Flash and HTML5: Adobe's take

By Nash David | Published 21 Oct 2011 11:00 IST
Flash and HTML5: Adobe's take

Anup Murarka, Director, Product Marketing, Flash Platform, Adobe Systems on the recent announcements made at Adobe at MAX 2011, and what it means to a designer, developer and end user.

Anup Murarka, Director, Flash Platform Marketing, Adobe Systems

With the acquisition of Phonegap, would Flash Builder be taking a different path in the future?

No, because I think they really solve different problems. Flash Builder is a tool that we have today, that serves developers who build Flash-based applications. Period. Phonegap doesn't change that. Phonegap doesn't somehow magically take and solve what IDE, or what debugger tools to use. It doesn't replace Flash Builder in any way. I think what changes is developers now have the ability of using multiple and different technologies from Adobe to solve all their application challenges. It's more of a framework, so it's more analogous to whatever technology you publish using Flex. 

So there would be Flash Builder, Flex, and also Phonegap as an offering from Adobe?

Yes. Well Phonegap is open source.

And it would stay that way?

Yes. In fact, Adobe has already taken necessary steps. Nitobi has already submitted all of Phonegap's system to the Apache Foundation. So basically committing it, and they did that with Adobe's complete support. So it's an open source project, and it will remain an open source project. If anything, with the acquisition of Nitobi, we're giving developers the opportunity to use first class developer tools for HTML and JavaScript development. As you might know, with Nitobi as a startup, they had to do a lot of consulting and professional services in order to continue driving revenue for their businesses. Now being part of Adobe, they have more resources to just focus on developing the architecture and technology, rather than also do consulting and project.

Adobe has products such as Muse and Edge for the web. What happens to Dreamweaver going forward?

Think of our portfolio as solving individual challenges or problems, separately. Muse is for a specific category of creative professionals that don't have experience in writing HTML or JavaScript code. They have experience in using tools such as InDesign. So in order to build a web page with a design background (from say print experience), tool such as these help. Similarly, the Edge product is about creating animations, and about moving objects on a web page; but done with a UI that a movie producer is very familiar with. Dreamweaver is still another product. It's a different tool. In this scenario, it's about what a web producer has to go through – all the fine tuning and modification is done in Dreamweaver. Just as the web has grown more complex, even applications have grown more complex. Rarely is a web project executed by just one person any more. All these products support different roles.

So there will be interoperability between these products?

Absolutely, just as there is today. You've seen it in Creative Suite 4, 5 and now 5.5. With the announcement of Creative Cloud, there's more opportunity to do work, while say, you're commuting in the train. You could work on a sketch and do some design work while travelling in to your office. When you're at office, you can continue with your work on your desktop too. All of this takes care of the needs of designers. This, is, however, quite different from solving the needs of a developer.

There were several announcements around 3D and games. In fact, a lot of hype around TVs and also devices are now focussing on 3D. What are the implications for a developer?

Yes, this is definitely an exciting area. First of all, there is a whole new list of APIs. This is a big shift because we did not find a way to retrofit it in the existing graphics set up. So there is a whole new set of graphics APIs. However, the benefit of using these APIs is new graphics acceleration so you can do millions of objects of animation on regular tablets, phones and desktops. This, if, you had to just perform on software, wouldn't do as well. That applies not just to 3D graphics, but also to 2D graphics. Think of Facebook games for example, you'll have a whole new level of gaming with enhanced graphics.

The next point is about making it a richer experience. If any of you have experienced console-based games on PlayStation or Xbox, you find similar experience and capability within the web browser. So you don't have to go and buy a $500 game console. All graphics is rendered locally using your GPU. You'll have greater detail on this as the products start shipping soon. Our focus, to begin with, is on gaming. 

However, let's think more broadly. Think of all the business applications. Even scientific visualisation, molecular remodelling, complex financial graphing, another personal favourite is CAD/CAM visualisation. Think of manufacturing processes changing because now you now have a way of looking at complex machinery from your browser. This is something you can't really do without downloading a bunch of extra software. 

For more on Flash, visit Page 2...



Where do you think Flash is heading in the future, and what is the biggest challenge to Flash?

