Flash versus HTML5 - Wallaby and Swiffy conversion tools review
- Author: StatSilk
(Updated 17 May 2013). There has been much speculation (and quite a few misconceptions) about the future of Flash in the media with the introduction of Flash to HTML5 conversion tools, Steve Jobs / Apple rejection of Flash, and Flash support being dropped for mobile browsers (although many of the most popular mobile *apps* are actually Flash-based). This blog post aims to clarify some of these issues. It also compares two tools for converting Flash to HTML5 - Wallaby and Swiffy - and their potential to convert Flash content on the web.
HTML5 (the new HTML/web-page language standard) is now widely touted as the replacement of Flash, and both Adobe and Google have recently launched tools to automatically convert Flash to HTML5. However, HTML5 will not suddenly be replacing all Flash apps for the following reasons:
1. Older widely used web-browsers do not support HTML5. According to the latest statistics the majority of Internet users are still using browsers that do not support HTML5. If you look at the enduring usage of the relatively ancient Internet Explorer 6.0 (released in 2001) you can see that it could take at least another five to ten years for the large majority of people to be using web-browsers which fully support HTML5. Currently even recent versions of the popular Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers have only limited or no support for HTML5.
2. Mobile devices do support HTML5, but also Flash - through the appstore. Android devices support Flash in the mobile browser up to Android v 4.0, but iPads and iPhones do not. The future of Flash on mobile devices and tablets is not in the web-browser, but in the appstore. These are Flash apps specifically designed for touch-screen interfaces. iPads and iPhones do support Flash-based apps through the appstore, and Android devices through the Google Play Store. Many of the most popular iPad and Android apps are Flash-based (you just don't know it, because it is not advertised anywhere). An example is the Flash game Machinarium, which when released on the iPad quickly became the number one paid iPad app.
At the moment Google Swiffy, released just a few months after Adobe's conversion tool, is the most promising of the two for more advanced Flash creations. This is because in addition to animations and graphics it can also convert Actionscript 2 into HTML. Swiffy can converted Flash on the fly right in your browser and the conversion process is very fast - results often appear within seconds. It also displays both the Flash and HTML5 versions next to each other for easy comparison. Update: as of 11 December 2012, Swiffy now has experimental support for actionscript 3.
On the downside, Swiffy does not yet fully support Actionscript 3. Since Actionscript 3 has been around since 2006 most recent Flash applications use v3 rather than the v2 supported by Swiffy. Moreover, Actionscript 2 support is still limited and a number of common features cannot yet be converted. Therefore, those wishing to convert their applications may need to first rewrite them in Actionscript 2, and further rewrite those aspects which are not supported (if possible). Swiffy is updated regularly though and the latest updates can be seen in the Swiffy release notes.
The Swiffy HTML output cannot be edited (or at least not easily), unlike the output from Wallaby.
Still, Swiffy shows a lot of promise, and although it may not be able to convert most complex apps such as Flash games, with a bit of tweaking it might be capable converting quite a few Flash apps.
I tested Google Swiffy with three Flash games I created a few years back which were still written in Actionscript 2. They range in complexity from very simple to moderately complex, so seemed ideal to test out Swiffy. The results are as follows:
- Very simple Flash painting game: It was able to convert almost all the graphics except for the Flash interface components, and most of the functionality was there. However, the main keyboard interactivity did not work, making the game unusable. However, it seems relatively simple to rewrite the non-supported features in a way that Swiffy can convert.
- Simple Flash painting game: Similar to the above, most of the graphics were converted except for a few interface components. However, keyboard interactivity and a number of important features did not work at all, so the game was again unusable. Rewriting this for Swiffy seems possible, but may be quite a bit of work.
- Moderately complex Flash arcade-style game: It loaded up the first few seconds of the game intro and then crashed the browser. It looks like it's currently still limited to simpler apps!
The Swiffy Gallery shows some interesting examples of what can be converted successfully, including two simple Flash games.
Wallaby and Swiffy each have advantages and disadvantages so one or the other may be more suitable for your needs. The main differences are summarized below.
- Wallaby: FLA files
- Swiffy: SWF files
- Wallaby: editable HTML5 file
- Swiffy: non-editable HTML5 file
- Wallaby: none
- Swiffy: limited actionscript 2 and actionscript 3
- Wallaby: a deskop application, requiring installation
- Swiffy: can be used directly in the web-browser, or as an Adobe Flash Professional extension
On PCs, the lack of support for HTML5 means that Flash will likely remain popular for complex apps and games for at least some years to come. For mobile devices and tablets, it is not likely that Flash will ever see widespread usage in the web browser. Instead it is distributed in the form of apps. It has become a popular platform for building mobile apps because it can be distributed relatively easily across different platforms, including Apple's Mac OS X, iOS on iPads and iPhones, Google Android, RIM BlackBerry, Microsoft Windows and even TVs. Many people have Flash-based apps on their iPhones and other devices, without even realizing it.
By the time that HTML5 becomes more widely supported on PCs than Flash, which may be around five years from now, it is very likely that Flash to HTML5 conversion tools will have become sophisticated enough to convert more complex Flash apps. HTML5 will need to evolve to be able develop the kind of complex apps that can be built with Flash today, and the evolution of conversion tools will go side by side with the evolution of HTML5 itself. Although many Flash developers consider HTML5 to be a step back, I see this as a small step back that will lead to a giant leap forward. It is too early to tell what the possibilities will be, but the future of interactive media looks as promising as ever.