," said RJ Owen. "But what's really interesting is that Adobe seems to be putting boundaries around what Flash is good for again. Four or five years ago Adobe was saying 'Flash is good for everything, Flash is the answer to all of your experiences'. Now it's like 'Flash is great for games and video that needs DRM, but for your general Web experience, for a site, then use HTML'. They've put Flash back in its proper context today."
The Flash and AIR releases also deliver new features to support cinema-quality HD video, native 64-bit optimisations, high-quality HD video conferencing, and a powerful, flexible architecture for leveraging native device and platform capabilities. Stage 3D for mobile platforms including Android, Apple iOS and BlackBerry Tablet OS will be available in an upcoming production release of Flash Player 11 and AIR 3 due in the first half of 2012.