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Flash Goes Android, iPhone Version Needs Work

Today's launch of the HTC Hero in London marks the debut of the first Android smartphone with Adobe's Flash, as the graphics company gears up for this fall's wider release of Flash for mobile operating systems.

But Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE) had little good news for Apple fans wanting to see the iPhone also get the multimedia technology, which is slated for a major new version for mobile phones later this year.

Adobe's Flash Player 10 will be released in beta in October, supporting Nokia's Symbian OS, Windows Mobile and the Palm webOS in addition to Google's open source mobile platform, Android.

In the meantime, the new HTC Hero will use Flash Lite 3.1 -- a less-advanced version of the software. But it will be able to support applications written in ActionScript 2.0, which is enough to provide a robust streaming online video experience, Adobe said. For instance, users can view YouTube videos using Flash technology and enable full-screen viewing mode by simply double-tapping the Hero's screen.

"As the first Android device with Flash, the new HTC Hero represents a key milestone for Android and the Flash Platform," David Wadhwani, vice president, Platform Business Unit at Adobe, said in a statement. "With close to 80 percent of all videos online delivered with Adobe Flash technology, consumers want to access rich Web content on-the-go. The collaboration with HTC offers people a more complete Flash based Web browsing experience today and presents an important step toward full Web browsing with Flash Player 10 on mobile phones in the future."

HTC also announced it joined the Open Screen Project, an industry group created to advance Flash technology and headed by Adobe.

"Adobe Flash is an important core technology for people interacting and experiencing the Web -- it is only natural to be offering it on the new HTC Hero first," John Wang, chief marketing officer at HTC, said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing our close collaboration with Adobe and to bringing Flash Player 10 support to our phones in the future."

Eyes on Apple

The news of Flash arriving on mobile platforms comes at a time when the lucrative smartphone market is advancing on all fronts -- top handset makers are introducing signature devices this year and updating their respective mobile operating systems in a battle to dominate sales.

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) this weekend executed another successful launch of a new iPhone -- the iPhone 3G S, which already sold over a million units in three days, despite activation delays and concerns over AT&T's pricing plans and support for features like MMS .

At the same time, Apple's facing major competition. BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) continues to sell more handsets overall and is working to extend its reach to the consumer market with its newly released BlackBerry Tour. It's also expected to release a new version of its BlackBerry Storm smartphone, as well.

Meanwhile, Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) is staking its future on its recently released Palm Pre, which has garnered favorable reviews for its sleek design and Linux-based webOS operating system.

And then there's Android: In addition to the HTC Hero, which is expected to launch stateside later this year, HTC is also behind the highly anticipated follow-up to the T-Mobile G1 Android phone, the myTouch 3G, which goes on sale in August.

Additionally, a slew of other large handset makers and hardware players, including Samsung, Acer and Motorola, are slated to debut Android handsets by the holiday shopping season.

Given the fierce competition, all eyes are on Apple, as the lack of Flash technology is seen as one drawback to the iPhone series.

Adobe is still working on the issue, said Anup Murarka, director of partner development and technology strategy for the Platform Business Unit at Adobe. But there are some challenges to overcome.

"Adobe is still committed to bringing Flash Player to the iPhone," Murarka told InternetNews.com. "While the development work is in process, we need further cooperation from Apple to bring the full capabilities of Flash to the iPhone."

"With more than 85 percent of the top 100 Web sites using Flash and about 80 percent of all videos on the Web based on Adobe Flash, we believe that Flash on the iPhone would greatly benefit the millions of joint Apple and Adobe customers," he said.

Apple did not return calls seeking comment.

Android poised to challenge

While an iPhone version of Flash may be some distance away -- if it's completed at all -- Google, Android's lead backer, has been working for some time with Adobe to advance Flash in the mobile sector.

The two companies in November demonstrated an early version of Flash Player 10 running on an Android-based T-Mobile G1 phone.

Android's early embrace of Flash may give it a boost as a viable contender in the increasingly crowded mobile OS space.

The software has other strengths, as well. Android's open source model means it is relatively inexpensive for handset makers to build into their designs and also that it has the potential to be more customizable by third-party developers than the BlackBerry or Apple operating systems.

It also integrates features such as Gmail and Google maps into the phone and includes an application store, designed to compete with the successful Apple App Store.

Still, industry watchers have cited the lack of specific launch details by manufacturers, though that's changing. In addition to the myTouch from HTC and T-Mobile, Android models are poised for release in coming months, notably two from Samsung and two from Motorola later in the year.

Not everything has gone smoothly for Android, however. Despite being heralded as a potential game-changer in the mobile OS space, critics have said delays of upgrades to Android -- version 1.5 was just officially released and version 2.0 is in the works -- have caused handset makers to push release dates from summer to fall.