Apple-backed SproutCore takes on Flash in race to deliver multitouch web apps

Posted:
in iPad edited January 2014
SproutCore, the open source "Rich Internet Apps" framework Apple adopted and invested in to construct its online MobileMe suite of web apps and its iWork.com service, is taking on a larger life of its own as independent companies use it to deliver sophisticated multitouch web apps targeted at iPad and other HTML5-savvy tablets.



Among those using SproutCore to target the new market for such multitouch RIAs is Strobe, Inc., founded by Charles Jolley, the founder of SproutCore and until just recently a core developer of Apple's own SproutCore apps.



Jolley is now working both to advance SproutCore into the multitouch realm, and to promote solutions based on SproutCore that help publishers bridge the gap between desktop web apps and those aimed at running on touch-based devices.



"We're focused on helping companies transition their software from mouse-based desktops to touch mobile devices," Jolley said of his new Strobe startup in an email interview with AppleInsider. "We use a blend of HTML5 and native technologies that means the Strobe apps can be installed on your iPad or iPhone from iTunes App Store and accessed from and iPad or iPhone using Safari."



"Our first vertical is newspapers and online publishers. Right now we have a lot of interest from publishers - all household names. I will be sure to let you know as soon as I can announce something," he said. "My goal is to substantially grow the number of publications available on the iPad over the next year."



Solving the Flash problem



Many existing content developers are finding their existing proficiency in Adobe Flash to be worthless on the new iPad, which does not support Flash content. Adobe's own solution has been to create a native iPad app that simply flips users through a digital copy of existing print publications, a workaround used by Condé Nast to digitally publish Wired for iPad users.



The lack of strong alternatives to publishing content in Flash is creating a demand among publishers for tools that can help them transition to a future based on HTML5 and other open web technologies, creating content that will work on iPad and other touch-based mobile devices that support open web standards.



SproutCore developers recently demonstrated a web-based version of the native NPR iPad app (pictured below), which can now be viewed live online. That demonstration shows how sophisticated web apps are can now be, thanks to the SproutCore Touch framework.



Speaking of his new direction in building such tools, Jolley said, "Apple has been a life changing experience. It's not often you get to work with so many people so dedicated to building an amazing product. The products the company as put out over the last three years will transform the way we use computers for the next 15. Over the next few years most software and content companies will have to transition to touch devices. I think we can make that transition much easier with SproutCore, so I'm leaving Apple to focus on it."







The failure to Flash



The market for creating dynamic content for desktop web audiences has long been dominated by Adobe Flash. However, that company's inability to ship a suitable mobile version of its Flash Player for iPhone and other smartphone platforms over the last three years has resulted in Apple hitching itself to a faster new horse in the technology race: HTML5.



Adobe largely ignored Apple's decision until the unveiling of the Flash-free iPad this spring. As an instantly popular, multitouch tablet device, Apple's iPad appeared to be just what Adobe needed to propagate its Flash platform beyond the PC desktop. The problem is that much of the existing Flash content on the web would need to be reworked to support its exclusively multitouch interface; there's no mouse pointer or cursor control that nearly all existing Flash content assumes will be there.



Additionally, Apple has complained that the current Flash Player is not at all optimized for presenting either video or interactive content on mobile devices with significant engineering constraints related to battery life, available memory and processing capacity. Further, because Adobe owns Flash, Apple would have little control over how the technology evolved into the future, even if it joined Adobe's Open Screen Project, an initiative intended to help third parties port Adobe's Flash Player software to their platforms.



On page 2 of 2: A return to open web standards, RIAs, SproutCore aims at touch, tools.



A return to open web standards



At the same time, progress on HTML5 and related frameworks and web technologies has rapidly evolved as the IETF open standards for the web have been fleshed out and implemented by web browser developers.



Apple played a major role in making this happen by releasing both WebCore (based on the open KHTML web rendering engine) and then WebKit (Apple's higher level code used to build an actual web browser) as open source projects.



