Adobe preps full Flash player for smartphones

Apple iPhone, RIM BlackBerry remain holdouts

Adobe Systems Inc. said on Monday that it will release its first full-fledged Flash multimedia player for smartphones by year's end.

Google, Microsoft, Palm and Nokia are all expected to release systems or phones next year that will be 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 smartphones at this week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

But Adobe 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 Anup Murarka, director of partner development and technology strategy at Adobe's platform business unit.

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 smartphones for the first time.

The company has long developed a cut-down version of Flash, Flash Lite, for regular cellphones and their more powerful smartphone brethren.

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

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 smartphones, motivated Adobe to bring a full Flash player to smartphones.

Such mobile computing power also allows developers to bring applications they have written to run for Flash on a PC to a smartphone 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 smartphone 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.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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