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8/26/2010
01:47 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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Verizon Wireless Distributing Flash Update For Moto Droid

Verizon Wireless on Thursday said it is sending a new update to the Motorola Droid that will enable it to download and install Adobe Flash Player Mobile 10.1.

Verizon Wireless began pushing out the Android 2.2 Froyo update to the original Motorola Droid several weeks ago. Android 2.2 of course adds a number of new features to the Droid, as well as enhances others. One thing missing? Adobe's mobile Flash software.

Though leaked versions of Adobe Flash Player Mobile 10.1 are available across the Internet, many of them were incompatible with the Motorola Droid. I attempted to install several versions on my Droid, but never met with success.

Starting today, however, Droid owners will gain access to Flash. Verizon Wireless said in an email to InformationWeek, "Verizon Wireless has begun pushing an update today to the Droid by Motorola (introduced November 2009) that will allow customers to download Adobe Flash 10.1 via Android Market. Flash Player 10.1 provides access to millions of sites with rich content including animations, casual games, videos, rich internet applications, audio and much more."

The update has yet to hit my Droid, but users should begin to see it over the next few hours. Once installed, the player becomes part of the Android browser, it isn't a stand-alone piece of software. I've used several Android 2.2 devices that have Adobe Flash Player Mobile 10.1 installed. Here is what my experience was like:

I was able to navigate and play various videos with few problems. Video playback worked just as it does on a desktop Web browser. For example, video embedded on CNN.com, MSNBC.com and other news sites played perfectly. Sites such as Hulu.com don't exactly work well, however.

There are a few small issues, though. First, the Android browser renders the sites in full HTML mode with the Flash embedded on the web pages. At first, you'd think "Hooray!" and be happy. However, the video players on the web sites are so small, that it is nearly impossible to interact with the controls. Sure, the Play button is large before the the video starts, but once it gets going, it is futile to pause, stop, or adjust the volume of any clip short of canceling the web page or navigating away. I tested this on a number of sites, and it was consistent no matter the site and video player design.

I even attempted to zoom in so the controls would be larger and easier to use, but they simply can't be made big enough to use effectively.

The other problem is speed. Hulu, for example, is so heavily laden with videos that it took forever to open the web site. (Mind you, I performed all the tests over Wi-Fi, sitting about 5 feet from my hotspot.) Video-heavy sites, such as MTVMusic.com, practically killed the phone's browser. Granted, those sites are heavy-duty and the most demanding sites out there, but even regular sites were slow-ish.

Once the video got playing, though, it looked and worked great for the most part. I noticed few slow-downs, pixelization, and other interference, and the sound came through with no issues whatsoever.

I am concerned about the speed, though. For it to be pushed to hard over Wi-Fi leads me to believe that the 3G experience won't be as good.

Besides video, I also tested Flash-based games. These performed incredibly well. The colors, graphics, and overall performance of the Flash-games that work with the Android browser get no complaints from me. I can't speak to how developers will feel about writing applications in Flash versus any other platform, but the games really do look great. I noticed no lags, no speed issues, no performance problems of any kind with the Flash games. Best of all, they didn't crash the browser.

In sum, I will say this. Having a Flash-capable browser does indeed lead to a richer experience across the web, and one that requires less futzing between the browser and a dedicated video player. However, speed and performance were inconsistent, I am sure some users will be frustrated at times with how well the content performs. Also, the difficulty in scaling video players on mobile web sites is a real concern, and it led to problems adjusting or halting playback quickly and easily.

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