Macromedia's Flash Lite Shines
Flash has been an integral part of the fixed-line Web for years and with its launch on DoCoMo’s 505i-series 2G handsets in spring 2003 (and on FOMA 3G last fall), it has developed into a mobile Web standard in Japan as well; six major Japanese manufacturers are already producing Flash-enabled handsets. Flash has now rolled out on yet another batch of 3G phones, this time from KDDI. We caught up with Macromedia’s senior director of marketing for mobile, Anup Murarka, at KDDI’s launch event in Tokyo and had a fascinating discussion about the past, present, and future of Flash for wireless.
It could well come to be that, like camera-equipped phones, you will be hard pressed to find a cell-phone in Japan without Flash — and little wonder why; from giving the look and feel that will impress both carriers and users to offering enhanced opportunities for content and application developers, Flash Lite looks like a winner. With 7 million Flash-enabled devices on the street in Japan as of end-2003, it appears that Flash has become a de facto standard.
Flash Lite 1.1 is an updated version of Flash Player designed specifically for mobile phones. The new profile targets mass-market phones that do not have sufficient processing power or memory to support the entire feature set available in desktop versions of Flash. Developers also have access to the Flash Lite content development kit (CDK), available in Japanese and English, which covers tips, techniques, and sample code for developing Macromedia Flash content for mobile phones using Macromedia Flash MX Professional 2004.
Full details here: http://www.macromedia.com/go/flashlite/
By the very nature of carriers facilitating the deployment of handsets that are ready to exploit Flash technology, they are opening the door to a community of content programmers (upwards of 1 million by Macromedia estimates) who are in place to start creating applications and content optimized for mobile devices.
While the usual suspects like Disney and ESPN are natural early adopters, smaller players can step up to the plate quite quickly as well. The end result, of course, is a better user experience. In Anup’s own words: “this is just the beginning.”
For those interested in reading more about Flash Lite 1.1, here’s an excerpt from a lengthy interview that the folks over at SymbianOne.com had with Mr. Murarka recently:
“The big factor for us was the desire to create the same kind of ecosystem of developers for mobile as we have for desktop, so we really needed a target mass market mobile phone. Devices like the Motorola A920 or Nokia Communicators were not going to address the mass market, they have more memory and processing power and can deliver a rich experience using Flash but they won’t be in the hands of millions of consumers. It was that mass market goal coupled with discussions we had with NTT DoCoMo that made us realize we should develop a profile specifically for mass market mobile phones. That resulted in Flash Lite and last year’s announcement with NTT DoCoMo that all new i-mode handsets would ship with Flash Lite embedded in them.
So Flash Lite is a profile of the desktop player specifically created for mobile phones and the new 1.1 release take the profile further. We have extended the audio support to include MP3, PCM, ADPCM as well as SMAF audio from Yamaha which is in a lot of their audio chips used by mobile phones. What is interesting about this support, excepting SMAF, is that they are all software codecs within the Flash player.
Another significant element is the addition of phone specific features that are now exposed to Flash developers including the ability to send SMS messages from within a Flash a movie. If you think about today’s SMS applications almost all require the subscriber to remember the destination address and what they need to put in the body of the SMS. With Flash a developer can now create a visual interface, say for a TV contest, which can show pictures of the contestants, let the user select their choice and then automatically send the SMS. This would be a much more effective voting application and would take less than an hour for someone to create in the same tool they use for authoring their desktop content.
A third category, which is particularly important for GSM operators that are supporting the 3GPP specification, is inclusion of an SVG Tiny player. I also think this is an important illustration of where Macromedia is going as there have been many questions about our strategy in the mobile phone space, would we really get it? Support for SVG Tiny is a perfect example of our leadership in mobile multimedia space. Many of our European customers told us that they only had the resources to support Flash or SVG Tiny, both in the phone and in terms of development. So we tasked our engineers to see what we could do, we even looked at third party implementations but we concluded was that it was relatively straight forward to use the core code in the Flash Player to create an add-on which would also play back SVG Tiny content. So we have shown we are able to support the standards unique to the mobile industry as well as show we have enough expertise in animation, vector graphics and interactivity to create innovative technologies. It’s about us hearing and understanding what the market needs and what we can do to create easy to use technologies which make data services more interesting and compelling for consumers.
The final feature is network connectivity which is very familiar to the web authoring community but again because of the environment we were targeting it was not in 1.0. 1.1 now provides the ability to use connectivity so developers can create dynamic applications which get data from existing web services or download different portions of an application based on what the user is doing on their handset.”