Adobe Flash now widely available to Android device vendors

Embedded software maker Bsquare Corp. confirmed today that it has ported Adobe System Inc.'s Flash mobile player to ARM-based smartphones and smartbooks running Google Inc.'s Android operating system.

The player -- really a Web browser plug-in -- is based on the latest version of Adobe's Flash Lite player, v3.1. Various versions of Flash Lite have already shipped on a billion smartphones.

Bsquare's port of Flash Lite 3.1 runs on Version 1.5 of Android, dubbed "Cupcake", which was released earlier this spring, said Larry Stapleton, Bsquare's vice president of global sales.

Bsquare's announcement follows the debut last week of the Android-based Hero smartphone, from Taiwanese maker HTC Corp., which will also come with Flash Lite 3.1

In the Hero's case, Adobe helped HTC port Flash Lite to the new phone.

Bsquare's port is available for license to any Android/ARM system or handset maker. It has already attracted industry interest, Stapleton said.

"We have ongoing projects with several large ARM system-on-chip [SoC] makers, so you should see a wide range of smartbooks and smartphones [with our player] coming out by the end of this year," he said in an interview.

Bsquare's Flash player first surfaced in May, when Bsquare put out -- and then quickly pulled -- a press release saying it was bringing Flash Lite to Android smartbooks being built by Dell Inc.

Flash Lite 3.1 already runs on smartphones using Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Mobile and Nokia Corp.'s Symbian operating systems.

However, it does not run on BlackBerry handsets or Apple Inc.'s iPhone, with Apple CEO Steve Jobs having famously declared Flash Lite not up to snuff for the iPhone.

While Flash Lite 3.1 supports H.264 high-definition video, it lacks full compatibility with the current Flash 9 for desktop and notebook PCs.

Stapleton acknowledged that that means Bsquare's port of Flash Lite will be able to play videos on YouTube -- probably the single most popular application for Flash -- but only if they are hosted on YouTube's mobile site, not the entire selection on YouTube's main site, which requires full compatibility with Flash Player 9.

Stapleton admitted that "smartphone users have been trained to expect the full desktop experience" but added that Flash Lite on Android will still deliver a "much richer media experience" for what some are acknowledging remains an immature platform.

Does that mean a minimum of 720p video quality on plain vanilla ARM devices, which skeptics say isn't possible? Stapleton declined to commit to that. But he said that "video quality is good. We'll be able to show music and movies that look just like on a desktop."

Moreover, Bsquare will help ARM SoC vendors optimize Flash Lite in order to offload video processing onto graphics or dedicated video decoding chips, a technique championed most widely by Nvidia Inc. That should result in better video quality and lower battery drain, Stapleton said.

Adobe plans to release an upgrade to Flash Lite 3.1 in the first half of next year. That product, to be called Flash Player 10 for mobile phones, will go into beta by the end of this year.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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