Adobe aims to bolster cross-browser consistency with Flash, new tool suite

In its early days, Flash was able to give designers pixel-by-pixel control, and the use of any font they desired, albeit often at the expense of Web standards. With its new tools and evolving Flash platform, however, Adobe is striving to continue its role developing technology able to deliver a consistent user experience across not only browsers, but the myriad of new devices, and comply with content best practices.

In an informal presentation to tech reporters and bloggers prior to FITC Toronto, Adobe executives said the company is striving to add consistency to application performance across platfroms — even iOS devices.

Creating application for the audience you want, using the right platform

“You want to write an application for the form-factor that you’re targeting,” Deepa Subramaniam, senior product manager for Adobe’s Flex SDK, said. “Not all applications that run on a phone will look great when scaled up to a tablet, and vice versa, but we give you the best of breed tools to do this.”

The Creative Suite 5.5 Web Premium Suite, introduced last month, is designed to help designers and developers deliver mobile applications on Android, BlackBerry Tablet OS, and Apple iOS, and tweak each experience to best use each platform. And while it might be ideal for applications to run natively on each platform, the reality is that often time and money do not permit this. This is where developing using Flash, or in other cases HTML5, can be helpful.

Subramaniam showed off a Flex-based interactive graph application running on her iPad 2, which featured near-native performance and the multi-touch functionality of the tablet.

In fact, Adobe is creating authoring tools that use Flash, but also HTML5 to create, deliver and monetize rich content and applications for nearly any screen. “There is kind of a battle going on as to how to create rich experiences,” said Mark Anders, an Adobe Fellow who’s now working on a new tool for Adobe for doing animation natively for HTML. He said the company’s inclusion of HTML is necessary to give its customers the capabilities they need. “From Adobe’s standpoint, we see this as an expansion of the creative capabilities that different platforms offer.”

Adobe strives for Web standards compliance

While Anders and others at Adobe are working with HTML5, he points out that while Flash is making strides to become more compliant with Web standards, and HTML5 could be moving in the opposite direction, with elements such as Canvas, which provides a drawable region defined in HTML code.

“HTML is actually taking steps backwards,” said Mark “If you think about Canvas and some of the new technologies, they are moving away from… all text and all markup that can be read and understood.” He notes that this doesn’t mean that they will abused, but there is potential to do things like bury text in an image. “It becomes a lot murkier when you start using Canvas and things like that, where, you know, the design and the interactivity sort of move into more of a black box imaging model where you can’t see it.”

To understand the great challenge of creating consistent user experiences, it is important to understand the rise in consumer expectations. When it used to just be enough to have a working website, customers are now expecting rich experiences across multiple devices.

And with more than 131 million smartphones are expected to have Flash Player installed by the end of the year Flash is still a common factor between a wide range of devices.

“I would say that honestly, and I think this is what Adobe believes too, Flash will go away when it doesn’t solve a need that people have,” Anders said. “The reality is it does solve a need that people have and that’s why people are still using it to write applications, it’s still being used on the Web and it’s going to take a lot of effort to have HTML5 get to the performance, get to the richness, and the consistency that allows people just to rely on.”

Wrestling with persistent multi-platform difficulties

One of the major problems with the development cycle for applications designed to be used on multiple platforms is testing across a range of different operating systems, devices, and even carriers.

FlashPro offers device simulation and debugging, as well as on-device tests on physical devices tethered via USB. Flash product manager Richard Galvin said this covers most typical user experiences, but this cannot account for the various permutations of OS, device, location, and carrier, which exist in the real world. He said Adobe is looking into other services to test content on different devices on the cloud, which could make multi-platform development much easier. As it stands, however, not every device can conceivably be tested using Adobe software alone.

These development cycle details aside, Galvin stressed that Adobe tools most importantly help offer powerful design capabilities to creators, which happens to be one of the most important elements of any application.

“Let’s not underestimate what design, on its own, is capable of,” Galvin said. “What our tools offer is simple design… if you look at a lot of the successful websites, some of them are more successful than others just because they look better.”