It's our responsibility to keep Flash moving forward. Flash has always had a role in the web: enabling the best, the highest quality, and the richest experiences of what we could do with web sites. What that meant 10 years ago was different than what it meant 5 years ago. It has to be  different today. We expect features developed in Flash to move on to become open web standards over a period of time. In many cases we would be responsible for driving that movement. We've contributed to Webkit and some of the things in HTML, fonts and typography. We want to see the entire web grow in terms of capabilities and sophistication. The obligation, the onus, is on Adobe to keep Flash at the leading edge of what is possible. So we think flash can really differentiate itself in three areas over the next three years. One is in gaming, that is because something around 70% of web games are built in Flash and is the most popular technology for building any casual social game. So, with the new engine and some of the new features and partnerships that we've announced, we think you’ll see Flash really take a big leadership role in creating a whole new quality of games from the console to the web. Second is in what I call premium video, long form movies, first run productions, interactive video content, things we have been talking about with digital TV for as long as I’ve been in the tech industry, the reason is because you have basic linear video playback in the HTML standards. You can watch YouTube video with just HTML, you don’t need Flash, it doesn’t add any extra value. It does have value for many video companies because it is consistent, you have reach across 98% of all internet connected desktops, the same codecs, the same framework, the same technology and you don’t get that with all the different browsers. What Chrome supports is different from what Safari supports, what IE supports, what Firefox supports, and that frustrates users. If I'm a producer, sometimes I don't want to have to design content for any one of those different browsers. If any of you have been around in web development long enough to remember the browser wars of the HTML4 days, that is kind of the space we are in video today. So, the first is, consistency where Flash is different, the second is content protection. Most companies don’t want to put first run, high value, long form movies, into the open web, because it is just going to get stolen.

So you want some content protection system that is usable and that is going to work across all these various systems? Flash has such a system that is in place, we call it Flash access, it is available every where Flash is available. It has been available on the desktop for some time now, it's been available on TVs for the last several months, this latest release that we announced during MAX is available on mobile platforms as well. So you get one content protection system if you’re a film producer, if you’re a production company/network trying to get your content across to a broad audience and want to protect that content that is available. And the third use case is a little hard to describe and I think it is going to take some time to evolve. It is what we call data rich or data intensive applications. Things that are centred on large data sets, complex visualizations, charts and graphs and executive dashboards and some of those types of things and things where Flash is uniquely suited to do and, again, there are a whole new set of applications that will come because of our 3d engine but it takes time to develop and our prices don’t move very quickly, they make their choices very slowly and they take their time, so that is going to evolve and develop over time, but we think that visualization category is a 3rd really great category or use case where Flash will really differentiate itself over the next few years.

Beyond that, I don’t know, it's because the industry is changing so very quickly, it is something that excites us and it creates opportunities for creative adobe thinking and products and services, and I think we have these 3 segments that Flash can differentiate itself. We have a watch talk about even in terms of what was just talked about today and what was announced and demonstrated, but even things that we know and are going to be coming up in the next 6 months or 12 months, but, I’m always reluctant to say anything about what will happen in 3 years or 5 years, because the web will be a different place, computing will be a different place. No one would have predicted that smartphones would rise so quickly. Even 2 years ago people were talking about feature phones that have been around,they’re 50 plus % of the market and are going to be stay around for a long time. Even in India, we’re seeing a really big shift towards a significantly different set of capabilities in what used to be called the smartphone is now the normal phone. And no one predicted that would happen as quickly as it would. And so, I think those types of shifts are no longer taking 10 years to happen

Tv is still moving a little slowly, but we are starting to see those really big shifts because computing powers, capabilities, are getting to a price point that makes it much more accessible. The long term is really about, how we help creative professionals, digital marketers, digital media companies solve certain key business problems and we want everyone to understand whether it is in the US, Europe, or Japan, Adobe is a partner that is going to help them do that. Whether it is HTML or Flash related, it is not about the technology .It is about a business problem that we want to solve and how de we help our customers solve those business problems.

That was detailed and insightful. Do you see Adobe coming up with a browser any time soon with such a  significant role?

Well, we have no plans to introduce a browser at this time. It is not the first time I’ve been asked that question as you might have guessed. Even today, it has definitely been a question that most people have asked. We think that we play a better role by contributing to the existing browsing technology. So, part of our recent announcements are highlighting some of the recent contributions we’ve done to Webkit, also highlighted by the typography demos at MAX 2011. We're contributing to existing web browser technologies as we mentioned in the keynote. I think really, it comes down to our business. One of the key problems we are helping some of our customers solve, is how to get great content into the hands of as many people as possible. Introducing our own browser doesn’t solve that problem, doesn’t help that problem. If we put all of our energy behind our own browser and try to attract market share for that browser and do all the things that would be necessary, it boxes our customers into a specific browser that isn’t on 100% of the desktops. That is not our approach. That is not the business problems our customers are trying to solve. It is not where our focus is. We want to move the web forward and we think we can do that by contributing to existing projects, whether that is Phonegap, webkit, CSS standard. We, just a couple of years ago, made the largest IP contribution the Mozilla foundation has ever received, by contributing our entire Flash virtual machine. And, so, that is more our DNA, to sort of drive and contribute in that manner versus, saying that we have to build it ourselves and do it our way.

