Adobe CEO Narayen on Android Tablets, Support for HTML5 and Flash on iOS

Photoshop. Illustrator. Acrobat. Flash.

Together these applications constitute one of the most popular software franchises around. Annually, they’re responsible for generating some $3.8 billion in revenue for Adobe, which has been selling some of them for decades. As the company’s CEO, Shantanu Narayen is responsible for preserving and growing that revenue stream and protecting the legacy of the software that drives it in a fast-changing industry.

That’s no easy task with HTML5 emerging as a threat to Flash on the Web, and tablets evolving from content- consumption devices to content-creation ones. And then there’s Apple. Since 2007, the company has refused to allow Flash on its iOS devices, essentially banning it from one of the most important and popular mobile software platforms today.

All those difficult questions and more, coming up next.

9:19 am: Here we go. Narayen’s appearance on stage is preceded by a short video.

Narayen is being coached on how to answer some of the hardest questions, like ones about HTML5.

Narayen is being a really good sport, by practicing fist bumps.

The coach gives him a lot of praise, saying that he has a man crush on Narayen.

9:22 am: Walt welcomes “the very well-prepared Shantanu Narayen” to the stage.

All joking aside, Walt launches right into it, saying that he wants to talk Flash.

Narayen says that they had an internal bet at the company on how fast Walt would ask about Flash.

Bet’s over!

9:24 am: Flash is really a small part of the company, Narayen argues.

In terms of the revenue, it’s part of a suite of offerings. Since we produce apps that allow you to produce for the Web and print, it’s actually a very small part of the company.

9:25 am: Walt’s not letting him off easy. He wants to know “what’s the deal between you and Steve Jobs?”

Narayen is glad he’s asking! (The interview coaching is already coming in handy from earlier).

It’s become fairly clear that it’s not about technology. It’s about a business model and control over a platform.

It’s control over the app store that’s at issue here. We allow people to author once and get the widest distribution possible. We’ll have 130 million phone devices that have Flash by the end of the year.

Walt says Flash struggles: “I’ve yet to test a phone where it works well on a device.”

9:27 am: Walt wants to go back to the fight with Apple. Is it because of a historical issue?

Narayen goes back to saying it’s a business-model issue: “It’s all about control of the applications running on the platform that lets the platform come to life. If you build in Flash, you can run the apps on other platforms.”

9:29 am: Walt asks about the work-around that Adobe has created since Flash isn’t available on iOS devices.

Narayen says Flash can run on an iOS device if it’s within an AIR application. “If you can build an app using our tools, and if you run it through AIR, it can be in the App Store.”

Walt asks if that’s good enough for Adobe.

Narayen: “We put customers front and center. Developers are using our tools, but it’s an extra step….We will work around any obstacles that are in our way because our goal is to help developers get their apps out.”

9:31 am: Walt’s changing the conversation to HTML5. It’s not mature, but it’s coming along. People say it will replace Flash.

Narayen addresses the threat:

“We welcome the evolution to HTML5, and are actively contributing to it.”

Good question from Walt: Why would you do that if it competes with Flash?

Narayen says they make money from selling the tools for helping to reduce the complexity to the user for producing content, so its inherent business model can remain the same.

9:34 am: Narayen gives an example of this new reality. Wired magazine is using its digital publishing suite. The suite allows them to create an app for Android, iOS and other platforms.

Walt asks, it’s that simple? The argument is over? No more nasty calls between Adobe and Apple?

Narayen says, yep, he’s excited about the future. It’s an argument that the press likes to continue bringing up.

9:40 am: Walt and Narayen advance the conversation to Adobe’s Omniture unit, which measures activity on the Web.

Walt wants to know why every single provider is all over the map, and there are no standards or consistency on measurement from all the various providers, like Nielsen.

Narayen says they measure every single click.

Walt interjects that those numbers are completely different than what Nielsen says. He knows this because of his relationship with AllThingsD.com.

Narayen says he’s very hopeful that there will be standards soon. It’s crucial if we want advertising dollars to continue shifting online from other media.

9:43 am: Walt wants Narayen’s opinion on the revolution of tablets. Are they consumption or production devices?

Narayen says he thinks they are real. “I think tomorrow they will be equally productive devices. We’ll provide all of our creative tools on these devices. You’ve already seen us provide Photoshop on tablets.”

“Our creative community will share images on these devices. You can do a touch-up on a tablet, and it syncs up with your computer.”

9:46 am: Walt asks about moving Creative Suite, which includes Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Illustrator, to the iPad.

Narayen says you can mix colors with a tactile feeling on the iPad and then move that back over to the computer.

For more on how Photoshop interacts with the iPad, check out this AllThingsD story from earlier this year.

Walt wants to know about non-iPad tablets. Is there an opportunity there?

Narayen is bullish: “There will be another 20 tablets that will come by the end of the year that will push the industry in different directions–video production and tablets with a stylus. I think the community is vibrant. I’m really excited.”

In particular, he names Android as the rising star: “What you saw with smartphones hitting an inflection point with Android, you’ll see it again with tablets.”

Also, he sees both HP and RIM gaining traction in the enterprise.

“The real platform war is the Internet. I think it’s so early in the evolution. I think Facebook has an opportunity to ask ‘what does a Facebook app look like on the tablet?’ I think there’s still a huge opportunity to connect to people on these devices.”

9:51 am: Time for questions from the audience.

A question about the cloud.

Narayen said that you’ll see Adobe using the cloud to deliver tools as cloud offerings, but also leveraging it to enable collaboration among several users.

Next question is about creating tools for companies, like Zynga, which creates games for social networks, like Facebook.

Narayen says there are companies that build entire sites and enterprise applications in Flash. He says that they have to build their tools to the highest standards to support them.

Flash has multiple components, Narayen said. It has video and gaming on a variety of devices.

Walt wants to know why things don’t work sometimes.

Narayen offers to sit down with Walt some time, so he can see exactly what he’s referring to because he doesn’t know.

9:57 am: An audience member asks about privacy and Flash cookies. (No, this isn’t when cookies are sold really quickly until the inventory runs out.)

Narayen is doing a lot of work on this front to make sure it’s clear to consumers. In particular, they are working with browser vendors to be synced up on opting in and out, so there’s consistency in the browser and plug-ins.

That’s it folks. Thanks for reading. Next up, another demo and then we have AT&T’s Ralph de la Vega.


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I have yet to test a single one that works well.

— Walt Mossberg responds to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen’s claim that there will be 130 million phones running Flash by the end of the year