Earlier this year, Adobe released the first version of Flash Builder with support for mobile application development. With this recent release of Flash Builder, Flex and ActionScript developers can build, debug and package smartphone and tablet applications for Apple iOS, Google Android and the BlackBerry PlayBook.

Flash Builder 4.6 is a free upgrade to that release which includes support for the newly available Flex 4.6 SDK and expanded tooling for mobile application development.

New Adobe AIR and Flash Player support

Flash Builder 4.6 provides all the tools you need to take advantage of the new features in Adobe AIR 3.0 and Flash Player 11.

AIR Native Extensions

One of the exciting new capabilities for mobile and desktop developers is the ability to complement your AIR application with native code. Adobe AIR Native Extensions allow you to pair native C, Objective-C and Java libraries with your ActionScript and Flex code. This new functionality opens up new possibilities for your desktop and mobile applications. You can now add platform specific features to your applications that leverage the native APIs of Apple iOS, Google Android and the Blackberry Playbook. To read more about the possibilities or learn how to build your own native extension, see Oliver Goldman's article, Extending Adobe AIR.

Flash Builder 4.6 provides an end-to-end workflow for building mobile and desktop applications that leverage Adobe AIR Native Extensions. All you have to do to leverage native code in your application is drop an AIR native extension file (.ANE) into your Flash Builder project via Flex Build Path section of project properties panel (see Figure 1). There you will find a new tab labeled "Native Extensions" that helps you manage the various extensions added to your project. Use the Add ANE… button to add a single native extension to your project or the Add Folder… button to include a directory of multiple native extensions.

Once added to your project, Flash Builder will provide code assist for the APIs included in the native extension. Flash Builder will also alert you when a native extension will affect the reach of your application. For example, if your project targets Google Android and Apple iOS, but the native extension you've added only works on Apple iOS, Flash Builder will let you know. However, Flash Builder won't enforce these warnings until you attempt to package your application. At that point, Flash Builder will help you resolve any errors and provide several options for packaging native extensions.

Captive runtime

Another powerful new feature of Adobe AIR 3 is the ability to embed the runtime in your final application. This new method of packaging your desktop and mobile application is referred to as 'captive runtime'. It effectively removes the requirement for your users to have AIR pre-installed on their computer or device. When you are ready to package your application, Flash Builder provides a new option during the Export Release Build process. Under the Deployment tab for each targeted platform select Export application with embedded AIR runtime to package the AIR runtime within your application.

New tools for mobile development

Flash Builder 4.6 offers two features that were previously only available for desktop and browser projects. FlexUnit support and the popular Network Monitor have been enabled for mobile projects. You will also find the device list supported by the design view and desktop emulator has been updated with several new devices and tablets.

Unit testing mobile applications

For many, unit testing is so critical to overall application quality and process that it's a firm requirement even though adoption incurs a significant burden. To help make unit testing easier, Flash Builder 4.6 now supports the popular open-source FlexUnit framework for mobile projects. Flash Builder will help you execute your unit tests live on a connected device over a WiFi connection.

Monitoring network activity for mobile applications

When building applications that talk to the cloud or other services, debugging network communication can be extremely difficult. Thankfully, when you need to know the exact data being received or sent to your mobile application, Flash Builder 4.6 includes a built-in network monitor. When debugging your device over a WiFi connection, Flash Builder displays all the data being sent and received.

Note: Due to limitations of the Adobe AIR runtime, Flash Builder does not support the execution of unit tests or the network monitor via a USB connection for mobile projects.

Updating to Flash Builder 4.6

A lot is packed into this free update. So much so that we couldn't fit it all in the Adobe Application Manager which means Flash Builder 4.5 users won't be automatically notified about the update. Not sure what version you have? In Flash Builder, open the Help menu and select the Flash Builder Notices and Credits option on the bottom. On the bottom right, you'll notice the version and build number. If it doesn't say Version 4.6, you need to upgrade.

You can download the full installer directly from Adobe.com. Please note: you must uninstall your previous version of Flash Builder 4.5 or 4.5.1 before installing 4.6. By default the Flash Builder uninstall program will preserve your preferences and workspace so you can easily reimport them into Flash Builder 4.6. Your existing Flash Builder 4.5 workspace is compatible with 4.6. When you install Flash Builder 4.6, you'll notice that an updated version of Eclipse 3.7 is included. However, Flash Builder 4.6 still supports Eclipse 3.6 as a plug-in in case you aren't ready to upgrade.

On your first launch, you'll notice a new and dynamic Welcome screen. In addition to some useful shortcuts, the new Welcome screen will provide you with timely articles, tutorials, videos and software libraries pertaining to Flex and ActionScript development. If there is a new AIR or Flash Player release, you'll find it here along with the information you need to develop against the new features.