Peter Kafka

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Can Adobe and Apple Play Nicely When–And If–The Tablet Shows Up?

kid fightBrief-ish follow-up to yesterday’s story about Condé Nast’s plan to create tablet-friendly editions of its magazines with the help of Adobe:

As many readers noted, one big problem–potentially–with the plan is that Adobe (ADBE) and Apple (AAPL) generally don’t play well together. And in the case of Apple’s iPhone, they don’t play at all: Adobe’s flash platform doesn’t work in the iPhone, which is why many video sites, which depend on flash, don’t work well on the gadget.

So what if this happens again with Apple’s tablet, if and when the thing finally arrives?

I noted this yesterday, but didn’t get to talk to Adobe and Condé about it until later. Now I have their responses. The short version: They sure hope it works out.

The longer version is that both Condé and Adobe plan on running on all sorts of devices. And there’s not a lot they can do to satisfy Apple’s (AAPL) tablet requirements in advance, since Apple won’t discuss the tablet or even acknowledge that the tablet is in the works.

Here’s Adobe’s official line, provided by Senior Experience Design Manager Jeremy Clark:

Adobe has taken initial steps to prepare Adobe AIR to support mobile with performance improvements (reductions in memory usage, runtime size, JavaScript CPU consumption, and reduced CPU usage for background applications), and support multi-touch input used by mobile phones and presumably a new generation of slate devices. In fact we just announced a beta for AIR 2.0 that incorporates many of these features.

Our job at Adobe is to help create a great digital publishing platform. If publishers like Conde Nast and NY Times are delivering brand-name content via Adobe AIR, we believe that the devices that will win in the marketplace, will be the ones that support this open format. It should also be noted that Adobe recently announced plans to enable Flash applications to be brought to iPhone and indeed several are available on the iTunes store.

So we’ll continue to look for ways to enable publishers to deliver their content to the widest possible range of platforms, even on platforms that don’t yet support our runtimes.

It’s a reasonable enough response, given the alternative, which is to wait around for Apple to bring forth the wondergadget–or not. And in the meantime, the companies would miss an opportunity to help set standards for other guys’ gadgets.

On the other hand, there’s the less politic response, which you’re not going to hear from either company on the record: “Boy oh boy, are we screwed if our stuff doesn’t work with the market leader.”

But here’s one version of that take, from Time Inc.’s Josh Quittner, who is working on producing tablet-ready magazines for the Time Warner (TWX) publishing unit:

I am a hyperbolic guy, not to mention a purple writer, but I think it’s conservative to say that in the miserable publishing business, there is no greater hope for salvation that the iThing. With visions of giant iPhones dancing in our heads, all of us are working on prototypes of magazines and newspapers that will work on 9.7-inch, multi-touch screens linked wirelessly to stores. And, while there are at least a dozen manufacturers heatedly working on their own iterations, we all await the iThing because history has shown us that Steve Jobs leads the parade. Chaos will ensue, with many idiotic and competing platforms drawing precious resources from content makers who have to try just about everything until a frontrunner emerges.

Oh. One more quick item: As Quittner says, there are lots of publishers working on this stuff, and I look forward to seeing all of their efforts. And in case anyone gets the idea that I’m only paying attention to the biggest dogs, here’s what’s Noah Robischon has to say about his company’s digital plans:

We’re working on delivering the magazine in several different digital formats right now, including to e-readers. Assuming the iTablet is a real product, and it uses any of these formats–and I’ve got no inside knowledge, it’s all based on rumor and guesswork–then we’ll be on the device too.

We’ve been approached by a few different companies working on e-reader formats for magazine publishers, as well as a couple that want to create digital versions of the magazine pages for online display. So we’re evaluating our options now. This space has become very active in the last 6 months, and it’s great to have so many options.

So there you go. Next?

[Image credit: clarity]

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald