Flash Lite is not WICD – But it should be!

flashlite.JPG

Since I blog a lot about next generation mobile browser applications, a common question I get is: What about Flash Lite ?

Well .. What about it – I say? It’s specific to a company(Adobe) and in my view, that will always be it’s limitation.(i.e. not an Open Standard!)

But more seriously, Flash has got a lot of traction on the Web. Thus, there is reason to believe that Flash Lite may also do well on Mobile devices.

Besides, Adobe is getting a lot of traction for Rich Internet Web Applications on the Web through products like Adobe Flex

But will Flash Lite emulate the success of Flash on the Web?

The crux of Adobe’s Flash strategy on the Web was based on giving the client for free. This led to a whole mass of developers adopting the technology. Adobe made money using developer licences.

If this strategy were mirrored on the Mobile ecosystem , the Flash Lite client would be free and developers would adopt it in significant numbers.

So, is the Flash Lite client free?

Sadly, it is not.

At the moment, Adobe’s entire strategy seems to be focussed towards devices and handsets as opposed to developers and browsers.

In other words, it is NOT the same model which made Flash so successful on the Web since the client is not free and the target ‘customer’ from Adobe’s point of view is not the developer.

So, who is Flash pitched at?

The obvious answer is: the Operator and the Device manufacturer.

This will lead to a slow and a fragmented uptake of Flash Lite (in contrast to the almost global appeal of Flash on the Web)

But in case of Flash Lite, it gets worse: Not only do the Operators and device manufactures have to install Flash(at a considerable cost), Adobe’s entire strategy seems to be pitched towards one specific Operator i.e. Verizon. This is apparent even as you see the Flash Lite site

Sadly, this may end up with the product being defined by it’s first customer

Ofcourse, there is Flash Lite as a browser plug-in – and that’s more interesting and is similar to the Web. However, the browser plug-in approach is not getting a lot of traction from both Adobe and the Web community

Is there an option?

In my view, Yes.

That option is WICD from the W3C.

The potential of WICD has been highlighted by other bloggers like CEO before and while it still has a way to go in terms of traction – it’s basic approach is a lot better.

Its also a lot cheaper, it is an Open Standard and is likely to be adopted by Operators and Device manufacturers for the same reason that they are looking into Linux as an OS now(Open and cost effective).

In my view, a better approach from Adobe would be to focus on the browser plug-in and make the client free.

This would mirror the Web strategy which made Flash so successful.

Both Adobe Flex and Flash Lite are good products. Lets hope that they become successful.

But the only way to do that in my view is by pitching to the developers.

Too many people (including developers themselves) make the mistake of over estimating the UI at the expense of critical mass.

But UI is not the critical factor as I discuss in the article Mobile Ajax: More than just a pretty face and The future is bright – the future is Three! (both of which emphasise features beyond the UI and talk about why UI is not the critical factor in the success of Mobile Applications)

What is needed is a homogeneous marketplace.

Anything that fragments the marketplace is not good.

Anything that encourages a homogeneous market is good.

Thus, the free browser plug-in is a better approach in contrast to the current strategy

Without developer support, it won’t fly and developers need a mass market to succeed.

Thoughts?

Update – based on comments below

Hello Jag, Dalibor

Thanks for your insightful comments.

Re

Actually, the cynic in me says that I *do* think it’s relevant, if it’s an open standard it’s more likey to be designed by a committee that results in the mess that was MIDP 1 and 2. With Flash, as a developer, I know it will work everywhere. With all but the simplest of Java apps that is rarely the case.

With all due respect, it was the Operators that screwed up Java implementations by inconsistently implementing APIs smile and thereby fragmenting Java on Mobile devices! and I agree to your comments that all but the simplest games are possible on Java.

In other words, it was not a failure of Open standards, the problem lay with Operators.

Now coming back to Flash Lite, if Operator A installs it on device B and Operator X installs it on device Y, then you see the problem immediately – a smaller target audience.

