A Brighter Week Ahead for Flash

After weeks of getting publicly hammered by Apple — including a rare wallop from Steve Jobs himself — Adobe’s Flash platform is due for a much friendlier reception this week at the Google I/O developers conference in San Francisco. Adobe is expected formally to unveil Flash 10.1 for Android at the conference, opening a door for thousands of Flash developers shut out by Apple to develop mobile apps for the Google mobile OS and providing Google an important ally as it tries to close the app gap between Apple and Android.

The growing anti-Apple alliance between Google and Adobe is likely to extend beyond mobile devices and apps, however. One collaboration that is surely in the works, even if its not ready to be announced this week, is the integration of Flash into Google’s new Smart TV platform. Depending on how quickly it happens, such an integration could actually give Google and Adobe the inside track ahead of Apple in the race to colonize the digital living room.

Silicon Valley has been abuzz ahead of the I/O conference with speculation that Google and Intel are ready to unveil the rumored Android-based platform for connected consumer electronics devices, apparently to be called Smart TV. An announcement this week would catapult Google to the forefront of the emerging business of delivering interactive apps to TVs and other Internet-enabled consumer electronics devices, which is the subject of a new report released this week by GigaOM Pro. The first is expected to be a Sony-built set-top box for running apps, to be followed by Sony HDTV sets and Blu-ray players with the Google platform embedded.

The new Flash 10.1 for Android should already allow developers to create Flash-based apps for Smart TV devices once the platform is launched. But there’s likely more to the collaboration than simply apps.

Last week, Adobe unveiled Flash Access 2.0, its new DRM solution that can support different business rules for a single piece of content, allowing for different business models on different delivery platforms. Significantly, Access 2.0 also includes support for output control, a technology that allows a content owner to block specific outputs on a device remotely.

That capability has long been a priority for the major Hollywood studios and has lately become more so as the home market for movies has begun to shift from packaged media like DVDs and Blu-ray Discs to electronic delivery. Earlier this month, the studios won a long battle at the Federal Communications Commission for permission to use output controls on cable and satellite set-top boxes for video-on-demand movies when made available immediately after their theatrical debut. The studios hope that a new, early VOD window, ahead of the DVD/Blu-ray release, will help revive flagging home entertainment revenues.

Their fear, however, is that analog outputs used to connect cable boxes to TVs and other devices that lack copy-protected HDMI inputs could also be used to make copies. The selectable output controls approved by the FCC will let them block those outputs during the early VOD window.

With Flash Access 2.0, Adobe can now bring that same capability to devices that receive video over IP networks. Once it’s integrated with Smart TV, Google would be able to offer the studios the same level of security against analog copying on Smart TV-enabled devices as the FCC has now granted them on cable and satellite systems, giving Google a legitimate claim on delivering VOD movies to connected devices in the same window.

Native support for VOD in an early window is likely to be a powerful selling point with consumer electronics makers looking to differentiate their connected TVs and other devices. If they buy it, it would give Google and its partners, including Adobe, a solid beachhead on connected devices in the home before Apple and its App Store get there.

Question of the week

Can Google and Adobe together close the “app gap” with Apple?