Today, at its annual conference in Los Angeles, Adobe promised to make more of the Web accessible to smartphones with the latest version of its Flash software plug-in.
Flash allows Web browsers to display rich media content such as video and animation. The new version, Flash 10.1, will be compatible with many smartphone and netbook platforms. For now, however, iPhone users will have to wait.
Many smartphones already support a less powerful, stripped-down version of Flash called Flash Lite. “Large chunks of the Web have been missing,” says Avi Greengart, research director of consumer devices at Current Analysis, a research firm based in Washington, DC. Though Flash Lite has been installed on millions of devices, Greengart says that it has mainly been used to build the user interface rather than to access content on the Web.
Greengart sees the new Flash player as a “very positive” step toward a Web experience that is truly consistent regardless of device or software platform. “People are starting to see mobile phones as portable computing platforms,” he says.
Software developers in particular stand to benefit from fully functional Flash players on mobile phones. Not only will users gain access to video and other media via Flash, but they will be able to make greater use of rich Internet applications, which often use Flash to create an interactive experience inside the browser.
Ben Wood, director of mobile research at CCS Insight, a U.K.-based consulting company, says that having the full Flash Player on portable devices will make it easier to create “write once, run anywhere” software. In other words, a developer’s application should automatically work on a wide variety of devices without requiring new code. In contrast, many applications today often have to be rewritten for each mobile device the developer wants to support.
“For [Adobe],” Wood says, “the worst-case scenario is fragmentation of their platform,” since Flash’s key selling point is its ubiquity. He says that Adobe’s rigorous certification program helps protect the unified Flash experience.
Wood adds that as recently as a year ago, smartphones just didn’t have the processing power to deal with a full version of a Flash player. He credits “the iPhone effect” for pushing device makers to give their products the necessary horsepower. Device makers had previously steered clear of powerful processors because of worries about efficiency, but most have changed in an effort to match the high expectations set by Apple’s device.