Nearly every smartphone platform has delivered a WebKit-based mobile browser, and Google has had significant success in bringing WebKit to the Windows PC with Chrome. And of course, Apple's own Safari is the default browser for Macs and its Mobile Safari variant drives the web in iOS iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads. This has immediately shifted the entire mobile web and a significant chunk of the consumer desktop web to WebKit, an HTML5-savvy platform Apple leads in conjunction with other contributors in the open source community.



WebKit's success has been joined by Firefox and Opera, and this high profile, broad support for HTML5 has even induced Microsoft to embrace HTML5 in its own Internet Explorer 9. This guarantees a far smoother future for web developers because HTML5 articulates how web standards must work in far greater detail than previous HTML specifications.



The emerging market for RIAs



HTML5 still does not do everything Flash does. By itself, HTML5 actually does very little to replace Flash other than making it unnecessary for web developers to rely upon Flash for web-embedded audio and video (via the new audio and video elements in HTML5), and to provide some tools for drawing and animating elements within web pages (such as HTML5 Canvas and CSS).



Recognizing this, Adobe has aimed Flash (and its related Flex) towards the emerging market for RIAs, rather than seeking to just hold on to Flash's mainstay of video distribution and simple animated web games.



RIAs can replace native apps, enabling "write once, run anywhere" deployment and allowing vendors to release embedded devices that don't need to depend upon Windows in order to run useful software. Google's upcoming Chrome OS for netbooks and tablets plans to incorporate support for Flash to allow tablet makers to run a collective of such RIA software directly from the web without needing to license Windows.



Adobe's proprietary Flash/Flex platform isn't the only option for delivering RIAs however. It competes rather directly against Microsoft's Silverlight, for example. But there are also a variety of other technologies for delivering RIAs without needing a third party runtime "player" plugin like those required by Adobe and Microsoft. Apple is staunchly behind SproutCore as one of them.



SproutCore aims at touch, tools



SproutCore Touch, a project aimed at targeting the SproutCore frameworks for use on touch-based devices, was introduced at JSConf in April. Its development continues with a first official version planned for delivery this fall.



Jolley added that, "by early 2011, we will have a new set of developer tools ready based on node.js that are much faster and include an interface builder [named Greenhouse, shown below]."







In addition to funding the development of SproutCore for building RIAs, Apple is also working on a variety of related development frameworks related to web standards:



AdLib for iPad and PastryKit for iPhone have been described as "a visual effects library" for creating simple web apps with native appearance targeted at iOS devices. Apple uses it to build the web-based user manual installed as a bookmark on iOS devices.

TuneKit is used to build the interactive menus for movie downloads (iTunes Extras) and bonus content created for music (iTunes LP), which playback from iTunes on a desktop PC or from Apple TV.

Gianduia is a framework that adds Web 2.0-style rich interactivity to the client side of WebObjects. It's used by Apple Retail to create online apps for scheduling appointments and related tasks.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 49
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    This I am loving! The cry for the death of Flash is so amusing to me. I am so close now to being able to distribute totally obnoxious HTML 5 animated canvas ads, completely self contained within a single div id. It is a brand new day. You better scramble to find a new blocker. I will just be cracking up when people start turning off Javascript to simply be able to load a page (kind of like AI in the middle of the day)
  • Reply 2 of 49
    bartfatbartfat Posts: 432member
    That's not a problem because existing Ad-blockers already allow the user to block those portions of the page.
  • Reply 3 of 49
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bartfat View Post


    That's not a problem because existing Ad-blockers already allow the user to block those portions of the page.



    You mean the crashy 32 bit beta stuff that requires other OS extensions or is there something new that works out of the box?
  • Reply 4 of 49
    desuserigndesuserign Posts: 1,316member
    Will this be a boon for Apple (I think yes, as they are into a more free and open web) or a bane (an eventual Flash-like trojan?)

    I figure anything is better than Flash but will this essentially encourage development of web apps that are un Apple-like in their interface and quality rather than native high quality iOS apps?



