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Adobe Edge Animate proves HTML5 is no substitute for Flash

Posted on 27 Feb 2013 at 09:50

Tom Arah says the shift from Flash to HTML has set web design back 15 years

For more than 15 years, professionals wishing to push the web envelope beyond the capabilities of HTML turned to Adobe Flash (or, more recently, Silverlight). Now, though, the future of web browsing is moving to mobile browsers that no longer support these plugins, so what’s the modern alternative?

Without a plugin, the only way to do it is in the browser. Both Adobe and the web design community must follow Steve Jobs’ advice from 2010, when he announced Flash wouldn’t be allowed onto iOS: use open browser standards instead.

As Jobs put it then, "HTML5, the new web standard... lets web developers create advanced graphics, typography, animations and transitions without relying on third-party browser plugins (like Flash)... Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticising Apple for leaving the past behind."

Put that way it sounds reasonable and straightforward, but Adobe disagreed – no surprise given Flash was its unique selling point, the rich web format that held together its entire Creative Suite (from Premiere Pro through to InDesign), and the basis for its future mobile plans.

It’s back to the drawing board alright, but without any tools

Without Apple’s support, and hence without cross-platform universality, the writing was on the wall, and so the rhetoric and Adobe’s entire business strategy has changed. Flash in the browser is now rarely mentioned, and Adobe has repositioned itself as a champion of next-generation HTML5, taking Jobs’ advice in launching a range of tools designed to set the benchmark for standards-based web creation.

The most significant of these is Adobe Edge Animate, which is designed to create the rich, animated, interactive web experience that previously required Flash. It costs $499, but to encourage take-up Adobe has added it to the apps available through Creative Cloud and has made this first release free – here’s your chance to give your standards-based web projects a professional edge.

Back to the drawing board

So how does Edge Animate compare to Flash? Let’s start with the drawing tools, and you’re in for a shock since there are only three: the Rectangle tool, Rounded Rectangle tool and the Ellipse tool. Flash Professional’s Deco tool for drawing animated fire or vegetation effects is long gone. You don’t even get a Brush, PolyStar or even Pen or Path tools – in fact, you can’t actually draw a straight line unless you fake it with a thin rectangle! It’s back to the drawing board alright, but without any tools.

Edge Animate’s formatting capabilities are no compensation, either. From the Properties pane you can choose flat colours for fill and outline of rectangles or ellipses, set the line width (solid, dashed or dotted), and that’s about it. Special effects? A flat opacity setting and a shadow option, or to really impress you can set a different curvature for each corner of your rectangle.

There are no gradient fills, no textures, no procedural effects, brush outlines, graduated transparency or blend modes. The message is pretty clear that you’re supposed to do any serious artwork externally, so you might expect that Adobe has enabled you to cut and paste vector drawings directly from Illustrator into Edge Animate. You’d be wrong: the only route is via awkward export and import.

Moreover, scalable vector graphic (SVG) images are automatically flattened, so you can’t access their independent elements, which means you’d be better off using JPEG or PNG bitmaps unless you explicitly need resolution-independent scalability. As the help file puts it, "for the time being, it’s safer to use PNG".

Edge Animate does at least let you add text within the program, although you can edit it only in an awkward little dialog box. Formatting includes control over letter, word and line spacing, as well as paragraph alignment and indent. It also includes size and font – but forget about advanced effects such as fitting text to a curve, or within an irregular shape (not that you can create one anyway). Worse still, don’t expect to simply specify any typeface installed on your PC as you could with Flash – the default is those same old web font families of which we’re all so familiar and heartily sick of (although Adobe’s new Edge Web Fonts service may improve matters here).

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User comments

I think, Tom, that Edge tells us what we already knew. Replacing Flash is going to be extremely difficult and ultimately unnecessary.

If Edge 2.0 is included as a major flash replacement in CS7, then I won't want it - $499 indeed.

Why did Adobe roll over and die over Flash so easily and swiftly?

By Alperian on 27 Feb 2013

I really don't think there was anything Adobe could do once Apple and then Microsoft refused to let Flash onto tablets/phones.

And because touch-based tablets/phones/front-ends are the future of personal computing that means that replacing Flash with HTML5 wherever possible is very necessary.

And of course that means that Adobe gets to sell us the new set of HTML5 tools to replace the old Flash ones (or rather subscribe to the creative cloud).

So everyone's happy - except for Adobe's poor designer/developers who currently are expected to go back to using an inferior technology and inferior tools to produce inferior results.

In the longer term though they'll be happy too. Add in SVG to Animate and tie in to the new Edge Reflow and Edge Code and Edge web fonts the HTML5 platform/ tools/ results are going to rapidly improve. And producing design-rich sites/apps for the new handheld platform is hugely exciting.

By TomArah on 27 Feb 2013

I agree with every word in your article!

By choreo on 23 Mar 2013

Although HTML 5 sounds ...

very interesting , abandoning Flash for HTML 5 related solutions brings with it sets of new problems for example different browsers dont all support the same features of HTML and with Microsoft preventing users of older Windows versions from upgrading to the latest browsers not all users will have the same user experience with these HTML5 developed apps of the future......Flash wasnt perfect but at least it sidetracked such issues and it was the closest thing to harmony and I really do hope one day we wont look back at this moment and regret the demise of Flash .....

By DaytR on 31 Mar 2013

This is dumb.

You're wrong.. flash stands for an era now thankfully gone of irresponsible design. Flash is almost always superflous and was eliminated from the web for obvious reasons, which I think adobe understood.

By intellectual_being on 9 Apr 2013

Version 5 people, not the Messiah!

