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Are iPhone and Unity3D taking away Flash Developers

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Adobe Flash can’t run on iPhone, an emerging gaming and mobile rich Internet application (RIA) platform. Indeed, Unity3D, a cross-platform browser/mobile gaming software framework, directly competes with Flash, and it is on iPhone. All these facts form this basis for Jesse Warden’s June 25 blog post entitled Flash Player 11: Gaming Platform.

As a seasoned RIA professional who is deeply involved with Flash/Flex, Warden makes a keen observation in this post

There are still many developers who utilize multiple technologies on a variety of projects. I’m speaking specifically about the variety of developers in the Flex and Flash community who’ve publicly shifted their focus to talk more about iPhone and Unity development than Flash/Flex. Keith Peters, a prominent Flash Developer, has been doing a significant amount of Objective-C development for iPhone applications. Peters is not 100 percent converted; he hasn’t coded AS3 in six weeks. I’ve read about many others on Twitter who typically brand themselves as Flash/Flex developers that have started doing iPhone development, and some are doing so professionally.

While the rest of the post is formulating the expectation that Adobe will put more effort into Flash 11 to enforce Flash as a gaming platform, Warden’s observation on the shifting focus of many developers ignited significant discussion among readers.

For example, John Dowdell of Adobe disagrees with Warden, stating:

You may be reading too much into mailing-list presence. Factors such as noise ratio, overall volume, and new topics versus reruns all play a role too.

The phrase “the Flex & Flash community is losing developers” needs to be substantiated. It is easy for an external de-vangelist to cite this assertion as gospel.

JesterXL shares his experience:

I am seeing traditional Flash/Flex developers defecting to iPhone and Unity, while in the past, we all collectively just bashed competition. So yes, the use of SWF tools is increasing overall. I’m just shocked at seeing a small number of both stalwarts and noobs starting to defect, whereas in the past, I thought that would never happen given the landscape. To me, that says something important is happening.

Developer Jeffry Houser provides a more moderate view:

From my perspective of the world, a lot of Flex developers these days are early adopters. As the technology–and developer base–matures, it only makes sense for a lot of those early adopters to look for the next big thing. Today, iPhone development is the next big thing.

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Community comments

  • iPhone is cool but ...

    by Christopher Brind,

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    I don't know when Jeffry Houser said "Today, iPhone development is the next big thing." but I was saying that 18 months ago. That train has well and truly left the station.

    *Today*, Android development is the next big thing - especially since it is getting Flash later in the year.

  • iPhone should get Flash quick

    by Miha Blazin,

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    I wonder if the reason for this developers to turn to Unity3D is just because iPhone is lacking Flash, or is Unity3D indeed the better platform. I think until the iPhone gets a decent running version of the Flash Player this comparison cant be made. But I do worry a lot about of why the iPhone development of the flash player is taking such a long time while other mobile platform with far less cpu power are adapting it so quickly.

  • Re: iPhone should get Flash quick

    by Ilya Sterin,

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    It's not taking long, Apple doesn't want it on the iPhone.

  • Free Alternatives (not ported yet)

    by Jordi Murgo,

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    Flirt contains a parser for reading SWF format files, a rasterizer for rendering the vector shapes into bitmaps, and an actionscript engine. Just hook it up to a timer and you've got a player. Interface your system UI events into the hooks provided and it's interactive. Present your application code to the player as actionscript objects and you've got a scriptable, cross-platform UI. Flirt is available under the BSD license, allowing for use in both open source and commercial projects. BSD License. Ported to OS X.

    gameswf is an open source Public Domain library for parsing and rendering SWF movies, using 3D hardware APIs for rendering. It is designed to be used as a UI library for computer and console games. BSD License. Ported to OS X.

    Swfdec is the library for decoding and rendering Flash animations. It is still in heavy development. The intended audience are developers or people using it for pretested Flash animations (think embedded here). If you use it on unknown content, expect it to have issues and don't be surprised if it crashes. If you encounter such a crash however, make sure to file a bug immediately. LGPL License. No OS X port.

    I think it would be easy to port Flirt to the iPhone platform.

  • Re: Free Alternatives (not ported yet)

    by Jordi Murgo,

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    And don't forget that iPhone supports SVG + Javascript.

  • Flex is very powerful but I don't like ActionScript language

    by Khoa Ngo,

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    I think you know why C/C++, Java and C# are the most popular languages. Their language structure is very clear and logical. But ActionScript is "mixed-blood". Please refer a method code below:

    public function hello(name:String):String{

    var helloText:String = "Hello " + name;

    return helloText;


    Somewhat like Java, somewhat like JavaScript, Pascal, PHP or even Visual Basic.

    ActionScript also doesn't support Abstract class, method overload...

    I think Flex/Flash will be the most popular framework if ActionScript language just like C++/Java beside MXML and Flash Stylesheet

  • Not the same thing

    by Darrel Plant,

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    You're comparing apples and oranges. Flash is great at some things, but it's not a targeted 3D game development engine, which is Unity's target market. People who want to develop games -- and who want to make money off of developing games -- not only can't create games in Flash on the iPhone (because there's no iPhone Flash Player) but can't create true 3D games in Flash at all on any platform. Unity can be used to develop games for both Mac and Windows (now on both Mac and Windows), on the Web with a browser plugin, with export to the iPhone and Wii platforms. In many ways, Unity's similar to the late, lamented Shockwave3D only on steroids and updated for the current millennium.

    The bulk of Flash developers aren't going to defect to Unity or the iPhone, but the ones who want to make games are probably going to at least dabble their toes in the water.

  • Re: iPhone should get Flash quick

    by Manuel Saint-Victor,

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    Not a better platform as much as better for certain things. I would hate to be building out GUIs in Unity in it's current incarnation.

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