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Such a platform would almost certainly be heavily focused on Java, and most likely a Linux-based OS such as Android, which – despite media determination to place it head-to-head with Apple and Symbian – is likely to target the mass midrange most effectively. However, Symbian itself has also been making major efforts in recent years to extend its reach down the value chain, although it is probably the least likely choice for AT&T, which has little history with Symbian or Nokia.

In de Vega's view, the market for a software platform, and an accompanying store, for the mass market, is wide open and will not be addressed by the likes of Apple. “We are actively looking for how to have an operating system that handles the low end phones so that developers will have a way to develop low end applications that don't need Android, Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X,” he said in an interview.

Adobe Air

Meanwhile, Adobe is set to follow rival Apple into the mobile apps game, but is seeking to provide a common platform that will be supported across stores from many operators and vendors, rather than creating its own portal. The Flash maker, whose dominance of mobile video streaming is dented by Apple's refusal to support the technology on the iPhone, will launch a mobile version of its Air product next year.

This will allow the same application to run across many cellphones, unlike its current mobile product, Flash Lite, which varies in implementation between different platforms. Kevin Lynch, Adobe's CTO, said at Web 2.0: “Of all the technologies on mobile phones, none of them has more than a 50 per cent reach. As a developer, you have to implement your content about 400 times right now. That is a complete mess.”

Adobe is hoping to improve its hand in the battle to control the mobile web, by offering a new business relationship for handset makers, software houses and operators, all linked into Air. For companies that agree to keep their implementations of Air open, so apps can be used from any online site, not just designated store, Adobe will eliminate royalties. This is not as generous as it sounds, as the company makes most of its revenues from tools rather than licensing, but the plan still sets some important precedents that could shift others' behaviour.

“We're democratizing the app store, if you will,” said Lynch, believing Adobe can steal an early march and take advantage of the operators' reluctant but steady moves away from walled gardens and towards open access.

No manufacturers have committed to using Air yet, though Nokia, Motorola and Verizon Wireless are among those participating in the effort to define open Air standards, the Open Screen Project.

Adobe is also working on a mobile version of fully blown Flash that will be optimized for smartphone browsers and should perform far better than the current release on mobile devices. Lynch told the conference he was optimistic that the new software would even gain Apple's approval and find its way on to the iPhone. Adobe has been creating a Flash implementation for the iconic smartphone, but this would need to be approved by Apple before it was made available to App Store users or even integrated with the phone.

Adobe launched the Open Screen Project in May, aiming to promote Flash and Air as the solution to the problems of content portability among mobile devices. Most important to the chances of Open Screen is the support of Nokia – despite its earlier strong endorsement of Microsoft alternative Silverlight. Indeed, Adobe has leveraged its massive installed base – over 500 million mobile devices have Flash Lite installed, and some vendors are even supporting fully fledged Flash on advanced mobile products – to ensure the support of all the cellphone majors. The top five – Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, LG and Sony Ericsson – are all involved, plus Ericsson itself. Among the chipmakers, Intel, ARM, Marvell and Qualcomm have signed up, plus Verizon and NTT DoCoMo.

In line with Adobe's recent corporate reorganization to integrate its desktop and mobile platforms, the new initiative will focus on a platform that will be consistent with Flash Player and Adobe AIR on desktop PCs and set-top boxes, helping developers and content creators to deliver a unified user experience and reduce their own costs and time to market.

The first implementation based on OpenScreen will make its debut in mid-2009. Flash Lite will transition to the new format and will eventually be replaced.

Copyright © 2008, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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