October 7, 2009 – The role of mobile in video content distribution took a big leap forward early this month with a series of announcements tied to the beta release of Adobe’s Flash Player 10.1 software for smartphones, smartbooks, netbooks, PCs and other Internet-connected devices.
Leveraging an alliance of major players such as Microsoft, Google, Nokia, Qualcomm, Motorola, Research in Motion and many others engaged in the Open Screen Project, Adobe’s move assures the market of a consistent runtime environment for uncompromised Web browsing of expressive applications, content and high definition videos across devices, says David Wadhwani, general manager and vice president of Adobe’s Platform Business Unit. “With Flash Player moving to new mobile platforms, users will be able to experience virtually all Flash technology-based Web content and applications wherever they are,” Wadhwani says.
Adobe also broke through the application development wall around Apple’s iPhone with news that the latest version of the company’s Flash Professional CS5 development toolkit will enable developers to create interactive apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch. At Adobe’s MAX developers’ conference in Los Angeles officials demonstrated how developers can now export applications for the iPhone by leveraging the same source code used to deliver applications across desktops and devices for various Flash platform runtimes, which opens iPhone development to millions of designers and developers who currently use Flash authoring tools.
Where video content is concerned, the Adobe Flash 10.1 runtime is going to “release an amazing wave of video consumption,” says Jeff Whatcott, senior vice president of marketing at Web publishing services company Brightcove, which is one of the more than 50 entities participating in the Open Screen Project. “Some of our customers have created iPhone applications that they’ve rolled out to deliver with video, including Fox, Discovery, Arts %26 Entertainment and others. But generally everybody wants to deliver video content on mobile.”
As Whatcott notes, getting that content to users will no longer require standalone apps developed for proprietary platforms or specialty on-deck implementations. It will simply be a matter of users accessing normal Web pages with the ads intact. “Every device that’s a reasonable device for using on the Web is going to have great video capabilities,” he says. “It’s the open Web.”
Of course, it’s not quite that simple, given the level of effort that’s required across all the mobile operating systems and devices to ensure compatibility with the Flash video running on the Web or anywhere else. Wadhwani says a public developer beta of the browser-based Flash 10.1 runtime is expected to be available for Windows Mobile, Palm webOS and desktop operating systems including Windows, Macintosh and Linux later this year. Public betas for Google Android and Symbian OS are expected to be available in early 2010.
In addition, Adobe and RIM announced a joint collaboration to bring Flash Player to Blackberry smartphones. Using the productive Web programming model of the Flash platform, the browser-based runtime enables millions of designers and developers to reuse code and assets and reduce the cost of creating, testing and deploying content across different operating systems and browsers, Wadhwani notes.
Getting to ubiquity with applications beyond straight Web video will require still more work.
“While we applaud this first step that Adobe has taken to make it easier for developers to build native iPhone applications, our experience has shown that delivering a truly compelling Flash experience on mobile phones requires a deep understanding of the unique constraints and capabilities of each device type,” says Dominique Jodoin, CEO and president of Bluestreak Technology, supplier of technology that provides the customization options necessary to overcome the unique constraints of set-top boxes, mobile phones, digital televisions and other consumer electronic devices.
“The iPhone is a hugely popular device, but we must remember that there are more than 1,100 different mobile phone models in the U.S. market alone,” Jodoin says. “Any company or developer that wants to deploy successful Flash-powered applications will require the customization options necessary to run across everything from entry-level devices to the highest-end smartphones. One size simply does not fit all when it comes to mobile devices.”
Video-rich applications have become a major component of the developments spawned through the $10 million in seed money put up by Adobe and Nokia in the Open Screen Project Fund, an initiative launched in February that has now funded more than 35 multi-screen applications efforts with many more in queue, according to Matt Collins, director of strategic and services marketing for Forum Nokia’s developer community. Development of such applications along with access to Web-based Flash video content via mobile devices stands to become a major incentive to consumer adaptation to larger-screen handhelds like the new Nokia N900, which, with an approximately 4.5-inch screen, offers a much better viewing experience that iPhones and other current-generation smartphones.
Adding to the momentum behind video-centric applications development in the Nokia space is the development of a progressive download capability by Nokia’s Flash expert Robert Burdick, Collins notes. By avoiding reliance on real-time streaming over bandwidth-constrained mobile access networks the innovation provides a near real-time experience at persistently high quality, he says.
“Our CNN International video player application is a good example of what can be done to foster long-form video viewing on mobile devices,” Collins says. Available in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa, the CNN service provides mobile users access to a vast content library that is kept up to date to provide people video news they otherwise would not be able to see. “What you’re getting is an extension of CNN’s library not in 30-second bites, but in three- or four-minute regular news segments,” Collins notes. He cites recent movie trailer applications from India’s Bollywood studios as another example now in play.
“Through our implementation of Flash Lite developers will be able to offer a higher quality of video experience without needing a dedicated server to do that,” Collins adds, noting that Nokia alone now has 100 different Flash devices now in use by some 400 million customers worldwide. “On the N900 you’ll have the ability to enjoy on a high-resolution screen the same Internet you’d get on your desktop.”
“Consumers just want content, applications and services to work and don’t want to worry about compatibility, screen-size resolution or the underlying platform or technologies,” he continues. “The Open Screen Project is certainly targeting that gap between consumer expectations and the reality they’ve had to deal with. Flash is the perfect rallying platform to address that gap because of its consistency and ubiquity.”
Developers funded through the joint Open Screen Project Fund must meet the stipulation that their apps will run on at least one Nokia device. But the goal is to extend the reach of their apps across as broad a swath of the device manufacturing ecosystem as possible, Collins says.