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Flash Mobile: Coming to a Hand Near You

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.

y now, it's certainly no secret to anyone that Flash is a successful delivery option for animation and interactive content on the desktop. Flash content can be distributed in its own standalone player, which is said to be available to almost 98 percent of Internet viewers. With the desktop delivery market well in hand, Adobe has its eyes on the mobile market as its next big stomping ground.

Flash Mobile, a generic categorization of all use of Flash on mobile devices, is a segment of the Flash Platform—an even more generic categorization of all use of Flash on all devices. Don't let the marketing speak, or visions of Big Brother, fool you. The idea is to achieve a level of Flash support analogous to the degree of support for JPG or other common formats. In the case of the feature-rich Flash technologies, however, it's no small challenge to get content working as universally in the mobile space is it does on the desktop.

To accomplish this feat, Flash Mobile is currently loosely divided into two major camps: use of the Flash Player for devices with more capacity and processing power, like PDAs, and use of Flash Lite, Adobe's player for lighter devices such as phones.

Flash Player for Mobile Devices
While there are plenty of good reasons to want to deliver Flash content to mobile device users, it's important to remember that versions of the Flash Player for mobile devices—known as Flash Lite—lag behind their desktop counterparts. Generally, some features available to desktop players may not be available to mobile players, but that is to be expected. Regardless, when developing content for mobile devices, you should code to the version supported by your target device.

Currently, there are two mobile versions of the Flash player. The most widely used is Flash Player 6 for Pocket PC. A standalone player, this engine supports most Pocket PC devices and most features up to Flash 6. A version 7 player for this market is currently being considered and public queries have even been made at the developer relations level to gauge interest. However, no firm plans have been announced about future versions.

A second player, for the Palm OS, is also available with significant caveats. To begin with, it only supports Flash 5 but, more importantly, it is only available for the now-retired Sony CLIÉ line of Palm devices, much to the chagrin of Palm owners everywhere.

In the mobile space, Macromedia pursued (and Adobe is still pursuing) a course that is quite different from its desktop saturation approach. Mobile device manufacturers must license a Flash mobile technology to make players available for a specific platform, a strategy that many pundits have blamed for a slower advancement of Flash in the mobile space.

Whether or not that may be true, it is undeniable that Flash provides a compelling delivery platform for multimedia content over handheld devices and the small size of its players is a key driver. In this article, I'll show you what you have to do now to create applications for the mobile Flash players using Adobe's Flash Lite IDE and what you can expect in the near future with Flash Lite 2.0.

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