Adobe's Open Screen Project: Back at ya' Apple!

Flash maker Adobe on Thursday announced a consortium of phone and electronics vendors that will rally around Flash and Adobe Air content. But is the real target Apple?
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

Flash maker Adobe on Thursday announced a consortium of phone and electronics vendors that will rally around Flash and Adobe Air content. But is the real target Apple?

According to several Web and video developers, it's Adobe that needs to get on the iPhone bandwagon, not the other way around.

Adobe said that the Open Screen Project will prevent "technology fragmentation" by supporting its Flash and Air runtime environments and allowing software updates over the air.

In addition, Adobe will remove restrictions on use of the SWF and FLV/F4V specifications; publish the device porting layer APIs for Flash Player as well as the Flash Cast protocol and the AMF protocol; and offer for free the next major releases of Flash Player and AIR for devices.

Adobe executives said that Flash support was already in 3 billion phones on the market and it expected to add another 1 billion by the end of the year. However, there was no mention of the iPhone nor of Google's new phone platform.

At the time of the iPhone SDK announcement in March, Adobe said it was looking into getting Flash on the platform. But there's little excitement or worry, it appears. Certainly not from Apple.

Open Screen sounds like Adobe's response: Apple had better get on the Adobe runtime environment.

Many industry analysts have fretted over the missing Flash support for the iPhone and iPod Touch devices. On the other hand, as ZDNet's Ed Burnette observed, makers of other browser and device environments, such as Mozilla and Google, are telling developers to avoid Flash.

However, I spoke to a couple of Web and video developers recently about the Flash and iPhone situation — before Adobe's announcement today. Both developers declined attribution. They offered interesting viewpoints.

The video tools developer said that from a platform perspective, Apple has been very shrewd in excluding Flash from the iPhone.

"Apple doesn't need it to make great apps or a good Web browsing experience. If I was Adobe, I would get down on my hands and knees and beg for a spot on the iPhone for Flash and be prepared to pay whatever it takes. Otherwise, they will see a large of the smart phone market gravitate away from Flash for the mobile-enhanced Web. That is NOT a platform they can fail on."

He added that the performance of the Flash player speed on the Mac "sucks" when compared to Windows. "Apple might warm up to Flash, if Adobe paid a bit more attention to the Flash experience on Mac."

Of course, Adobe now has Open Screen to wave about. At the same time, while Flash is already installed on a vast number of phones in the world, nobody is using that feature. But everyone who uses an iPhone uses the browser. That is what's bugging Adobe and the rest of the industry. Meanwhile, the Web developer predicted that Apple will "do the equivalent of AIR based on their existing frameworks and Internet standards like SVG. The Safari team has been really cranking on SVG support recently.

"The strategic decision to base the iPhone/Touch SDK on XCode is going to turn out to be a real boon for Apple's platform strategy as even more engineers get on the bandwagon," he continued.

Will Apple and Mozilla (and maybe Google) be able to stand up to the Adobe Flash/Air combo and Microsoft's Silverlight? Will this consortium tip the balance towards one or the other directions?

No idea. But Web content developers had better be evaluating these further complications for delivering rich media applications and content over the Internet and what it all means for their customers, viewers and business models.

Note that Safari also supports another open compound document framework as well, which is called Compound Document. It combines formats of XHTML, SVG, SMIL, and XForms as well as others such as Java.

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