With all the economic and tech turmoil the past year, many have shown a yearning for something stable amidst it all. Some of the mobile & device hype has actually come to fruition without Flash Player taking a starring role. This has had harsh marketing/PR consequences for many peoples continued, or lack of, faith in the platform. Â This is ecspecially true for those of us in the Flash community for awhile; we’ve been hearing for a decade about Flash on mobile, and have long since been tired of hearing it.
We’ve already seen some luminaries leave the platform for iPhone like Aral Balkan & Keith Peters, some for good, some returning (welcome back sexy man Keith). Others have thrown in their joy with Unity 3D. All the while we have HTML5 deceitful propaganda biting at the heels for those of us who have stayed.
What’s next? What technology is coming that we should invest our time in to ensure a continued prosperous career? Should we stay with Flash Player? Â Is there something I can focus on that’ll help me find a niche and as an early adopter get a payoff?
Today, I want to layout what I think is coming the next 6 years to at least put your mind at ease if you’re a Flash/Flex Developer. Â These are my projections based on what I’ve read, corroborated from talking to colleagues and other reading, and based on past experience.
Android. And some iOS.
We have a variety of options, for sure:
iOS: proven market, great existing devices with new ones with different verticals coming. Growing for B2B, not just consumer.
Unity 3D: Uses the wonderful language C#, targets PC, Mac, and iPhone, and has a lot of hardware acceleration hooks. Has shown much success in the past 2 years, and EA’s massive investment shows there’s a growing market there.
Windows Phone 7: Again, the wonderful C# language, best developer tools in the industry, and a similar story to Adobe: a runtime that allows for desktop, web, and device (in this case mobile) delivery.
Web: As many businesses find new ways to make money online as well as off, reduce long term costs by investing in services both for themselves and their customers, this is perhaps the most stable place to continue to be since the technology will always work in some form on various devices and existing desktop hardware. Â I’m talking the traditional HTML/JS/CSS stack with associated libraries here, regardless of your middle tier.
Why not those?
iOS: While our recent permission to re-participate on the platform has us all feeling like it’s tenuous, there have been a few key reversals from Apple recently that does a lot to show me there isn’t any turning back now (Google Voice, Lua based games, Unreal engine, etc). Â There will be work for creating applications utilizing Flash & Flex for iOS devices. Specifically, iPhone and iPad using Adobe’s packager. And not JUST the iPhone packagerâ€¦ we can utilize a lot of the same code & assets for Android deployment as well.
Why do just iOS when you can do both it AND Android as well?
A few in the community claim to have made the transition to Cocoa just fine. Â It’s clear Cocoa isn’t for me. Â Many ran into the some challenges I had with Objective C, and it just wasn’t as fun as Flash & Flex are. Â Now, we can still use Flash & Flex with shared code for other devices & OS’.
Unity 3D: Yes, I too dreamed of growing up, moving to Japan, and working for Squaresoft. Then games got cool. Then market pressure for more demand resulted in quality reduction and perceived consumer expectations being lowered. This in turn allowed many companies to validate that making sub-par games is not only ok, but profitable. Yes, there are many companies out there that believe in quality. What sells right now, and has for the past 6 years especially on the web en-masse, is git-r-done engagements.
No thanks, I prefer to build Porches, not Kias, and see no steady money there. That said, I still look on longingly. Â My current skill set, and those of many Flex Devs, is best at delivering applications, not games. Â That said, I’ve read of more than a few Flash devs trying and loving Unity 3D, some having half or all of their work come from that platform. Â You can make $150,000 doing Flash games. Â Some will even work on iOS/Android.
Again, Flex devs like me build applications, not games. I use MVP, not meta-tiles for reduced collision detection.
Windows Phone 7: It doesn’t exist yet in the consumer marketplace. We’ll know in January how it sold, and even then, I don’t think that’s a large indicator of it’s future success. That, and there hasn’t been a lot of press about other devices beyond mobile using Windows Phone 7. I’ve met some of the people behind this initiative, and believe Microsoft is making wonderful, and correct, strides here.
I just worry that the other half of Microsoft will actively sabotage the great things they’ve created. Â The web and desktop teams are SOOO different in outlook. Â I have no qualms being a late adopter here. Â Right now, there isn’t a market for my clients to target yet.
When & Where
Since consumer phone/device/Operator contracts go in 2 year cycles, we’ll start to get early adopters next year as more and more Android’s devices proliferate. Â This includes tablets, not just phones. Some of the design agencies will just opt for a Flash on iPhone/iPad experience when they need something a step up from the HTML/JS capabilities since there aren’t enough Objective C coders to go around. Â Since we can share a lot of the same ActionScript code on both iPhone and Android, this’ll segueÂ nicely for sales teams looking to provide their customers “solutions across both desktop, web, and mobile” even if the mobile story continues to be fragmented.
Additionally, as Jesse Freeman pointed out awhile ago, it’s really cheap to get a Flash Designer to prototypeÂ applicationsÂ using Flash vs. Objective C. Â Many companies such as T-Mobile have been using Flash to prototype for C on phones for awhile.
Some participation with existing, already on-staff skillets for experiences that are good enough for consumers will sell.
For service providers such as my company (we build software solutions for other businesses), I don’t think it’ll pop up as fast; maybe not till 2014. In fact, we may just get off loaded to by Agencies who don’t have on-staff competency for more of the CPU/RAM intensive projects that are non-game related such as data visualization, or the larger applications for a device and running into scalability problems. Â Flash Player runs great on the web, yet I still often get scalability jobs regarding Flash Player web/desktop projects.
