The company behind the Flash technology that brings Web pages to life with animated graphics has turned its attention to cellphones, but it's unclear how soon Canadians might benefit.
Flash Lite software is a version of Macromedia Inc.'s Flash Player designed for mobile phones. It brings the Internet's Flash animated graphics and interactive video down to a level that allows a common handset -- with a limited keyboard and screen, and modest processing power, memory and bandwidth -- to run them smoothly.
Flash Lite is already on phones in Japan, Europe and South Korea. The first official Flash Lite-enabled handsets in North America are expected to go on sale before the end of the year, but Canadian wireless carriers are being cagey. Telus Corp. and Bell Canada refused to comment about their plans, while Rogers and its Fido arm said they weren't sure when they'd start offering phones with Flash Lite.
Meanwhile, Nokia Corp. and Samsung Electronics have signed licensing agreements with Macromedia Inc. to integrate Flash Lite into their handsets by default. Neither company would comment specifically on when these handsets will hit the North American market.
But, Nokia confirmed that impending Series 60 models, a line that has been popular among Rogers and Fido customers, will have Flash Lite installed and could be launched this fall.
Because creating Flash Lite-based content requires authoring tools from Macromedia, such as Macromedia Flash MX 2004 Pro Edition, there are big benefits for the company if it can establish its software as a de facto mobile Internet standard. But there are also potential benefits for content providers and cellphone users.
Anup Murarka, Macromedia's senior director of marketing for mobile devices, describes the technology as "bridging the gap" between the on-line browsing experience people have become used to on desktops or notebooks, and the limitations of the mobile phone.
"In today's phones, the on-line browsing experience and the mobile interface are not tied together at all," Mr. Murarka says, making the Internet cumbersome to use. "I think most consumers out there would say they've only accessed three or four [Internet-related]features on their phone, even though they've had it for 12 to 18 months. That's a key challenge the industry has to overcome."
Mr. Murarka says Flash Lite was developed to achieve three objectives: Improve mobile Web browsing; offer a richer interface; and blend the first two objectives into a "seamless experience."
"Some reality TV programs ask you to vote for a contestant by sending a text message, but what if you were able to cast your vote by clicking on the photo of the contestant on your screen instead of punching in a code?" Mr. Murarka says. "That's an example of how Flash Lite features can be added to take advantage of the phone so you can send an SMS message or dial a number with a graphical interface."
Flash Lite can enhance things like cellphone camera photos by allowing people to add borders or notes, and it can be used to run animations linked to custom ring tones. Considering that ring tones alone are a billion-dollar industry and popular with users and carriers alike, animated ring tones -- already offered by some services in Asia and Europe -- could help boost Flash Lite's profile in North America.
If the technology catches on, on-line game makers, publishers and advertisers could also use it to produce content in a single format for all mobile devices.