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Flash Mobile: Coming to a Hand Near You  : Page 3

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 2—The Future of Flash Mobile
The great news is that Flash Lite 2 is already in public preview release. Version 2 brings Flash Lite closer to parity with current desktop players by supporting Flash 7 content and object-oriented ActionScript 2.0. Here are some feature highlights:
  • Enhanced Support for Loaded Assets—External asset loading is further enhanced with the support of images, sound, and video based on the codecs supported by the target device. It is important to note that FLV is not supported in Flash Lite 2.
  • XML Support—External XML files are now supported in the same manner as Flash Player 7 on the desktop.
  • Persistent Data—Local Shared Objects are supported for persistent storage of preferences, high scores, and similar data.
  • Text Enhancements—Text color, size, and other properties can now be modified at run time, and Unicode and right-to-left languages such as Arabic and Hebrew are also supported. It's important to note that CSS is not supported in Flash Lite 2.
  • ActionScript Drawing API—Shapes can be generated on the fly with ActionScript.
  • Synchronized Device Sound—Animation can now be better synchronized with audio formats such as MIDI, SMAF, etc.
In its current preview release, a standalone development version of the Flash Lite 2 player is available for supported Symbian Series 60 devices from the Macromedia Online Store. Normally, it will retail for $10 for any supported phone that does not have the player pre-installed. During the preview, however, it is free. Like Flash Lite Player 1.1, Flash Lite Player 2 is locked to the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) of the device. Currently, the preview release is Windows only and available only for select Nokia devices. The final version is expected to ship later this year.

Now or Later?
Choosing to develop for Flash Lite now, rather than waiting for the upcoming update to Flash Lite 2, is a decision only you can make. While it is true that Flash Lite 2.0 will be more powerful and easier to work with, especially to those with ActionScript experience, here are some things to consider.

First, your comfort level with the Flash environment and ActionScript may make Flash Lite 1.1 a perfectly reasonable entry point. Second, Flash Lite 2 isn't out yet. Even early adopters will need to deal with preview release software that is not yet cross-platform and still has issues to be worked out. So, if you want to start developing now, Flash Lite 1.1 is your only option.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that Adobe maintains that over 45 million devices have already shipped with Flash Lite 1.0 or 1.1 from companies including Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Reigncom, NTT DoCoMo, and KDDI, as well as others in a wider variety of industries, including traditional consumer electronics. Since most mobile devices do not support software upgrades, it is expected the Flash Lite 2 will only be available in newer devices, or as user-installed standalone players where supported. That leaves an awful lot of Flash Lite 1.0 and 1.1 users out there needing content.

FlashCast: Serving Flash Lite Since...
One quick final note is to look into FlashCast. FlashCast is an OEM client-server option that resides on mobile handsets, utilizing the Flash Lite runtime engine to receive server-driven channels of content. This push technology keeps time-sensitive content like stock prices, weather, and so on up to date. Mobile operators run FlashCast servers, so it is unlikely that an average developer will be interfacing directly with the server. However, FlashCast could provide another outlet for Flash Lite content developers.

I haven't seen a lot of activity surrounding FlashCast in recent months, but that may be because carriers are still working out their adoption decisions or waiting for Flash Lite 2. It's probably too early to tell how successful FlashCast will be, but if you didn't already know about it, you do now.

Where to Begin?
If you haven't already decided to wait this one out, perhaps the best way to get your feet wet is to gain some experience developing Flash Lite 1.1 content. Owners of Flash 8 Professional can develop Flash Lite 1.1 files from templates that ship with the software, and can emulate any supported device at no additional cost. (See information regarding the device profile update elsewhere in this article and in the Additional Resources section, left column.) This will allow you to see if working in a Flash 4 world is for you.

The biggest barrier to a happy developer may be your own phone. Emulation is fine, but there's nothing like the hands on feeling of seeing your work in action on the actual device. If you don't have a compatible phone, you may not find the work very satisfying. I, for example, am one of the Treo 650 owners endlessly irritated that no further player work was done for the Palm OS. If you're in the market for a new phone, however, it's not a bad idea to add Flash Lite support to the list of considerations when choosing a model.

Rich Shupe is president of FMA, a full-service multimedia development and training facility based in New York. He is a regular Flash columnist for DevX and coauthor of the upcoming "Flash 8: Projects for Learning Animation and Interactivity" and the upcoming "Learning ActionScript 3.0," (both published by O'Reilly). FMA develops web and disc-based products for clients including McGraw-Hill, Phillips, 20th Century Fox, and Nickelodeon, and trains digital media professionals in Flash, ActionScript, HTML, JavaScript, and more.
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