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RIAs on Cell Phones and Small Devices: Flash Lite, Silverlight, Android, JavaFX, QT

Adobe Flash and Flash Lite; Microsoft Silverlight; Apple iPhone; Google Android; Sun JavaFX Mobile; Trolltech QT

Guy Aharonovsky's Blog

It is said that by 2013, 31 percent of all mobile phones will be smart phones, and by then, a smart phone might be almost like a full blown PC. Meanwhile it seems like everyone is trying to push their feet into the blooming mobile phone market. We’ve seen a lot of ups and downs in this area, lots of promises that haven’t been fulfilled. In fact only since the arrival of the iPhone has surfing the web become reasonable on a mobile phone.

I refer to RIA, not just as rich applications that runs inside the mobile Internet browser, but, also as reach applications that are easier and consistent to develop, that runs across platforms and more important across devices. This has been the main hurdle, beside the low performance issues, to develop for mobile phone and devices. The resources needed to port a mobile application to run on multiple devices is enormous. There got to be a better way to develop applications and games for the mobile phones, something as approachable as web development. I’ve heard lately that the "Developer is King" these days it’s more like the Web Developer is king.

I will summarize in this text the current leading technologies in the area:

Adobe Flash and Flash Lite

Flash Lite is the first RIA technology to run on mobile phones (since 2003), since then it has shipped pre-installed on more then 500 million devices. It is safe to say that, Flash runs on mobile phones, but, it is always a subset and always with some limitations. The best thing about Flash Lite and Flash in general is that it’s easy to develop highly interactive applications, and the promise of - develop once deploy everywhere, is currently the closest to reality with it.

The Flash Lite player isn’t exactly the same as the full Flash player we use inside our desktop’s browser. The current version of the full Flash Player is v9, Flash Lite is similar in capabilities to older versions. The Flash Player is backward compatible.

Flash Lite 1.1 - Similar to Flash 4 - Simple games, screen-savers and animations.

Flash Lite 2.1 - Similar to Flash 7 - Small games and applications, much more advanced Object Oriented programming.

Flash Lite 3 - Similar to Flash 8 - Richer games, Youtube, live video and audio e.g., justin.tv, pandora.

Take a look at Flash Lite 3 in action

Pocket PC and Windows Mobile were supported by Flash and Flash Lite for a long time already. It’s been used also to enrich WM applications UI. Flash can be integrated inside a .NET Compact Framework 2.0 application to rapidly create rich UI. Microsoft recently announced they’ll support Flash Lite 3 on Windows Mobile

Flash can be found, to some extent, on other type of devices, e.g., the cool Chumby runs Flash Lite 3, sony PSP runs Flash 7.

There are already some mobile devices that run the full version of Flash 9, e.g., Nokia N810

List of mobile phones that are pre-installed with Flash-Lite 1 - 3

Microsoft Silverlight

Microsoft has finally realized that a development platform isn’t necessary an OS, it saw how Flash is becoming just that, and want to join (take over) the party with its Silvelight. SL is a rich environment targeted to work inside the browser and across desktop platforms as well as on mobile phones and devices.

The first SilverLight release 1.0, was mainly intended for PR. It lacks any impressive capabilities beside good support for video. With the upcoming SilverLight 2.0, which is currently released as beta 1, we’ll have the chance to really estimate it’s powers and if it can compete with Flash. SL 2.0 looks very powerful, as it supports a respectable subset of the CLR (Dot.Net runtime), rich UI framework and all kind of other goodies.

As for Silverlight on the mobile, there was a great buzz recently when Nokia announced it’s going to support SilverLIght on it’s S60 and some S40 mobile phones. it is not clear yet what will be the limitation of the runtime on these devices only that it’ll "initially" support only SL 1.0, which means logic written in JavaScript and no CLR.

Windows Mobile will support Silverlight 1.0 as well from the middle of 2008.

Silverlight looks very promising, but it’s still a premature technology, especially for mobile devices. I wouldn’t fire my Visual Studio to develop a mobile SilverLight app, just yet.

Visitmix.com has some cool videos of mobile SilverLight

Apple iPhone:

Although the iPhone isn’t exactly an ubiquitous platform and holds only 0.14 percent of the mobile phone share. It is still the most buzzfull mobile device ever. Creating your software to run on the iPhone and leveraging it’s dreamy features like the Multi-Touch and the accelerometer can lead to tons of PR and even some paying users.

The iPhone has redefined the way we interact with a mobile phone and lifted it to a all new level. Apple recently released the iPhone SDK but still keep it very restrictive. Hopefully Apple won’t repeat her history of dismissing 3rd parties, an act that we all know hurt her greatly in the past.

I’m a little tired of the iPhone and Flash affair already, this is the story in short: To the amazement of many, the iPhone was released without any kind of Flash support. The two most common assumptions were that Flash is too slow for the iPhone or that Apple is pissed over Adobe for some obscured reason. Lately Steve Jobs bashed on the Flash Player performance on the iPhone, Adobe replied and there were others. After the release of the iPhone SDK, Adobe’s CEO announced they will develop a Flash Player version for the iPhone. Hours later, Adobe clarified that it won’t be that easy to develop a decent version of the Flash player, only with the iPhone SDK and without Apple co-op. Now it seems that we won’t get Flash on the iPhone after all, at least until the next buzz alert.

It was a similar scenario for Sun’s Java, first they said they’re going to put Java on the iPhone only to realize later it’s not feasible under current restrictions. Don’t wait for SilverLIght to appear on the iPhone anytime soon, either.

Apple probably wants to push her own iPhone RIA platform, and insist to remain a sealed garden with a lot of restrictions to third party applications developed by their new SDK.

Google Android

Google has realized the need for a standardization on the mobile jungle, and came out with it’s Android, a platform designed to give the power to the developer.

Here is a good explanation of the Android platform and what it can do for you.

Demonstration of Android power.

Currently there’s not many Android smart-phones, but, with the dedication of google we’ll surly see some more soon.

Sun JavaFX Mobile

Sun, the inventor of Java and "Develop once deploy Everywhere" concept, don’t want to lose its mobile presence with j2ME and is porting Java’s richer sister, JavaFX, to the mobile phone as well.

JavaFX Mobile


Trolltech QT

Trolltech the creator of QT - Cross Platform rich development platform, has been recently bought by Nokia and can be seriously considered as a player in the RIA mobile world.

For now, we can still use excuses like incompatibility and lake of an appropriate platform to continue and create dull mobile application but it’s going to change very soon.

More Stories By Guy Aharonovsky

Guy Aharonovsky is of the lead developers at JAHJAH, the VoIP player that offers web-activated telephony.

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