The arrival of Adobe's Flash Player, due later this year, will mark the ascent of smartphones as a real browsing platform. Nearly ubiquitous on desktops, Flash is a key technology soon to be available on most devices except for one--Apple's iPhone.
Today at its Adobe Max conference in Los Angeles, Adobe will announce that a beta of Flash Player 10.1 will be available for Palm webOS and Microsoft Windows Mobile before the end of the year. Betas for Symbian OS and Google's Android will come in early 2010, the company said.
Research in Motion has also agreed to add Flash Player to its BlackBerry devices, thought it is not clear when the software will be available.
Taken together, the announcements mean 19 of the 20 top smartphone vendors will have Flash Player on their phones, Adobe said. Flash is commonly used for Internet video playback and is perhaps the most common add-on for desktop Web browsers.
Adobe estimates Flash is installed on 98 percent of PC desktops and delivers 75 percent of Internet video and 70 percent of Web-based games.
Previously, Flash Lite has been available for smartphones, but offers limited functionality. It is installed on about 40 percent of smartphones and will continue to be available for use on devices with limited memory and processing power, Adobe said.
The new beta software is the full Flash implementation, allowing smartphones to offer the same browsing experience as desktops. It supports high-definition video and touch screens.
Adobe's new software is part of something called the "Open Screen Project," a program to develop a single development platform for everything from set-top boxes and desktops to game consoles and smartphones. The goal is a "develop once, run everywhere" platform that enables the same program to run on a wide variety of devices.
More than 50 companies have announced support for the Open Screen Project, including Nokia and Google.
Apple's absence, at least at this stage, is not surprising. First, the Safari browser on the iPhone does not support plug-ins and, second, Apple would be highly unlikely to announce a new product feature at someone else's event.
My take: The unwillingness of Apple to play well with others should not be considered more than a momentary setback. While Apple's QuickTime competes with Flash, that is not likely to keep the Adobe technology off the iPhone for long.
It should not surprise anyone to see Apple announce its support for Flash 10.1 on the iPhone either at its anticipated pre-holiday announcement of new desktops or in early 2010. The delay should not result in any significant disadvantage for Apple or its iPhone customers.