Flash for smart phones coming this year, Adobe says

See related article and video: What’s so great about Adobe Flash Player 10?

Adobe Systems Inc. has said it will release its first full-fledged Flash multimedia player for . smart phones by year’s end.

Google, Microsoft, Palm and Nokia are all expected to release systems or phones next year able to display the same videos and applications as the most recent Flash 10 player for desktop computers, said Adobe.

Adobe plans to demonstrate the beta of Flash Player 10 for smart phones at this week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Based on the latest Flash Lite 3.1, the player can be bundled with a Flash Lite app by vendors.

That way, if the user’s phone lacks Flash Lite, it can be automatically detected and installed on the phone, said Anup Murarka, director of partner development and technology strategy for Adobe’s platform business unit.

This bundling avoids the hiccup of requiring users to go and visit a separate download site to get Flash Lite.

Available initially for Nokia’s S60 (Symbian) and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile phones, the distributable player is about 400KB in size, so it should only take a few seconds for most phones to download, Murarka said.

But the San Jose, Calif.-based firm said that it was still not close to delivering Flash players that would work with Apple Inc.’s iPhone or Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry.

And analysts are divided on whether that will ever happen. Adobe has been working on a Flash player tailored for the iPhone for almost a year, after Apple CEO Steve Jobs complained about Flash’s performance on the iPhone.

“We’ve made a lot of progress, but there is still a lot of engineering work to be done,” said Murarka.

Adobe has optimized Flash’s performance on the ARM v6 CPU used by the iPhone, and the ARM v7 to be used by the upcoming Palm Pre.

“We’re working with Apple on what we have,” Murarka said. “We’re committed to make the Flash plug-in work on the iPhone.”Adobe is at an even earlier stage with RIM.

“We’ve had some initial conversations and are evaluating different approaches to be taken,” Murarka said. “There is a lot of interest from BlackBerry enterprise customers to be able to build Flash apps. But there is no working solution yet.”

Stewart Robinson, an analyst at Strategy Analytics Inc. in the U.K., said he is optimistic that with Adobe “working frantically behind the scenes to get Flash onto the iPhone … it will happen, but not until much later this year.”

But Jack Gold, an independent analyst at J.Gold Associates LLC, was less optimistic, for two reasons.

The first is technical.

“Adobe wants Flash to run really well. To get high performance, you need to run in the lower layers of the OS or phone,” Gold said.

Windows Mobile, Nokia’s Symbian and Google’s Android are relatively open to that, but operating systems such as those on the BlackBerry and iPhone are not, he said.

The other reason, at least with Apple, is business. “Apple wants to push its own technology – in this case, QuickTime,” Gold said. “It has its own interests at heart. Look at how long it took to get Flash onto Macs. I honestly don’t think you will see Flash on the iPhone anytime soon.”

Adobe said last fall that it would bring a browser-based version of the full Flash player to smart phones for the first time.

The company has long developed a pared-down version of Flash, Flash Lite, for regular cell phones and their more powerful smart phone brethren.

Flash Lite is to be spreading like wildfire, according to third-party statistics released by Adobe today.

According to market researcher Strategy Analytics Inc., Flash Lite will have been shipped on 1 billion phones by the end of March this year, one year ahead of Adobe’s earlier target.

And despite its move to deliver a full Flash player to smart phones later this year and address the performance complaints of Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs and others, Adobe continues to roll out Flash Lite products for the much larger market of regular mobile phones.

Phones shipping with Flash Lite doubled last year from 2007, according to Strategy Analytics. All told, 40 per cent of phones sold last year came with Flash Lite.

“The take-up of Flash Lite has been staggering to be honest,” Stewart Robinson, director of strategic technologies at Strategy Analytics, said in an e-mail.

He attributed Flash Lite’s rise to new features in Version 3 such as support for high-def video, as well as Nokia’s agreement to install Flash Lite on its phones.

“I think it also comes down to the fact that competition is almost nonexistent,” Robinson said, adding that he expects another 1.5 billion smart phones with Flash Lite to ship in the next two years.Microsoft is developing a Silverlight for Mobile player for release on Nokia S60 (Symbian) and Windows Mobile phones sometime this year.

“Silverlight may make an impact, but I doubt it will be significant,” said Robinson.

In terms of total adoption, Flash Lite still trails Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Java platform for mobile phones, popularly known as J2ME.According to Sun, 2.6 billion phones and other devices run J2ME.

That includes virtually all apps for the BlackBerry, said Jack Gold, president of J.Gold Associates LLC.

However, J2ME is not as widely installed nor used on newer phones. That has led Sun to develop a successor technology, JavaFX, and a JavaFX Mobile runtime, which shipped last week.

Gold is unconvinced that Sun has the clout anymore to convince the phone makers to upgrade to JavaFX.

Despite Flash Lite’s growth, the upgrade of the latest Version 3.1 last year — to include support for H.264 video — caused complaints about its performance, which still remain.

Many Flash apps on regular Web sites still need to be re-encoded to be viewable on phones.

To partly solve that problem, Adobe is working on bringing the full version of its latest Flash Player 10 to smart phones by the end of the year.

Murarka did not share any details on Flash Lite’s road map.Gold said that within two to three years, Adobe was likely to merge the Flash and Flash Lite players to remove this final performance discrepancy.

In terms of features, Flash Lite lags behind the desktop version of Flash by several years, especially with multimedia streaming features.

Jobs’ criticism, combined with the increased power of modern smart phones, motivated Adobe to bring a full Flash player to smart phones.

Such mobile computing power also allows developers to bring applications they have written to run for Flash on a PC to a smart phone with fewer compromises.

To further encourage this, Adobe and Nokia plan to give away $10 million to developers with ideas for Flash services and applications that can run on a smart phone as well as TV set-top boxes and PCs.

(Developers can apply at the Open Screen Project Fund’s Web site. With more applications, Flash compatibility may become increasingly attractive to holdouts such as RIM and Apple.)

Source: Computerworld.com

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