Flash Unleashes Multimedia

Developers get green light for Pocket PC apps

Developers testing the new wireless version of Flash Player said the extension of the multimedia player beyond the desktop will open new doors for building business and entertainment applications.

The early release of Macromedia Inc.s Flash Player for Microsoft Corp.s Pocket PC platform means that developers can begin building applications for Compaq Computer Corp.s iPaq, Casio Inc.s Cassiopeia and Hewlett-Packard Co.s Jornada.

The developers version, available now as a free download, is not without problems, however. It doesnt yet support the more compressed MP3 sound, and the contextual menu is less functional than the wired version, but Macromedia officials say the commercial release, expected later this year, will be more fully featured.

Even with those limitations, developers already are using the version to build business and entertainment applications with low bandwidth.

Cisco Systems Inc. used the version to create a subset of one of its interactive QuickStart applications, which lists various modules available for customers. Customers can take the application on a handheld into the wiring closet with them.

"We did find some limitations. One concern was text legibility," said Rusty Worden, a Web multimedia specialist for Cisco, in San Jose, Calif. "The text sometimes gets a little fuzzy, but there are some tricks and specific types of fonts you can use. There werent any real barriers."

Worden, who along with Cisco Web Program/Project Manager Jim Hatlo built the application, said another problem is the limited number of customers with Pocket PC devices, but the company plans to roll out the applications anyway. "Even if its a small percentage, its worth it for us. It saves Cisco money in the long run from phone calls, technical assistance e-mails and things like that," Worden said.

Corda Technologies Inc., of Orem, Utah, will announce this week the availability of its interactive charting and graphing tool for the Pocket PC platform using Flash. With its PopChart tool, information is layered into the application, with data popping up as users scroll over parts of a graph. The tool allows users to drill down into areas for more information.

"This helps them make better business decisions and do it in a timely manner," said Neal Williams, Cordas president and CEO. Williams predicted that the financial services and health care industries will be among the first to adopt the technology.

On the entertainment side, AtomShockwave Corp. has made several of its animation shorts and games available for Pocket PC, including its popular Joe Cartoon interactive depiction of a frog in a blender.

"It was a pretty simple conversion because Flash at its core is a flexible program," said Todd Rosenberg, the companys business development director, in New York. "Its a logical step, but its also a huge step for wireless entertainment." Rosenberg said he believes the platform can be useful to target commuters and others looking for a quick entertainment fix.

Another benefit of the wireless version, beta testers said, is the ability to use a tool they are familiar with to target new platforms. "The biggest thing about Flash for these devices is its much easier to create great interfaces than try to become a C++ or Visual Basic programmer and try to learn Windows CE," said Glenn Thomas, a founder and director of Smashing Ideas Inc., in Seattle. "This is a little bit simpler."

So far, the company has created a few games that users can play against the computer, including a three- dimensional tic-tac-toe game and a strategy game called Takeover.

Surveys show Macromedias Flash Player has 96 percent penetration on the desktop, but the company and users say its important for the multimedia player to take the next step.

"As part of this initiative, were focusing on the entire post-PC device market, which we believe is going to be bigger than the PC market," said Brian Schmidt, senior product manager for embedded Flash, in San Francisco. "We want Flash Player to be a part of that. Pocket PC is our first foray into that."

While Macromedia showed a demo of Flash on a PalmPilot in 1999, the company said low processor speeds on the PalmPilot have held it back from releasing a version for that platform yet. Other Flash targets down the road are game consoles.

Flash Player already works with wired Internet devices such as 3Com Corp.s Audrey and Microsofts WebTV.

Macromedia isnt alone in trying to untether multimedia content. RealNetworks Inc. already has deals in place with Texas Instruments Inc. and Nokia Corp. to port its RealPlayer for streaming audio and video to those companies devices. The first commercial deployments are expected later this year.