Understanding the Potential of Adobe Integrated Runtime_AIR_ by usvoruganti

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									Understanding the Potential of Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR)
By Andrea Simmons

A White Paper from Integration New Media

Integration New Media, Inc.
1600 Rene-Levesque Blvd W, Suite 900 Montreal, QC H3H 1P9 Canada Tel.: +1 514 871 1333 Fax: +1 514 871 9251 http://www.INM.com

Understanding the Potential of Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR)

Introduction
Broad industry trends point toward major changes in how companies will communicate with their clients in the coming years. In both the business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) sectors, there is significant interest in leveraging rich web experiences to sell products, provide information, and facilitate communications. Traditional advertising methods, including television, are losing ground as the North American market falls into recession1, however, online advertising is anticipated to hold steady. Smart companies are weathering the storm by investing early in rich internet applications (RIAs) as ways to create direct connections with their clients. RIAs provide the same level of audio and video support as television, while delivering a continuous, interactive, and branded experience. In February 2008, Adobe announced its new product offering, Adobe Integrated Runtime, otherwise known as Adobe® AIR™. In beta for more than a year, Adobe AIR has been embraced early by many significant brands, including eBay, Nickelodeon, and NASDAQ, and has been talked about in technology circles as a significant tool for companies looking to build new relationships with their clients. Most of the information that’s been made available about Adobe AIR so far, has been written for the programmers that are building applications, not for the visionaries that are designing the client experiences. The objective of this paper is to provide executives, project managers, marketers and other visionaries with an introduction to Adobe AIR, and information about how Adobe AIR can be leveraged to create next generation web experiences.

What is a Rich Internet Application (RIA)?
In order to fully explain Adobe AIR, it is important to first look at rich Internet applications (RIAs). RIAs are web applications that have many of the features and functionality of traditional desktop applications, but are delivered over the web. These applications combine the best of both worlds – the power and rich content of the desktop, with the benefit of Internet connectivity. The primary differentiator between an RIA and a traditional website is that an RIA is a true “application” that allows you to perform a task. This task can be anything from finding a product or customizing a service to learning new information or playing a game. Another key difference with RIAs is the way that they handle and process information. Traditional desktop applications rely exclusively on client-side processing. This means that when a task is initiated, the local system’s resources are leveraged to process the request. In contrast, a web application relies exclusively on server-side technology to process a request. With RIAs the load is shared by both the client and the serve, which allows for a different type of data handling. With an HTML website, when a user fills in data, changes options, or checks boxes, the complete page must be submitted to the server for data validation and then the screen is reloaded with the new data incorporated. With RIAs, the data is partially processed by the client, so a full-page refresh and return trip to the server is not necessary with every action performed. This means that when users perform an action, the results can be displayed on-screen immediately without the data being

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reloaded. The partial page refresh allows for increased responsiveness and smooth interaction, creating new possibilities for information flow and new methods of information display. Web applications are no longer bound to the rigid page-by-page format that was previously required from HTML applications.

What is Adobe AIR?
Adobe AIR provides a way for companies to deploy RIAs to the desktop, creating a closer connection with their customers. With Adobe AIR, your branded application migrates from being a destination that a customer accesses through a web browser, to becoming a connection that provides direct and controlled interactions with your clients. Adobe AIR allows consumers to experience the web in a new way, allowing them to have their favorite web applications with them at all times. Applications are available anytime and anywhere - on the desktop, over the web, on any platform, and eventually, on any device. Adobe AIR allows application designers to break free from the browser and have 100 per cent control over their application’s appearance, while still ensuring that it will work seamlessly and look the same on all platforms and operating systems. Adobe AIR plays a critical role in bringing back the familiar and very functional desktop features that application developers lost when they moved to the web. When applications were truly desktopbased, clients could interact with their desktop and could work in a way that was very familiar for them. Adobe AIR brings back functionalities like copy and paste, drag and drop, task manager interaction and desktop notifications.

What Opportunities Does AIR Present?
Adobe AIR allows executives, project managers, marketers and other visionaries to think “outside the box” in many ways when designing their client interactions. First and foremost, this means that an application can become more than a simple bookmark that is one click away from competitors. Applications can break free from the square, boxy format of the web browser and can take on any shape, transparency, and format that the application designer desires. This allows full-blown applications to appear on the desktop in novelty shapes, similar in format to widgets. If, for example, you are deploying an application that tracks progress for a fundraising campaign, you can build this in the form factor of a barometer that sits on the desktop and shows a real-time status of your donations. Thinking outside the box also means that the application designer is not restricted by the security limitations of the browser. With traditional web applications, it’s impossible to interact with files or folders on the local system. The security for all applications is policed by the web browser, preventing even valid requests from trusted applications from getting through. With Adobe AIR, applications run with the same user privileges as native applications. This means that applications can have broad access to operating system capabilities such as reading and writing files, starting other applications, drawing to the screen, and communicating with the network.

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Adobe AIR also supports local notifications, allowing application designers to finally push data out to users in a reliable and controlled way, opening up new opportunities for engagement. With web applications, the only way to push information out to clients was though an email notification. This method was generally reliable but not very efficient, as the client needed to check his/her email, login to a web application and then respond. With Adobe AIR, it is now possible to trigger a desktop notification. This means that clients can set-up requests for information they want, and be immediately notified of its availability. Companies can set-up notifications to inform clients of new products or stock replenishments, or to trigger collaboration between multiple parties. Adobe AIR changes the delivery of information and allows organization to push-out data to clients in a real-time, collaborative model. For developers, Adobe AIR is an efficient development path as it allows programmers to build truly multi-platform applications using the web programming skills that they already possess. Developers accustomed to building web applications with HTML, AJAX, Flash and Flex, can easily transition their applications to the desktop, without learning the languages and processes that are typically required for desktop application development. Adobe AIR creates certain economies of scale for web applications as it allows developers to build an application once and then deploy it over the web, to the desktop and eventually, to additional platforms, like mobile devices. The same base elements are used and the same coding tools are leveraged.

