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  • Writer's pictureSlashData Team

Flash-Inside (R)

Adobe’s Flash Lite has a enviable history of market penetration. Starting from DoCoMo handsets in May 2003, Flash Lite is quickly spreading to Europe as a feature of Nokia’s S60 and recently Series 40 platforms. As an application environment, Flash Lite is second only to Java ME in terms of market penetration, yet is controlled by a single vendor. Adobe projects to have shipped 1 billion Flash Lite -enabled devices by 2010; So how will Adobe manage to penetrate the mobile device market so agressively ?

Flash Lite penetration As an application environment, Flash Lite’s installed base is second only to Java ME, which has been around since 1999. Yet Flash is controlled by a single vendor (Adobe), while Java ME’s roadmap is controlled by Sun and the consortium of vendors participating in the Java Community Process (JCP). How does Flash Lite’s penetration compare to other application environments ? – Java ME is embedded on approximately 50% of devices shipping in 2007 (over 500 million) according to Informa and approx. 80% of devices shipping in 2007 according to Ovum. – Adobe estimates 220 million Flash Lite -enabled devices (mobile and consumer electronics) to have shipped by the end of 2006; given that the ratio of mobile to CE device models is 2 to 1, we can guestimate the number of devices with Flash Lite to 145 million. – SVG-T implementations are embedded in more than 225 million handsets to date according to Ikivo. Given that SVG-T is only a graphics rendering engine (without any scripting element prior to version 1.2) it doesn’t really compare with Flash Lite which combines both declarative and scripting elements. Version 1.2 of SVG-T implementations started shipping only recently, so there market penetration is really lower than versions 1.1 and earlier. – Symbian OS has been shipped in 126 million devices (as of March 07) according to Symbian. This puts S60 at 60-70% of that figure. – Other application environments (.NET Compact Framework, App Forge, Python, etc) have much lower market penetration.

So how has Adobe/Macromedia accomplished such a market penetration and how will the company manage to reach the 1 billion phones mark by 2010 ?

Aggressive subsidising A closer inspection of Al Ramadan’s presentation during Adobe s financial analyst meeting in March 2007 reveals the following per-unit royalties for Flash Lite installations; Average royalties dropped from $0.37 in Q4 2004 to $0.31 in Q4 2005 to $0.20 in Q4 2006 (note that prices are approximate as I had to extract them from visual bar charts.). This is aggressive underpricing, far beyond the trend of price erosion for embedded mobile software today. As a $2.5 billion-a-year company, Adobe can afford to subsidise the Flash Lite product in order to stimulate sales of its tools (tools account for the majority of Adobe’s revenues). This is a classic platform->tools strategy practiced by Qualcomm (BREW sales drive chipset sales + IP royalties), Microsoft (Windows sales -> drive Windows, Office and Visual Studio sales) and Intel (new hardware architectures driven new chip sales).

The right technology Adobe’s acquisition of French company Actimagine in October 2006 gives Adobe very fast rendering technology (by some accounts 4 times faster and 4 times smaller memory footprint in rendering Flash animations). I believe that the introduction of Actimagine rendering technology in the Flash Lite codebase in Q4 2007 will allow Flash Lite to penetrate lower-end devices (and could also explain the inclusion of Flash Lite in the Series 40 platform). Adobe estimates the target addressable market for Flash Lite to jump from 51% in 2006 to 72% in 2007 (again numbers are extrapolated from Adobe’s financial analyst presentation).

The right tools Adobe has without doubt the best-in-class tools for mobile content development. Particularly Device Central released recently is a role model for how to best help developers take their applications to a highly diverse and fragmented market (Sun should take note).

More importantly, the UI strategy teams inside handset OEMs are people who ‘ve grown up with Flash and Macromedia’s tools. Designing mobile applications with Flash (Lite) is familiar to handset OEMs. This is despite the fact that developing core applications based on Flash UI (see the LG Prada) takes more C++ glue than meets the eye.

A ghost platform strategy I previously argued that handset manufacturers will not buy platforms. Platforms are expensive to integrate and more importantly engender single vendor lock-in. So how has Adobe managed to embed Flash Lite on more than 200 handset models from 16 manufacturers and how will it sustain this growth ?

Adobe is merging its Flash Home, Flash Cast, Flash Lite and Flash UI products into a single codebase, which will be released towards the end of this year. Adobe is pitching the Flash family as software that will cater to any manufacturer need; whether an OEM needs to implement a vector graphics library, a UI framework, an application environment, a content-driven application (on-device portal), or an active idle screen, Flash is the tool for the job. Flash is therefore solving a short-term problem for the OEM.

And while Flash is a tactical solution, it is establishing itself as strategic platform within a large and diverse range of handset models. This is what I would call a ghost platform. It reminds me of MS-DOS and IBM. Little did IBM know that the operating system would be crucial to value generation and sustainability. But today’s handset OEM know better, right ? I ‘m sure they do, but I believe that by adopting Flash as a tactical solution, Flash might emerge as tomorrow’s Windows.

Flash-inside, anyone ?

– Andreas


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