For more on the impact of Flash on gaming, visit page 2...



Could you elaborate on gaming and how Flash will change gaming?

I think it is definitely going to change gaming, because, again, gaming, 4 or 5 years ago, was largely focussed in two sub-segments. One is PC gaming, games that people would buy, $40-60 at a time for their PCs. It was an industry that was huge, bigger than the movie industry, here in the US. The second subset is console gaming. Buy a standalone device, hook it up to a TV and start gaming. Also big. That combined industry is over $80billion. Very big. What has happened in the last 2 years is 2 things. 1: Many of those players have started to move to websites, where they can play for free, at a much lower cost, and particularly in developing markets, India, China, other parts of the South-east market. Gameplay is happening on the web, not happening in those dedicated devices. It is still happening on the PC, but the growth has come in this other category, web gaming. 2: With the rise of that, you’ve not only seen that shift happen where people are playing these dedicated games on these purpose built platforms to web based games. You’ve also seen an explosion in the no of game players. So, the graphic for game players has changed drastically as a result of social based websites and social gaming and web use as now it is accessible to many more people. You know, the mother, who would never have thought about playing a game on a $400 console she would have bought on her own, she is now playing 1 or 2 hrs on a social website with 2 or 3 of her friends. It is happening. In terms of the demographic of males vs females we are seeing a shift, wherer there is more casual gameplay happening by females than male players, where traditional gaming has been dominated by male players. We are seeing it across a bigger economic demographic and a larger geographic demographic.

And, we think, that by producing this quality, that has been in this exclusive domain of console and traditional PC gaming, we are making it available across so many other markets and across so many people in a web browser, in a software and hardware platform that you already have on your desk. You bought a new PC in that last year or 2, you probably have enough computing power to support our new 3d engine in hardware, not just in software. That is a big shift, and that is why we are excited and I can’t do it justice unless you start to see some of those games. Some of them are already demoed in the pavilion area, but tomorrow we will have a lot more compelling example for you. You can hear more about a new level of social games, that today are a little too simplistic, but are looking to get more intricate. ONe of the top 7 gaming companies in China, has literally built an entire MMO using Flash, delivered via the web. The types of things those sort of companies are going to do with Flash Player 11, is going to change gaming.

So we are going to see more and more Zynga-like companies......

Absolutely, yes. Even if we did nothing those companies are the ones that are growing and rising, you have seen major game publishers such as Electronic Arts saying that the growth is happening in social and casual games, we are moving our resources and investments there. So the industry is moving that way, we are in a position to say, that that is going to be an advantage for Adobe products and technologies. All these game companies use our products today. They’re using Photoshop, Illustrator, prototypes and mock ups. Now we can give them that ability by using Flash and HTML, to deliver those whole games with the tools and those products that you already have and love. So, we see it as a tremendous opportunity. The nice thing is that because it is so well accepted and adapted already within that segment; overtime, that is going to drive consumer demand for Flash. Over the last two years, there was a whole lot of noise and debate that Flash is dead, Flash is going away, and so on and so forth. What I would like to remind people of, is, that every metric that we track, first is the distribution of the Flash player itself, we have been rock-solid steady growth at 98% of all internet connected PCs and we’ve seen exponential growth in mobile devices. So, a developer that builds a Flash based game or application today for a mobile, can reach , before the end of this year, over 200 million devices, across iOS, Android, and BlackBerry Playbook. Runtime has been growing. So, last year, we were well under 20 million devices, and with 6x growth in just one year, we see continuing exponential growth, for the next couple of years. So, runtime distribution, the platform that people can have in their device, on their desktop that developers, production companies can target and keep growing. The second metric that we use is, are there more applications available or developers. Evans data tracks developers per ActionScript. We’ve seen that grow 50% year on year. Over 3 million developers worldwide now classify themselves as knowing or able to do ActionScript development. That has grown, despite all the rhetoric about Flash. There are now thousands of applications in the Android market and in the Apple App Store that are built using Flash. Thousands of applications, some of the most popular ones, I’ve mentioned the Chinese MMO, the number 2 game in all of China is a Flash-based game. The number 1 game for a big chunk of September was a game called Machinarium, built in Flash in the Apple iTunes store. It was number 1 in the US and number 1 in around 12 or 13 different countries.

