Adobe bringing full-fledged Flash to phones

Powerful new mobile phones will get a full-fledged Flash Player 10 from the company, not just the Lite version. But Flash on the iPhone is still an idea left out in the cold.

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Stephen Shankland
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Adobe Systems CTO Kevin Lynch touts Flash for mobile phones at the Adobe Max conference.
Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch touts Flash for mobile phones at the Adobe Max conference. Stephen Shankland/CNET Networks

SAN FRANCISCO--Inspired by a new generation of smartphones, Adobe Systems has begun a new, higher-power effort to spread its Flash technology to mobile devices.

The company has worked for years on a lightweight incarnation of its Flash technology for mobile phones, but it now is working to bring the full-fledged Flash Player 10 to higher-end smartphones, Chief Technology Officer Kevin Lynch said at Adobe's Max conference here.

"We are in the midst of evolving Flash Player 10 for mobile," Lynch said. "We're taking the full Flash Player and making that run on the higher end of the mobile market."

Adobe naturally isn't the only company that wants to supply the plumbing for applications that run on mobile devices as well as PCs. Sun Microsystems has had some success spreading Java to mobile phones, and it's been working for months on a fancier alternative called JavaFX. And Microsoft, which also has legions of programmers familiar with its technology and development tools, is working hard on Windows Mobile.

Still no Flash for iPhone
Lynch demonstrated Flash Player 10 on devices running Nokia's Symbian operating system, Microsoft's Windows Mobile, and Google's Android operating system. But the quintessential example of the new family of smartphones, Apple's iPhone, so far remains only on the wish list.

"This needs a little more baking. We need to pass the taste test of Apple's head chef," Lynch said as he retrieved an iPhone from a pan full of mobile devices, turning enthusiastic whistles and cheering from a crowd of thousands into a disappointed hubbub. But Adobe is working on it, he said.

Naturally, nobody from Apple shared the stage with Lynch. Google Android leader Andy Rubin, by contrast, made an appearance after Lynch's demonstration of Flash on a T-Mobile G1, the first phone powered by Google's mobile operating system.

That Adobe was able to bring its software to Android affirms Google's strategy of building an "open platform (intended) to give a better Internet experience on cell phones," Rubin said. "Today, seeing Flash 10 makes me feel really warm. It was exactly what Android was built for."

Flash is used for YouTube's streaming video, and Lynch demonstrated a Windows Mobile phone playing a video hosted on the Google service. (The iPhone can show YouTube videos, too, but only after they've been transcoded into a different streaming format.)

Fresh AIR
Flash got its start as a Macromedia technology that could give Web sites animation and basic games. Adobe acquired Macromedia and embraced its vision of turning Flash into a much fuller computing foundation. One key to that foundation is what's called AIR, the Adobe Integrated Runtime, a downloadable software package that lets people run Flash applications outside the browser and when offline.

The New York Times is working on an AIR application that will let people read the International Herald Tribune in a format that looks more like newspaper and less like a Web page. It includes keyboard navigation controls, a browsing mode for the equivalent of flipping through the paper, a crossword that could be filled out, and video advertisements.

The application checks for new content every few minutes, but it can be used offline, too, with the stories and photos that already have been downloaded, said Michael Zimbalist, vice president of research and development at the Times.

Adobe released AIR 1.5 Monday, a version that inherits Flash Player 10 abilities such as better text rendering, support for right-to-left text scripts such as Arabic, multichannel audio, and 3D effects.

Like Flash, AIR is headed for the mobile world. Lynch also demonstrated AIR 1.5 running on a Linux-based Aigo miniature computer--what Intel likes to call a MID, or mobile Internet device. It was using an Intel Atom processor, and the same New York Times application ran on it.

Making Flash Lite easier
Although Adobe has elevated the status of the full Flash Player 10 on mobile devices, it's still working on Flash Lite.

Lynch acknowledged that it's hard to actually run Flash content with existing technology. Now, though, Flash Lite applications can be shared as a simple Web address, he said, and if Flash Lite isn't installed, it can be retrieved automatically.

"You can package your application built with Flash and deploy it to smartphones like Windows Mobile and Symbian, and we hope to get to Android as well," Lynch said. "If you don't already have Flash Lite, it will detect that and install it on your mobile phone over the air."

Flash includes auto-update technology so users generally have a current version installed, and Adobe plans to keep that philosophy with its push into the mobile realm, he added. Partners to help enable that update process include Cisco Systems, NTT DoCoMo, Verizon, Comcast, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Qualcomm, and ARM.

Lynch also boasted that Adobe is exceeding its goals for Flash on mobile phones.

"Our goal (was to make) a billion phones Flash-enabled by 2010," Lynch said. "We're actually going to get 1 billion Flash-enabled phones by 2009."

Click here for more news on Adobe's Max conference.