And now Adobe has limited access to Flash in the Google Play Store to any phone on this list of certified devices. For everyone else Flash on Android is a thing of the past.
The reasoning behind Adobe’s decision to pull Flash from the Google Play store is that any devices that don’t have Flash Player installed out of the box are, in Adobe’s words, “increasingly likely to be incompatible with Flash Player.”
There is a way around the new limitations if you’re a developer who needs access to Flash (or, presumably, a user who doesn’t mind hacking your phone): Flash Player for Android will remain available in Adobe’s archive of released Flash Player versions. It’s also worth noting that when we first wrote about the end of Flash on Google Play a number of readers let us know that the Flash plugin actually does seem to work with Android 4.1, so if you’ve just got to have it, head to the archives and give it a shot.
The move shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Adobe already announced last year that it would cease development of its mobile Flash Player. Still, if you were hoping Google might give Flash a bit of a reprieve by including support in the latest version of Android, well, we’ve got bad news for you.
Beginning Aug. 15, Adobe plans to start limiting access to Flash in the Google Play Store to mobile devices that already have Flash installed. In other words, if your Android phone shipped with Flash installed — what Adobe refers to as a “certified version” of mobile Flash — then you can keep getting updates through the Google Play Store. If you’re planning to buy a new phone running Android 4.1, you won’t be installing Flash after the fact.
The reasoning behind the move is that any devices that don’t have Flash Player installed out of the box are, in Adobe’s words, “increasingly likely to be incompatible with Flash Player and will no longer be able to install it from the Google Play Store.”
There is a way around the new limitations if you’re a developer who needs access to Flash (or, presumably, a user who doesn’t mind hacking your phone): Flash Player for Android will remain available in Adobe’s archive of released Flash Player versions. Also, little birds flying around Google I/O this week tell us that the Flash plugin actually does seem to work with Android 4.1. If you’d like to try it for yourself, better hurry up and grab it while you can.
This release is not only significantly faster than previous versions, it features a ground-up redesign using Android’s native user interface widgets and controls.
The result is a web browser that’s a bit more Androidy and a bit less Firefoxy. But that’s just fine with us because the significant speed boost more than makes up for the fact that it looks a bit different than desktop Firefox.
In fact, not only was Firefox 14 faster than previous releases, it was faster than most of the rest of the browsers installed on our Galaxy Nexus running Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich (though it’s worth noting that, unlike Chrome for Android, Firefox for Android will run on pre-ICS phones).
That might be somewhat surprising if you experimented with the first few releases of Firefox for Android, which were disappointingly slow. Those first few versions all used the standard XUL-based interface that powers Firefox on other platforms. But, while the XUL interface meant Firefox on Android looked like Firefox, it seriously lagged at basic tasks like scrolling, zooming and panning.
Toward the end of last year Mozilla decided to ditch the XUL-based interface and go native on Android. The company also stepped up its efforts to optimize performance (which has been a focus for some time in the desktop version of Firefox as well). The work has paid off in this release (and the recent betas), which starts up nearly instantly and remains snappy even with a number of tabs open. Particularly noticeable is the smooth scrolling when swiping down very long pages.
Speed isn’t the only appeal of course, much of what’s great about Firefox on the desktop is also present in the latest mobile version. In some cases there are minor differences, for example the Awesome Bar becomes the Awesome Screen on a phone, but functionality remains the same. As with previous releases, Firefox Sync will automatically bring all your browsing history, bookmarks, passwords and form data to your Android phone.
And yes, Firefox for Android supports Adobe’s Flash plugin.
One thing that’s quite a bit different in this release are the browser add-ons available for Firefox for Android. Ditching the XUL interface might have made Firefox faster, but it also means that any desktop add-ons that use XUL won’t work in the mobile version. At the moment that means there aren’t many add-ons for Mobile Firefox, but now that it’s out of beta we expect more developers will begin building for the platform.
The big question for most Webmonkey readers is whether or not Firefox trumps Google’s Chrome for Android. The answer is … it depends. Both are fast — pretty close to identical in my testing — and both have excellent support for the latest web standards. In the end sync becomes the killer feature. If you use Chrome on the desktop, stick with Chrome on Android. If you use Firefox on the desktop the good news is that Firefox for Android will no longer leave you wanting.
Firefox for Android isn’t sitting still, either. If you don’t mind living on the edge you can try the nightly builds, which are less stable, but will get planned features like the coming tablet UI, the new tabs pane, find in page, bookmarks/history import, reader mode and more before they arrive in the stable version.
Today’s web shows up on a tremendous variety of screens — desktops, televisions, tablets, phones and lately “phablets” (whatever those are). Testing your site on even a fraction of the devices available can seem like a full time job. Tools like Adobe Shadow simplify the process somewhat, refreshing your local site across devices with the click of a button. But Shadow has limitations, for instance, it only works with WebKit browsers.
If you’ve got a wide array of devices to test with you’ll probably want a local network solution — that is, serve your site over your local network and connect all your test devices to that virtual host domain.
Unfortunately setting up a local network and connecting to it can be a pain, which is where the curiously-named Xip.io comes in. Xip.io is a wildcard DNS service that makes it drop-dead simple to set up a network and connect any device to your local test site.
The service is really just a custom DNS server you can easily tap into. So, for example, if your LAN IP address is 10.0.0.1, using Xip.io, mysite.10.0.0.1.xip.io resolves to 10.0.0.1. With the DNS taken care of you can access virtualhosts on your local development server from any devices on your local network, zero configuration required.
Xip.io is a free service from 37signals, whose Sam Stephenson says, “we were tired of jumping through hoops to test our apps on other devices and decided to solve the problem once and for all.” Xip.io might not work for everyone, but if you’ve ever struggled and failed to set up and test sites on a local network, Xip.io might be able to help.
It wasn’t too long ago that Mozilla launched its WebAPI project, a cross-platform, web-based API for accessing features on mobile devices. If WebAPI succeeds it could provide an open, web-based alternative to the proprietary app systems on today’s mobile devices.
The goal of the WebAPI effort is to help web apps access the same features that platform-specific mobile apps enjoy. That way web apps could better compete with platform-native applications. Mozilla’s various WebAPIs aim to make it easier to build web apps that access your phone’s camera, GPS info, network status and accelerometer.
Now Mozilla’s Paul Rouget has put up a demo video of some of Mozilla’s WebAPIs in action. Rouget shows a number of demos, including what looks like it could be a very cool web-based camera app — a bit like Instagram, but available to anyone with a modern web browser.
If Mozilla’s WebAPI project sounds a bit familiar it may be that you’ve heard of the W3C’s Device APIs Working Group, which is attempting to define standards that cover much of the same device-to-web ground. In fact, some of Mozilla’s WebAPI project may eventually be rolled into the W3C’s efforts.
But, as Rouget mentions in the demo video, much of Mozilla’s effort is aimed at building the company’s Boot to Gecko mobile platform. The Boot to Gecko Project is Mozilla’s attempt to develop a mobile operating system that emphasizes standards-based web technologies. With that end goal in mind, Mozilla’s WebAPI may end up being somewhat different than what the W3C is trying to build.
For more details on Mozilla’s WebAPI efforts, check out the WebAPIs wiki which offers a complete list of the APIs and more details about Mozilla’s plans to standardize them.