Thursday, May 1, 2008

Adobe Takes Gloves Off In Mobile World

Today Adobe announced a new hugely important strategic initiative regarding the Flash Player called the Open Screen Project. It relates primarily to the mobile world but also to the embedded device world in general.

There are three keys to the announcement. First Adobe is removing all licensing restrictions and fees for the Flash Player and the SWF file format that the player runs. OEMs will now be able to embed Flash at no additional cost and with no restrictions.

Second, the next version of the Flash Player and the AIR runtime will have two separate parts. The layer that is platform specific will be separate from the layer that is the real brains of the Flash system. This means that it will be easy to embed the Flash player any new non-PC device offering. All you will have to do is port the platform specific layer to your device. And Adobe will be providing a reference implementation so that you can see exactly how to do it, presumably just making minor changes related to the specifics of your platform.

And finally, the next version of the Flash Player will be the same across all devices. This means that you will be able to use Flex, Flexbuilder, and Thermo to build applications that run on mobile and embedded devices. This will *radically* simplify the process of making applications that run on mobile devices. It really is, essentially *the* next generation mobile operating system. No its not an OS in the traditional sense. That will in general continue to be some form of Unix or more generally Linux. But the Flash platform will become the premier application development target for devices.

This is a direct shot across the bow of both Apple with the iPhone and Google with Android. Adobe has far more 3rd party developers than Apple does with Mac OS/iPhone or Google does with Android, and if they can make it totally seamless to develop for desktop or mobile, it will radically change the dynamics of the business. Presumably Adobe will be able to port this next version of Flash to the iPhone as well, though the politics of that will be interesting given Steve Jobs' antipathy for Flash.

From a business perspective, Adobe seems to have everyone onboard that matters including Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, Qualcomm, Samsung, Intel, and lots of others. Now that Flash is free and presumably easy to embed, it instantly becomes the mobile and embedded software platform to beat.

6 comments:

  1. About time. They have dropped the ball in the mobile flash space for so long I had pretty much given up.

    This presents an interesting problem for iPhone as you mentioned. Apple's claim of the 'full web' on your mobile device will continue to ring hollow if they don't have flash support.

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  2. Surprisingly, I haven't seen Sun mentioned in the analysis. Java is pervasive in the mobile space, although less so in the embedded space. To me, the iPhone and Android are slightly lower-level than Flash and Java, which are both virtual machines running on top of the hardware. I can't see Java winning this battle, because even with JavaFX, Java has lost too much clout in the web scene to recover, even with a lighter-weight plugin. In this case Flash wins both because of the greater number of users of the Flash runtime and because of the number of developers.

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  3. Well, I guess this means there is hope for Flash for Firefox on 64-bit linux, which is not something you get today.

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  4. Hah, I'd like to see Microsoft do that to Silverlight. Adobe is really taking Flash seriously.

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  5. About time? I just think Adobe is doing this because of the availability of the iPhone SDK and Android, so they can at least have/retain some share of the "huge" mobile application market before it's too late... Anyway, I'm not very familiar with the iPhone SDK but I do know that Android was nicely thought out. Flash is often used to create web applications, animations, etc. You can do these in Android too. Although, you may not be able to embed an Android app in a web page, you could launch the browser from your app! In addition, unless Flash/Air is ported to the Android platform, one may not be able to write a Flash application that takes full advantage of the core components of the Android platform, for instance accessing the Phone Book or setting up a Service. I also do not think that Flash is a threat to either iPhone or Android (as some have said elsewhere).

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  6. This will be a huge boon for Adobe. The iPhone SDK has a few substantial problems. Namely, it's entirely built around Objective-C, a giant step backwards for most Java/ActionScript/C# developers. Second, if you read the fine print, you'll find out that you may only sell your commercial products via the Apple store and Apple will be taking 30% of the sale price. Ouch...

    Android was released too early. The architecture is still very clunky for a traditional Swing developers and the API is riddled with holes and non-function. The Android JavaSound port remains completely unimplemented.

    For the many, many datacentric apps that have no need of the underlying mobile guts, Flash will be THE platform.

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