Adobe launched a new community development project on Thursday aimed at using its Flash and AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) technologies to create a consistent application interface across all devices -- whether they are smartphones, PCs or set-top boxes.
The Open Screen Project is aimed at bringing digital content providers, device manufacturers, service providers and developers together to provide a user experience for both Web-based content, using Flash, and client-side applications, using AIR, across the myriad devices people use to connect to the Web, said Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch.
Flash is Adobe's runtime and player for delivering rich media on Web sites, while AIR is a desktop runtime that allows people to bring applications coded for the Web to the desktop to run locally.
Lynch noted that because of the complexities of developing applications for different hardware form factors, neither Web-based applications nor ones that are downloaded to a device and run locally are guaranteed to have the same look and feel or render in the same way -- or even run at all.
"If you look at the current experience, content doesn't work reliably; you can't easily install applications, you can't get applications on a device," he said.
Indeed, while both the Java and Flash runtimes have allowed Web applications to run on myriad handheld devices, neither has so far allowed for a seamless transfer between formats of applications. Smartphones, which are increasingly becoming the norm for mobile-phone users, in particular are a largely untapped territory for Flash, Lynch said.
Adobe's Flash technology, for example, is currently not able to run on Apple's iPhone; Web sites running Flash will not render on the iPhone's Safari browser. Adobe is working to bring Flash to the iPhone, Lynch said, and the Open Screen Project should help with this effort.
Flash is currently on 500 million mobile devices via the Flash Lite technology and should be on 1 billion devices by 2009, Lynch said, but the Open Screen Project wants to take that one step further. The company wants to create one Flash and one AIR runtime that can run across PCs and other smaller form-factor devices that are beginning to replace PCs as people's primary way to access the Web.
One of the specific problems Adobe wants to solve with the Open Screen Project is the ability to automatically update software on devices over the air so people using them will have the latest versions of the Flash player and AIR. Lynch noted that Flash has used the automatic update model successfully to bring the Flash player to Web users. "That update to Flash Player 9 -- 61 percent of the PCs connected to the Web had the update in less than three months," he said.
Bringing that same ability to devices would be a boon for bringing a consistent user experience through Flash and AIR on devices, but only cooperation between people creating the devices, and application and content providers, can facilitate this because of the complexity of developing the technology, Lynch said. "It's really important to ... keep the runtime [on devices] fresh," he said. "We can't do that alone."
So far, for the Open Screen Project, the company has signed on carrier partners NTT DoCoMo of Japan and Chunghwa Telecom of Taiwan; smartphone and handset manufacturers such as Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola, LG and Toshiba; component providers ARM, Intel and Marvell; and content providers MTV and NBC Universal.
Adobe is not just promoting the Open Screen Project outside of the company; it has unified its mobile and desktop Flash and AIR development teams internally so they are working on one consistent platform for all devices, Lynch said.
"The mobile teams and desktop engineering are now together in a group I'm leading called the Experience and Technology Organization," Lynch said. He added that achieving the goal of the group and the Open Screen Project will be no small task, but the company is embracing the challenge.
In the meantime, to facilitate more third-party adoption of Flash on devices, Adobe has removed the licensing restrictions for proprietary media formats used with Flash -- Shockwave Flash (SWF) and Flash Video (FLV) -- so developers can now create their own third-party Flash players.
Lynch said Adobe will still try to offer the industry's best Flash player, but it wanted to give other people free access to the formats to reach its goal for the Open Screen Project. "We're removing that restriction to increase the confidence of people in the industry adopting Flash as the core format across devices," he said.
AIR is currently available in its 1.0 version, while Flash's latest available version is Flash 9. Adobe does not have a time frame for the next major releases of its runtimes yet, but it expects the first fruits of the Open Screen Project to appear in them, Lynch said.