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Flash 10.2 addresses shortcomings on Android

Better integration with browsers, touch-screen keyboards, and new processors mean Flash Player 10.2 gets long better with Android devices.

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Adobe Systems has released version 10.2 of Flash Player for mobile devices, which addresses several shortcomings in the inaugural 10.1 incarnation.

Among the features in the new software, according to an Adobe blog post, are these:

• Integration with the browser on Android 3.0.1, aka Honeycomb, so Flash content is treated "as part of the Web page instead of as a separate 'overlay.'" That pages scroll better and look closer to how Web page designers intended.

• The ability to take advantage of better hardware in some devices with graphics chips and dual-core processors--Motorola's Atrix smartphone and Xoom browser and LG's Optimus 2X, for example.

• Better integration with screen-based keyboards, one of the big departures in the new era of mobile devices from the world of personal computers where Flash got its start.

The new features help Adobe make the case that it's adapting Flash to the "post-PC era" of smartphones and tablets with touchscreens and Net connections. Flash is nearly universal on laptop and desktop computers, but it's only getting started in the mobile world. Apple's ban of Flash from iOS devices has made it that much harder for Adobe to gain a foothold and made it necessary for developers wanting to reach mobile devices to design applications and Web sites on the assumption that Flash isn't present.

Flash Player 10.2 is a final release for Android 2.2 and 2.3 devices, but it's only in beta for Honeycomb. It's available through the Android Market, but only for Adobe's list of Flash-compatible Android devices, which numbers 33 devices at this stage.

So far between 5 million and 10 million people have downloaded Flash Player for Android, and it gets 4.5 stars out of 5 with 182,309 ratings so far, according to the Flash Player page on the Android Market.

Adobe wants to spread Flash and AIR to a multitude of computing devices.
Adobe wants to spread Flash and AIR to a multitude of computing devices. Adobe Systems

For a look at some of the ins and outs of Flash 10.2 on the flagship Honeycomb device, Motorola's Xoom tablet, check my colleague Eric Franklin's report. It looks as if Web developers have some new decisions to make about what version of their Web page to deliver, because some present no-Flash mobile-optimized versions even when Flash and a tablet make browsing something more like what happens on a PC than a on mobile phone.

The fact that there's a Flash compatibility list spotlights an issue that afflicts Android developers, fragmentation. The widely varying capabilities of Android devices means programmers have potential compatibility, testing, and support headaches to worry about. Apple, lacking the profusion of iOS devices, presents a simpler world, but even there, things are getting more complicated; the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 bring significant differences over their predecessors.

The line Adobe and its ally Google have used to persuade customers that they should want Flash on mobile devices is that it gives them the "full Web." Flash-based streaming video, for example, is now an option. And in the world of tablets, the vast array of casual Flash-based games at sites such as Kongregate are particularly interesting given that Android still lags iOS when it comes to native games.

However, the "full Web" can be slower--in part because Flash is often used to deliver advertisements. The Web age loaded on a Xoom in 11 seconds with Flash ads vs. 5 seconds, for example.

That complaint has been one reason many people have allied themselves with Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs' effort to move beyond Flash. But it's not quite as simple an equation as ditching Flash and getting a faster Web.

As Web standards such as Canvas 2D graphics, HTML5 video, SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics), animated CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) transformations and transitions, WOFF (Web Open Font Format) mature, they become a viable mechanism to deliver elaborate, processor-pounding content, too.