    I admit I'm unclear on how SC interacts with web and OS. They say they are using a combination of web (SC) and dedicated Cocoa Touch code. How does that work exactly?
  • Reply 5 of 49
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bartfat View Post


    That's not a problem because existing Ad-blockers already allow the user to block those portions of the page.



    mstone is right, keeping Flash from running until you need it is child?s play compared to needing a plugin that can parse a dynamic site using open standards. I suppose in regards to Canvas that element could be ?turned off? but I?d wager that there is so much JS and clever devs that we?ll be entering into the old days before good ad blockers. But I think this is a good problem to have than have no progression with open standards and resource heavy plug-ins, or plug-ins in general.
  • Reply 6 of 49
    anonymouseanonymouse Posts: 6,581member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by mstone View Post


    This I am loving! The cry for the death of Flash is so amusing to me. I am so close now to being able to distribute totally obnoxious HTML 5 animated canvas ads, completely self contained within a single div id. It is a brand new day. You better scramble to find a new blocker. I will just be cracking up when people start turning off Javascript to simply be able to load a page (kind of like AI in the middle of the day)



    Well, the reason Flash needs to go away has nothing to do with ads. Yes, there are some people who cry for Flash to die because they think it will make the ads go away. But, none of the intelligent criticisms of Flash have anything to do with that. The primary reason is that there is no reason on the open web why users should be at the mercy of proprietary content containers like Flash, and Adobe's record in this regard, unable or unwilling to produce a reasonable quality Flash player for more than a single platform (if that many), is a perfect example of why plug-ins in general need to be eliminated from the web.





    That being said, I think this NPR web app is a perfect example of what kinds of apps are well suited to be deployed as web apps. None of the content belongs to you. You need network access to use the native app anyway, so you aren't really losing much by it not being native. The functionality required is not super-sophisticated. These are a few distinctions that jump out immediately when you compare this to say an email client or word processor: cases where the data does belong to you (and it's crazy to give someone else control of it), and, in the case of a word processor, at least, there's no reason why you should have to be connected to the network to use it.
  • Reply 7 of 49
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by anonymouse View Post


    The primary reason is that there is no reason on the open web why users should be at the mercy of proprietary content containers like Flash, and Adobe's record in this regard, unable or unwilling to produce a reasonable quality Flash player for more than a single platform (if that many), is a perfect example of why plug-ins in general need to be eliminated from the web.



    I'm not married to Flash but I see no reason why it needs "to go away". Flash does some things very well, not ideal for small screen underpowered devices but on a powerful desktop, nothing comes even close. I'm open to change hence my obsession with exploiting HTML 5. I try to stay on the cutting/bleeding edge, but by no means do I ever burn bridges. I just find it ironical how history repeats itself. First it is al about ubiquitous Flash, then turn off Javascript because it is a security liability, then the advice from experts is turn off Flash it is a security liability and now it appears that Javascript could be the new bane to web surfers, a nuisance as well as a likely security risk. Let's just go back to Lynx.
  • Reply 8 of 49
    nvidia2008nvidia2008 Posts: 9,262member
    I love how HTML5 is so widely touted now. But in real life most websites need to cater still to the lowest common denominator, ie IE6. Well, back again to designing multiple sites (in essence). Before it was Flash version and non-Flash version. Now it's designing the HTML5w0000t and basic-crappy version.



    Just remember JavaScript is not the magical answer to everything.



    Ah, found the word. I meant to say, remember, HTML5, Javascript and Ajax is not a panacea for all the web's woes.
  • Reply 9 of 49
    firefly7475firefly7475 Posts: 1,502member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by mstone View Post


    I am so close now to being able to distribute totally obnoxious HTML 5 animated canvas ads, completely self contained within a single div id.



    Close? My iPad is already hammered with a bunch of animated ads I don't see on the desktop (cheers Flashblock!)



    I'm actually not against responsible advertising if it's paying for me to visit a site for free that I would otherwise have to pay for. I read an article once about how some tech sites struggle to bring in revenue because such a high percentage of their traffic comes from users with ad blockers.
  • Reply 10 of 49
    firefly7475firefly7475 Posts: 1,502member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by nvidia2008 View Post


    But in real life most websites need to cater still to the lowest common denominator, ie IE6.



    If there are any coders out there making design decisions based on IE6 they need to be fired.



