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Old 04-14-2011, 08:31 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default PlayBook Shows Challenges of Bringing Flash to Tablets

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Here’s a telling sign of how hard Research in Motion and Adobe are working on Flash: Just a week before the release of RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook, both companies were still working out the kinks with the tablet’s Flash support and operating system stability.

Wired.com received a PlayBook review unit last week, and during our testing, the tablet choked on a number of sites and games running the popular Flash platform for animations and interactive content.

Adobe’s explanation for the problem: The PlayBook is running pre-release software, including the OS, and RIM and Adobe are still working on some final “code check-ins” to smooth over some issues with the plug-in’s performance.

“There’s a pretty complex hardware and software stack here,” explained Danny Winokur, vice president of Adobe’s Flash runtime software division. “It starts with the silicon and goes all the way down to drivers and the OS. Issues at any layer in that stack can be exposed when any piece of content comes into play and affect the stability that users are having.”

In other words, for Adobe and hardware partners like RIM, implementing Flash on the new crop of mobile tablets isn’t smooth as jelly.

Last week, Wired.com speculated that Flash was one of the factors contributing to a delayed launch of the PlayBook, which was originally scheduled for a first-quarter launch.

“RIM is on track to launch the BlackBerry PlayBook on April 19th, which is within three weeks of the original timing estimate provided in the fall,” RIM said in a prepared response to that article. “We don’t know where the rumor started, but any suggestion that Flash support has caused a delay is simply false.”

The PlayBook hits stores in only six days, on April 19. (Check out our full review of the PlayBook.)

It’s not unheard of for companies to be fixing bugs with their products until the last minute. Indeed, software updates to the PlayBook improved (but didn’t eliminate) Flash instability during the time we were testing it.

But it’s a sign of just how challenging it is to make Flash work right on mobile devices.

(Disclosure: Wired.com is owned by Conde Nast, which has been working closely with Adobe to bring digital versions of magazines, including Wired, to tablet devices.)

John Cooney, head of game development at Armor Games (which produces Flash-based games), seconded Adobe’s claim that the mobile environment is technologically complex.

“Mobile devices run differently and have different requirements in both hardware and software,” said Cooney. “They’re going to want to deliver a really good experience and any finagling they can do to get a device running 100 percent will be their bread and butter.”

In our testing over several days, some YouTube videos played choppily, every Flash game we accessed through Facebook crashed the PlayBook browser and some games at AddictingGames.com also crashed.

The problems are cropping up despite the fact that Flash has been supported on QNX, the operating system underlying the PlayBook OS, since 2009. Even though Adobe touts the plug-in as a “write once, run anywhere” runtime environment, the story right now is more precisely, “write once, work sometimes, on some devices.”

RIM says it has been working with Adobe to bring Flash to its devices for two years.

“It’s because we wanted to do it right,” RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis told Wired.com in an interview.
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