Adobe wants to push Flash onto wireless devices

Sarah Jane Tribble
San Jose Mercury News (MCT)

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Adobe, the company credited with transforming the Web from a dull to a dynamic environment, is pushing to do the same thing for mobile phones.

The San Jose company wants to become a major player in the wireless market by making it easier to use graphics and interactive gadgets, as well as watch Internet videos, on the small screen.

"Adobe and our technologies powered the evolution that happened on the Web," said Adobe mobile executive Gary Kovacs. "The same thing is going to happen on mobile."

But the task may not be easy, the fast-growing mobile phone market changes quickly with new phones rolling out every 12 to 18 months. And because the phones vary greatly in style, screen size and operating systems, developers have found it difficult to create applications that can go on more than a few phones.

While Adobe's Flash is already offered on some mobile phones, the company wants to overcome these market barriers and make the technology ubiquitous. This year, Adobe expects 270 million Flash-enabled devices to hit the market, and many of those will be mobile phones. That number is expected to reach 1 billion by 2010, Kovacs said.

Adobe's two biggest products for mobile are Flash Lite and Flash Cast. Flash Lite, which is being updated this fall, makes it easier for phone users to access video, games and wallpaper. Flash Cast enables phones to have separate video channels, like on a television.

Already, the products are gaining popularity in one of the world's most fiercely competitive mobile phone markets: Japan. Telecom giant DoCoMo has generated $1.8 billion in revenue from the Flash Lite download service and has 10 million subscribers to the Flash Cast service since launching 18 months ago.

And now, Adobe is stepping up efforts in the U.S. Verizon sells 13 Flash-enabled handsets and announced it is launching Flash Cast-based service before the end of this year.

Flash, which Adobe inherited as part of its 2005 Macromedia acquisition, first hit the Internet in the mid 1990s, making it possible to have dancing graphics and interactive widgets on the screen, said technology analyst Michael Gartenberg.

"It really did transform the Web from static to dynamic to a much richer environment," Gartenberg said. "The notion of bringing that same level of richness to mobile devices is important."

One of the biggest complaints about Apple's popular iPhone has been the lack of video technology. While the phone easily accesses Web sites and videos specifically designed for its Safari browser, such as YouTube, it doesn't tap into videos using Adobe's Flash or Microsoft Media Player.

For example, if an iPhone owner goes to and tries to pull up a video, the picture is gray. It reads: "Plugin Error: Oops! You need the latest version of the Flash Player to view this video."

The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg reported last month that "Apple says it plans to add that plug-in through an early software update, which I am guessing will occur within the next couple of months."

And during the interview, Kovacs first said he couldn't say "when" the iPhone would offer Flash but quickly corrected himself to say "if and when." Apple did not respond.

Richard Monson-Haefel, a senior analyst with research firm the Burton Group, said regardless of what is offered on the iPhone, other manufacturers are working quickly to match the iPhone's ease-of-use. That's where companies like Adobe can play a part.

"People don't see Adobe, Adobe just makes things possible," Monson-Haefel said. "But that's OK and that's a good place to be. They don't have to be a consumer brand, they just have to help other companies be a consumer brand."

But Monson-Haefel said the most exciting thing Adobe could do for the general mobile phone market is the Flash Home application, which is still in development. The application would make a phone's home screen run on Flash. So, instead of a simple clock and name, the home screen could have interactive widgets that consumers can custom design. The product is expected to hit mobile phones next year.

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