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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Flash and the City

 Last week, I attended an Adobe Flash conference called Flash and the City, which was held at the 3LD Art & Technology Center in New York City. Yes, I went to a Flash conference-- which may surprise a few of you...more particularly, the overly-sensitive Flash developers that think I'm beating up on them and Adobe, and "sucking up" to Apple...which only means that those developers probably read Action Script better than they read the English language. As an Interactive Artist and Animator and pseudo-developer (in that I can write very basic ActionScript and Objective-C), I am only interested in using the right tools to get my projects going-- I couldn't care less about which of these two companies is better. I use Apple products and Adobe products ALL THE TIME-- and I even use them together (gasp!). What I am annoyed with (for the hundreth time) is this moronic attitude that many developers have about Apple decision to bypass Flash on its mobile platform. By now, Apple has given their reasons, and Adobe has disagreed. And back, and forth. And back, and forth. It's getting old, and stupid.

To make a long story short, Adobe has kind of given up on its pursuit of getting Flash onto Apple's mobile shite, and is now working to get it's content on other platforms-- the most prominent of which is Google's Android OS. Great, I say! I've been using Flash for a long time, and it'd be great to be able to translate my iPhone creations onto the Android platform without having to learn ANOTHER language and SDK in the process! Not that I am against learning something else...but it would be an added bonus to be able to use that knowledge for another platform.

Enter Flash and the City. This is a conference that I attended through my current job, and I was really looking forward to it. The last time I went to a Flash conference was Flash Forward-- but that was several years ago. This time I knew that they would be addressing some of the things that really interested me, being their plans to integrate AIR 2.0 with Android development for the mobile platform. I was also excited to learn about new developments in Augmented Reality. I went into this conference with an open mind, looking to take away some great information that would enrich my knowledge and experience. Instead, what I found was pointless Apple bashing (mind you, almost everyone there was on an iPhone, MacBook Pro, or iPad), and Adobe software shortcomings.

First, the Apple bashing: retarded. Stupid. Obnoxious. And, once again, pointless. Most of the speakers that I saw (including speakers from the keynote) had something negative to say about Steve Jobs and Apple. Whatever-- I don't really care too much about the shit-talking. The problem for me is that there was not only too much of it, but they had NOTHING to show for backing it up. Well, not "nothing"...they had demos. Demos of "things to come". NOTHING was available, really. It was all "look at what we'll EVENTUALLY be able to do SOON". Or, worse yet, there were things that they could NOT...but the iPhone can....!

For example, I went to a workshop called "Development on mobile devices". The presentation was a bit slow, but informative. The instructor, Weyert De Boe, illustrated the possibilities of mobile development using AIR 2.0 through the example of building a museum-guide app; basically, it would be like those narration devices that you can get from a museum that talks about whatever you're looking at. He went through the steps, and talked about things like user interface design and content development. Then he introduced the most interesting aspect of all: implementation. It seems that when it came down to how to access the information that the app would utilize, there were some problems. In other words...how would the app obtain the information about each of the individual museum pieces. He stated that GPS navigation would not work indoors. He also stated that Bluetooth could not be used because...Bluetooth via AIR 2.0 was not available(!). He added, as a side note, that camera access was also not available through AIR 2.0. But it is, however, available with the iPhone development platform. So, this is Adobe half-assing their way through things all over again.

This was the SAME EXACT PROBLEM that they had with their ill-fated iPhone compiler. Sure, you could build iPhone apps with Flash....as long as you didn't want to use the camera, or Bluetooth, or access the iTunes library, or write files to an on-disk database (among other things). So, if you wanted to use Flash to AIR 2.0 to Android, you would have to do it without Bluetooth and  camera access-- no camera access?! That's at least 50% of the mobile experience right there!! How many people use their device cameras to send photos to Facebook, among other things? What about device to device transmission via Bluetooth? So, once again, Adobe is cutting off vital tools for developers so that they can CRAM Flash onto a mobile device.

Another workshop I attended was Flash Augmented Reality Workflow, as instructed by Jesse Freeman. I had a good time at this workshop, and learned a lot about how to implement AR with Flash. The main issue that I have with AR and Flash, aside from some CPU-intensive rendering issues, and lack of a native true 3D engine, is the use of markers. In Flash-based AR, you have to a very blocky marker in order for the webcam to read it properly. The only way to use something a bit more complex is to employ the supplemental use of a C-script. C...the language of (wait for it) iPhone development. And, the language that created Flash in the first place (C++ to be exact). It seems that Flash is capable of doing great things...but it's still not as powerful as other languages or environments. Jesse did tell us, however, that iPhone had pretty great AR capability. Sigh.

Through all the complaining, all the bitching, all the attitude about what pricks Apple and Jobs are...but when it came time to show us what Flash can do, they managed to prove that Flash was still a thing of beauty...when it comes to desktop development. No matter what you Adobe ass-kissers say, Flash is just not ready-for-Prime-Time when it comes to mobile development! Will it be in a few years? Maybe. I don't know, actually. 

Flash will be around for a very long time to come, and many people see that as well. So this stupid, insipid bitching about ONE hardware creator's issues is really tiring and pointless. If only Adobe could focus their energy on improving what they already have, instead of jumping all over the place to keep up with others, their products could further enhance the user (and developer) experience. Just maybe not so much for mobile. Not right now, anyway.

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