App store riches Flash in the pan?

Adobe hopes Flash's multiple platform support will attract mobile developers eyeing app store monetization, but it's no foolproof plan, notes analyst.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Increasing interest in monetizing apps will bring developers back to multi-device, "code once, run everywhere" platforms, according to Adobe. But, an analyst says this is not a foolproof plan.

Ryan Stewart, Adobe platform evangelist, said in an interview with ZDNet Asia that the chase to monetize apps, especially on the Apple iPhone, has resulted in the majority of developers getting edged out by the handful of more popular apps that are raking in more revenue.

The initial "gold rush" has been tempered with developers realizing that Apple's App Store is not a get-rich quick scheme, Stewart said.

"Developers realize they need marketing to [monetize their apps]," he said. "It's now more complex. So these developers have come back to Flash."

He said the problem of dealing with disparate handsets will grow, giving Adobe a foothold in offering developers a way to broaden their audience through apps that support multi-platforms.

Tim Renowden, devices analyst at Ovum, said in an e-mail interview: "Developers tend to go where the audience is."

"Good support" from hardware manufacturers for Flash and Flash Lite will provide a nudge in Adobe's direction toward developers, Renowden said, but ne noted that the proprietary Flash technology still presents a barrier for developers.

"Developer support [for Flash] has so far been limited," he said. "We may see some resistance to proprietary technologies if developers feel they can deliver comparable experiences on more standards-based technologies."

In fact, Opera's CEO remarked earlier this year that the revision of the HTML 5 open Web standard could render Flash redundant.

Nonetheless, with "many of the major handset manufacturers" having announced plans to deploy widget frameworks across their portfolio offerings, Renowden said he expects to see mobile widgets becoming more popular in the next 12 months.

Stewart acknowledged that Flash support is present on comparably fewer smartphones, compared to lower end models. "We would have liked to be faster, but there's still room for someone to make [an impact in apps development]," he said. "We are concentrating more on high-end smartphones now to close the gap."

Multi- and native platform dilemma
Renowden said widget platforms are still appealing and will grow more popular due to the increasing variety of phone platforms that developers want to target.

Furthermore, the bulk of the global handsets market still resonates in lower-end models with limited processing power and capabilities, he said. Widgets help address this market by offering a "relatively lightweight method" of pushing Web services to this segment.

While the Ovum analyst said widgets will help developers save time catering to multiple platforms, he noted that adjustments and tweaks still need to be done for different devices. "Multi-platform widgets can simplify the delivery of cross-platform functionality, but not completely address fragmentation issues," he said.

Developers will still be forced to choose the specific platforms according to their needs, he noted. "The current fragmented state of the mobile software industry is unlikely to change in the medium term and multi-platform technologies such as widgets, are not going to be able to match the richness of user experience that developers can achieve with native applications," he explained.

Stewart said the challenges of keeping the user interface consistent across different devices remains, but Adobe hopes its impending release of Flash 10 for smartphones will help bring a richer experience to high-end devices.

Adobe announced in February plans to bring the full-fledged version of Flash player--which runs on PCS--to smartphones running OSes such as Windows Mobile, Android and Symbian next year.

Developers will still have to build two versions of their apps for full Flash and Flash Lite, which runs on lower-end phones, but they can "reuse the same underlying skill sets", he added.

Another gap Adobe is looking to close is the ability to better use of a device's onboard features, he said. Native apps have the benefit of utilizing a phone's functions such as a GPS chip, he explained. The feature is not possible right now, however.

For other developers, browsers are another avenue to pushing services onto mobiles. Yahoo, for instance, offers a "code once" platform it calls Blueprint.

Unlike the Flash platform, however, Blueprint is targeted at sites, not apps. It aims to extend the compatibility of rich media sites with devices, a strategy that varies from Flash's app-centric focus.

In order to accommodate different device capabilities, the platform "degrades the experience" to suit individual consumer devices, said a Yahoo spokesperson.

In an e-mail interview, the spokesperson said the Internet giant has grown its Blueprint team over the last two years, and is focused on extending Yahoo's products to mobiles.

However, the Internet company acknowledged the buzz around apps, saying browsers have come "second" to that, and added that developers interested in targeting specific platforms should write native apps instead.

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