The problem is very simple

As an industry, we forget that we are working with consumer applications(which need critical mass).

You can get critical mass in one of two ways

a) The Japanese and Korean model : ‘Managed’ by a strong entity(in case of Korea – the Korean government for instance)

b) The Open Standards way!!

Thats why my emphasis on WICD

Read my book : Mobile Web 2.0

Image source: Mad Lantern

Comments

  1. Flash in general will get bigger and bigger and infuence mobile world with Flash Lite in a proportion we don’t expect and can’t grasp at this moment. More than Ajax, IMHO.
    Flash and Ajax will need to make co-habitation . Just like they do now on the Web ( see Google Finance as a perfect example for this sort of thing ).
    But keep in mind, flash will solve some important usability problems for mobiles , so this means its significance is much bigger than ajax or principles of mobile web 2.0 ( the architecture of participation in mobile space is a long time to go , IMHO ).
    People still buy phones mostly to make phone calls and not to ”browse” the web.
    I belive we’ll se huge catalogues of Flash lite content.
    Games and UI solutions will be favorite class of that content.
    Developers are in a good position to adopt Flash Lite and there are popping out companies with such products.
    It’s not expensive for handset manufacturers and operators to adopt Flash lite.
    And still, don’t forget about FlashCast which will make flash final success in the mobile space with multimedia mobile push…

  2. Jag Minhas says:

    Like Dalibor, I am much more bullish about Flash Lite, and would like to expand on some of the reasons already given:
    * Flash Lite is already out there in mobile – and in much more than Verizon as your article incorrectly suggests! smile
    Although not exactly comparable in functional terms; there are more Flash enabled handsets in circulation than there are Symbian handsets. (150 million Flash Lite phones vs 100 million Symbain.) When you look at this from an app developer perspective this is very significant. Like you say about Ajax, it’s not all about having a pretty face. And Flash as a fairly powerful interactive application environment has the benefit of having the prettiest face on the web! Also, whereas Symbian ships from around 10 licensees (of which only a fraction have the majority market shares) Flash Lite has a much wider penetration.
    Symbian data source: http://www.symbian.com/news/pr/2006/pr20068610.html
    Flash Lite data source: http://www.adobe.com/mobile/supported_devices/
    Also, Flash Lite has gone embedded into other consumer electronics devices also.
    * Whether it is a defacto standard or an open standard, I don’t think that’s relevant. Actually, the cynic in me says that I *do* think it’s relevant, if it’s an open standard it’s more likey to be designed by a committee that results in the mess that was MIDP 1 and 2. With Flash, as a developer, I know it will work everywhere. With all but the simplest of Java apps that is rarely the case.
    * I’m not sure I understand the difference between the “browser plugin” and the Flash Lite “client”. As I understand it there are two (non mutually exclusive) approaches to implementation of Flash Lite on a handset platform; 1) Install Flash Player as a browser plugin that responds to Flash mime typed objects carried in HTTP – e.g. launches the Flash Player or plays the Flash in a web page just as we are familiar on PC-based browsers today and 2) build some or all of the phone MMI in Flash. Some SonyEricsson phone models have had part of the MMI built in Flash I believe, and Samsung have gone even further by building the entire phone MMI in Flash on at least one of the phone models. On mobile devices there is a great deal of opportunity, in my view, for applications that work outside the browser context. And this is because I believe that “browsing” as a behaviour is less likely in mass market terms on mobile. Rather, apps that serve useful needs and surfaced high on the phone UI are more likely. background running connected apps, Feed readers, tickers and idle screen widgets are much more suited to mobile in my opinion, and Flash is a serious candidate for being the dominant platform for this sort of application.
    * Flash Cast is also interesting. Forming the basis of DoCoMo’s i-channel service, it is essentially provides a feed-based approach to consumption of content on mobiles, and whilst you can do this using RSS/Atom etc. Adobe have packaged together a half-decent propsition for operators and content providers in the form of Flash Cast.
    * I’m not sure I quite agree on your hypothesis re distribution model; i.e. give the players/clients away for free. In my view there is no need to Adobe to really drive volumes in developer tool sales (as per the fixed Internet growth days) as they have pretty much done that already – the Flash development supply chain is very mature. So much so that there development tool catalogue is going very much into product bundling phase, as la Microsoft Office; I mean what does a word processor manufacturer do next if everyone in the world has a word processor? So, I don’t think that growing a developer community for Flash competence is the correct money-making priority. Licensing the client is *absolutely* the right thing to do for Adobe stockholders, and targetting device manufacturers and operators is absolutely the right thing to do. In the past Macromedia only had to develop and “sell” hard Flash plugins for a handful of browsers in order to generate developer software sales. Now the strategy is broadly similar; target the selling at handful of handset manufacturers and operators – but the sales are made at the client end instead, and make a small contribution to the handset BOM ((Bill of materials) considering what the customer gets in return.
    * Expect to see a lot more of Flash Lite and potentially Flash Cast. And the reason why is because Adobe has a global, salaried and bonus-motivated sales force with widespread app dev competence for their product already in the field. WICD does not have either as yet. And this is somewhat contrary to the suggestion in your posting about lack of developer support for Flash.
    * One very interesting development from my perspective is the incorporation of Flash into Nokia’s series 40 handsets. I will be interested to know if this is implemented in such a way that gives developers exposure to the user for their Flash apps.
    Best regards – Jag
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  3. Brenda says:

