Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Flash on Mobile Phones: Coming Soon?

Mobile Flash in 2010

You know it's a slow news week when the biggest thing to talk about is an article from the BBC regarding Adobe's commitment to have Flash available on "most higher-end handset" by 2010. I feel like I'm back in 2007 when people thought Flash would come out on the iPhone (despite no official promise from Apple, of course). The manufacturers Adobe has on board when they say "most" are Windows Mobile, Palm webOS, Google Android, and Nokia Symbian. If it weren't for a demo they put together of Flash running on the Palm Pre, I honestly wouldn't have believed it. It looks really nice in the demo, but until we get it in our hands there's no telling how well it will actually perform. I hope it's not telling that the demo starts out with full battery life and the phone is in the red by the end of the demo.

There's a reason why Flash Lite was first released: Flash is really heavyweight. Flash is predicated on vector graphics, which are pretty CPU intensive and need solid hardware to perform well. Flash barely works on some modern-day computers without crashing - fitting it on a mobile device with the hardware available today almost seems unreasonable. Is there not a distinct possibility that Flash is something that just can't can't work well on mobile devices? I want Flash on my phone just as much as the next guy - having access to Lala at all times is really attractive. However, the Palm Pre has formidable hardware and struggles at time over even Sprint's strong 3G network to load long pages and can be sluggish in loading pages with heavy Javascript. Will heavy Flash objects lead to terrible battery life and painstaking wait times? Adobe would have you believe that Apple hasn't jumped on their ship because they're being arrogant, but I imagine that Apple has these same concerns. Why is everyone else on board? Because they're all trying to get a leg up on Apple and think that this is the key. To be honest, if Flash can be tweaked to work well on a mobile phone then it just may be a boon to some otherwise less-popular phones. However, the bottom line, in my opinion, is that Flash on mobile phones is a little ahead of its time given our current situation in hardware and wireless connectivity. I'd like to think that it will work seamlessly well someday, but I'm very wary of that day being later this year.

It could be that the way to get around having to have a phone fully support Flash is to be able to simply port your Flash-based applications into native applications for your favorite mobile platform, like you now can for the iPhone. Obviously, for sites with navigation and features entirely based in Flash rather than just games and widgets, this won't work so well, but when you go to a mobile device I think you have to accept some compromises.

Verizon Gears Up For War

Last week was a fairly big week for Verizon. They did multiple things that indicate their dedication to trench warfare against AT&T. The first thing I noticed was during the new House last Monday: a commercial that blatantly pokes fun at the "there's an app for that" commercials from Apple by using the popular perceptions of AT&T's weak 3G network against them. I was so impressed that I got up and clapped for Verizon - it was a pretty stiff jab and is exactly the sort of stuff Verizon needs point out if they're going to stand a chance against AT&T. It may not endear them much to Apple to strike a deal to bring the iPhone to Verizon, but who knows if Apple would even consider such a thing (though they really should).

The other major piece to fighting AT&T is having a solid base of competing handsets, which Verizon just doesn't have right now due to the stifling requirements they tend to impose on hardware manufacturers. There's been a lot of buzz for the HTC Hero, the first Android-based touchscreen smartphone to reach the U.S., and Verizon announced last week that it will be available on their network in November. This got little press coverage, but it's probably going to be a big deal to Verizon loyalists and I'm sure will become Verizon's crowning jewel since the Storm was such a disaster and they've still been mum on details for getting a Palm webOS-based smartphone.

There's even bigger news for Verizon though: they've reached a partnership with Google many months in the making to co-create Android-based handsets with them, which I presume will be Verizon-exclusive. Verizon was so interested in making this deal happen that they even agreed to support Google Voice. I'm not sure if that means anything other than allowing someone to install the Google Voice application on their Android phone (maybe it will pre-loaded?), but this is probably partially Google looking for solace in Verizon since AT&T unexpectedly did not approve Google Voice on the iPhone a while back.

Touchscreen Innovation

Enough about mobile phones, let's generalize a little bit and talk about touchscreens for a minute. Among other things, the support Windows 7 is providing for multi-touch has served as an impetus for advances in touschreens for PCs. I found the demos fascinating and nifty, but I don't think that they're necessarily the future of desktop PCs or even laptops. I've never had the desire to touch my laptop screen rather than use my mouse, or reach across my desk at work to open a program. Where touchscreens really shine are in collaborative environments. There have been plenty of meetings I've been in where I wish I had a touchscreen to draw on and access data on my computer from rather than dealing with projectors on whiteboards. I love whiteboards and can get along just fine without giant touchscreens, mind you, but I can see them enhancing the experience.


I'm starting to nod off here so it's time for the remaining tagged stories I have here.

IBM has decided to offer a cloud computing e-mail service to compete with Gmail. They're a little late to the game, but they are still a major player, even if they aren't as sexy as Google.

nVidia has stopped development on future chipsets due to an injunction from Intel caused by a misunderstanding in their chipset agreement.

Microsoft is replacing Microsoft Works with Microsoft Office Starter, which has ad-supported versions of Word and Excel. It's an interesting choice, but it's not like anyone uses Works anymore anyway who's not on a 486.

Kevin Rose (co-founder of Digg) posted his FOWA talk on taking your fledgling site to 1 million users. I consider it an interesting depiction of how different getting eyeballs is now than it was even just 10 years ago.

Digital Trends has a round-up of multi-function devices, and I wanted to plug it because it turned me on to some gadgets I had no idea about - like the new Canon PowerShots that shoot in HD.

Conan hunted down the real Ajay Bhatt (co-creator of USB) as popularized by the recent Intel ads, and did a hilarious interview with him. It's definitely worth watching.

I'm not a violent person, but I still enjoyed this photo gallery from Newsweek of high-tech military weaponry.

If you're a huge nerd like me and tried to figure out how to crack a Master lock when you were bored in middle school, wonder no more.

Get on those rain coats and enjoy the week, everyone!

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