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Adobe enlists tablet and cake makers to rally Flash

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Adobe MAX Adobe Systems is fighting back against Steve Jobs' claims that its beloved Flash is sliding into inevitable irrelevance against HTML5 on the web.

Adobe's chief technology officer Kevin Lynch previewed a bevy of Flash-friendly tablets from Samsung, Malata, and Research in Motion, and innovations in and around Flash targeting gamers, suits, and creatives when opening Adobe's annual MAX in Los Angeles, California.

Adobe squeezed a commitment from publishing giant Condé Nast, owner of GQ, Wired, and The New Yorker, to put its titles on tablets using Adobe's tools and runtimes.

Condé Naste will use Adobe's Digital Publishing Suite, announced in preview Monday, which uses InDesign and CS5 to build and deploy apps and e-mags to the Blackberry PlayBook, Samsung Galaxy, iPad, and Android-based devices, and lets publishers analyze traffic page by page.

Adobe's publishing tools and runtimes were also endorsed during Kevin Lynch's keynote by US home-making doyenne and publishing magnate Martha Stewart. She popped up on stage to coo about e-publishing and Japanese layouts, and to generally talk over Lynch while taking photos of the MAX audience for her blog. She didn't say which blog.

Alas, Stewart's finger tips flicked their way through the lusciously produced e-copy of her Living magazine on an iPad, which was featured prominently on stage with the Samsung and Malata. Only in closing did she see the Samsung, and then threaten to take it home. It was a moment that illustrates the real state of the nation for Adobe right now: when you think tablets, you think iPad, and if you can't get Apple's machine — well, OK, you'll take the other one.

Adobe's Flash is barred from the iPad thanks to the capricious will of Apple cult leader Steve Jobs. Instead, you can build your Flash app using ActionScript, compile ActionScript to native code, and then — well — it's up to the Gods of the App Store as to whether you get published.

The Digital Publishing Suite therefore doesn't just use Adobe's AIR- and Flash-based Content Viewer to display content. It uses HTML5 and looks like it can cross-compile to Apple's iOS, which is Flash- and AIR-free.

Lynch therefore came to MAX with the clear intent of telling publishers and developers that the iPad is not the only fruit. He made it clear that using Flash running on other tablets can give just as good an application experience — even better — and more control over what they build.

A big issue is building once then deploying your application or publication to different makers' tablets, with varying screen sizes. Who needs to re-code for the interface?

Lynch demonstrated the ability to drag an object such as an image across a screen of text in a Flash or HTML5 page and for the text to dynamically flow around it, and for an e-page to fit on different screens with automatic reflowing and resizing to retain the design elements.

This feature is being added to the WebKit browser — the basis of Apple's Safari — and being worked on in the HTML5 working group. Also, Lynch made it sound like this might appear in Google's Chrome and Android in addition to Adobe's work optimizing AIR for Android.

"I'm looking forward to working in the HTML working group and with partners such as Google to bring these pages to Android and Chrome and to bring these pages to all browsers," Lynch said.

A new version of Flash Media server due in 2011 will also simplify recoding of video for different bit rates and screen sizes. Flash Media player will automatically generate different media encoding, and is aimed a companies such as Yahoo! that must encode one piece of media 140 different times to suit different network conditions and device sizes.

Lynch committed to make Flash-based web games as immersive as console gaming using Project Molehill. Adobe plans a set of game-controller APIs so you can ditch the keyboard and mouse, and use an Xbox handset or a Logitech steering wheel with online games. Flash will also deliver GPU- and software-based acceleration of games so you're not flogging the CPU. According to Lynch, 70 per cent of casual games on the web are built using Flash.

On the serious side, Lynch was joined by RIM founder and co-chief executive Mike Lazaridis to demonstrate AIR on the Blackberry PlayBook. Lazaridis showed SAP and Salesforce Chatter applications working on the PlayBook, plus HD video and what Lynch pointedly described as an actual YouTube video, and "not a YouTube application" like you get on the iPad or iPhone. The PlayBook SDK for Adobe AIR 2.5 is available today.

Well, that's all very cozy, but what about the numbers?

According to Jobs, Flash is in slow but steady decline on the web. Jobs in June claimed that 75 per cent of online video is built using Flash. Jobs has championed HTML5 as the alternative — or, more precisely, CSS and the HTML5 video tag. A survey by MeFeedia in May, meanwhile, said the 26 per cent of web video is now available for playback using H.264.

Lynch claimed that Flash 10.1 is the fastest-deployed version of Adobe's player in its history — Flash 10.1 reached 73 per cent of PCs connected to the web in its first three months. Lynch also claimed a 50 per cent growth in developers using Flash in the last year.

"We expect to get up to 98 per cent again really fast," Lynch said of the penetration of Flash 10.1 online, adding that Flash is expanding its reach by coming to mobile phones and TV.

Flash is coming to TV through an agreement with Samsung Electronics, which is putting AIR on versions of its web-enabled TV and DVD player, and through streaming services such as the Netflix-like Epix, which lets you play Flash-based content on your TV and gives you DVD-like additional materials. The Flash-based AIR 2.5 was released as a runtime and SDK for TVs on Monday. So far, Samsung is the only adopter of AIR for TV. ®

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