Mobilizing Apps in a Flash

By  Jessica Rivchin — June 14, 2006

Mobilizing Web-based applications has long been an industry problem. "Many companies have tried to solve it by stuffing the entire application into the device, but the form factor and way people use mobile devices don't map to the Web experience," said Melissa Klein, spokesperson for Web-based application developer ClairMail, in a recent press release. "There's a huge disconnect there, and as a result mobilizing enterprise applications hasn't taken off as many of these companies hoped it would."

Manufacturers are hoping all that will change with the growth of Flash--the browser-independent vector-graphic animation program (aka, the program responsible for all of those super-cool animated Web sites) and the newest application to merge with mobile phone technology.

According to Boston-based consultancy Strategy Analytics, there are currently 38 million Flash-enabled mobile phone handsets, a number that is predicted to grow to a whopping 216 million by 2010. Over the past two years, growth has been in the "triple-digits" for phones with Flash Lite technology. Macromedia, which was acquired by Adobe last year, redesigned its famous PC-based Flash technology and created Flash Lite expressly for use on cell phones and other portable devices in 2003, thus enabling the creation of intuitive wireless apps and easier Web surfing on the go.

Opinions on whether or not Flash is a viable solution to the problem vary. "Loading Flash and other apps on mobile devices presents many of the same problems that have always been there," said David Thompson, VP of marketing for ClairMail, in a recent phone interview. "When you load another app onto a device you've got issues, such as what compatibility does the device have, what version, etc. So instead, we leverage the messaging platform that's already there on a traditional phone. We don't want to burden and overload a bunch of applications and expect it to all work seamlessly ... it's just inherently challenging."

Many companies believe that Flash might solve the issue of mobilizing applications, since the program provides customizable user interfaces on devices of all shapes and sizes. According to Adobe, the vendor of Flash and Flash Lite, the program will help improve data management, reduce memory consumption and deployment costs, and deliver content and interfaces three to five times faster than other mobile solutions.

Originally offered by Japan 's NTT DoCoMo in 2003, Flash Lite-enabled phones are now operating on wireless networks in parts of Asia, with plans to go worldwide throughout this year. Major electronics manufacturers, such as Nokia, Samsung, Sony, Ericsson, Kodak and others, are currently shipping phones and other mobile devices with Flash technology, and over 100 Flash Lite-supported handsets are currently waiting in the wings.

In April, Adobe also partnered with Verizon Wireless to begin creating a mobile ecosystem built around Flash technology that will allow developers to create new interactive, rich mobile content for Verizon customers.

Stuart Robinson, director of the Strategy Analytics handset component technologies service and co-author of the study "Flash-Enabled Handset Forecast: Flash Lite Ready for Global Penetration," states that demand has really "taken off."

Interested in jumping on the Flash bandwagon? Companies should keep in mind that, once a Flash Lite-enabled device is purchased, the actual program still needs to be purchased separately from Adobe (for around $10).

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