Ask iPhone owners what’s at the top of their wish lists and they’ll say one word: Flash. Sure, you can watch YouTube videos on the iPhone, but not even close to all of them. And thousands of other sites use Flash for video, games, or animation. In October Adobe confirmed it’s working on a Flash iPhone player, which may or may not reach Apple’s requirements. Now imagine Flash running on every device you own.
Enter the Open Screen Project, an initiative comprising more than 20 companies, from chip makers like Intel, Marvell, and Qualcomm to handset and consumer electronics giants such as LG, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Toshiba. Verizon Wireless is also on board, as are such content providers as NBC Universal. The goal for Adobe is to make Flash standard on phones and other mobile devices. The company wants to deliver rich Web-based applications—no surfing required—that can be shared across multiple screens, whether it’s on a cell phone, TV, or notebook. Anup Murarka, director of technical marketing for Adobe’s Mobile and Devices division, walked us through the company’s ambitions. LAPTOP: Why is the open screen project necessary? Anup Murarka: In consumer electronics, PCs represent less than 25 percent of screens shipped in 2007. We’ve been working on deploying Flash into a variety of devices to enable Web browsing and rich Internet applications (RIAs), and to simplify the ability for content producers to publish and distribute applications. This provides the foundation for the Open Screen Project (OSP). It is a broad industry collaboration. What are you doing to get this project off the ground? One thing we’ve done is remove all licensing restrictions on our file formats. All royalty fees related to the Flash player for the desktop and the next major release under the auspices of the Open Screen Project will continue to be free of any licensing fees or royalties to Adobe, while Flash on devices will continue to be royalty-bearing until the OSP release. We will also be working to make it easier for companies to integrate Flash into their platforms. So, we’re publishing for the first time all of the APIs for Flash runtime, as well as other key protocols that enable the player to interact with various server technologies. How will the open screen project change the user experience? The first is Web browsing; the second, standalone applications. The goal for Web browsing is compatibility with existing Web content across PCs and devices. It requires a lot of processing power to have such a sophisticated browser. You look at browsers on mobile devices today and despite all of the work that’s gone into them, very few are completely compatible with desktop content. Will you enable flash on mobile browsers? That will be a goal, absolutely. We have to get the plug-in working. Getting it integrated into a variety of browsers will come quickly after that. We don’t expect all mobile devices to be able to support this. They are going to be limited to the higher end of the spectrum. We’ve done testing across the top 300 Web sites. How will you address non–smart phones? By removing the overhead of that browser container, we’re confident we can get Web-enabled apps into a much wider range of devices than PCs. The developers would have the ability to keep their applications simple and lightweight, and have it available in a widget style on the desktop. We’re working with Qualcomm very closely, integrating Air into the Brew platform, as well as with Nokia and Sony Ericsson on their platform integration. When will consumers be able to buy open screen–enabled handsets? The first devices that utilize this technology will become broadly available in early 2010.