Predicting Flash’s Future

Predicting Flash’s Future

Other news has raised eyebrows, like Adobe's decision to drop the development of Flash Player for mobile devices beyond Flash Player 11. We feel that these recent developments are sign posts that indicate what lies ahead on Flash's path. So I focused my chakra, channeled my spirit guide and gazed into the office crystal ball with our lead developers to prophesize about what's in the immediate, near and distant future for Flash. For a glimpse, imagine browser based gaming that's as slick as console games and augmented reality without a "marker". To be colorful, some of our speculations would give Sarah Connor a shock and make the Mayans fart maize.

If you're not Flash familiar let me give you a little history. Flash started out simply as a cool animation tool for designers. Later, interactivity was integrated opening up advantages that progressed into the rich internet experiences that we have come to expect from Flash. After that, Flex became part of Flash providing charting and frameworks for writing code. Finally and most recently, the Flash platform incorporated GPU support for gaming and a multitude of new possibilities are now open.

So as we begin to lift the veil, our short term predictions pertain to the reaction by the Flash development community to the rumors that Flash is a dying technology. To paraphrase Twain, we believe that the rumors of Flash's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Prediction #1:

Web developers will work to create Flash experiences that validate their existence, vision and creativity.

Web developers are going to be faced with the decision to either develop a product using HTML that can easily work across devices, or use Flash for applications that HTML can't handle. Ever since Flash came out it's been able to do things online that are not possible through HTML. Experiences built using Flash are (so far) far more cinematic and interactive than their HTML counterparts. As time passes, future HTML specifications may adopt some of Flash's current abilities, but Flash will always be pushing the boundaries of "what is possible". This history points to a future where Flash holds the tools for quickly making compelling games using a variety of controllers and other input devices and where HTML5 is focused more on day to day browser based experiences. Considering these things, we see that Flash absolutely has a long lifeline.

Prediction #2:

The future of Flash player on mobile devices will be much more proprietary.

The reality is that mobile applications have better penetration for HTML5 and we believe that this will propel development of that technology. However, Flash is much stronger in rich applications and is focusing on getting those to different mobile platforms' app stores, not just the desktop. Despite stopping development of the Flash Player for mobile browsers after version 11, Adobe is opening the source code to all of their vendors to continue individual development for Flash experiences on their own devices. Additionally, they are focusing their development strength towards AIR, which enables development of iOs, Android, and Blackberry apps for deployment on their native app stores. Creatives simply use AIR to compile their existing desktop application for whatever mobile device they want and boom, oogey-gooey mobile app goodness.

Prediction #3:

Flash will decorate and accelerate mobile apps.

Up until recently, mobile devices like tablets and phones have had limitations because of what their processors could manage, but the integration of a graphics card along with the applications possible with native apps means that things that were technically impossible before have now become feasible. By using a mobile device's GPU and camera along with Flash's other functionalities, developers could make applications like video conferencing tools that connect to multiple mobile phones through P2P sockets, for example. Even applications that may already be on your mobile device can now be improved using Flash. For example, maybe your device came with a built in photo-gallery app that works so-so, well now a Flash developer could create something better that is potentially 3D accelerated and could offer advanced access and interactions with your photos and videos. And unlike many applications that are tailored specifically for one phone carrier or mobile OS, they could be deployed to any device, mobile or desktop. This opens the door for taking apps and games that you may already have and approaching them in a totally different way that you weren't able to in the past, basically reinventing them.

Prediction #4:

The future Augmented Reality will be more immersive allowing you to interact with your entire world.

Currently, AR overlays an environment that it only sort of guesses is there, and is limited by its ability to detect a "marker" as well as render the environment. Augmented reality can now become a lot more interactive. By offloading the 3d modeling and/or computer vision components of augmented reality to the graphics card then you can make the logic of the actual application a lot more comprehensive and the game or application more interactive. There will be a big boom in what computer vision is capable of detecting and interacting with. People and objects in a room could be AR triggers not just markers. For AR, breaking away from markers would be like 3D movies & TV breaking free of the glasses. It would eliminate a huge obstacle for consumer appeal and adoption. This is very important considering that Flash is now available via Mobile phone apps, tablets, touchscreens, kiosks, desktops and even TVs so the possibilities for virtual interactions are almost completely unbound. Imagine a TV commercial or an augmented game show like Wipe-out that you can virtually participate in!

Prediction #5

Flash will become the gaming console of the web and usher in the rise of gaming micro-brews.

Right now online games require constant downloads and updates. Blaahhhhh...boring! Who likes waiting to play? Flash "takes the boring out" as an online gaming platform by eliminating the need for downloads and installs of games and their updates. A future Flash gaming experience would work right from a browser where a player could just go to the site of their favorite game and play instantly with the most up-to-date release of a game and experience the same level of game quality and complexity that folks are used to with games from Steam platform or console games like MW3, Grand Theft Auto and SkyRim. For game developers the playing field will be leveled and Indy-game developers are now able to run wild.

Additionally, any kind of physics related games will see an upgrade as well. Casual games will be able to get more and more complex and will be able to represent more complex phenomena. Right now, Angry Birds is being ported over to Flash to utilize the 3D side for rendering graphics so it will be faster and smoother! Developers will be able to take games that are already very complex (console games) and bring them over into the browser using Flash player while maintaining their quality. Even the consoles' controllers will be useable by the Flash player through your computer's Bluetooth adapter. There has been integration with the Wii remote as a Flash controller for years. Developers are experimenting with joining a mobile device and a desktop application to parallel the Remote Play feature offered by Playstation3 and its PSP mobile device. There is potential on the horizon for your smart phone or tablet to become a much more integrated game device, using skin able frameworks that could alter your game controller's configuration on the fly through a 2-way connection between the device and the game.

To sum-up, the Flash future holds much more dynamic game interfaces and portability while liberating gamers from the tyranny of the big game manufacturers. Look forward to the development of micro-brewed games that will have all the gloss, features and benefits of their corporate peers. The speed of Flash's rise as the console of the web will only be tempered by how quickly users will accept the environment and acquire the necessary hardware, and how quickly the Flash Player adapts to its new role with updates.

Final thoughts:

The Pandora's Box that Flash is opening for designers and developers may start with gaming, but considering everything mentioned, it's safe to say that it will eventually change the way web-surfers interface with their virtual world. We feel that it's difficult to predict exactly what that may mean, but when we talk about combining the dynamic data scalability and deliverability of Flash Player with the kind of engine level quality of 3D we may start to see in quick order a number of different applications come online that are going to change the way that people deal with the internet. Cross browser development of graphics intensive applications like video editors are possible. 3D user interfaces for applications and visualizing and combining data using desktops, mobile devices or a combination of both could in short order become the new normal. That interactive hologram of the Death star is no longer science fiction movie magic and your boss will probably be using it for presentations before the end of the decade!

For those of you interested in some more visions of Flash's future check out these fine feathered blogs from the makers of this blog:

Jason's blog article: Flash Will Survive - HTML5 will too

Shane's blog article: Not your Grandpa's Flash insudtry anymore