Seems like the handheld device market is dictating how everybody develops nowadays. Does it really have such a strong market share? Or was it simply that Steve Jobs of Apple kicked the first domino over. His greed or non greed controversy aside, the man has managed to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes, and set a path that many are forced to go down. Are we not in fact going backwards? Is HTML5 really the future, or just a non-Flash default direction? The “5” stands for the version number! HTML has been around since the early 80’s it is not some new magical solution. HYPER TEXT MARKUP LANGUAGE people! Not multimedia development solution. HTML has not even got video compatibility right. Macromedia Flash solved this years ago. That’s why companies like YouTube and other video sites chose to use the format. Why are people not being allowed to use the best tools available? (Adobe Flash is second to none in numerous development environments). I was fortunate enough to have been involved with Flash from the early days where creativity was exploding, kind of like a 60’s awakening for creative web content. Now it seems that the future may be very bleak. The internet’s direction appears to be data, and the control of said data for profit. Where will all the creative people go? When programmers and coders are the only people required to build this new profit driven monster?

By Gforce on 29 Apr 2013

Adobe Flash is sh1t.

Goodbye Adobe Flash and good riddance!

By Mombasa on 29 Oct 2013

I disagree.

Tom, I disagree with you. I have been developing Flash Player applications using half a doze of technologies during last 10 years, starting from Flash 4, through ActionScript 1, 2 and 3, to haXe, Flex and other things. Steve Jobs (as usual) was absolutely right - Flash Player drains battery life because it does little to no managing the content that it executes, other than well executing it. Most programmers tax the player by generously overusing timers and idle animation, which is a big no-no for mobile devices. Additionally, the Web has come very far during Flash reign, and now can do pretty much the same thing as Flash ever did. What Edge cannot generate, can be done in browser nevertheless - you don't need advanced tools in Edge itself to draw splines and what have you, these can in fact be creatively created in say Adobe Illustrator (another Adobe product), and used as SVG in any modern browser, also in animated form. See, you are not sufficiently informed or merely miss Flash. Don't let your emotions rule here. Also, Adobe Flash Professional application has never been "holding together", as you put it, the Creative Suite product line. Photoshop and to a lesser degree Illustrator have. Listen people, Flash Player was a stop gap measure, albeit an appealing one for the time being, to bring the interactivity up a notch on the Web, but it also paved way for advanced web technologies like Canvas, Web-sockets, SVG, CSS 3, WebGL, DOM etc, which together can far surpass the capabilities of Flash Player, believe me - this is coming from Flash Player developer. Granted, it had some nice things like video streaming. But HTML now evolves at a very rapid speed. Heck, we now have MPEG decoders written in JavaScript which run at 25 fps realtime. Also, the necessity to compile .swf files that Flash Player run was an extra inconvenience for developers everywhere. Its security model was cumbersome and fractured and noone really ever got it properly, even seasoned dev pros.

By amn108 on 28 Nov 2013

objectivity

There seem to be two camps here. I'd like to offer my opinion:

web sites that mostly offer information and form-based services have never really benefitted from Flash. Designers have long used JavaScript to take care of simple animation (fading, drop-downs, fly-ins, pop-ups, colour changes) and it was heavily frowned upon to do stuff like adding a Flash main navigation.

However - intensely interactive and non-linear, synchronised animation/game sites RELIED on Flash! Having a pulsating, textured, wiggly snake follow your mouse around dynamically with collision detection - all in vector graphic format - was something some unique sites had. Of course since CSS3 and HTML5 we can do stuff with the canvas and do some gradients/drop-shadows/CSS animations, and the like. But ALL of this stuff was available before in CSS2 and with JavaScript. And people who have to develop for backwards-compatibility (IE 7/8, Opera, Opera Mobile, Safari for iOS 1) still have to go that route.

The HTML5 video capabilites are at first glance "cool" and it's nice to think that we can play audio and video and style the players using CSS and control using JavaScript. However, the browser support is again only the newer browsers (many big companies are stuck with IE7/8 for various reasons) and not every browser can play every type audio/video Codec. I often found myself checking the version numbers of FireFox or Chrome to see if I could get away with h.264 or if I had to go with the OGG way, but then everything changed when someone did open-source h.264 support. I currently battle daily with a rather large website with thousands of videos in various codecs/containers and need to serve them up to all devices/browsers and offer streaming where supported. To be brutally honest, our Flash video player can handle nearly every format. Of course for mobile devices and users who don't have administrative privileges Flash is out. And then the madness begins with checking browser versions and video format availability.

So for me, Flash is still necessary for the following applications:
-games
-movie or band websites where there's a huge "wow" factor and important synchronised audio/video
-complex customisation software (imagine one where you customise furniture in a "3D" living room)

For nearly every other application, HTML, CSS and JavaScript should do the trick. But there is still a need for a HTML, CSS + JS solution for synchnoised audio/video and complex animation. I was hoping that one could animate SVG files similar to Flash animation, but unfortunately, at the moment, SVG animation is extremely primitive. I'll be patiently waiting for a good Flash alternative. Until then, I'm just thankful the mobile community finally seems to be moving away from "apps" and is more focused on mobile web sites.

By steve69 on 31 Jan 2014

animation software

hi, we've always done print media, but need to catch up to technology (been asking for training for years now). i'm new to animation. always knew about flash. just heard about edge. i need to learn a program that will be able to be played on PCs, macs, android phones, iphones, ipads. don't know what software to learn as a beginner. i'm seeing so much conflicting info. everywhere i turn. help please! thank you.

By annies on 24 Jul 2014

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Tom Arah

Tom Arah

Tom is a contributing editor to PC Pro who writes a bimonthly column in the magazine. He specialises in all things design, having set up his Edinburgh-based design company in 1987. As well as design work, he provides training and consultancy.

Read more More by Tom Arah

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