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Macromedia BREWing Flash for Mobile Apps

Macromedia's recently announced agreement with wireless telecommunications company Qualcomm to develop and distribute Flash Lite applications and multimedia content to BREW-enabled mobile handsets and mobile operators in the U.S. may be the mass-market mobile opening for technology Macromedia has been searching for, says Ovum analyst Tony Cripps.

"The million-plus developers—or perhaps more accurately, designers—who already use the Flash environment to build interactive content for conventional Web sites is an impressive base from which to take Flash to the mobile world, en masse," Cripps says. "Now, with the backing of Qualcomm, that dream may become reality sooner than expected. Build the phones, and the developers will come."

Flash Lite is a special version of Macromedia's Flash, the ubiquitous animated graphics technology and format that has become a mainstay of Web-based multimedia. Flash Lite targets mass-market phones that lack sufficient processing power and memory to support the entire Flash Player feature set available on the desktop.

Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW) is Qualcomm's development platform for Java, Flash and XML for applications that run on PDAs, handhelds and wireless devices.

Macromedia, soon to be acquired by Adobe, has been expecting the popularity and ubiquity of Flash on the desktop to drive the technology into the mobile space. The deal struck with Qualcomm earlier this month may provide the extra oomph it needs to realize that goal.

Mobile phones based on Qualcomm's BREW mobile application platform are restricted to the CDMA world, explains Cripps, but they still make up around 20 percent of all handset shipments per year, according to Ovum's forecasts. That could be as many as 144 million globally in 2005, and around half that in the U.S. market that this deal is focused on.

The ability to create BREW apps will widen Flash's reach in the U.S. mobile business market, Cripps observes.

"Qualcomm's tight control over [Code Division Multiple Access digital wireless technology (CDMA)] makes BREW a more solid platform from which to launch new services than comparable environments used by GSM/UMTS operators," Cripps says. "The problems caused by fragmentation and lack of interoperability in technologies such as mobile Java and multimedia messaging are well documented."

Macromedia has also signed on as an Elite member of the BREW Developer Alliance. Launched in August 2001 by Qualcomm, the Alliance Program is designed to provide developers creating applications and services based on BREW with technical training and support, product development guidance and marketing assistance.

“Delivering Flash content and applications on BREW will help us achieve our mission to provide a solution that supports the development of a new generation of creative, innovative and visually stunning content, communications and applications," says Macromedia's EVP and GM of mobile devices Al Ramadan.

Macromedia also unveiled a new Flash content delivery system, dubbed the Flash Platform, and released a new version of the Flash Player, code-named Maelstom.

The Flash Platform includes a universal client runtime, an openly published file format (SWF) specification, a programming model, development tools and dedicated server technology. Although primarily used for the development of rich media, the Flash Platform can also be used for enterprise applications, communications and mobile applications, the company says.

Macromedia estimates that Flash is now installed on 600 million computers worldwide and, according to the NPD Group, take up of new versions is rapid, with 80 percent of installations occurring in the first year.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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