Flash Brightens Outlook On Its Future
By Eric Lin, Thu Oct 21 23:45:00 GMT 2004

Thanks to success in Japan, Flash Lite may finally be gaining some traction, and Macromedia is ready to capitalize on the momentum.

Since its launch on both DoCoMo and KDDI, 13 percent of Japanese have Flash Lite on their handsets, according to a recent interview with Macromedia CEO Robert Burgess (free registration required). That translates to between 10 and 16 million Japanese Flash Lite users depending on semantics -- whether Burgess was referring to the population of subscribers or the total population in Japan. Although that number is nowhere near the number of Java or BREW capable handsets, it is enough to seed an ecosystem of "several thousand websites" offering flash content to Japanese subscribers.

Although the trend in Japan is promising, Macromedia needs to move Flash to the more standardized (and more populous) Western networks. DoCoMo will help Macromedia carry its momentum beyond the shores of Japan. Today the two companies announced they would work together to extend DoCoMo's Flash Lite licensing agreement to foreign i-mode licensees. Currently T-Mobile is the only operator in Europe that is experimenting with Flash Lite, offering it as a download for users with Series 60 smartphones who subscribe to a news journal produced with Flash.

While its benefits to interface design are clear, one of the strong points of Flash Lite is that it is far easier for non technical users to create a multimedia application in it than Java. The proliferation of user created Flash content in Japan is not that different from the overwhelming popularity of i-mode sites -- both are fast and simple to develop. Although Flash doesn't allow users to create content on devices, it does allow them to produce content for devices, a feature which becomes more critical as blogging and other user-created multimedia takes off on the desktop as well as on handsets. The move from designer-created to user-created Flash is exactly where Macromedia, and the analysts who are banking on their performance, expect a great deal of growth for the company.

When Macromedia acquired Animoi earlier this year, the move seemed to be an admission, even on Macromeidia's part, that there was a Java versus Flash battle brewing in the wireless arena and Flash was not winning. However Java and Flash coexist on the desktop, and Japanese operators are showing that they can coexist on the handset as well.