Adobe Makes Video Power Grab With Flash, Air Betas

Adobe on Tuesday announced pre-release betas of Flash Player 10.1 and Air 2. The technologies have been enhanced to enable access to online video on any platform, including smartphones.

They will also help provide a single, unified application development platform for online apps.

Flash Player 10.1 Beta

Flash Player 10.1 will support PCs, netbooks, smartbooks, smartphones and other mobile devices. The beta supports PCs and netbooks running Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. A version for the Palm webOS will be released later this year.

Flash Player 10.1 is the first runtime release of the Open Screen Project. This project is an industry-wide initiative to enable what the project describes as the delivery of rich multiscreen experiences built on a consistent runtime environment. It is based on the Flash platform. Participants include Intel, Verizon Wireless, Nokia, ARM, the Symbian Foundation and Qualcomm.

Key new features include availability on mobile devices including smartphones, global error handling, and leveraging hardware acceleration to improve performance on mobile platforms.

“We’re taking advantage of hardware that’s native to mobile devices so we can offload some of the work from the CPU to the GPU (graphics processing unit) and hardware decoder chips,” Tom Barclay, senior product marketing manager for Adobe Flash Player, told TechNewsWorld. “That improves the battery life of these devices for videos, animation and rich Internet applications.”

“Flash 10.1 will help carriers and handset vendors improve the mobile video experience,” said Julien Blin, CEO and principal analyst at JBB Research. “It will also help these devices save processing power, as it will be less CPU-intensive. Watching a video on a cell phone sucks up a lot of power,” Blin told TechNewsWorld.

Coming Up for Air 2

Air 2 gives developers new capabilities and tighter integration with the desktop than Air 1, and it lets developers create desktop applications across the Windows, Linux and Macintosh platforms.

“You can create a consistent runtime across all your devices,” Adobe’s Barclay said. “Air is a superset of Flash Player, with which it shares a common code base. It has all the enhancements in Flash Player 10.1 and also lets you work with JavaScript, HTML and the new version of Webkit.”

Webkit is an open source Web browser engine that’s used in Mac OS X and various browsers, including Google Chrome and Safari. It’s also used in instant messenger clients such as MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and Apple’s iChat.

New features in Air 2 include multitouch and gesture support, advanced networking capabilities such as secure sockets and the ability to listen on sockets,support for native code integration and support for the detection of mass storage devices. Air 2 also supports global error handling, new APIs for access to raw microphone data, and improved security and support for enterprise and government standards.

Users can now detect when USB devices or certain types of digital cameras have been connected to or disconnected from their computers, Adobe’s Rob Christensen said. They can also build apps that detect when a Flip camera is plugged in and prompt them to upload the videos in the camera to YouTube.

Adobe is making available a native process API that lets developers launch and communicate bidirectionally with a native process, Christensen said. This makes it easier for developers to extend Air without compromising its cross-platform performance.

The Bigger Picture

With these betas, Adobe is looking to tighten its grasp on the world of online video, Frank Dickson, vice president of research at In-Stat, told TechNewsWorld. “Adobe’s looking to replicate with video what it did with PDF for documents — make Air the de facto standard,” he explained.

Air will let video content developers create content once and distribute it to any platform, Dickson said. “Adobe has identified the fact that we’re going to look to deliver more of these video streams over IP (Internet protocol), and it’s looking to become the platform that lets you abstract all these devices,” he added.

This is crucial because the market is badly fragmented, especially for mobile devices. “Take the mobile phone game ‘Tetris’ for example — that’s been produced in more than 1,000 different versions for all the different handsets out there,” Dickson pointed out.

Adobe might pose a bigger threat to Microsoft than Google does if it succeeds, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. “Both Adobe and Google want to trivialize the core OS by separating it from the application value,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Adobe is going about this pragmatically, Google with the Chrome OS more directly.”

Because of Google’s direct approach, Microsoft is focusing more on it as a threat than on Adobe, Enderle pointed out. However, Adobe may actually be the greater threat.

A comment from Adobe’s Barclay could point to this danger: “In 2010, you’ll see a lot of devices hitting the market with Flash Player — not only smartphones, but also netbooks and smartbooks,” he said. “We’ve been working with chipset and graphics card manufacturers.”

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