Apple blocks Adobe Flash CS5 iPhone Exporter

No Flash for Apple iPhone Fresh off the heels of the release of Flash Builder 4, Apple has announced it will be blocking any attempts by Adobe to create iPhone applications via a Flash CS5 iPhone compiler. Apple made this change following its iPhone 4 preview media event.

The new language in the iPhone SDK:

Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

In other words, one the shiniest, most powerful, most interesting new features of Flash CS5, namely the Packager for iPhone is dead exactly 4 days before the release of Adobe CS5. Adobe has acknowledged the issue.

Despite my previous article critical of Flash Builder 4, I am quite disappointed by this news. Since Flash has been banned from Apple portable devices since their inception, this could have been an excellent way to bring tens of thousands of applications to these devices without any of the risks Steve Jobs (pictured here) has publically chastised Flash for. It seems a like win-win compromise for everyone; Adobe gets Flash applications on the iPhone, and iPhone keeps free of any Adobe-made plug-ins since technically Apple is providing the run-time environment.

I would like to say the two companies will work it out, but the timing of the SDK change seems pointedly directed at Adobe. I guess it is safe to say Apple still holds a grudge.

Update Over the last few days there’s been numerous public fighting between the two companies. Now, sources close to the issue claim Adobe will file a suit against Apple. While I disagree with what Apple is doing, I agree with their ability to block Flash from their devices.

What a lot of Adobe fanatics tend to forget is that Flash is a proprietary platform, not an open web standard. It would be like a developer creating a specialized web plug-in and then demanding it be supported on a cell phone without the ability to modify/change the plug-in. In short, I’d only be on Adobe’s side if they made Flash an open standard that anyone can develop on. It’s ironic that Adobe is claiming foul on Apple’s proprietary platform when they make the only Flash/Flex compilers in the world (the only one anyone uses, to be precise).

Review of Flex/Flash Builder 4 – Defective By Design?

Adobe has released its new version of the Flex Builder, now renamed Flash Builder 4. This version is radically different from previous versions of Flex, introducing the new Spark architecture and theme support. While I’m pleased Adobe has finally added support for Eclipse 3.5, I’m disappointed with some of the new architecture changes that make doing simple things, such as skinning a button, now quite cumbersome.

1. Spark and Halo: Duplicate Code will be Flex’s downfall

The Spark framework introduces a new set of UI components that sit on top of mx, and in many cases, duplicate the logic. For example, you can now define an old Halo button <mx:button/> alongside a new Spark button <s:button/>, both within the same component. I predict this duplication of code will lead to confusing and muddled codebases. Some developers will use all Spark components, some will use all Halo components, and some will use an inconsistent mix of the two.

The idea of two different components with the same name existing within the same application worries me greatly. It would be like Sun releasing a new version of the String class in Java 8, and rather than updating the old String class you now had 2 distinct classes to choose from, both called String, with the package name determining which you use. Sometimes reinventing the wheel is a sign the developers were too lazy to merge their changes into the existing wheel.

2. Broken Migration Paths

When I attempted to migrate some of my Flex 3 applications into Flash Builder 4, I received a number of compiler errors. The first thing I needed to do was right click on the project and change the Theme to Halo (Flex 3-based theme), since it defaults to Spark. This fixed many, but not all, of the compiler issues. After fixing the remaining compiler issues by hand, I ran the application only to discover none of my buttons had text on them! I enabled “Use Flash Text Engine in MX components” which fixed some, but not all, of the button text, but there were still dozens, possibly hundreds, of UI issues that caused the application to look awful. Realizing migrating the entire application into a native Flex 4 application would take endless amount of hours, I reviewed the compiler options again and checked the “Use Flex 3 compatibility mode” option, which, again, fixed some, but not all, of all the issues. Even with Flex 3 compatibility mode enabled, the compiler still handled the following components differently than it had in Flex 3: drag/drop pop-up images, recognizing css text-align property on certain components, and adding padding on some components. With the compatibility mode enabled, the number of issues was drastically reduced to a few dozen issues, but this was at the cost of limiting the new features available in Flex 4.

3. Skinning a button: 5 lines of code now take 51 lines of code

Previously, skinning a button was just a matter of defining some images in a CSS file and telling the application to use this style. It was intuitive, quite similar to HTML/CSS so it was easy to pick up, and only took a few lines of code, such as the following:


Flex 4 now makes skinning extremely complicated. In order to accomplish the above example in Flex 4, you would need to define a custom skin class such as in the following example taken from here:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<!-- -->
<s:SparkSkin name="ImageButtonSkin"
        minWidth="21" minHeight="21"
    <!-- states -->
        <s:State name="up" />
        <s:State name="over" />
        <s:State name="down" />
        <s:State name="disabled" />
    <!-- host component -->
    <fx:Script fb:purpose="styling">
            /* Define the skin elements that should not be colorized.
            For button, the graphics are colorized but the label is not. */
            static private const exclusions:Array = ["labelDisplay"];
            override public function get colorizeExclusions():Array {
                return exclusions;
            override protected function initializationComplete():void {
                useChromeColor = true;
    <s:BitmapImage source="@Embed('/assets/menu.png')"
            left="0" right="0" top="0" bottom="0" />
    <!-- layer 8: text -->
    <s:Label id="labelDisplay"
            horizontalCenter="0" verticalCenter="1"
            left="10" right="10" top="2" bottom="2" />

Talk about wasted space! I understand the power the new skin mechanism adds (you can now layer effects), but I personally don’t feel it’s worth it.

The future of Flex

Adobe has touted the power of Flash Builder 4, but as we have all seen in the past sometimes more powerful designs lead to failure. I think Adobe forgot the KISS principle, or perhaps they had one too many designers at the table instead of developers when they were creating the new architecture. While I liked the ease, power, and simple nature of Flex 3, I’m not convinced of the merits of Flash Builder 4 from a developer perspective. It seems like they made our job a lot more difficult and time consuming.

More articles to follow as I delve into the beast that is Flash Builder 4!

Where’s the Flex Plug-in for Eclipse 3.5?

Eclipse + Flex = X

Over 7 months after Eclipse 3.5 (Galileo) was released, Adobe still has not released an update for its popular Flex Builder 3 plug-in that would make it compatible with the most recent version of Eclipse. Those of us who rely on the plug-in for Flex/Air development are still stuck using Eclipse 3.4 (Ganymede), or trying a number of manual install attempts, described here and here, neither of which worked for me. Ultimately, though, I’m not fond of hacky solutions for production-level products that I pay good money for.

Adobe has informally acknowledged the issue via its bug-tracking system, FB-21284 and FB-21025 (login required), although they have not publicly announced when a solution will be available. With the planned release of Eclipse 3.6 (Helios) now less than 5 months away, it makes you wonder when and even if the issue will be addressed. The Flex/Air projects have always been one of Adobe’s more grass-root movements, especially compared to its Creative and Web Suite products, and it’s a shame they have let the developers down. I call on everyone to contact Adobe with your concerns about Flex, with the hope they will address the issue if they understand how many developers this affects.

Updated (September 2010): Since releasing Flash Builder 4, Adobe has updated the Flex Eclipse plug-in to support Eclipse 3.5. Unfortunately, Eclipse 3.6 came out in June 2010 and is currently not supported, so Adobe is already another version behind. Also, I recommend developers stick with Flex 3 for now, as the new version is quite cumbersome to work with, meaning you’ll have to stay with Eclipse 3.4 for the time being to develop Flex applications.