Flash on Android: Look but don't touch
The sweeping deficiencies of Flash Player 10.2 for Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablets can't all be chalked up to its 'beta' status
Worst of all was form input, a mainstay of any business application. When presented with a Flash-based form, I literally had to stab my finger at the Xoom's screen six or seven times before my touch would register as a click. Finally some random form field would be highlighted, irrespective of where my finger landed, and the onscreen keyboard would pop up. Woe betide me if the wrong field was highlighted, though, because Tab and Shift-Tab would both advance me forward through the form fields. There didn't seem to be any way to go back, and I dared not try to select another field by touch. In a nutshell, Flash-based forms are a total nonstarter on Android tablets. Forget about them.
What about games? Even there, I didn't have much luck. One simple balloon-popping game rendered in my browser window, then inexplicably leaped up and to the left, leaving a white square where the Flash content was supposed to be. I could scroll the window to see the game screen, but to control the game I still had to touch inside the white square. It was hopeless.
As far as I could tell, there was one thing and one thing only that the Flash Player for Android 3.0 accomplished successfully. On the stock Android browser, Flash content is invisible, so you don't notice Flash-based advertising. With the Flash Player installed, however, all those ads suddenly appear where once there were none, their animated graphics leaping and scuttling under your fingertips like cockroaches on a dinner tray -- some achievement.
Not the droid you're looking for
To be fair to Adobe, while Flash Player 10.2 is in production release for Android 2.2 and 2.3 smartphones, it's classified as a beta for Android 3.0. It's entirely possible that some of the problems I encountered will be fixed in the final release. And yet, when I tried the same tests on an Android 2.2 smartphone, the only problem Flash Player 10.2 resolved was the leaping game window; the Flex applications were just as impossible to use as on the Xoom. Whether you're on a smartphone or a tablet, there's no getting around the fact that many Flash apps simply aren't designed to work with touchscreens.
As it stands, Flash support offers no reason for buying a Xoom instead of an iPad. If you were hoping the Flash player would enable a whole new world of content, you will be disappointed. Flash sites on Android devices are utterly hit or miss. And if you're deploying Flex applications for your business to be accessed on mobile devices, my advice is to switch to HTML immediately. On the other hand, if you're enthralled by animated Web advertising, the Flash Player will be right up your alley.
There is one other detail worth mentioning, however: Adobe AIR, the runtime that allows Flash content to run as stand-alone applications, is available as a separate download for Android 3.0. You do not need to install the Flash Player or enable Flash content in the browser to use AIR apps, and from what I can tell, the AIR apps currently available in the Android Market seem to work nicely. The main difference is that these apps were built specifically for Android smartphones and tablets -- and if you're going that route, why not use the Android SDK instead of Flash?
On the plus side, claims that the Flash Player drains battery life seem to be mostly unfounded. I didn't find it consumed much more power than your average game, for example. But you know what uses even less power than the Flash Player for Android? Not installing it.
This article, "Flash on Android: Look but don't touch," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.