Adobe plots rebound with latest Creative Suite

Flash. A-ah. He'll save every one of us.

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Updated Adobe will launch a major upgrade to its creative tools software on Monday, amidst an increasingly acrimonious spat with Apple.

The software maker is banking on the Creative Suite 5 product family to keep it at the cutting edge of web design, video and photo editing. The suite promises improvements in interactivity and performance, according to Adobe. Adobe CS5 products support the creation of content and applications for the upcoming Flash Player 10.1 and Adobe AIR 2, which are geared towards high performance on mobiles.

The fly in the ointment of this plan is Apple's much publicised ban on Flash from products including the iPhone and new iPad. Adobe responded to this by developing functionality that allows Flash applications to be exported as native iPhone applications using Adobe Flash Professional CS5. Apple, in turn, responded last week by updating its contract with developers, making it a condition that approved apps for the iPhone need to be developed with Apple's tools.

There's more about the implications of the tightened-up conditions for Apple's new SDK for the iPhone 4.0 in our earlier story here.

Creative Suite products make up more than half of Adobe's revenue, bringing in $1.7bn in sales in the year to November 2009. Adobe's revenues fell by 18 per cent last year and the release of CS5 is key to Adobe's plans of turning around its fortunes, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The last major update, CS4, came in late 2008, just as the economy took a nosedive. Adobe therefore hopes to tap into pent-up demand with the release of CS5.

Adobe's release line-up includes the various editions of Creative Suite 5 and 15 point products, such as Photoshop CS5, Illustrator CS5, Acrobat 9 Pro, Dreamweaver CS5 and Flash Professional CS5. The major upgrade includes native 64-bit support in Photoshop, Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects for the creation of high resolution projects. InDesign CS5 offers enhanced eReader device support and is designed to support new digital publishing models.

In addition, Adobe is debuting online services to accelerate creative workflow. Adobe CS Live, which is available on a limited free trial, includes a tool for testing website content across different browsers and operating systems, called Adobe BrowserLab, as well as tools for online design review and collaboration.

Snazzy previews of the various products can be found on Adobe's CS5 portal here.

Suites are expected to ship within 30 days and cost between $1,299 and $2,599, AP reports.

Rolls-Royce of creative software model backfires

Clive Longbottom, service director at analysts Quocirca, said bundling resulted in many users paying top dollar while often using only a fraction of the applications on offer.

"Adobe has continued to improve how its applications work," Longbottom explained. "With the acquisition of Macromedia some time back, it gained tools in areas where it had been poor, such as web and animation. It also meant that it felt that it could start to do bundles that were (nominally) focused on a specific type of job."

"The problem is that Creative Suite is not just confusing to the general buyer in how the suites are configured, but are also exceedingly expensive for even the basic applications," he said.

Longbottom said Adobe's competitors are undercutting the developer, while the quality of open source products is also improving, attacking Adobe at the bottom end of the market.

"Acrobat has priced itself out of the market, with Microsoft now having built pdf capabilities in to its office suite," he explained. "DreamWeaver is not as good as many other open source web design packages, and the majority of companies now use a built in content management system(CMS) for managing their sites, anyhow. ColdFusion is not a requirement for most, as IIS or an open source web server platform will be easily available anyway."

"Where Adobe has the high ground is with Flash, Flex and Air (although having so many different tools to do essentially the same things is still confusing for the general buyer). Here, Adobe has a closed environment - it is theirs, and no-one can challenge it unless they completely re-engineer the platform," he added.

Adobe's software is still well regarded but positioning itself as a Rolls-Royce supplier is wrong over the long term, according to Longbottom, who reckons a radical price cut is its best strategy for re-invigorating sales.

"The big problem for Adobe is where does it go? If it insists on keeping CS5 pricing at the level it is, it will not get much in the way of new customers and existing customers will begin to see that there are other options available to them," Longbottom explained.

"However, if Adobe were to move the decimal point on place to the left, it then becomes a set of tools that would be available to the majority, reinvigorating the channel, the developer community and the whole user model. I don't think that Adobe would see a tenfold increase in buyers - it would more likely be a 1000 fold, so Adobe would make a lot more money itself"

"However, it appears to feel that exclusivity is the way forwards, kind of like building high-end cars, such as a Rolls Royce or a Bentley. Both of these have seen problems in the current market, however - and it may well be that Adobe finds that it customers will choose to keep their hands in their pockets rather than shell out for a couple of extra functions that they may never really use," he concluded. ®

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