Where we WILL see work is when some companies, even for the wrong reasons, need mobile versions of their web apps. Â If it’s built in Flash/Flex, it’ll need a mobile equivalent. Â So they say. Â If that mobile equivalent, or perhaps even a device other than a phone, supports Flash, then you can leverage a lot of the same code. Â More importantly, though, some of the API’s that AIR allows you to hook into allow more features than a browser can provide, so there are also cases where it’s the right reason.
In 2012 there should be a slight up tick as people finally renew their aging phones for Android/iOS devices, and start bringing them to their workplace. It’ll only take another year for businesses to start seeing this (again), and start targeting consumer applications for devices. By then, Hero (Flex 5 SDK with mobile focus) will have matured, and Adobe will have learned what areas need improvement. By 2014, it won’t be considered “risky” to utilize the Flex SDK for a project vs. straight AS3; it’ll be the preferred method for people like me vs. the current way of using pure ActionScript 3.
You have it best right now. Â You are the ones most capable to participate, today. Â You really have a chance to make a name for yourself. Â I’ve been following the Flash Lite email lists for awhile; the community is small. Â Good opportunity. Â You may get early adopter clients this year; next year things should start to pick up from many different types of clients as the brave ones start to explore.
If you have the time, I encourage you to give the Android/iOS builders a try. Â If pure AS3 isn’t your thing, give the native Android development a try; it’s veryÂ similarÂ to Flex. Â If you’re willing to drop back to pure AS3/small component libraries with no MXML, you couldÂ definitelyÂ prosper here if apps really do take off (as opposed to traditional games and other ad ware that will beÂ inevitablyÂ be developed by the agencies; that crap is already proliferating on the app store and companies DO get paid to make it).
Any Negatives? Â You’re being pretty positive here
First, I’ve been lurking on the Flash Lite email lists for about 5 years. Â I watch developers who make content for mobile using Flash Lite (Flash 5 basically), and I learn about their development challenges. Â The one thing that scares me is they have basic problems that shouldn’t happen. Â For example, loadMovie (Loader/URLLoader/URLStream.load for those not in the know) just won’t work correctly… ON SOME PHONES. Others, it’ll work the same.
I can confirm that AIR for Android works great. Â For Nexus One. Â I haven’t tried it on other Android phones/devices, so I don’t know if fragmentation is a huge problem beyond the obvious performance one yet. Â I also haven’t done a larger Enterprise esque’ project on it yet to truly battle test her. Â I can confirm Flash Lite is also good technology, having a lot of fun with Flash Lite 2.x 4 years ago on a Nokia 6680.
That’s what scares me. Â Operators do stupid things. Â I’ve already read articles about Java’s fragmentation on Android phones (the device stats I’ve seen aren’t really that valuable yet) like some phones have 2.0, others 2.2, and even some of the 2.2 Froyo where the Operator hasn’t confirmed it’ll actually have Flash. *face palm*. Â I haven’t gotten any insight if the JVM for various devices has any notable quirks like I know Symbian does for Nokia phones. Â I have more faith in Google making Android than I doÂ MotorolaÂ making a custom version of it with their bloatware, and us all hoping it works the same. Â Time will tell (a hopefully positive story).
Second, if it takes off next year, this is more ammo for pure ActionScripters like Steven Sacks and Jesse Freeman to continue ignoring Flex for applications that should of been built in Flex instead of pure ActionScript. Â Once the phones get powerful enough to run Flex, they’ll still swear by their Button being faster than a Flex Button, even though the user’s can’t tell. Â Dammit.
If you’re a Flash/Flex Developer, and wondering what is next, it’s developing mobile Android and iOS applications using Flash and Flex IN ADDITION to your existing skill set.
It won’t take off as quickly as Flex did. Â We have these things called “Operators who think they can draw well” and “Google without Designers” and “Cupertino Illusionist” and “recession” and “people who see beyond the hype” all collectively slowing it down.
I know it’s not as exciting as going from Director to Flash, or Flash to Flex, or Flash to Unity. Â There’s a reason there aren’t any exclamation points in this post (yes, JXL blog post with no !… er, shit… there’s one). Â At least, it doesn’t feel very exciting to me since the market just doesn’t seem to be there yet, and the current phones/tech is just slow compared to what I’m used to. Â And I’ve been hearing about it for 10 years, and still won’t see a decent pay off for another 2. Â I’m not seeing any signs it’s NOT going to be there in the timetables I mentioned above, though.
Seriously though folks, once Apple said we could play in their sandbox again, it actually increased the value of our ability to target Android as well. Â Suddenly ubiquity via Flash is in play again. Â It’s just on devices that are still slow, and Adobe’s only been optimizing for them for 3 years (maybe more based on Tamarin checkins).
Remember, too, a lot of web content is optimized for mobile, like this blog. Â Optimizing for mobile is no longer a “omg, more work, less dough” scenario; it’s just expected that’s what you do. Â There will be a lot of Flash content that will need to be optimized to run on Android device browsers as well in the desktop browser as opposed to making an application in AIR. Â Keep in mind that’s not just “2 screens” either; it could be 3, or when one rotates/flips it. Â That’s a lot of work that you can get paid for.
Breathe & Go Download Starcraft 2
So there it is. Â Relax, you don’t have to learn HTML5 nor Objective C. Â Unless you want to, in which case, pimp. Â You can rely on the web for most of your income, and mobile/devices will eventually pay off your investment in it. Â I wish I could make it more exciting, but the truth in this case, while cool, isn’t as cool as Starcraft 2.
The good news is, since technology changes so fast, there may be something epic-cool that comes out of this recession. Â This one has been harsh, and recessions often spawn magic. Â There’s no reason we couldn’t abandon the above plan and jump on whatever that new technology is. Â I just haven’t seen it yet.