There are more applications than ever before, being built with Flash, with our technology. And then the third, the one that ultimately matters is consumption, are people actually consuming that content? Video consumption has been growing exponentially. We now transmit more video in Flash-compatible format than we do using any other technology, easily as much as 50% of all web video or even as much as 70%, somewhere in that range of all web video is being consumed and delivered in Flash. That is far and above any single technology. We are seeing all these applications get used more and more and increasingly being powered by Flash and we are seeing more there. We are seeing more consumption on digital publications. Similarly, the digital publication suite has been a big growth area for us over the last year, We just announced it a year ago. To think that there are now thousands of magazines being published every week using our technologies and our solution. If they are on any platform other than iOS, they’re actually being delivered as a Flash application using Air. And so, in all of these different categories, we are seeing more content and consumption available, to the point where consumers are looking for Flash in their devices. And so, consumer demand is there, consumption is there, and that is all our customers really care about. How do I get people to read, watch, and interact with my content. So, in all of these metrics Flash has been growing and not declining.


For Anup's take on alternatives, visit Page 4... 


What do you have to say on Java and Silverlight?

They are alternatives. I mean, one of the exciting things about development for the web is, developers have so much choice. It is complex, but it is great that they have a choice. They are going to pick the solution, the technology, that is going to best meet their needs. I’ve seen developers do amazing things with Silverlight, with Java, with C , objective C, with C sharp, I can rattle off 15 different programming languages. That is not the problem. They have all sorts of choice. I think what distinguishes, generally speaking, Flash developers is, they tend to be more aware of design, they tend to be more aware of user interface and such concepts. They tend to build more intricate user experiences and they’re able to do so more quickly. I think that is really where Flash is distinguishing itself. You don’t really think about beautiful Java applications as a common experience. You think about really beautiful Flash applications as a more common experience. I think that is a distinction. Silverlight was a technology that was trying to win developers away from Flash. It never got that range of use or adoption. All those metrics I just talked about, it never saw any of that type of growth. And so, as a technology choice it is not really that played out that developers are behind it. There are still developers using it and they can be really successful. I think, but for the most part, we will continue to see growth in the Flash side as an alternative to Silverlight, Java, PHP. Developers can do anything they like with any language. So, we’re not trying to be dogmatic about, Flash being the only way to play games. You have choices, I think when you think about what the business problem is to solve, do you have the time it will take to create the application or your enterprise, you know, your shopping cart, on that device and so on in, you know,  5 other devices, can you do that native development  every time? Probably not. And so, we think, in this growing landscape of diversity and fragmentation of all these different hardware and OS choices, it is no longer about desktops. It used to be a problem that all our enterprise customers used to come to us is that how do I develop for Mac, Windows and Linux. I know I have to develop for Windows, I’m already doing that, but I have this really vocal Linux community that is demanding that my application be available, but I can’t afford to do that development for Linux. How do I do it? I think those are some of those example where our core DNA about helping people get their content, get their application to desktop platforms carries over in the device world and becomes an even more valued proposition I think.

I’m just casually wondering, what does Adobe think of Windows Phone?

It's another platform. Again, as you see a lot of different partners here, Sony Samsung, Motorola, RIM. It is not in our nature to sort of say that one is the winner or one is the right one. Microsoft has been an amazing partner for us in a number of areas where we’ve been very successful because of this.

This is one of the things that is going to evolve. We are going to be working with Microsoft to bring AIR to that platform. We haven’t made any specific product ship announcements at this time. I think Microsoft has taken an approach of saying, in the browser, specifically for Metro, they want to have HTML and Java support. What that does it is that it just doesn’t block Flash, it blocks Silverlight, JavaScript and all the other things that make the web really successful. And, what we are finding that this is basically crippling the web, not extending it. Your web browsing today is less capable on that device there than it is on your desktop. A lot of consumers are going to say that I’m going to try, but I’m going to go to my desktop and open my favourite desktop as there is a so much richer experience there. I think that the risk we run is that some of us are going to get this sort of dumbed down experience as a result some of the web technologies used in these platforms are not as capable. The webkit engine that is available to most HTML developers building an application is not as capable as a native application on iOS or on some of the popular platforms. And so, this is the real challenge I think of. We want the web to grow and become a platform of choice for consumers to consume content. We’ve got to see that innovation continue to push forward. It is a choice that the platform owners have the right to make. OS companies have a right to make that choice and what is commercially successful will depend on what the consumers will want and accept remains to be seen. And so, it is another platform, we will work with Microsoft to see how we can support it, we definitely want to see Flash based applications support it and Microsoft’s early indications have been that they are supportive of that idea as well, just as we are able to deliver it for iOS today.

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