Adobe Pushes Broader Mobile Strategy For Flash

Several of the moves will further open access to Flash, including removing restrictions on the use of the SWF and FLV file formats.
As mobile devices and computerized consumer electronics continue to proliferate, consumers are increasingly looking toward those technologies to provide similar experiences as on their PCs with mobile video and multimedia, and Adobe wants to make sure it stays in on the party.

On Thursday, Adobe pried open some previously proprietary pieces of its Flash plug-in, got rid of some licensing fees, and set up a consortium of like-minded partners, all with the goal of making Flash and AIR as ubiquitous in mobile devices and consumer electronics as it is on PCs. Adobe estimates Flash is already on 40% of mobile devices shipped today, as compared with more than 98% of Internet-connected PCs.

Several of the moves Adobe is making will further open access to Flash, including removing restrictions on the use of the SWF and FLV file formats, publishing the Flash Cast and AMF protocols, and publishing device porting layer APIs that allow developers to maintain a core code base across devices with Flash applications.

The company also announced that mobile device makers will no longer have to pay to license Flash Lite (the mobile version of Flash) and AIR with future versions of the technologies, and announced the Open Screen Project, a broad partnership with content companies such as MTV and BBC, service providers including Verizon Wireless, and device manufacturers from Nokia to Cisco that's charged with working to create a more consistent experience for Flash and eventually AIR across PCs, mobile devices and consumer electronics.

All told, the moves are consistent with Adobe's recent push to begin opening up its developer platforms, as well as its cross-platform strategy that aims to make Flash as ubiquitous on mobile and consumer devices as it is on PCs. Few or none of the partners in the Open Screen Project are new to Adobe, but opening Flash gives more developers and device manufacturers easier access to the inner workings of Flash so that -- Adobe hopes -- the technology can spread more easily.

The Open Screen Project's mandate is broad, and so far offers few details, but Adobe appears to be looking to change the way developers approach development of Flash and AIR applications. "The reality is that you want to get the most efficiency out of the development and deployment model as possible," David Wadhwani, general manager and VP of Adobe's platform business unit, said in an interview. "Today we develop for the PC and figure out how to develop for the device. We should be thinking about it the other way around. It's easier to write for the device and then extend the application to take advantage of more resources than it is to do the other way around."

Wadhwani said Adobe and its partners may publish best practices for the development process he's describing with his write once, distribute to multiple platforms approach, but it's not clear when, where, and how. There are other pieces to the puzzle, however. Adobe said it would be working with its Open Screen partners to make it easy to update mobile versions of Flash Player on the fly as new content requires it, as the PC version of Flash Player does. The device porting layer APIs are another positive step in this direction, and Adobe already sells a product called Device Central that allows developers to test how their applications will look on different devices.

In some ways, the formation of the Open Screen Project is just a more formal validation of Adobe's already announced strategy for Flash and AIR, getting it as broadly deployed as possible. According to Gartner analyst Ray Valdes, Adobe's announcements amount to a "very narrow-focused tactical response to the impending threat from Microsoft. None of this is earth shattering, but it's the right moves in the right direction," he said in an interview.

The impending threat is Silverlight 2.0, the next version of Microsoft's own browser plug-in that is due later this year. Microsoft has its own cross-platform mobile strategy in place for Silverlight, and has begun rolling out a number of partners, though it still lags far behind Flash's penetration. Silverlight will allow developers to use languages like C#, Visual Basic, and Microsoft's versions of JavaScript, Python, and Ruby to write rich Internet applications.