Adobe’s announcement of AIR for mobile today at the Mobile World Congress means that any Flash or Flex developer can compile an AIR application that will run on a supported mobile device. I understand that AIR for mobile is a subset of desktop AIR, but does include Flash Player 10.1, local database support with SQLite, and access to local storage, so it is not lacking in capability. Apparently it will be possible to have a single .air file that will run across desktop and devices, perhaps with conditional code to account for differences in device capability. Some features, such as multitouch and accelerometer support, are more likely to be found on a mobile device than on a desktop, though things like screen size and available storage will be more constrained.
Until now it has been Java that comes closest to providing a common runtime across desktop and devices. Flash promises a more consistent runtime as well as stronger multimedia and graphics capability. Thanks to Apple, the app store concept is now well established and AIR applications fit well with this model, though not exclusively so. It will also be possible to deploy AIR applications from your own web site. I think there will be considerable interest and take-up for AIR on mobile.
Initial support will be for Google’s Android OS, with others to follow – with the exception so far being Apple.
This is where it gets interesting. Whereas Flash in the browser is blocked on Apple iPhone and (as far as we know so far) iPad, Adobe has a native compilation option for Flash applications targeting these devices, preserving some kind of deployment story. Clearly from Adobe’s perspective it would be better and easier if Apple allowed the AIR runtime onto the device. It’s less clear that Apple device users are really losing out though, and there is even an argument that they benefit, if you think that native code is a better solution for a mobile device.
In other words, the introduction of AIR for mobile does not really put any pressure on Apple, since Adobe has already come up with a good alternative. There may be some indirect pressure, since growing use of the Flash runtime outside the browser may also increase its significance within the browser.
A lot hinges on the quality of the mobile AIR runtime, particularly in respect of memory usage, which has tended to be greedy in desktop AIR.