I’m just watching the seminar (recording here) about Sony Ericssons project Capuchin. It looks incredible. Ask anyone that’s developed with Flash Lite and they’ll tell you that distribution is one of the biggest problems they face.
The problem is that traditionally SWF files have been treated by some as nothing more than animated gifs (this is particularly the case with a lot of the older Sony Ericsson phones), and treated by others (for example Nokia) as applications that run standalone (and more recently as a web plugin). This makes it tricky to classify how to treat a SWF when it comes to getting it on a phone, particularly when you haven’t been able update your software anywhere near as easily on mobile as on the desktop. Do you run it from a browser link? do you bluetooth it from a PC or to a friend like an image? or do you go ahead and “install” it somehow, to get an application icon? Of course until now every manufacturer has dealt with the problem differently.
Trying to give guarantees regarding how many and which phones it will work on to the people holding purse strings is heart-wrenching, particularly when they try to transfer a SWF to their own phone that doesn’t support Flash Lite and get nothing, no message telling the user what they need to do. When money is involved this is usually only circumvented by sniffing the handset on a server or asking the user to select the exact handset. Handset support is still something of a weakpoint with Flash Lite. It has been a little bit like the pre-PC home computer scene, with you producing products for specific machines only.
Enter project Capuchin. In a nutshell you can turn a Flash app/game into a JAR file that installs as would any Java midlet, but it also provides lots of extra functionality that up until now people have typically achieved by running a separate local socket server written in Java or Symbian native… alternatives have included SWF2SIS applications for certain flavours of Symbian smartphones (S60)… ugly and problematic.
I’m still waiting on whether this will be Sony Ericsson only, they’ve announced so far that one supported handset is coming out in October and that all future handsets should support it. So we may need to take another step back in terms of penetration, but let’s hope that the trend holds out, tackling the problem once and for all. Of course Sony Ericsson is a big market, but in marketing you’re insane to cut out any audience voluntarily, so fingers are crossed more handset manufacturers jump on board as collaboration and sharing of technology has been mentioned previously.
Meanwhile I’ve just received my Nokia E71… hands down the best phone I’ve ever owned, it’s truly marvelous. The Wifi, HSDPA, GPS maps and location based services are extremely useful. Best of all it syncs with Macs and acts as a bluetooth modem, on an unlimited data plan that’s a cheap alternative to a USB dongle. I’ve had to wait this long for Nokia to finally slim down their smartphones (after putting up with an N70 for a year and later abandoning the brick for something more stylish). So this phone comes pre-installed with Flash Lite 3 and I’m keen to try out some of the new content the community has been producing.
Read more about Capuchin here (PDF).