Flash applications for cell phones

With U.S. carrier support of Flash, the next generation of mobile apps may be on the way

The announcement last week that small ISV Oddcast, which develops a conversational agent software called avatars, will be developing applications for cell phones using the Macromedia Flash development environment may help initiate a new era of easy-to-use mobile applications.

Oddcast’s decision to design its Web-based VHost platform and avatar for handsets is, in effect, a leading indicator of what may become an explosion of consumer and enterprise applications on cell phones.

Because Flash is a ubiquitous tool used by almost every Web site developer on the desktop, it could become a catalyst for an entirely new generation of applications on cell phones, said one industry analyst.

“If you know Flash, you can now easily port that to a mobile environment. It could create a whole new market for software products,” said Roger Entner, a wireless and telecommunications analyst at Ovum.

According to Entner, developers can leverage that same Flash expertise for cell phones and are capable of designing far richer UIs than previously possible for handsets.

In its first offerings, Oddcast’s talking VHost avatar will be designed for concierge services, such as weather, sports results, news, horoscopes, and the nearest restaurant, as well as for training applications in the enterprise.

The Oddcast announcement follows a deal struck earlier this year between Macromedia and Nokia that will license Flash for Nokia’s Series 60 handsets. To realize the importance of the agreement, Keith Nowak, a spokesman for Nokia, noted that to date 20 million Series 60 phones have sold. Although Nowak would not say when the phones would incorporate Flash, he did say, “This is not pie in the sky. It is in the offing.”

Anup Muraka, senior director of marketing for mobile and devices at Macromedia, said he believes handsets with Flash will be in the United States by the end of the year. Muraka also said Samsung phones are expected to use Flash.

Ovum’s Entner compared Flash to Java.

“It is similar to J2EE and J2ME, in that you can have Java both on the desktop and on the phone,” he said, calling Flash one of the easiest programming languages to use.

A spokesperson for Nokia Forum, Nokia’s global developer support community, called cell phones the new PC and noted that carriers are becoming a leading content-distribution player.

At present there are approximately 1.8 million developers writing for the Nokia platform and more than 1 million Flash developers.

“The Nokia developers will have access to Flash, and the existing Flash community will find a whole new outlet for their creative talents,” the spokesperson said.