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Flash on ARM: only in 2010

A version of Flash compatible with the iPhone processor will not be available until next year. Here is one of the most interesting news that emerges from an interview released at EeTimes by Anup Murarka director of technology strategy and partner development for Adobe Flash. The San Jos manager, probably one of the most knowledgeable people on the progress of the plug-in development, still believes that the obstacles to completely blocking the code are still quite substantial, although the work started some time ago.

The strategic project for various reasons: the first that most of the videos on the Web distributed with the Adobe Flash format, the second concerns the iPhone itself. The most visible among smart phones for multimedia is in fact lacking Flash support in all its forms. The result that many sites are either not navigable on the iPhone or the developers have been forced to create a version just for the Apple mobile phone. But it must be said that other manufacturers of pocket devices, including those that have adopted the "mini" version of Flash player, were and remain rather unhappy with its implementation and for this reason Adobe and ARM have decided to make an ad hoc version, designed just for smartphones that mostly use their own ARM processors. The collaboration between Adobe and ARM to make support for Flash technology available on compact and pocket devices based on ARM processors started in November 2008.

The difficulties of porting Flash on compact devices with ARM architecture concern the three development levels involved in the project: graphics, codec and scripting for Flash.

As for graphics, the most complex work focuses on the fact that today Flash technology designed to work on powerful processors with X86 architecture, integrated in desktop and notebook computers. On the other hand, in the world of compact devices there are CPUs based on ARM architecture that often integrate different 3D graphics accelerators on a single chip, depending on the device under consideration. So while Flash born as technology for 2D graphics, now to be able to work on more limited processors it is necessary to take advantage of the presence of available accelerators, usually all 3D.

To speed up operations without completely transforming Flash from 2D to 3D, Adobe and ARM have resorted to OpenGL ES 2.0, thanks to this API it is possible to take advantage of the graphics acceleration without having to review Flash from scratch. Murarka of Adobe explains that for the builders who have already integrated OpenGL ES 2.0 into their paperbacks and smartphones, the step to obtain Flash will be more direct and faster, while much more work is needed for those who cannot count on these APIs .

As for video codecs, most of the graphics accelerators integrated in ARM processors support H.264 but not the previous H.263 and On2 VP6. Although Adobe and ARM are developing new versions of these codecs for the ARM architecture, each individual hardware manufacturer will then have to work on optimizing and customizing these codecs for the video hardware integrated into the devices. For this purpose Adobe will provide manufacturers of APIs for porting with the development kit which will be released together with Flash 10.

The last challenge to be taken to bring Flash to ARM devices is the creation of the Flash scripting engine, including a compiler capable of translating the original code for X86 architecture to the ARM architecture.

The steps and the difficulties that must be overcome to have Flash on a large number of compact and pocket devices, touch, as mentioned also iPhone. Steve Jobs had rejected the current Flash version for mobile devices: deemed to be too slow or too expensive in terms of energy consumption as appropriate. But certainly Apple does not miss the importance of Flash technology for full web browsing for users; hence the choice, to open a door in San Jos. Recall that signs in this sense date back to a few months ago, when Shantanu Narayen admitted half-heartedly a partnership with Apple on the matter.

Adobe's understandable efforts to overcome the problem, explains Murarka, would have produced remarkable results so much that the work on the code could end shortly, between the summer and the beginning of autumn with a beta version. This however means that the launch of the final version cannot take place before 2010.

It is not yet possible to establish whether on that date we will also have the Flash for Apple's touch pocket cards but the short availability of codecs, development kits and compilers provided by the collaboration between Adobe and ARM could completely change the current situation and at that point Apple and Adobe they will be ready to take this opportunity. Maybe on the occasion of the launch of version 4.0 of iPhone Os, coming in the spring of 2010.