Kobold2D: Polling User Input with KKInput

On September 15, 2011, in cocos2d, Kobold2D, Programming, by Steffen Itterheim

Kobold2D is about solving annoying, recurring problems, or simply making all things Cocos2D more convenient. The new KKInput class does both! (*)

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Flash for iPad? It just makes no sense!

On March 9, 2011, in Technology, by Steffen Itterheim

With each new iOS device you’ll be sure to hear this argument:

“It doesn’t support Flash! Baaaaah, piece of crap!”

What bothers me most is that this mantra is repeated even by intelligent people, even developers fall into that behavior. But they don’t have an argument other than “I want it, I want it”. No really, it’s actually “I think I want it, I think I want it”. Why?

“Uh … well, Flash games!”

Here’s the problem …

If you like playing Flash games, either some in particular or generally consuming the daily new dose of throwaway games, you’ll be emotionally connected to these games. Of course you would want to play them on any device that seems perfectly capable of running Flash. So I understand the notion of wanting to have Flash on an iOS device. It’s entirely understandable.

What really bothers me, is how little even intelligent people put into what they’re actually demanding. Here’s a smack in the face – think about it!

Other examples include:

“Press any key to continue.”

“Use WASD to control your character, Space to jump, Ctrl to shoot.”

“Move the mouse cursor to the edge of the screen area to scroll in that direction.”

First of all …

All games that make use of the keyboard are out. Add to that the games which require a mousewheel or the distinction of left and right mouse clicks. I bet this will disqualify at least half of all Flash games. I expect that estimate is likely to be much higher if someone were to compile actual statistics of Keyboard and Mouse input use in Flash games.

Next, any game that relies on the concept of “mouse over” won’t work satisfactory, or not at all. There is no “mouse over” on a touchscreen device, there is only “drag & drop”. You have to touch the screen to move the cursor – it’s possible that games will interpret this as some kind of click and click, or drag and drop operation.

Finally, there’s the matter of precision. A mouse cursor has a hotspot that has an exact pixel position. A finger has a touch area, and although you can calculate the center point to be the touch location, it will be quite imprecise. Especially when you consider that users don’t see the exact point they’re touching – their finger is blocking the view. No Flash game has been designed to take into account that the clickable area will have a relatively large range of uncertainty. Many hidden objects games require you to touch locations to almost pixel-perfect accuracy – not to mention the unspeakable horrors of Flash UI Design with small fonts and even smaller buttons.

If you go into details, I’m sure there’ll be plenty more design issues. They may be subtle but overall important enough to make some games less enjoyable, unfair, unplayable or allow for exploits which could skew the highscores towards either mobile or web users. That’s bad.

Technical reasons

There are of course technical reasons why Flash, and specifically Flash games, won’t work well on an iPad or iPhone. The 1 GHz Dual-Core CPU of the iPad 2 is still an order of a magnitude slower than the slowest, Intel-based Mac Mini which clocks in at around 1.8 GHz (also Dual-Core). On older iDevices there’s only a single core ARM CPU with around 500 MHz. And surely you’ve experienced Flash games that didn’t run too well on a Mac mini, right? Imagine how they would perform on a mobile device.

Then we have the memory issue. The iOS devices have at most 512 MB of memory down to 128 MB. Not that bad, unless you consider how much is actually available for Apps. On a 128 MB device it’s just 30-35 MB. Not much you can do with that, and I don’t expect any Flash game to be optimized for this constrained amount of memory. Worse yet, a Flash game won’t receive memory warnings from the device and it’s developer certainly won’t respond to this warning. Plus, since running in the browser, the browser on the iDevice will consume some of the available memory itself. So what you get is some content-heavy Flash games and apps which will simply crash at a certain point, or not run at all because they’re out of memory. That’s not a good user experience.

We also have to consider the issue of screen resolution. Most Flash games run in a window with varying dimensions. On an iOS device, first of all you’d never get the fullscreen experience because the native resolution will almost always be different. Since Flash runs in the browser, the Flash games will have to be zoomed and scaled to fit the screen. In the worst case, the user has to do this manually because double-tapping inside the Flash window probably would be interpreted by Flash as a command, rather than by the browser as the command to zoom and fit the double-tapped content. In any case scaling the content will degrade visual quality while consuming more power because the content needs to be scaled (in most cases: up) by either the CPU or GPU.

What about Loading bars? Do you like loading bars? I’m sure you do. Because on an iDevice, the best you’ll get is a WiFi connection. I suppose that’ll be acceptable. But what if you’re on the road and only get 3G or even Edge? Do you like waiting several minutes for your Flash game to start up every time you run it? I don’t think so. Just try to remember how Flash websites felt back in the 90s when all we had were dial-up connections.

This could be better if …

Yes, if the iOS devices or even the iPads supported Flash, I’m sure Flash developers would take a little more care of the details that they actually can take care of. For example providing a real touch-aware user interface, or designing the whole game with touchscreen devices in mind.

However, only a minority of Flash developers would do so. The low costs of developing Flash apps and games doesn’t make cross-platform compatibility a real possibility for most. They make 90% or more of their revenue from hosting them on ad-supported gaming websites like Kongregate. Any other platform than the web has no relevance to Flash developers, and the iPad simply wouldn’t change that.

Once you do have a successful Flash game, it’s also much more lucrative to simply make an iOS version of it. Take for example Canabalt. It’s free on the web, but it sells for a relatively high price of $2,99 on iTunes. It’s also wildly successful. And it’s also a good example of why many Flash games simply won’t work on an iDevice – the screenshot further up is from the Flash version of Canabalt.

But Flash is good for other things!

Yes, if you like Ads, sure.

Oh, you mean those designer websites that you can’t even figure out how to use on your desktop? No?

What then … don’t tell me Youtube or those other movie sites. For one, there’s an App for that. And trust me, you’ll be too busy doing other stuff with your iPad than watching Youtube videos.

“There’s this site that won’t work …” – Really, you visit www.disney.com every day? You’re adorable! :)

So far I have not come across a website that’s entirely Flash-driven (eg won’t work without Flash) and that has you coming back. The one that gets closest is github.com – but no point in downloading source code to your iDevice, is there? Most Flash-only websites are once-in-a-lifetime show-off events. A comedy act, if you so will. The second time, it’s just not as much fun. And you can absolutely live without them.

I run a Flashblocker on my browsers, all I’m missing are Ads and rarely a few gizmos that I don’t even notice aren’t there. Almost all websites are intelligent enough to default back to a non-Flash version, which not only works better, it’s also easier to use, loads faster and consumes less memory and CPU time. There you go.

To put it bluntly

Flash has no place on the iPad, or any iDevice.

My real problem with that is the people who repeat the “no Flash support” mantra don’t stop to think about the actual problems in supporting Flash apps and games on a device like the iPad. It just won’t deliver the same experience as it does on the desktop. Those experiences can not be brought over to a mobile device by merely supporting a specific technology.

Moreover, I wish those in favor of Flash support for iPad would actually make an argument, rather than repeating “But that’s what I want.” – you’re like little kids who can literally only be dragged past a candy shop or toy store, crying all along. No toys for you, grow up!

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