    IE6 is dead.
  • Reply 11 of 49
    paulmjohnsonpaulmjohnson Posts: 1,380member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by nvidia2008 View Post


    I love how HTML5 is so widely touted now. But in real life most websites need to cater still to the lowest common denominator, ie IE6.



    That's a very good point, but it's interesting that at least based on what I've read, if you maintain current browser versions, you're better off with Microsoft for HTML5 than you are with Firefox (please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I read that here).



    I'd actually think it's time website creators abandoned the need to support IE6. I know a lot of companies still use it (my own included), but if more and more websites started posting a "stop being an arse" message when they see IE6, maybe we could finally see the end of this security nightmare.



    In other news, I think that NPR website is tremendous. I'm a big fan of the NPR app, and this seems to be pretty close.
  • Reply 12 of 49
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Firefly7475 View Post


    Close? My iPad is already hammered with a bunch of animated ads I don't see on the desktop (cheers Flashblock!)



    I'm actually not against responsible advertising if it's paying for me to visit a site for free that I would otherwise have to pay for. I read an article once about how some tech sites struggle to bring in revenue because such a high percentage of their traffic comes from users with ad blockers.



    The operative word is 'self contained' which is the only way that an agency will accept an ad. This is the problem with HTML5 vs. Flash. If you are seeing animated ads on your iPad there is a good chance they are of the roll your own variety. The challenge is bringing the typical remotely loaded ad to the mainstream using Javascript and canvas. Not all websites are able to prepare the groundwork for that type of content since it needs special conditional programming.
  • Reply 13 of 49
    Is there a program that if you write something in HTML5 that will convert it to Flash for all those flash and other websites? If that is the case then it seems like to me people could just write it once and convert the other way. I wonder how Adobe would like that?
  • Reply 14 of 49
    columbuscolumbus Posts: 281member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by mstone View Post


    This I am loving! The cry for the death of Flash is so amusing to me. I am so close now to being able to distribute totally obnoxious HTML 5 animated canvas ads, completely self contained within a single div id. It is a brand new day. You better scramble to find a new blocker. I will just be cracking up when people start turning off Javascript to simply be able to load a page (kind of like AI in the middle of the day)



    These ads have to come from somewhere.



    Blocking all javascript served from a different domain to the one you have visited, or blocking javascript from a list of known ad servers will surely be more effective than turning off javascript althogher?
  • Reply 15 of 49
    sourcersourcer Posts: 12member
    \



    One wonders if much research is done before writing articles like this?



    www.sencha.com FTW
  • Reply 16 of 49
    anonymouseanonymouse Posts: 6,581member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by mstone View Post


    I'm not married to Flash but I see no reason why it needs "to go away". ...



    It, and all other plug-ins, need to go away because web content shouldn't depend on proprietary plug-ins, doubly so when the company that owns the technology has demonstrated its inability to support the technology across multiple platforms. This isn't a new problem. At least now we're at the point where the solution is becoming available.



    Plug-ins have always been a bad thing, don't you absolutely hate it when you go to some website that wants you to download some weird ass plug-in you never heard of? Don't you hate it even more when the plug-in isn't available for your platform? If there is anything that the whole situation of Flash not being on new mobile devices should tell us, it's that plug-ins, if we are wedded to them, hold back progress.



    Why should users on any platform have to wait for Adobe to get off its lazy ass and write a version of Flash for them, if it deems them worthy? Why should any company have the success of its platform depend on Adobe's good graces? Why don't Linux users have a QuickTime plug-in from Apple, and why does their Flash plug-in totally suck?



    It really is very much as SJ described in his "Thoughts on Flash". Proprietary plug-ins, especially meta-platforms, are detrimental to progress. Eliminating plug-ins and moving to open standards that are implemented in web browsers gives control back to, and puts the responsibility on, platform and browser developers, where it belongs.



    This is one of those things, like having a tumor removed, where there will be a little pain along the way, but we'll all be much better off for in the end.
  • Reply 17 of 49
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by anonymouse View Post


    It, and all other plug-ins, need to go away because web content shouldn't depend on proprietary plug-ins, doubly so when the company that owns the technology has demonstrated its inability to support the technology across multiple platforms. This isn't a new problem. At least now we're at the point where the solution is becoming available.