    i have a low opinion of flash. You’re at the whim of Adobe whether your platform of choice is supported. Mine isn’t – none of my desktops, and neither my phone, or my PDA is on adobe’s list of platforms they provide a player for,
    To be fair there’s nothing secret about the flash format, and opensource-ers could make a greatF/OSS version – but they don’t. Mostly because it’s not interesting or something we want pushed as a “standard”.

  4. Ajit Jaokar says:

    thanks Brenda!

  5. Lars says:

    Ajit:
    Flash has been ‘standard’ pre-install on all phones in Japan for at least 2 (more like 3) years now because the operators love to see how nice their menu’s and portals look/run on Flash, PLUS the added bonus for CP’s to write apps knowing full well they will be ‘write once – read anywhere’.
    As for increasing availability of enabled devices, and therefore critical mass worldwide, perhaps you missed(?) this recent announcement for Free Flash 2.1 on S60 for devices.
    I doubt very much that end-users really care about the difference between an Open Standard vs. a Common Platform, although def. pre-installed is helpful, maybe best to say we should try to crack one nut at a time.. 8-) Cheers!

  6. Ajit Jaokar says:

    Hi Lars
    Good to hear from you as always
    Yes, I agree that preinstalled is useful. I also think that if the pricing were right, this could well happen(pre installed) on mobile devices. However, is some operators take it up and others dont and / or – some devices support it and others dont, we have a classic market fragmentation problem
    Also, this approach is different from their approach on the Web(which is far more inclusive and sweeping). In other words, there are physical limitations to how many Operators/devices can be covered within a space of time given a sales team and extended negotiations
    kind rgds
    Ajit

  7. stelt says:

    Maybe you should take a look at the mobile corner on http://svg.startpagina.nl
    Flash Lite?, not for me.
    WICD? Yes certainly, with SVG.

  8. Lars says:

    Hi Ajit:
    Here’s that “recent announcement” link, that did not show-up, in my original comment above:
    http://www.flashdevices.net/2006/12/flash-lite-21-standalone-player-for.html
    Again – as mentioned – having Flash pre-installed is the obvious (over-due) evolution from Nokia et all. As we have seen this evolve here in Japan, all three operators on virtually every handset sold for the last 2-3 years, it’s track-proven possible and valuable to all.

