Adobe taps ARM, Qualcomm for mobile Flash

The rich Internet technology is extending into the mobile realm, where Flash's installed base surpasses that of the desktop

Adobe Systems's Flash multimedia content platform usually is associated with desktop systems accessing Web applications. But that is changing, according to an Adobe official.

The company at the Adobe Max 2008 conference in San Francisco Monday will both tout the changing landscape for Flash, which is becoming more prominent on mobile devices, and mobile alliances with Qualcomm and processor maker ARM.

"For the first time, the installed base of Flash on devices has surpassed the installed base of Flash on the desktop," said Anup Murarka, director for technical marketing at Adobe. The number of devices shipping with Flash will surpass 1 billion early next year, he said.

[ For more news from the Adobe Max conference, see the related stories "Adobe bolsters streaming Flash" and "Adobe to offer new tools for UI development." ]

Flash is offered by the top five phone manufacturers: Nokia, Samsung, LG, Motorola, and Sony Ericsson, Murarka said. :These five plus the other licensees that we have globally have been shipping devices at a growth rate of over 150 percent year on year," for the last five years, he said.

Adobe at the conference will highlight integrations of Flash with the Qualcomm Brew MP mobile platform and Flash Player 10 with ARM processors.

Qualcomm is releasing its SDK featuring Flash technology. Devices supporting Brew MP are due next year. "[The SDK is] intended to get the thousands to millions of Flash developers out there as well as other technology developers creating mobile Internet content on devices," said Jason Kenagy, vice president of product management at Qualcomm.

Brew MP joins a field of mobile platforms that also includes Google's Android, Sun's JavaFX Mobile and Microsoft's Windows Mobile. Bur Qualcomm believes it has found a niche in the feature phone market space. Unlike smartphones, which are larger and offer wider screens, feature phones have screens about and inch and a half and are more economical, said Steve Sprigg, senior vice president of engineering at Qualcomm. The company seeks to put Flash on these devices to deliver compelling content. "We see that as a huge opportunity," Sprigg said. Brew MP devices are expected in the middle of next year.

ARM is optimizing the Flash Player for deployment ARM 11 and ARM Cortex A8 devices, said Kerry McGuire, director of strategic software alliances at ARM. "What we're working with Adobe on is to optimize the Flash Player technology to the ARM architecture," she said. Plans also call for optimizing Adobe AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) to work on ARM processors as well.

ARM powers devices ranging from mobile phones to set-top boxes, mobile Internet devices, televisions, and personal media players. 

Optimization of Flash Player and ARM for ARM is due to be completed in the second half of next year.

Adobe also is touting support for Flash from such companies as Broadcom, Nvidia, Samsung, and Texas Instruments. But conspicuously absent from the list of phones supporting Flash is the popular Apple iPhone. Adobe is looking to remedy this.

"We are working with Apple on the development of a Flash runtime for the iPhone," Murarka said. But the runtime is not yet complete, he said. Murarka also said he could not comment on whether Apple has decided to allow Flash to run on the phone.

"I think ultimately what goes in and out of the iPhone is an Apple decision and our hope is they'll see the demand," said Murarka.

Adobe with its Flash push for mobile systems is embracing the importance of developers, said analyst Michael Gartenberg, vice president of global strategy for Jupitermedia.

"The key here is you’re getting the key infrastructure players to support the technology going forward," Gartenberg said. The mobile space is a lot like where the PC was 10 or 15 years ago, he said.

The SDK and ARM ports are going to be important in proliferating Adobe technologies onto the mobile arena, which right now is fragmented, said Gartenberg. "There is no dominant player," he said.

Both the Qualcomm and ARM efforts emerged out of the Adobe-led Open Screen Project to provide a consistent runtime environment across multiple devices, leveraging Flash Player and AIR. 

"We're working toward a consistent runtime built around Flash Player 10, AIR, and on those devices that have the capability, WebKit as well," Murarka said. WebKit is an open-source project to build an HTML and JavaScript engine for browsers.

"The Open Screen Project has been geared toward making it easier for developers, especially those used to Web tools, to build for all these different screens," Murarka said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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