    Plug-ins have always been a bad thing, don't you absolutely hate it when you go to some website that wants you to download some weird ass plug-in you never heard of? Don't you hate it even more when the plug-in isn't available for your platform? If there is anything that the whole situation of Flash not being on new mobile devices should tell us, it's that plug-ins, if we are wedded to them, hold back progress.



    Why should users on any platform have to wait for Adobe to get off its lazy ass and write a version of Flash for them, if it deems them worthy? Why should any company have the success of its platform depend on Adobe's good graces? Why don't Linux users have a QuickTime plug-in from Apple, and why does their Flash plug-in totally suck?



    It really is very much as SJ described in his "Thoughts on Flash". Proprietary plug-ins, especially meta-platforms, are detrimental to progress. Eliminating plug-ins and moving to open standards that are implemented in web browsers gives control back to, and puts the responsibility on, platform and browser developers, where it belongs.



    This is one of those things, like having a tumor removed, where there will be a little pain along the way, but we'll all be much better off for in the end.



    All plugins don't need to go away, at least until there's a technology to completely replace all of the custom needs for certain plugins. For example, to play a 3D online game created with Unity, which is an outstanding product for creating high quality games, if you want to play it in a browser you have to download the Unity 3D web player, which is free. Online Flash based games are another good example. I know there's the potential for open solutions that would work in those scenarios, but they don't exist yet at a level where they can be used easily and quickly by developers to produce high quality solutions...for certain things.



    Also, Flash is a great tool for creating 2D animations, it makes the job of animating very easy and quick, so the product should, and will, stay around for that reason. In the future maybe Adobe can enhance Flash to produce HTML5 solutions for some things, or another company can come up with a solution that has the great 2D animation toolset that Flash has but is more "open" where you don't require a plugin.



    I know there was an example recently of Quake being played in a browser using HTML5 technology. Pretty cool stuff, but it's not there yet for the majority of developers.



    I agree that having multiple plugins can be very annoying, but whether you like Adobe or not they've made it pretty painless to the layperson to install the plugin, for free. End users don't care about this techno-babble we prattle on about, they just want stuff that works. If they have to download a plugin that takes 10 seconds they're fine with that. If that plugin, however, doesn't work well and the consumer notices it they won't like it.



    But saying that all third party plugins need to go away is just a pipe dream right now, it can't be done yet. Hopefully someday it can be, and I fully support it, but there's still a need for certain plugins as I mentioned.
  • Reply 18 of 49
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Sourcer View Post


    \



    One wonders if much research is done before writing articles like this?



    www.sencha.com FTW



    Wow, that looks very cool! I hadn't heard of that product, thanks for the link!
  • Reply 19 of 49
    anonymouseanonymouse Posts: 6,581member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bangtickboom View Post


    All plugins don't need to go away, at least until there's a technology to completely replace all of the custom needs for certain plugins. For example, to play a 3D online game created with Unity, which is an outstanding product for creating high quality games, if you want to play it in a browser you have to download the Unity 3D web player, which is free. Online Flash based games are another good example. I know there's the potential for open solutions that would work in those scenarios, but they don't exist yet at a level where they can be used easily and quickly by developers to produce high quality solutions...for certain things. ...



    Let's not pretend these things are the web, or part of the web, they aren't. They are proprietary solutions that run over HTTP and use a web browser as a way to bootstrap themselves onto your computer.
  • Reply 20 of 49
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by anonymouse View Post


    Let's not pretend these things are the web, or part of the web, they aren't. They are proprietary solutions that run over HTTP and use a web browser as a way to bootstrap themselves onto your computer.



    If you want to play with semantics then go right ahead. The fact of the matter is, to the end user that doesn't care about the definition or technology of how these things work, they get to those products via the web. So it is part of the web. Sure, you can define things more precisely however you want, and categorize things however you want. But to regular consumers that don't even know what HTTP means, it's part of the web, and they're the vast majority of users out there.
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