Working with Flash Android

For those web developers wanting to bring their Flash applications to mobile,Android is the only smart phone platform currently supporting desktop Flash 10.1 (as opposed to Flash Lite, a common mobile variant of Flash that’s very limited). However, there are both benefits and drawbacks to including Flash technology on the platform. Let’s look at some of the facts:

  • Flash might not be the “future,” but it’s the “status quo” in some web circles. There are millions of Flash applications and websites out there that can now be accessed from Android devices. This makes users happy, which should make the rest of us happy.

A simple Android application with a JavaScript interface.

A simple Android application with a JavaScript interface.

  • Native Android applications are always going to perform better, use fewer resources (read: drain the battery slower), provide tighter platform integration, have fewer platform prerequisites, and support more Android devices than Flash applications.
  • Deciding to build Flash applications for the Android platform instead of native Java applications is a design decision that should not be taken lightly. There are performance and security tradeoffs as well as limited device support (and no backward compatibility) for Flash.
  • You can’t expect all Flash applications to just be loaded up work. All the usual mobile constraints and UI paradigms apply. This includes designing around such constraints as a touch interface on a small screen, a relatively slow processor, and interruptions (such as phone calls) being the norm.

Still, there are those millions of great Flash applications out there. Let’s look at how you can bring these applications to the Android platform.

Enabling Flash Applications

Android devices with Android 2.2 and higher can run Flash applications (currently Flash 10.1). In order to run Flash, the Android device must have Adobe’s Flash Player for Android installed.

Users can download the Adobe’s Flash Player for Android application from the Android Market. Android handsets might also ship with the Adobe application pre-loaded. Keep in mind that only the faster, more powerful Android devices are likely to run Flash smoothly and provide a positive user experience. After it’s installed, the Flash Player for Android application behaves like a typical browser plug-in. Users can enable or disable it, and you can control whether plug-ins are enabled or not within your screens that use the WebView control.

The Nexus One running a Flash application showing many mobile Flash applications available.

The Nexus One running a Flash application showing many mobile Flash applications available.

Building AIR Applications for Android

Adobe has created tools for developing cross-platform applications using their AIR tool suite in ActionScript 3, which is Adobe’s web scripting language for web and Flash applications. The company recently announced Adobe AIR for Android, which enables developers to create AIR applications that can be compiled into native Android APK files that can then be published like any other Android application. Developers use Adobe’s Flash Professional CS5 tools with a special extension to develop AIR applications that can be compiled into Android package files and distributed like native Android applications.

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