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Flash Mobile: Coming to a Hand Near You  : Page 2

Adobe is taking Flash content delivery on mobile devices very seriously. Whether you get started today with the somewhat limited capabilities of Flash Lite 1.1 or wait for the much enhanced features promised in version 2, the first step is to get acquainted with the model for delivering Flash apps to phones and PDAs.


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Flash Lite 1.1 for Mobile Devices
If you are a happy Flash 8 user and are frustrated at the prospect of dumbing down your files to run on a Pocket PC, hold on to your hat. The currently available version of Flash Lite, version 1.1, supports... wait for it... Flash 4. Goodbye ActionScript, hello Timeline! That's an exaggeration, as you'll soon see, but it's not far from the truth. (See Figure 1 for a sample app developed in Flash Lite 1.1.)

Author's Note: For deployment, remember that today's players for both the Pocket PC and Sony CLIE devices you must develop to Flash 6 and Flash 5 features, respectively.

Figure 1. Big Apple: This NY tourism demo is an example of timeline tweens and simple frame navigation that are the basis of most Flash Lite 1.0 and 1.1 files..
For developers new to Flash, and especially for those new to ActionScript, that might not be a big jolt. Experienced Flash developers, however, may find it tough giving up all the tools at their disposal to go back to the menu-driven "scripting" days of yore. Many have said as much and have delayed entry into Flash Lite development for this reason. These folks prefer to wait for the imminent release of Flash Lite 2.0, which, as you will soon read, will offer more coding flexibility.



Approaching the idea from a practical standpoint, however, it helps to consider a few things. First, a tiny player size is very important when it comes to handset devices. The same discretion hindering the introduction of weighty features to the Flash desktop players applies even more so to the development of Flash Lite. Second, despite the point release of the current version, Flash Lite is still a "1.0 product," if you will, and most developers still prefer to have the option of working under constraints than not working with Flash mobile at all. That's the price of being an early adopter.

Having said all that, and for those of you who don't have enough experience with Flash to be weighing the pros and cons of when to jump in, Flash Lite 1.1 is still the little engine that could. Despite the Flash 4-compatible technology base, Flash Lite 1.1 can still do quite a bit more than simple timeline animations. Feature highlights include:

  • Access to device-specific features—Flash Lite allows developers to create a more immersive experience for the user by accessing device-specific features such as monitoring signal strength and battery level, controlling vibration (where applicable) and even dialing phone numbers and sending SMS messages directly. Not all features work on all devices.
  • Network Access and Connectivity—Flash Lite content can use getURL() to load compatible data from a server using HTTP (http:), or Secure Sockets Layer HTTP (https:), send email using mailto:, and dial a phone number using the mobile tel: protocol. (Additional functions loadMovie(), loadMovieNum(), loadVariables(), and loadVariablesNum() can also be used to load compatible data and SWFs.)
  • Enhanced Audio Support—In addition to the MP3, WAV, and ADPCM audio formats familiar to desktop Flash developers, Flash Lite adds event and streaming sound support for SMAF (Yamaha chip sets) and MIDI (local/event only). Hardware support for these audio formats is used when available, and software picks up the slack in other instances.
  • Multiple Text Format and Font Options—Static, Dynamic, and Input text elements are supported, using native device text input models (including double-byte IMEs). Both embedded and device fonts are supported and are an important part of file-size optimization decisions.
  • Navigation and Key Events—Support for standard key input (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, *, and #) is augmented by support for the Select key and device-specific support of 2-way (Up and Down) and 4-way (Up, Down, Left, and Right) navigation keys. The Up, Down, and Select keys correspond to the Shift+Tab, Tab, and Enter keys on the desktop versions of Flash Player. Developers can also program the Soft Keys (the context-sensitive left and right buttons immediately under, and labeled by, the screen).
Figure 2. Little Apple: The NY Tourism demo is seen here running, in the Flash 8 Professional emulator, on a Nokia 6680.
Another interesting thing about Flash Lite is that it supports SVG-T (or Tiny SVG, for those who place their adjectives before their nouns). SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics and is a W3C standard (part of 3GPP, for those keeping track) developed to render vectors without proprietary technology. This is not big news from a Flash designer/developer standpoint because SVG is a significantly small subset of what even Flash 4 can do, and SVG-T is a (tiny) subset of what SVG can do. But from a Flash Lite growth standpoint, it's important. Adding support for SVG-T means that OEM decision makers can license Flash Lite both for delivering Flash content as well as rendering SVG content. This makes it even easier to justify Flash Lite as an option and will, ideally, speed adoption of the player in future devices.

Flash Lite is available as an integrated component of mobile browsers from Access, Opera, Espial, Ant, Microsoft, and OpenTV, among others. But it also exits as a standalone player and as an integrated part of the device OS, with support varying from device to device. This allows OEM developers to provide custom user interfaces based in Flash as well as offer standard content playback. As a result, the tiny Flash Lite player is popping up in all sorts of unexpected places including more traditional consumer electronics devices.

Flash 8 Professional is recommended for developing Flash Lite content. It has an impressive array of templates for supported devices, and an even more impressive emulator that allows you to see your content in a skin of the target device, as seen in Figure 2. Most supported devices are included in the emulator. Newly supported devices will be made available through Flash 8 updates, one of which has already been released. A link to the first update can be found in the Additional Resources section of this article (see left column). The emulator is a critical feature that helps you ensure that your Flash content runs as expected on virtually every device that you care to investigate.



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