Flash who? Adobe gets serious about mobile, cloud & HTML5

Bright clouds over blue sky

For nearly 30 years, Adobe Systems has made the lion’s share of its revenue by ┬áselling multimedia and creativity software for desktop computers. But that focus on the desktop has grown increasingly out of touch in recent years, as the larger technology landscape has shifted toward heavier usage of mobile devices and software-as-a-service applications hosted in the cloud.

Well, it seems like Adobe finally got the memo about the world entering a post-PC era. In a series of announcements at its MAX 2011 conference Monday, Adobe revealed a new focus on cloud technology and a much stronger mobile strategy, showing that it is more serious than ever about addressing today’s dominant tech industry trends.

The announcements, in a nutshell:

  • A bunch of new mobile apps
    Adobe unveiled “Touch Apps,” a family of six apps made for Android tablets and the iPad. With Touch Apps, people can do things that they had previously only been able to do on Adobe’s Creative Suite desktop software, such as full featured Photoshop image editing. Touch Apps will be available on Android tablets starting next month, and the company will announce iOS tablet availability in the beginning of 2012.
  • A “transformation” to the cloud
    Adobe’s over-arching initiative is dubbed “Creative Cloud,” which will be the hub for viewing, sharing and syncing files created on Touch Apps and Creative Suite. Creative Cloud is generally aimed at letting people work together and collaborate, no matter what device they’re on. Adobe’s top brass is not mincing words about how important this is. “The move to the Creative Cloud is a major component in the transformation of Adobe,” CTO Kevin Lynch said in a press release. More details about pricing and availability will be announced in November.
  • Cozying up to HTML5
    In recent years Adobe has perhaps been best known for Flash, a proprietary technology that powers animation and video on the web. But lately Flash has been a dirty word of sorts in tech circles, as independent developers and big companies alike are increasingly deciding to instead support HTML5, an open source Flash competitor. On Monday, Adobe was conspicuously mum on Flash and talked up its own HTML5 and open source efforts. Exhibit A: Adobe announced it has acquired Nitobi Software, a company that makes PhoneGap, an open source platform for building HTML5-based mobile apps.

The new moves are very smart, but Adobe should not spend too much time on self-congratulation just yet. Adobe’s new direction will almost certainly come with growing pains as it adapts to a radically different cloud-centric business model, and the fact that Adobe is a public company won’t make things easier. Stock market investors are a notoriously hard-to-please and impatient bunch, and getting used to the new rhythm of revenue generation (mobile apps bring in money in a very different way than desktop software does) will probably take some time. Everyone knows it’s nearly impossible for an old dog to learn new tricks — but you have to give Adobe credit for giving it a good try.

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