Adobe listens to Apple, reluctantly

By Jonny Evans

Big news today is Adobe's [ADBE] introduction of Adobe Creative Suite 5.5, an important update that adds another gazillion features to the already feature-packed collection. With a focus on the iPad, HTML5 and an IDE future for Flash, you'd almost think Adobe has begun listening to Apple [AAPL], though big differences remain.

Mac App Store

Visit the Mac App Store and you won't find Adobe CS 5.5 offered for sale, though you will be able to purchase and download it from Adobe's own online store.

I don't accept protests that Adobe hasn't had the chance to develop versions of CS 5.5 for sale via the Mac App Store. Apple announced its Mac App Store plans in October last year.

Adobe has introduced new tools which will allow developers to implement Photoshop-supporting features within their iOS apps; the company has also introduced new iPad Apps which it is offering via the App store.

To be fair, Adobe has no reason to offer its software via Apple's store. And with developers voicing some concern the Mac App Store will see Apple attempt to take over the entire Mac software retail market, it is actually quite good to see a major firm like Adobe resist the call to the new store front.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

Is Adobe taking a risk? Definitely. Look at hit App Store App, Pixelmator. This is a huge success because it delivers enough image editing features for many. Photoshop provides a myriad of tools, but not every user needs all these tools.

Feature creep

Discussing CS 5 this morning, one professional graphic designer of my acquaintance expressed annoyance at Adobe's treatment of its core customers. A twenty-year industry veteran, 'John Doe', designs websites, magazines, brochures, point of sales material and more. He introduced me to the Mac. He knows his stuff.

"What annoys me is that software developers are so determined to add extra features into every release in order to give their marketing department something to sell that they lose sight of the main features their users need. I don't need or use online publishing features -- why can't these be offered as modular add-ons from within the applications?" he said. He also feels resentment at his perception that user interface changes mean traditional publishing features are sometimes harder to find. He calls this "feature-creep".

'Doe' can't be the only traditional graphic designer who feels such dissent. This means there's an opportunity for developers to introduce products via the Mac App Store, products designed to appeal to niche sections of Adobe's existing creative markets.

Perhaps Quark might steal a march against Adobe by offering its extremely powerful software via Apple's store -- such a move would expose XPress to many new customers, including those who need a DTP package right there, right then.

Subscription frisson

I don't think Adobe will swiftly embrace the App Store. Along with a more regular paid upgrade cycle the company is moving into software rental and subscription. These models mean that for a fee a user can access and use CS5.5 applications or the whole suite for a limited time for short-term projects.

Say you happen to run a pro graphics shop and you're attempting to meet a major deadline.You'll be able to hire in licensed versions of Adobe's software for use by your short-term freelance/agency hires if you need to bring new staff in to help meet the commitment. I also anticipate the introduction of subscriptions will be accompanied by an intensification in anti-piracy activity, now Adobe can say it offers this convenience. I can't see Adobe giving Apple 30 percent of its subscription income.

Adobe is also open to criticism for its move to charge for the CS 5.5 upgrade. Sure, I can read Adobe's FAQ in which it attempts to argue customers are just burning with a desire to hand their cash over for the new upgrade. 

Q: If I own Creative Suite 5 already then why do I have to pay more to get CS5.5?
A: Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 includes the latest technology innovations from Adobe including Acrobat X. This release is more fully optimized to meet the needs of those creating across devices and working with video, enabling you to work more competitively in a fast-changing industry. Adobe has worked closely with many customers in developing our plans around CS5.5, and our customers have noted that the innovations in CS5.5 will help them far more efficiently create and deliver content and applications across many devices, saving them significant money on rework and deploying multiple teams. As always, customers have been consulted closely on pricing decisions and have indicated an eagerness to upgrade at the proposed prices, given the increased efficiency and reach they'll achieve using CS5.5.

Not everyone is happy.

Cash the questions

That's because Adobe has decided the 5.5 upgrade will not be a free upgrade for existing CS 5 users. That's fine if you're a Photoshop or Illustrator user, as there's not a whole heap of substance inside 5.5 for those Apps, but there's a lot in this release for interactive and video types.

An upgrade from 5 to 5.5 costs from $299.


Adobe says it now aims to introduce mid-cycle releases "every 12 months and major releases every 24 months." But Twitter this morning sees many customers asking where the CS 5.2, 5.3, and 5.4 upgrades went?

Take a look at the prices on CS 5.5:

$2,599 for the CS5.5 Master Collection, $1,899 for the CS5.5 Design Premium, $1,799 for the CS5.5 Web Premium, $1,699 for the CS5.5 Production Premium, and $1,299 for CS5.5 Design Standard.

And for CS 5 -- introduced last year:

$2,599 for the CS5 Master Collection, $1,899 for the CS5 Design Premium, $1,799 for the CS5 Web Premium, $1,699 for the CS5 Production Premium, and $1,299 for CS5 Design Standard.

Adobe's new subscription offer means you can subscribe to CS 5.5 Master Collection for $129/month for one year, or $195/month on a month-to-month basis. So a 12-month subscription will cost slightly less than the full scale investment.

Of course, it is up to Adobe how much it charges for the software it sells. It isn't up to me to tell the company how much it should charge its customers. It is however up to its customers how much they are willing to pay.

Repositioning Flash

Flash is the big bugbear, and to be fair Adobe seems to have taken a good step toward accepting that the best future for Flash is as a development environment from which to product multimedia experiences for use on different platforms and devices, including versions of Flash Player on some low-cost mobile devices.

Adobe has also made improvements in HTML 5 handling and export within its suite, that's good, as that's what the industry needs.

Adobe claims over 131 million smartphones will have Adobe's Flash Player installed by the end of 2011, including Android, WebOS, BlackBerry Tablet OS, future versions of Windows Phone and more. Gartner recently made the contentious claim that worldwide smartphone sales will reach about 470 million units in 2011. Let's see what really does happen.

Are you convinced by the latest Adobe upgrade? Are you a professional user and are you happy with Adobe's pricing strategy? Perhaps you're an international user, so how does Adobe's new offer seem to you?

Let us know in comments below. I'd also be ever so pleased if you began following me on Twitter so I can let you know when new reports get published here first on Computerworld.  

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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