Microsoft Brightens Windows Mobile With Flash Lite

Microsoft has licensed Adobe’s Flash Lite and Reader software for users of its mobile phone technology.

“People want vibrant Web experiences and access to entertainment and information anywhere, anytime,” said John O’Rourke, general manager of Microsoft’s mobile communications unit. “Bringing Flash Lite and Reader LE to the Windows Mobile experience will give consumers more of their favorite Web sites on the go.”

The announcement came about two weeks after Microsoft had announced its upcoming Silverlight browser plug-in would be available to millions of Nokia smartphones. Microsoft is working to develop a version of Silverlight for the iPhone, according to TechRadar.

Plugging Into a Popular Application

Silverlight is available in beta; Flash Lite, on the other hand, is already a commonplace program on handsets.

Flash Lite is not without its critics. Recently, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs assessed the application as not Internet-ready. Additionally, in February, Microsoft said it would give 1 billion students free access to Silverlight and other software that competes with Adobe.

Microsoft’s latest move is, perhaps, curious in that Silverlight is supposed to compete against Flash, said Greg DeMichillie, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

“The first thing is, you can’t help [but] be struck by the irony, that while Microsoft dumps on Flash, it’s licensing Flash,” DeMichillie told TechNewsWorld. “It’s like: Right hand, meet left hand.”

However, Microsoft needs Flash, he added. “[The] Windows Mobile platform has a couple of problems. One is that it doesn’t have a full-featured browser. You’ve got to go to sites that were designed for it.”

Meanwhile, the iPhone, which has been on the market for less than a year, has set high standards for competitors to meet, DeMichillie commented.

A Complete Browser Needed

Flash Lite may not be enough of an equalizer for the 11 million Windows Mobile users, he continued.

“The iPhone has shown it’s nicer to have the real Web on your phone,” DeMichillie said. “So, I think they need a full featured Internet Explorer on Windows Mobile. But if you’re going to have the full breadth of the Web, you need a full Flash. Flash Lite isn’t full Flash.”

The iPhone has demonstrated the value of a comprehensive browser. “Microsoft is trying to get to that and this is a step in that direction,” he added.

Microsoft’s arrangement with Flash also might be its way of saying its Silverlight remains a work in progress rather than a major player today. “It’s a tacit acknowledgment that in the future it might be all that for the Web, that it might become one of those things like Flash,” DeMichillie said. “Silverlight might be there in a couple of years but, right now, if you’re a mobile phone user, it’s a lot easier to do without Silverlight than Flash.”

The deal does help Adobe with distribution, Juniper Research analyst Julie Ask wrote on her blog. “They’ve just reached the half-billion mark [for Flash Lite shipments], and sales have been accelerating over the past couple of years. Many — not all — MS devices have QWERTY keyboards and data plans, so together with adding Flash Lite, there is a confluence of factors that contribute towards consumers being more likely to use the browser and consume more content.”

A Crowded Marketplace

It’s tough to predict how Microsoft’s latest move will work out, said Ashok Kumar, an analyst with CRT Capital Group.

“I think it’s going to be a fairly crowded marketplace,” he told TechNewsWorld. “I’m not sure what market share Microsoft is going to get. This is an evolution of their existing strategy for smart handhelds. I don’t think it’s a quantum leap in terms of their product road map, but it’s a way to keep up with the competition.”

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