Flash Is Going Mobile

Macromedia is forming a business unit that will focus on putting the company's Flash technology in wireless devices.

Macromedia Inc. is getting serious about mobility and is forming a business unit that will focus on putting the companys Flash technology in wireless devices.

The company is looking for someone to head the new division, and the short list includes Microsoft Corp.s former mobility vice president, Paul Gross, according to sources close to the San Francisco vendor.

Macromedia is already preparing to deliver Flash Player support for Nokia Corp.s 9200 Communicator-series smart phones later this year. This spring, the company plans to announce Flash support for numerous other phones in the United States, officials said.

Officials said no completion date has been set for formation of the new unit.

"Were aware that a lot of companies have lost their shirts in the wireless business," said Dominic Gallello, executive vice president of Macromedias tools business. But Gallello said he believes those failures give Macromedia that much more reason to create a go-to business unit for wireless.

Officials said customers have shown interest in graphics-heavy business applications for wireless devices, ranging from banking to machine repair to geology.

Metacoda LLC has used Flash to develop its Zoom A Map location-based mapping application for mobile phones. Metacoda is based in Ramsey on the Isle of Man, which is home to Europes first Universal Mobile Telecommunications System third-generation network.

The rollout of 3G networks is one of the forces driving Macromedia to dedicate a separate unit to wireless. "The carriers [licensing] 3G networks are really looking for rich communication tools," Gallello said. "If you put more focus on things, things happen."

Developers said they have been kicking around the idea of Flash for mobile devices for more than a year, well before there was formal Flash Player support on the phones.

"Flash was definitely part of the conversation," said Byron Seese, an independent designer and developer in Somerville, Mass. "Its all about compressing complex animations and interactions into small file sizes, which is a natural match for cell phones."

Macromedia wants Flash to be a standard development platform for these devices. "In the devices world, theres no real standard," Gallello said. "We provide a standard run-time [system], and you can write to that."

But even Seese, who is a big fan of Flash, thought Macromedia might be overstepping the bounds of reason. "Its just being kind of egotistical to assume that theyll be the standard," he said. "They just have to wait to see what the industry decides, like everyone else."

Analysts say that the most obvious problem with Flash on phones is its impact on battery life and on storage, which Gallello acknowledged. He expects add-on modules to be the answer. In Japan, where animation on phones is de rigueur, device manufacturers depend on memory sticks.

Macromedias new business unit will be based at the companys home office in San Francisco, and the staff will comprise Macromedia engineers who already work on wireless projects.

Several companies already have developed applications for Pocket PC devices, which have more battery life and, generally, bigger screens than cell phones.

For example, Cisco Systems Inc. has posted on its Web site a downloadable, Flash-enabled interactive reference guide for its Catalyst 8540 Multiservice Switch Router. It features animated installation instructions.

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