ARM takes on Intel with Adobe partnership

The chipset designer says it is working to optimise Adobe's rich-media software for ARM's architecture, in a bid to take on Intel

ARM is to work with Adobe on optimising Flash and AIR for the chip-design company's architecture, in a move that ARM hopes will increase its competitiveness against Intel.

ARM and Adobe announced their collaboration at the Adobe MAX 2008 conference in San Francisco on Monday. According to a joint statement from the companies, the idea is to "optimise and enable" Adobe Flash Player 10 for ARM-powered devices, ranging from mobile phones to set-top boxes, netbooks, mobile internet devices (MIDs), televisions, personal media players and automotive platforms. That should make it easier for people to play any video they find online on these devices.

Flash Player 10 and AIR are both Adobe technologies for playing rich web content, the difference being that the former is browser-based while the latter can work from other desktop applications.

The optimised Flash Player 10 and AIR will be available in the second half of 2009. It will target not only the ARMv7 architecture used in ARM11 processors and upcoming Cortex-A series processors, but also the ARMv6 architecture, which is currently more widely found in handsets.

According to the statement, the partnership has grown out of Adobe's Open Screen Project, the company's industry-wide initiative to make it easier to browse the web on devices of a variety of types and sizes.

"ARM believes this partnership will develop optimised Adobe Flash and AIR implementations that will run on billions of devices from our partners, such as pocket-sized mobile devices, mobile computing platforms, set-top boxes, digital TVs and automotive infotainment," the chip-design company's vice president of marketing, Ian Drew, said in the statement. "The combination of Adobe Flash and ARM's low-power processor [intellectual property] and Mali [graphics processing units] will ensure a fantastic internet experience for consumers on the world's leading 32-bit architecture."

Various chipmakers that licence ARM's architecture, including Broadcom, Freescale, Nvidia, Texas Instruments and Samsung, will collaborate with the partners to make sure the technology that they develop will work on their chipsets.

ARM's mobile-computing manager for the EMEA region, Simon Hickman, told ZDNet UK on Friday that the partnership with Adobe was, in part, designed to take on Intel.

"What we've been seeing a lot recently is Intel saying they have a full internet experience, and Flash is key to this," Hickman said. "So we're levelling the playing field. Then you look at battery life and so on, which is where ARM can also make a difference."

Hickman pointed out that most mobile phones that could handle Flash in any way were currently using Flash Lite, a cut-down version of the rich-media technology that is limited in the content it can play. He also noted that Flash Lite and Flash 9 use a royalty-based model for mobile devices and set-top boxes, but Flash 10 will be royalty-free.

Porting Flash 10 over to ARM's architecture will take priority over the porting of Air, Hickman said, because AIR will be built on top of Flash 10. Adobe AIR is aimed at the consumption of downloadable content, so ARM's focus with AIR will be putting it into set-top boxes and the like, Hickman said.

Last week, ARM announced it would be working with Ubuntu-backer Canonical, in another move aimed at optimising internet use on a range of devices. Hickman said on Friday that ARM and Adobe would be working to make sure browsers such as Firefox and Opera could handle the optimised Flash 10 and AIR.