Adobe today unveiled a new version of Flash in an effort to expand support for the popular technology beyond the traditional Internet to mobile phones, netbooks, set-top boxes and other connected consumer devices. Flash Player 10.1 will run on platforms including Google’s Android, Research In Motion’s BlackBerry, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, Nokia’s Symbian and Palm’s webOS. Conspicuous in its absence, of course, was Apple’s iPhone.
While Adobe has said it is working with Apple, there’s still no word on a version for the iPhone — which dominates traffic on the wireless web. However, Adobe made another announcement today — it has updated the participants in its Open Screen Project, an 18-month-old initiative promoting Flash to bridge the substantial gaps that exist between the “PC web” and other platforms such as mobile and consumer devices, to include Google and RIM.
Flash has become ubiquitous on the Internet, where it is used to support animated graphics and interactive functionality for web pages and advertisements. But that ubiquity is a problem for anyone who wants to bring the web to devices that aren’t built on traditional x86 hardware or operating systems that aren’t designed to run Flash.
The lack of support for Flash has been a substantial problem on the mobile web, where browsers and transcoding technologies have had to strip out Flash-based applications entirely as they format web content for handsets, delivering an inferior experience for mobile users. So Adobe last year created the Open Screen Project in conjunction with several media and technology heavyweights including MTV Networks, ARM, Cisco, Intel, LG Electronics and Verizon Wireless to make sure anyone who wants to watch web-based video can, no matter the device or the software.
So while the iPhone is an important mobile platform, the Open Screen Project, and bringing Flash to everything, is a far bigger play. Google’s announcement today that it will join the project shouldn’t be read merely as a mobile phone play, but also as a deeper effort to bring Android to consumer devices like set-top boxes and digital photo frames. With the strong presence of Flash on the web and a program like the Open Screen Project, Adobe has bought Flash a bigger future as the web moves beyond the PC and even smartphones.
For example, the inclusion of so many handset makers in the project reflects how much work ARM, the company that licenses its IP cores to mobile handset makers, has done to make sure Flash can run on chips containing ARM cores. ARM showed off Flash 10 running on its architecture last November, and is pushing its chips deep into netbooks, set-top boxes and other consumer devices. It’s no coincidence that Intel, with its x86-based chips that the web was originally built on, is also trying to follow the web into those devices. If ARM hadn’t embraced Flash, it’s a good bet that the web experience on gadgets using ARM chips would have turned consumers and, thus, device makers, off.
So for those keeping track, Adobe plans to have versions of Flash 10.1 for Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, webOS and Windows Mobile by next year. But keep an eye on the Open Screen Project and Flash’s move beyond handsets and PCs in the coming months. The iPhone is awesome, but getting the full web experience on your set-top box or TV is something that represents a far bigger opportunity.