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Last year, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs derided Adobe's Flash technology as slow, insecure, and riddled with bugs, Google stepped in to save Flash by supporting Adobe's platform in its Android mobile operating system.
On Tuesday, Google stepped back. The company introduced Swiffy, an experimental online tool that can convert Flash (SWF) files into HTML5. Converted files can be rendered in a modern Web browser without the Flash Player plug-in, which means they will work on Apple iOS devices, among others.
"You can upload a SWF file, and Swiffy will produce an HTML5 version which will run in modern browsers with a high level of SVG support such as Chrome and Safari," explained Google product manager Marcel Gordon in a blog post. "It's still an early version, so it won't convert all Flash content, but it already works well on ads and animations."
Swiffy translates animations into a JSON object, complete with ActionScript 2.0 code, that's rendered using SVG, HTML5, and CSS. Gordon maintains that the converted file is almost as small as the original.
Although Google also recently introduced HTML5 support in its DoubleClick Studio ad creation tool, the company isn't quite abandoning Flash. The ability to play Flash video and animation, found all over the Web, on Android hardware remains an important point of differentiation between Apple iOS devices and Google Android devices. But, by providing a tool to help content escape from the Flash format, Google has joined the growing number of companies, including Adobe, that are promoting HTML5 over Flash.
Smaller companies are offering Flash animation alternatives or Flash escape routes of their own: There's a tool called Hype in the Mac App Store that provides HTML5 animation capabilities; a startup called Loqheart offers software called Spriteloq to make Flash content functional for mobile developers using Ansca Mobile's Corona SDK. Other developers have created SWF to XML conversion tools.
With the paving of so many roads that lead away from Flash, one might be forgiven for thinking that Flash is on its way out. Certainly there's limited evidence to suggest waning interest in Flash development. And those with no love for the technology are not shy about wishing Flash would fade into the sunset.
But Frost & Sullivan research analyst Peter Finalle suggests that reports of the death of Flash are premature. Noting in an email that Adobe Flash was supported by only 12% of consumer tablets in 2010 as a result of the iPad's early market dominance, Finalle expects to see Flash supported by almost 38% of tablets by the end of 2011. He further expects that within a few years, Flash will be supported on the majority of tablets.
Certainly, with Android activations now topping 500,000 per day, it's not hard to see how Flash has a future.
For the time being, the Flash platform serves video makers, game makers, and advertisers well. But with so many emerging alternatives to Flash, and ways off the platform, broad support for Flash won't mean much if developers don't need Flash to create compelling animated graphics that work on multiple platforms.
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