  9. Mike Krisher says:

    I understand and agree with your reasoning on Flash Lite not being an open standard. I think it could move along at a faster pace if it were, however it may very well become splintered which doesn’t help developers at all. Things as simple as UA-Prof have proven this to be a nightmare.
    With that said, Flash Lite is not an apples to apples comparison with SVG and WICD. It is more comparable to J2ME, simply because it is a runtime, but even then I am not sure if it is apples to apples. I think the confusion comes, because we all think of it is the desktop browser plug-in. Flash Lite isn’t the same thing. For one, on the majority of phones it is a standalone application, not even related to the browser. You simply run SWFs off of the phone, the browser has no part. On some handset platforms it can be used as a browser plug-in, but for the most part it is a standalone runtime, much like Python on Series 60.
    Also, when people think of Flash, and Flash Lite, they immediately think of graphics rendering (like SVG) but that doesn’t do it justice. Because it is a runtime it goes further than just the presentation layer. The runtime actually provides a logic layer that SVG, and WICD, do not. Things like access to local persistent storage, video playback, audio playback, etc… make it different than the open rendering languages. It also doesn’t have the limitations of being confined in a browser.
    So, now onto the whole notion of the ‘go to market’ strategy. Someone earlier in the comments pointed out that Adobe has changed their strategy recently and is offering the player for free. This is great news for developer adoption. However, much like you pointed out earlier. There still needs to be a carrier and/or OEM licensing deal. How many consumers will go to the Adobe site, download an installer, get it on their phone and install the runtime?
    The adoption in Japan has proven that Flash Lite can be successful if placed on the phone and services are created around it. The runtime is rich and presents a lot of opportunity where other technologies fall short. Game development is one area where Flash Lite shines. Simple game play, but still, that is a huge market. Widget applications also shine. On the mobile paradigm I define these widget apps as ‘companion apps’, because they are probably used for granting access to commonly used desktop Web services. They are not full blown, but a companion to what you do on your desktop. Flash Lite is great at these. J2ME can be great at them as well, however J2ME needs something like SVG integration to be able to compete at the presentation layer. And the authoring workflow is completely different. This is in part to Flash Lite not being an open standard and being owned by one party. So I guess the argument goes both ways.
    Back to market strategy, the Nokia deal was great for the future of Flash Lite. This places Flash Lite out there. Should developers embrace it and start to create engaging content and services around it, other OEMs will be forced to take notice. This will mean Flash Lite becomes ubiquitous, or the other OEMs put some effort being competitive technologies, both have benefits to consumers.
    However, despite Adobe’s salesforce and licensing deals, Flash Lite is only as good and valuable as the content that is created with it. This goes for SVG, WICD, J2ME, etc… Until there is a ‘killer app’ made in one of these technologies, they are all just great bases that no one has built upon yet.

  10. Adobe strategy and Flash Mobile product line are quite clear.
    The success of Flash relies on the developer community and on the end-user addict consumption – online games, multimedia animations …
    Flash is teh de-facto multimedia format even for the video – flv codec – thanks to YouTube success.
    Adobe began with a strategy based on the embedding (Flash Lite 1.x) on the APAC (Asia Pacific) Market. Great success!
    Now, Adobe clearly focus his effort on carriers – see the Verizon agreement – and on providing with developers better tools to publish content for mobile handsets.
    I feel that things are moving fast now, carriers are more and more interested by Flash for mobile content and ready to embrace massively this format and technology. Embedding or downloading and installing the player before the first use of a swf file are now well understood by the operators.
    However, all the Flash content studios & publishers could not distribute their content through operators because of a limited number of deck places and spots.
    Concerning Flash Cast, I will be more cautious. The product is still in beta and needs improvement (flv integration for example). It is a very nice and powerful client/server technology to develop rich media portal & application. I believe that “simple” solutions relying on Flash Lite + Ajax could also be a nice solution.
    2007 should be the true Year 0 for Flash in the mobile industry.