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Flash on Android 2.2: Slow loading, but smooth running

May 25, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive
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eWEEK evaluated a Nexus One running Android 2.2 and a beta Flash Player 10.1, and found Flash to be slow loading, but surprisingly smooth and power efficient. Meanwhile, HTC vows that most of its Android phones will move to version 2.2 later this year, and a 4Q release for Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) has been tipped.

Last week when Google announced Android 2.2 ("Froyo"), the company said that the release would be available "in the coming weeks," starting with Google's HTC-manufactured Nexus One (right) and Motorola's Droid. Already, Froyo has received widespread promised support from vendors such as HTC (see farther below).

Now, Nexus One smartphones with Android 2.2 and a beta version of Adobe's Flash Player 10.1 have started rolling out to reviewers. Our sister publication eWEEK tested out one such review configuration and found Flash to be slow to load, but easy on the battery. In addition, Flash 10.1 also "allows Web animations and movies to run smoothly," Nicholas Kolakowski wrote in his first impression. 

Slated for general release June 17, Flash 10.1 for Android 2.2 is one of the key enhancements to Froyo. Other major Android 2.2 improvements are said to include faster performance, USB tethering, WiFi hotspot support, and music streaming from a desktop PC. Also new are Android Market improvements, such as the ability to set up downloads and updates from a PC.

Battery drain? Not a problem

One of Apple's biggest gripes against Flash, and the main reason why the popular media playback technology is a no-show on its iPad or iPhone, is that the software is quick to drain the battery. Not so on with version 10.1 running on Android, writes Kolakowski.

"After three days of testing games and videos, the Nexus One's battery seemed to drain at a normal rate for Web-intensive activity," he writes.

The review notes that the review unit lacked a SIM card for 3G, so the tests were done only with WiFi. However, it does seem that Flash 10.1 has indeed cleaned up its power management act.

Flash Player 10.1 slows or shuts down during sleep or low-power modes, according to Kolakowski. The new version is also said to make a determination about whether to render assets that are not displayed on the smartphone's screen.

Solid playback quality, but no Hulu

The review goes on to note that Flash on Android "picture quality is solid, with a minimum of flickers or hitches." Flash-enabled games ran "pretty smoothly, with either minimal or nonexistent lag times," adds Kolakowski. He also notes that Flash animations on corporate websites ran well, and the videos and animations on Adobe's approved list of sites ran smoothly.

Off the list, however, there were problems with some Flash content, which simply refused to play. These included Hulu videos, for which "a distribution-rights issue apparently prevents the site from being streamed to mobile devices," writes Kolakowski.

Adobe had warned Kolakowski that the release still had considerable bugs. (Buggy operation is Apple's secondary gripe about Flash.) Aside from simply not playing certain Flash files, however, the review did not appear to find many.

Like Brando at the buffet table

On the other hand, Flash load times were inexcusable, says the review. "While Flash Player 10.1 might not be a battery hog, it decimates bandwidth like Marlon Brando at a buffet table," writes Kolakowski. "Even with a corporate WiFi connection, many videos had an absurdly long load time."

How long? In some cases, two or three minutes for movie trailers, he notes. 

Google takes on Apple directly

Steve Jobs may be chortling over the Flash on Android load times, but assuming the final version pares these down, it does appear that Flash may be usable on smartphones after all. This was certainly the pointed message delivered by Google VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra (left) in at the Froyo launch last week.

A separate eWEEK story (see link farther below) details Gundotra's various jabs against Apple for lack of openness. For example, at one point Gundotra said, "It's really fun to work with other folks in the ecosystem to meet the needs of users, much nicer than just saying no."

HTC vows widespread updates to Android 2.2

The eWEEK first-look review on the Android version of Flash did not evaluate Android 2.2 in general. Presumably we'll soon discover whether the publication found the same dramatic speed boosts encountered by some other reviewers.

Meanwhile, according to various blog reports, HTC will upgrade most of its Android phones launched this year to Android 2.2 in the second half of the year, says a separate story by eWEEK.  Froyo-destined phones are said to include the now shipping HTC Desire and Droid Incredible (pictured), as well as upcoming phones like the Evo 4G, MyTouch Slide, and other models.

Android 2.3, WebM, and VP8

eWEEK also points to a FAQ post on Google's WebM VP8 codec website, stating that Android 2.3 ("Gingerbread"), could be ready as soon as the fourth quarter. Also announced last week, WebM will be made available in Gingerbread, says the project.

Sponsored by Google, WebM is an open source project developing a royalty-free WebM media file format designed for the web. Based on the Matroska media container, WebM works together with the VP8 video codec, as well as the Vorbis audio codec. VP8 was acquired by Google when it picked up On2 Technologies in February, says the story.

Designed to take advantage of HTML5, WebM and VP8 could compete with everything from Flash to RealPlayer to H.264 — all popular-but-proprietary media playback technologies that make open source loyalists uncomfortable. Versions of both WebM and VP8 are available for download, although many improvements are in store for future releases, such as speeding up encoding time, says the project.

Gingerbread to gain Google TV tie-in?

Beyond the WebM support, other Android 2.3 enhancements are open for speculation. It seems clear, however, from Google's Google TV announcement last week, that by early next year, the company expects Android phones to be able to interact with the open source IPTV platform.

Demos showed Android phones working as a simple remote for a Google TV set-top, complete with voice search over the handset. Another demo showed a user pushing a video clip from an Android phone directly onto the big screen via Google TV.

In addition, Android Market will be available on Google TV, offering a new platform for apps that are modified for the big screen, says Google.

Availability

The eWEEK mini-review of Flash 10.1 on Android 2.2 may be found here. The eWEEK story on Google's jibes at Apple at last week's Froyo announcement should be here.

The eWEEK story on HTC's support for Android 2.2 should be here.

The WebM project FAQ tipping WebM support in a fourth-quarter Android "Gingerbread" release may be found here.


This article was originally published on LinuxDevices and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit LinuxToday.com for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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