Adobe aims to fill mobile vacuum with AIR

Today is day one of the Adobe MAX conference in Los Angeles. In this morning’s keynote CTO Kevin Lynch focused firmly on devices – both mobile devices and living room devices including Google TV. There was a nod to HTML 5 in the opening demo, a prototype of a new product called Edge which is a motion designer that extends JQuery, but the Flash player remains the heart of Adobe’s platform. The proliferation of incompatible devices is an opportunity for cross-platform runtimes, and Adobe intends to take advantage with Flash and AIR – the Adobe Integrated Runtime, for local applications that fun on Flash.

Released today in public preview, the Flex “Hero” SDK includes support for mobile development, among other things, and is backed by an updated Flash Builder code-named Burrito.

Right now the only mobile platform which is supported is Google Android, but others are promised. In particular, we heard a lot in the keynote about the Blackberry Playbook,  the forthcoming tablet from RIM, including an appearance from RIM boss Mike Lazaridis.

An interesting aspect of the Playbook is that the user interface of the device itself is built in part with AIR. As a RIM exec observed in a later Q&A, it makes sense for the OS to use the same framework as that used by third party apps, so that any issues are sorted early.

AIR popped up again in a a different context, as Lynch described Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite. This suite targets magazine publishers creating publications for the Apple iPad, such as publisher Condé Nast, also represented at the keynote, which is adopting the platform for many of its publications from Wired to the New Yorker.

The Digital Publishing Suite exports publications from Adobe InDesign to a dedicated format with a .issue extension, played on the iPad by Adobe Content Viewer. Adobe will now implement the content viewer on AIR, so that digital publications will render on the new wave of Android tablets, Blackberry tablets, and others in future.

Also worth noting is that Adobe plans to insert itself into the distribution process beyond just providing the authoring tools and the runtime. The Digital Publishing Suite includes Adobe hosting for the content. More broadly, the Melrose project, now called Adobe InMarket, is a service where you host your application on Adobe’s servers and Adobe handles deployment to the various App Stores out there as well as credit card processing.

Of course Apple is working, it seems, to undermine Flash. The runtime is not allowed on iOS, Apple’s mobile platform. Apple is not including Flash by default in the latest Macs, and the forthcoming Mac App Store will not allow AIR (or for that matter Java) applications. You will still be able to install Flash and AIR on a Mac, but Apple will no doubt be encouraging users to go the App Store route.

It is a fascinating tension, particularly since Apple’s devices fit so well with other aspects of Adobe’s strategy.

Despite Steve Jobs, Lynch announced today that the number of Flash platform developers has grown by 50% over the last year, which is huge. I also wonder whether the Java turmoil, especially on the Mac, could work in Adobe’s favour as it builds support for its Flash runtime.

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3 comments to Adobe aims to fill mobile vacuum with AIR

  • Walt French

    We’ve had smartphones for over a decade and Adobe is now announcing its *third* “initiative” to have Adobe-proprietary tools on them. With delivery dates comfortably in the future, and very much more modest ambitions than its last effort (1 billion phones running Flash in 2009!), they won’t get the same black eye.

    But somebody needs to ask: why will this matter? Flash content STILL doesn’t run on 95% of smartphones — probably, 90%+ of non-Apple smartphones. If I’m a website designer, I’m an idiot to use it if I’m trying to reach mobile customers, and that’s best-case: assuming that the few phones running Froyo don’t block it as an unreliable nuisance.

    So your statement might more accurately read,

    “Since Adobe FIRED all the Macromedia people who put Flash on phones back in the 90′s (!), they have not figured out how to squeeze it into any but a few of the most powerful smartphones. Specifically, FLASH DOESN’T RUN ON ONE SINGLE DEVICE that has less than 1GB of RAM or a processor slower than 1GHz. Millions of users of popular and capable devices such as BlackBerries, Nokias, WinMobiles, and of course, the iPhone and iPad, all want the capability, but despite being fast and capable for their purposes are apparently too under-powered for Adobe’s engineers.

    “In effect, Adobe’s product design or engineering is undermining its own efforts; Adobe bans Flash from all but a tiny share of mobile devices.”

  • Walt, are you trying to persuade us…? ;-)

    Macromedia has been doing low-powered devices for well over a decade, and 2010 is the year that we’re starting to see unity between workstation and pocket device. (Director’s Portable Player went to 3DO, set-top boxes and more; an older profile of SWF is rendered by well over a billion devices (particularly in Japan & Korea); this new cross-device Player 10.1 is seeing stunningly fast adoption, and can finally start supporting creation tools as well.)

    You’re correct that Player 10.1 targets a fast current processor… the balance point between capability and desire. We still need to provide for older and slower devices, but from this point on today’s CPUs will become even more powerful. (Not sure you got where your “95%” stat from… I’ve seen varying descriptions of “smartphone”.)

    Summary: Don’t worry, be happy… things are improving really quickly here.

    jd/adobe

  • I thought Jobs had softened his stance on Flash, particularly in light of recent events. Guess he’s still spooked by the Microsoft-Adobe merger rumors, heh…