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Adobe's Flash 10.1 Goes Mobile (Minus iPhone)

Adobe Systems today unveiled details on its rollout of Flash 10.1 to mobile devices, introducing support for Windows Mobile, webOS, Android, Symbian and the BlackBerry platforms.

Adobe's (NASDAQ: ADBE) Flash technology powers much of the video and interactive content on the Web, but currently smartphones can run only a dumbed-down version, Flash Lite, which supports some but not all pages that employ Flash.

That's about to change. Adobe said today at its annual developer conference that the next iteration, Flash 10.1, supports Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows Mobile, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android, Palm's (NASDAQ: PALM) new webOS, Nokia's (NYSE: NOK) and Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry platform.

A public beta of Flash 10.1 for Windows Mobile and webOS will be available later this year, while Android and Symbian versions are due early next year.

The mobile version of Flash will also support multi-touch, accelerometers, multiple screen orientations and hardware graphics acceleration.

In the past, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs has publicly criticized Flash technology, saying it's too slow and inefficient for mobile devices. His company's iPhone OS is now the only major platform that isn't supported by Flash 10.1.

Adobe has been working to improve performance, increasing software rendering speed by 87 percent on mobile platforms versus desktop platforms, and reducing memory consumption by 55 percent, according to Adobe.

"With Flash 10.1, it's more integral to these devices, so you're getting fluid animation, faster rendering. It's not consuming computing cycles and it's not draining the battery power consumption, and that's a major consideration for mobile," Tom Barclay, Adobe senior product marketing manager for Flash, told InternetNews.com.

Flash Player 10.1 is also designed to take advantage of media delivery with HTTP streaming, including integration of content protection powered by Adobe Flash Access 2.0. This initiative, codenamed Zeri, will be an open format based on industry standards and will provide content publishers, distributors and partners the tools they need to utilize HTTP infrastructures for high-quality media delivery in Flash Player 10.1 and Adobe Air 2.0 software.

The news comes as developers face an increasingly fragmented mobile market, having to program mobile apps for several different operating systems and smartphones, but that could change with Flash 10.1, said Avi Greengart, analyst at Current Analysis.

"This (news) is significant for several reasons: It 'completes' the Web browsing experience in many cases. For example, many newspapers and travel sites are useless without Flash. And, it enables Web developers who are already familiar with Flash to target mobile users, and it provides some level of cross-platform application development, for instance, write your mobile application in Flash 10.1 rather than, say C++ for Symbian, and your application will work on any mobile device with Flash 10.1 support, not just Symbian," Greengart told InternetNews.com.

Still, he says the new iteration of Flash is not the answer to all the issues faced by mobile developers. "It is not a panacea: Flash applications are not optimized specifically for a particular operating system or hardware implementation, and getting to market can be more straightforward with native applications and the platform vendor's app store," said Greengart. "It's also worth noting that this is still just an announcement, not product delivery. We're still a few months away from this being directly meaningful to consumers."

Adobe last year established the "Open Screen Project," in partnership with companies in the wireless industry with the goal of bringing full Flash support to mobile devices, and today RIM and Google both joined the group.

"As part of the Open Screen Project, RIM will be working with Adobe to deliver a great Flash technology experience on BlackBerry smartphones and to enable users to enjoy the exciting content and services that Flash technology developers and content creators are bringing to the Web," said Alan Brenner, RIM senior vice president, in a statement.

Additionally, handset manufacturers such as Motorola will ship Google Android based devices with Flash Player support "early next year," according to a Motorola statement.

"We've always believed that open platforms lead to greater innovation on the Web and we see participating in the Open Screen Project as another step in that direction. We're excited to continue working with the teams at Adobe on pushing the web forward and to see where the next generation of Web development will take us," says a post by Bill Coughran, senior vice president of engineering, at the Google Blog.