BBC swaps Flash for Air on Android and mobile iPlayer

BBC swaps Flash for Air on Android and mobile iPlayer

Summary: The BBC has started rolling out an Adobe Air version of its web player, designed to work across all platforms as it moves away from Adobe Flash Player for its Android endeavours.


The BBC has started rolling out a new version of the iPlayer that doesn't use Flash, ensuring a way for Android phone and tablet users to keep using the streaming service after the Flash player app is removed from the Android store.

BBC Media Player
The new BBC Media Player swaps Flash Player for Adobe Air. Image: BBC

Adobe said in June that it was discontinuing development of Flash for Android and that it would be removed from the Google Play app store in mid-August. However, at the end of August Adobe reinstated it in the store due to requests from strategic partners, of which the BBC is one. (An Adobe spokeswoman was unable to tell ZDNet on Wednesday when the Flash app would be removed from the Android store again.)

"Adobe's strategic decision to remove support for the Flash Player plug-in meant that we had to change the way that we play back this content," Chris Yanda, an executive product manager in the BBC's Future Media, Programming and On-Demand unit, said in a BBC blog post on Wednesday.

Using Flash as the media format to stream to Android devices had "provided us with a number of cross-platform efficiencies as the same infrastructure can be used for delivery on PCs, Android phones, and set-top boxes," he added.

Alternatives to Flash

The BBC said it considered a number of technical implementations as an alternative to Flash, bearing in mind considerations including finding a system that would work with multiple builds of Android as well as the BBC's own websites. Yanda also said the system needed to meet the security obligations of rights holders.

"No technology is perfect. We've seen some of the challenges that other Adobe Air-based apps have had in the marketplace" — Chris Yanda

HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) was also considered as a Flash alternative, with the BBC already using it to stream its programmes to other platforms. The broadcaster decided against HLS however, as Android OS builds prior to Honeycomb don't support it.

Ultimately, the BBC has opted for Adobe Air for its new platform, which is packaged in a new app called BBC Media Player. The BBC said Adobe has been instrumental in helping to develop the new app, and that it was aware of the shortcomings of Air as a platform.

"We are making this change with our eyes open. No technology is perfect. We've seen some of the challenges that other Adobe Air-based apps have had in the marketplace and so we have worked hard, both internally and with our technology partners, to build the best application we can," Yanda said.

The mobile BBC iPlayer website is now starting to use Air instead of Flash, and the Android app will follow next week, the organisation said.

Topics: Web development, Android, Apps, Smartphones

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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  • But.. Air contains flash. AIR is a wrapper for various components to create content, including but not limited to, flash.
    • Oh wait

      I see what they did there:
      " Adobe AIR applications can be published as native phone applications on certain supported mobile operating systems, such as Android (ARM Cortex-A8 and above[9]) and Apple iOS.[5]"

      So, they didn't really change anything, they're still using flash, they just wrapped it in air so they can publish it as native application.
    • BBC did not swap Flash for anything. BBC is rocking Flash.

      Adobe Flashplayer the browser plug-in is the "Flash" you are referring to in this article, but the technology is much bigger than a browser plug-in that has been stuck in the middle of a 20 year browser war. Adobe Air is not that same as Flashplayer, and is not subject to same problems that Flashplayer has been blamed for in the browser environment.

      Adobe Flash can be considered many things, but a real answer is that its simply a program, similar to MS Office, or Photoshop. An authoring tool, that you can produce many different outputs.

      In the browser "Plug-in" paradigm, you can use Flash or other tools (FlashBuilder, Flex, for example) to produce .swf files. These are displayed inside of the Flashplayer plugin installed in your browser, much like a .jpg image is displayed in your browser. Its just a container that displays content.

      Because of security/privacy concerns between various browsers and the plug-in, the FlashPlayer plug-in is on its way out, but Flash as a technology is going no where.

      Air, is a runtime environment that is installed specifically for PCs, or Macs, ….or iPhones, or Android devices, (and others)…and that is bound to the same security constraints that any other native application installed on that device would be. For that reason, the only security/privacy problems you are going to have (with rare exceptions for any and all platforms) are ones that you would as a native app.

      Air applications can run on your device if you have the Air "runtime" environment installed. Once you have that, you can run any Air application.

      One of the biggest benefits of Air to me as a developer (*disclaimer - you know my bias), I can write an application one time, and deploy it to a PC, Mac, Android phone and Tablet, iPhone and IPads, and others….all in one big step.

      This is the wave of the future and is happening now. I am also a native Android developer, but more and more, I am producing projects with Air, for both iOS and Android. It doesn't suck. *smiles*

      With this new information, I would suggest that the subject line, and many comments in this article are very technically incorrect.
      "BBC swaps Flash for Air on Android and mobile iPlayer"

      BBC did not swap Flash for anything. BBC is rocking Flash.

      They are moving away from a browser plugin to an app, but also making a very good technology choice in using Flash-based techology to deliver a better product on better, more robust platforms.
  • "BBC swaps Flash for Air" : this title makes zero sense

    In most case, Air IS Flash. The only difference is: Adobe Air allows you to package Flash content into applications while Flash player allows you to play Flash content in the browser. The benefits of using Adobe Air are : you code once and you reach every PC-browser with Flash Player AND in Android and Apple Store (what HTML 5 should be capable of -according the hype- but is not). Indeed, Flash development is a very competitive solution for cross-platform developments because you don't have to maintain different native versions of your code.
  • So do I need to install Air from the market?

    So do I need Air from the market or will my Flash player convert on it's own? Most, if not all, of the other comments here make little sense to me. Calling something a wrapper brings up Christmas gifts and scotch tape but I don't get how that translates to empowering my phone to play video... I feel grateful that my phone is a supported device. Especially after reading the hatred that people are spewing on the Adobe site. Guess I would be mad if video wouldn't play on my fancy new JB phone/tablet. I don't want an update for that reason. So do I need AIR?
    • Yes, you need Air.

      You can get it from the market. Once you get that installed, your experience will be painless. In most cases you shouldnt be able to tell an Air app from a native app....that is the point.

      Desktop computers: Download from the Adobe AIR Download Center.
      Android™ devices: Download from the Android Market directly from your Android device.
      BlackBerry PlayBook: Runtime is preinstalled and integrated into the BlackBerry® Tablet OS.
      iOS devices: AIR apps for iOS install a "captive" version of Adobe AIR; therefore, users do not install a dedicated version of AIR.
      Television: Runtime is preinstalled on supported televisions.