File Under: Software & Tools

Adobe Fights Off HTML5 Threat With New Flash Player 10.1

HTML5 has been touted as a “Flash killer,” making the ubiquitous Flash Player plugin unnecessary with new tags to embed video and create animations directly within HTML. But the latest Flash update, announced at Adobe’s ongoing MAX conference, shows that Flash isn’t going away without a fight.

Adobe’s latest update includes all its Flash-based tools, with a new version of the Flash Player, a new version of AIR, the desktop runtime and a slew of new mobile device tools.

While the big news is undoubtedly the (albeit, somewhat limited) ability to turn Flash Player files into iPhone apps, there are some other new developments in Flash 10.1 that should be good news for web developers.

For example, Flash Player 10.1 now allows graphics-heavy applications to take advantage of GPU acceleration wherever it’s available. That means web-based HD video streams should be smoother and less prone to endless “buffering” messages.

Of course there’s a whole new player in web video: HTML5. While the coming update to the HTML spec is still a work in progress, it’s already possible to publish movies on the web without Flash or other third-party tools.

Indeed, many of the new features coming in HTML5, like the video, audio and canvas tags, are essentially designed to replace Flash, the current de facto solution for embedding video, audio and animation on the web. The only problem is that HTML5 is not finished and browser support is far from complete.

While HTML5 may not be ready for primetime, it’s pretty clear from its recent updates that Adobe is working hard to make sure Flash’s features outstrip those of the still nascent HTML5.

For example the new GPU support puts Flash well ahead of HTML5′s native video support, which likely means that Flash will remain the most popular option for video streaming services like Hulu.

In addition to Flash, Adobe has stepped up the desktop support for its new AIR environment, which allows Flash to run on the desktop like a native app. While the current crop of AIR apps leave much to be desired compared to OS-native apps, AIR 2 has quite a few tricks up its sleeve to close the gap.

AIR 2 will offer developers support for touchscreen interfaces and the ability to interact with connected USB devices. For example, apps built on AIR 2 will be able to detect and connect to a digital camera or external storage device.

AIR 2 also features the ability to hand off files to desktop apps. Combine that with the connected device support and it would be simple to build an iPhoto-style application for importing and organizing photos and then pass on the more complex editing to desktop app like Photoshop, all from within the AIR environment.

Combine Flash Player 10, Air 2 and the new mobile device support and you get a very powerful set of tools that make it relatively easy to build apps that run everywhere.

But the real question is whether developers will bet on Flash or the open standards of HTML5 as the future of the web. There’s no question that Adobe has the upper hand right now, but as browsers continue to implement HTML5 features, it remains to be seen whether developers will stick with Flash or jump ship for HTML5.

Flash CS5 will be released as a public beta later this year. For more details on what’s new in Flash Player 10.1, AIR 2 and the new mobile device support, head over to the Adobe Labs website.

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