Whither Goes Adobe?

Adobe finds itself in a dangerous place. The most popular platform for its graphics software, Mac OS/X, is becoming more hostile to Adobe software as Apple and Steve Jobs wage what appears to be a self-fulfilling war against  Adobe. For examples, Adobe Flash is unfairly banned from iOS and thus iPad, iPod, iPhone; Adobe  Photoshop,  Photoshop Elements and Lightroom  battle with Apple’s Aperture and iPhoto; Adobe Premiere Pro and Premiere Elements versus Apple’s Final Cut Pro and iLife/iMovie while Adobe Auditions battles Apple’s GarageBand.

Now Adobe is familiar with being the target of the major OS vendors like Microsoft with Silverlight targeting Flash and the Expression Suite targeting Photoshop,Illustrator, Flash and Fireworks – not to mention Metro and SharePoint taking jabs at Adobe PDF. But perhaps of even more import is the new wave of Web, Cloud and Mobile apps. For example, Google gives away Picasa and Picnik on the Web and in the Cloud while both Apple and Microsoft are preparing new graphics and web development offerings for those environs [think the Dreamweaver and Fireworks franchises for Adobe]. So Adobe has to be very quick on its feet because any of these OS vendors can drop “free software” onto the PC, Web and/or Cloud space to garner “more features” for their OS – Adobe be damned.

But perhaps the greatest worry for Adobe and its legion of developers is mobile apps pricing - they are on average 1/10th of the cost of Adobe programs if not outright free as in the case of Google’s more than competent Picasa+Picnik photo editing and image management software. Now many will argue that Picasa on theLinux/Mac/ PC and in the Web space has only a fraction of the $100 Photoshop Elements featuresand can barely hold a candle to the $700 Photoshop CS5. True enough. But when  the new NVidia Tegra 3 quadcore chips start showing up in tablets and smartphones with 5 times the computing power of the Tegra2 chips powering such tablets as Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab and Blackberry Playbook – the ballgame changes. Suddenly tablets have PC laptop computing power. And with very fast SSD and flash drives coming to tablets there is plenty of very fast storage.

This huge increment in computing power will change everything – because the ease of use that comes with multi-touch screen operations along with savvy state-smart sensors does not have to be traded off with 20 years of PC refinements that is the GUI interface, keyboard shortcuts, gaming control plus macro-actions. Expect a breakthroughs in software  development, creation and delivery. The relative stagnation that has been “playing by the Microsoft rules of the game for PC”s is broken – nobody yet dominates the emerging Mobile, Cloud, Web and new evolved PC spaces.  But the OS vendors still have the advantage because they control the computing environ absolutely. So how is Adobe reacting to the fast changing software reality?

Go to the Adobe Labs  and Watch the new Adobe Delivery Cycle.

First, Adobe is becoming more agile – targeting delivering major updates to its Creative Suites on a yearly cycle rather than 2-3 years as  before. Thus there has been a one year major upgrade to CS5.5 with major improvements in Flash, Flex, Air, Dreamweaver, Premiere among key components of the suite.

Second, Adobe is aware of the disruptive change that is mobile – social – data- cloud  computing.Adobe’s  Web  and Cloud presence is growing rapidly with:
SendNow – a PDF brochure distribution service with App support
Acrobat.com – is Web and Cloud services website with PDF and Forms “apps”
Photoshop.com – has a similar array of graphics services for Web with Cloud support
Eazel and Nav – apps that turns tablets into WiFi enabled touchscreen painting/mixing pad for Photoshop on Mac/PC
Connect – again a line up of free trial/paid Web Conferencing services utilizing Adobe media player
And if you go to the Adobe Labs you will see a ton of new stuff coming down the pike:

First and foremost, Adobe is still innovating across all it bases. But perhaps the most interesting  of Adobe’s software futures are the new HTML5 software developments – Adobe Edge which is a complete animation system for HTML5 [and it is very promising, see here]and the new HTML5 evangelism blog, the Expressive Web which is chock full of HTML5 coding examples plus links to resources and Adobe’s own tools to complement the new features in CSS3 and HTML5.

These are important thrusts that indicates Adobe is clearly in “the survival of the fittest” mode. The biggest problem – 1/10th the price for software in the tablet/mobile space has not been “solved”. But top management clearly perceives the Blockbuster-disruptive-bankruptcy-like dangers confronting the company if it does not adapt. And strangely enough, the combo of Flash based AIR plus HTML5 Edge animations may give the company a technical lead in two areas [cross OS platform  apps and online+offline operations]that will allow it to transition more successfully to a new software payments reality. But this is hardly the Google+ move where Google finally delivered a unifying Web+Social+Cloud+PC UI framework to bind together its growing array of Internet and PC services.  But software vendors in general will have to watch carefully Adobe because its success or failure in the upcoming disruptive changes in software pricing and delivery  will supply ample clues as to how they will fair as well – whither and how goes Adobe is  marker for software vendors in general.