Adobe’s new Flash Player offers smartphone users a ‘desktop experience’

“A little dot for us, a big step for Flash-kind,” was how Adobe chief technology officer (CTO) Kevin Lynch described the launch of Flash Player (FP) 10.1 on Monday.

Adobe’s first multi-screen Flash player was unveiled with great fanfare at Adobe Max 2009, the company’s annual user conference that kicked off yesterday in Los Angeles.

Flash Player (FP) 10.1, Adobe execs say, spans desktops, mobile phones — and everything in between, including smart books, netbooks and other Web connected devices.

What’s hot about this dot [release]?

Lynch said devices with the new player would hit the market in the first half of 2010.

When that happens, this dot release will change the Web experience, not just on smart phones but on desktops as well, Anup Murarka, Adobe’s director of technical marketing for mobile and devices told

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As of now, he said, FP 10.1 can run on Windows Mobile, Palm WebOS and desktop operating systems. “There’ll be public betas for the Google Android and Symbian early in 2010.”

But to the disappointment of many, the new Flash player will not be available for the iPhone.

“It’s difficult to tell why Apple isn’t on board yet,” said Howard Kiewe, a senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont.

He said the fact that high-profile firms such as Research in Motion, Google and nearly all the major mobile phone OEMs have joined the Open Screen Project might put pressure on Apple.

Open Screen is an initiative by Adobe and its industry partners to maintain a consistent runtime of FP 10 across a wide range of screens – desktops, mobile devices, TVs and more.

With FP 10.1 mobile phone users, for first time, will enjoy a “desktop-like Web experience” on smaller form factor devices, said Murarka.

But there is a proviso.

The mobile device would need to be able to support the new player. “What we’re saying is if the device has the right hardware and other specs, you can get a full desktop Web experience using FP 10.1,” Murarka said.

But what basic specs would a mobile device need to be FP 10.1 ready?

The Adobe exec was reluctant to specify a hard minimum because of the “dizzying variety of devices” on the market.

“But you can safely say the CPU speed should be in the range 400 – 500 MHz, providing the power of an ARM 11 or ARM Cortex-type processor.”

He said smart phones that ship through next year and run browsers that can support the modern Web will “almost certainly be able to run FP 10.1”

Lower-tier mobile devices, he said, would still use FP 3.1. “And we’ll continue to offer new features for those devices as well, such as bringing Action Script 3 to them.”

But he said Adobe’s focus – “determined by user demand” – is to get a desktop Web experience on devices, and that’s going to happen with FP 10.1.

The initial FP 10.1 devices are expected to hit the market in the first half of next year.

You’ve got the power

Adobe’s Lynch described two features that would make the new player (and devices running it) attractive to users – in the business and consumer space.

The first is optimized power management.

“Our engineering folk connected up amp meters up to smart phones to measure how much battery power was used as content was running.”

He said the team then worked hard to improve power management inside of FP 10.1 – and achieved great results.

For instance, he said, a high-quality video on a smart phone with FP 10.1 can run for about 3.5 hours. “You can watch a full-length feature film on a smart phone with the new battery management in FP 10.1.”

The lower device memory requirement of FP 10.1 is the other big draw, the Adobe CIO said.”The smart phone’s limited memory has been one of the biggest obstacles to getting Flash on these devices.”

He said Adobe has worked to reduce the amount of RAM that FP 10.1 uses to run content on the Web. The results, he said, has been a 50 per cent reduction in RAM footprint for several pieces of Web content – such as Flex Photo Album, Flex Data Grid, Yahoo Album, Wall-E, Yahoo Ad and more.

The battery optimization and RAM footprint reduction capabilities of Flash 10.1 would very likely boost adoption of the new player on smart phones, said Info-Tech’s Kiewe.

“Smart phones are being increasingly used for business applications and entertainment. These new features will drive Flash deeper into those markets, as they will help developers create applications that provide a high-quality user experience.”

Scoop on Open Screen

A tremendous amount of silicon effort is involved in getting FP 10.1 ready devices to market, Murarka said.

He said cell phone manufacturers – such as Nokia, Palm, Sony Ericsson, LG and Samsung – have all worked with Adobe on testing and porting FP 10.1 on to their devices.

But the effort by device OEMs is part of the broader Open Screen Project by Adobe and its partners, launched about 18 months ago.

“Since then we’ve nearly tripled the number of industry partners participating in that effort,” said Murarka. Some relatively new participants in this initiative include: Google, Fox Mobile, Conde Nast, Daum, Atlantic Records, Paramount and Conde Nast.

The Adobe exec says getting Flash Player 10.1 on to mobile devices is just the first of two challenges Adobe and its partners sought to address through the Open Screen Project.

“But accomplishing that doesn’t solve the distribution problem. That’s goal number two for the project.” To address this second issue, he said, Adobe is working hard with the scores of content companies. 

For instance, he noted that earlier this year Adobe announced a market development fund of US$10 million (in conjunction with Nokia) to jump start development of multi-screen apps for FP10.

“More than 750 developers from 60 countries submitted ideas, and we’ve funded more than 35 multi-screen apps in just the first six months of the fund.”  

Funded apps are wide and varied – from video games, to Web-to-location based services and productivity tools. “We’ve given these developers distribution opportunities via Nokia’s Ovi Store and AIR Marketplace.”

Walking on AIR 2.0

A new release of Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) isn’t being unveiled at Max 2009. Developers will have to wait until later this year for AIR 2.0.

AIR is a cross-operating system runtime that lets developers combine HTML, Ajax, Adobe Flash, and Adobe Flex technologies to deploy rich Internet applications on the desktop.

Adobe execs did share some key capabilities of the upcoming version.

“They include features for peripheral support, peer-to-peer networking capabilities, improved OS integration on the desktop side,” Murarka said.

He said AIR apps would behave no differently than native apps. “But the difference will definitely be felt on the developer end. Developers will be able to create those apps at a fraction of the cost than building them natively.”

The native code integration features offered by AIR 2.0 are “gaming changing”, according to David Liao, vice-president of engineering at Richmond, B.C.-based Ensemble Systems.

A consulting and developer shop out of Richmond, B.C., Ensemble works heavily with Adobe products including AIR, Flex and LiveCycle.

Liao said being able to use AIR as a front end that can tie in to native code can be a huge benefit for firms with legacy applications built using C++.

These companies, Liao said, can now create a very engaging AIR user interface that harnesses their legacy code base and libraries. “We see potential in this area for us to deliver on services.”

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