Flash Player Coming Soon To Smartphones

Flash player, the software from Adobe Systems that has become almost standard for laptops and PCs, is soon to be usable with smartphones as well.  Added to the list of compatible devices is Research In Motions’ BlackBerry.  Users of Apple’s iPhone are not as lucky.

The announcement came at the Adobe Max conference on Los Angleles, where on Monday Adobe spoilered a beta release of Flash Player 10.1 by year’s end.  That release will be for Windows Mobile and Palm WebOS devices, while Symbian devices and Google’s Android will have to wait till early 2010.

Because the word on Research in Motion’s agreement to implement Flash Player for its devices was not known till the weekend, the release date of the BlackBerry Flash version was not clear.  However, Adobe proudly announced that nineteen of the top twenty handset makers have agreed to provide the software on their devices.

The arrival of Flash to handset devices will unlock a whole new world of applications and content for mobile users.  They will be able to access social networking sites and location based services, watch videos, and play games to a degree that was not possible before.  In the words of Ave Greengart, a research director for Current Analysis, the inability of phones to use Flash is “one of the great missing parts of the mobile Web.”  His prediction is that consumers will enjoy a very short wait between the beta release of Flash, which will be early 2010, to the widespread release of a finished Flash mobile software application.

Until then, the beta software will be available for download, for developers to test and develop websites and mobile applications.  There will also be a version of Flash Player 10.1 for desktops, which will be available by the end of the year for Mac, Windows, and Linux.

Of course, Flash is not just used for rich content and video.  Many sites use it for advertising as well, and out of their dependence on ad revenue to support themselves, they have till now restricted or blocked mobile access.  Now that they can support mobile access with an ad model, made possible by Flash, more ad-supported services can now be provided to mobile device users.

The progress toward mobile Flash has not been as smooth as the original predictions.  Some programming interfaces that Adobe needs will not be available until Android is released by Éclair, which is not scheduled till later in 2009.  The promise in June was a beta Flash release in October, but it looks to be several months away still.

Nor can consumers expect to see a Flash-compatible iPhone in the near future.  No news was available from Anup Murarka, who serves as Adobe’s director of technology strategy and partner development for the entire Flash Platform group.  “As we’ve said before,” he said, “we need additional support and cooperation from Apple to get Flash on the iPhone.”  Though Current Analysis’ Greengart calls the iPhone a “pretty big omission,” he has no doubts that it’s on the horizon.  Apple’s nature is to make such announcements at its own expos, not at the Adobe Max conference, no matter how much support they intend to give the software.

Despite the delays and the iPhone absence, Greengart concedes that Adobe has made great strides.  The development of Flash for several different mobile platforms at the same time is no easy task; and, after the development is complete, the platforms will run on hundreds of phone models.

The mobile movement itself is an aspect of the Open Screen Project, Adobe’s bid to offer a development platform that will be commonly used by mobile phones, laptops, netbooks, PCs, and televisions alike.  Last May, when it launched, Open Screen was backed by sixteen device makers.  Murarka announced that today that number has nearly reached fifty.  Among those joining the project with their handsets are Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, and LG Electronics.  At the Monday conference, Adobe announced that they are also partnering with Qualcomm to equip Flash on its Snapdragon smartphone chipset.  They are also in conversation with Nvidia to have Flash work in its netbook graphics chips.

Murarka conceded in his address that while a common runtime software that works with many different machines will probably make things simpler for developers, websites with complex navigational elements will need more effort put in if they are going to transfer to the small screen of a mobile device without difficulty.

He has no such reservations, however, about social networking sites, video sites, Flash-based advertising, or popular games.  “Those should all work fine,” he promises, adding that while developers might need some time to perfect their offerings for the small screen, the capability is there already.  Consumers can also look forward to a new generation of games and applications that use Flash, designed specifically for mobile users.

Later at Adobe Max, the company will unveil version 2.0 of the Adobe Air runtime environment for desktops.  That software will increase peer-to-peer application support, and offer more peripheral elements.  Murarka briefly previewed the release, saying it could be expected in the spring of 2010.

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