Adobe combats Apple with 'mobile first mindset'
Comeback for Grandmaster Flash?
Despite the hostility of Apple, Adobe is determined to be a major player in the mobile and multiscreen world. And it used its MAX developer event to show exactly how it plans to do so.
At the MAX conference, Adobe made its usual promises of spanning multiple platforms painlessly, and extending this message to new norms such as app stores and the cloud. Mobility and the "post-PC" device world were to the fore at the firm's MAX conference in Los Angeles this week, as Adobe – like Microsoft – brought mobile services out of their ghetto and placed them everywhere.
Developers need to shift to a “mobile first” mindset, said Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch, as most people will be connecting to the web via various kinds of mobile gadgets. And mobile must not be treated as a distinct experience, but part of an immersive, interactive environment for content, providing a common interface over PCs, TVs, handsets, tablets and others.
AIR 2.5 expands
To support these increasingly familiar trends, Adobe hopes to put its Flash and AIR technologies at the heart of mobile multiscreen. It may have found its way onto the iPhone and iPad by default, since the threat of antitrust probes forced Apple to open up to Flash, but its growth is far more tied into the platforms with which it works on a friendly basis, notably Android but also BlackBerry. These two OSs, as well as Apple iOS, were the first platforms for the newly upgraded AIR 2.5 runtime, and RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis took the stage to show the first public demonstration of PlayBook, RIM's tablet, in action, running AIR apps.
Adobe says AIR enables developers to use Flash and Adobe Flex tools to create and distribute standalone applications across many platforms. As with Flash, it sees the big benefit of AIR to be easier programming across a multitude of devices. "We built the web as a really compelling, great way to reach the broadest possible audience. Apps are an extension of that experience," said Anup Murarka, Adobe's director of product marketing for Flash.
New features in release 2.5 include support for accelerometer, camera, video, microphone, multitouch, geolocation and gestures. Vendors are signing up to preload AIR 2.5 into upcoming devices such as Acer PCs, HTC and Motorola smartphones, and most interestingly, the Samsung SmartTV. Google TV and webOS also now support Flash and AIR (a previous release of AIR for Android 2.2 had to be downloaded).
InMarket and ad formats
In an extension of its bid to be the common system papering over the cracks between different operating systems, Adobe has turned its attention to app stores. It has introduced InMarket, a centralised distribution portal which spans app stores on Windows, Mac, Linux and most mobile platforms (including, of course, Apple IOS, after the firm's climbdown on barring Flash from its phones).
InMarket enables developers to market their Flash-based software across different devices via third-party stores run by many Adobe retail partners, from PC makers to Intel to (potentially) operators. According to Adobe, InMarket operates seamlessly in the device background, and users can download from any given store. Developers receive 70 per cent of the revenue, as they do in direct stores, while Adobe and its retail partners split the rest and carry out the credit card processing, marketing and hosting. Individual agreements with partner stores may vary.
Developers register and create a publisher profile at InMarket and can then build and test programs using the InMarket software developers' kit (SDK). Adobe and its allies promise to validate all submissions within 10 days.
Of course, where a vendor targets app stores, it will soon move to advertising, and Adobe is working with several digital ad companies to create a new mobile format that can tap into Flash or HTML5. The project will define two full-screen ad formats in a bid to create a new industry standard for mobile advertising.
Though geared toward devices running Flash Player 10.1, the format can also be converted to HTML5 for non-Flash gadgets. This highlights Adobe's key dilemma: it has to extend its technologies and models to support open browser activity and specifically HTML5 – even though this will weaken the position of its plug-in technologies. For the near term, however, few expect HTML5 to take on all the capabilities of plug-ins any time soon, so a hybrid world will survive for years – and here it is important that Adobe can span both sides.
Currently targeted at smartphones, the new ad format will eventually expand to tablets and other devices, Adobe said. It aims to provide an alternative to Apple's iAd, which some advertisers have criticised or even boycotted for Apple's tight control. Adobe said it will give agencies the power to control the design of their ads but will provide technical requirements to make sure those ads are interactive and consistent.
The first of the two new formats, FS-microsite, will include interactive product details and lead capture in the ad itself, so users do not need to view in the browser to get the full experience. The second format, FS-video, will send redesigned broadcast and high-quality video ads to the user, letting agencies reuse their broadcast ads for the mobile market.
Adobe's agency partners are EyeWonder, Greystripe, Medialets, MediaMind, PointRoll and Sprout.
Adobe in web of alliances
The new multiscreen technology enhancements and the growing support for HTML5 alongside Flash are both important to Adobe, as it seeks to establish its platforms as the primary rich media environments beyond the PC. It has the advantage of offering a proven and familiar system for delivering rich content, well supported already by media and advertising providers, and so it can ease the path of developers from the PC towards the new device environment. Flash and plug-ins may not last forever, given the rise of open web standards like HTML5 and CSS, but those specifications are not even fully standardised yet and will, despite broad support, be a long time reaching universality.
This is not just about Adobe either. Its platforms have a wider political significance as their multi-vendor nature makes them weapons for Adobe's partners against their rivals. The firm has always been able to use the wide adoption of Flash to play larger companies off against one another or act as a go-between. And this is even clearer in the mobile world, where it acts as an ally for Google, Microsoft, and, to a lesser extent, Nokia, against the growing power of Apple. Recently Adobe was reported to be in CEO-level talks with Microsoft about a possible combined effort against Apple.
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