Key Benefits
Adobe AIR offers a number of key benefits, including: Creation of a Rich Experience • • • Ability to incorporate rich media and video Full control over branding (custom chrome and transparency) Seamless desktop integration (support for drag/drop, notifications, clipboard support, etc…)

Broad Reach for Applications • • • • Support for Windows and Mac, as well as planned support for Linux Ability to leverage a one-time, universal application installer Support for online and offline application use with network detection Ability to access local data and files with an embedded database

Efficient Design/Developer Workflow • • • • Ability to leverage existing, widely-adopted tools (Flex, Dreamweaver, etc…) and technologies (HTML, AJAX, etc…) Ability to reuse existing assets Ability to push-out application updates Ability to develop once and deploy across all applications and platforms

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Leveraging Proven Technologies • • Leverages integrated support for HTML, Flash, and PDF Leverages proven technology, including WebKit HTML engine, Tamarin ActionScript™ Virtual Machine, and SQLite local database.

Examples of Early Applications
Even though Adobe AIR was only recently released, there are a number of applications available today that already use this technology. The early examples can be divided by audience into two main categories: • Business to Consumer (B2C) Applications Early examples of B2C applications focus on pushing content to consumers (audio/video, product availability and other information) or facilitating communication and collaboration (chat and community applications). These include shopping assistants, interactive catalogs, media players, targeted games, chat programs and more. • Business to Business (B2B) Applications Early examples of B2B applications mostly concentrate on improving productivity and access to information and applications. Many of the B2B examples show how to extend applications to the desktop for 24x7 operations in any environment. This includes data entry tools for web-based CRM solutions, data collection forms, dashboards, and interactive directories.

Business to Consumer (B2C) Examples
eBay Desktop
This application was one of the first to showcase the capabilities of Adobe AIR. eBay Desktop provides eBay users with a new way to find products, browse through auctions, place bids, and watch specific items all from their desktop. The application provides search feeds, item reminders, and persistent filters to enhance the eBay experience without forcing users to constantly reach for the browser refresh button. This provides eBay customers with quick and convenient access from any location.

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Understanding the Potential of Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR)

Fig. 1 – eBay Desktop Application http://desktop.ebay.com/

AOL Top 100 Videos
The AOL Top 100 Videos application is a dynamic desktop application that people can enjoy, customize, and share. Built with Adobe AIR, this application provides users with compelling, free content that is available on the AOL website, but is repackaged for the desktop. This delivery model allows users to easily engage with content when and where they choose. By using Adobe AIR, AOL is able to streamline development processes and provide a single application that delivers an online and offline experience that runs consistently across platforms.

Fig. 2 – AOL Top 100 Videos Application http://music.aol.com/help/syndication/desktop-widgets

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Understanding the Potential of Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR)

Business to Business (B2B) Examples
Employee Directory
The Employee Directory application is one that users can install and run on their local desktop to search for other employees within their company. The application allows employees to enter a name into a search dialog box on the desktop and pull-up full contact info for their fellow employees. Users can also pull up the contact’s schedule to see daily bookings. Profiles are also available for shared resources such as conference rooms. These resource profiles contain information about room layouts and dimensions as well as equipment and room availability.

Fig. 3 – Employee Directory Sample Application http://www.adobe.com/devnet/air/flex/samples.html

Google Web Analytics Reporting Suite
Google Analytics is a powerful statistics tool for tracking and analyzing traffic for websites, allowing marketers to see which online initiatives are effective and how visitors actually interact with their site. The Google Analytics Reporting suite is an Adobe AIR application that brings Google Analytics to the desktop. This application allows users to view data from multiple Analytics accounts in a tabbed interface. Users can switch between reports and can pull-up interactive graphs to drill-down into data for analyzing values and data segmentation.

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Fig. 4 – Google Web Analytics Reporting Suite http://www.aboutnico.be/index.php/google-analytics-air-beta-sign-up/ In addition to this example, many companies that focus on solutions for the B2B market already have beta applications built, that will roll-out shortly. Two of these include: • • Accelerate4Pharma – a comprehensive on-demand solution for managing pharmaceutical marketing, sales, and customer service from Model Metrics and Salesforce.com NASDAQ Market Replay – an investment watcher from NASDAQ Stock Market, Inc.

Factors to Consider
In designing for this new type of interaction there are a number of considerations that organizations must keep in mind. With the extension to the desktop and the shift in communications from being pull-based (where the user takes an action) to push-based (where the user can be delivered content) there is a need to ensure that the content pushed out is of value1. With a website, it is easy for companies to provide a mix of content, some of which has value and drives interaction, and some of which that is simply related to pitching products and services. A web application is more like a newspaper, where readers can choose to absorb any combination of information or advertising that they wish. With a desktop interaction, there is more involvement between the organization and the user, creating a stronger connection and higher standards for “acceptable content”. This means that users will often have less tolerance for accepting content that is not of value to them, or that feels like a sales pitch. Asking users for a valuable slice of their desktop real estate means that organizations must create and continue to deliver engaging interactions that won’t be construed as being pitchy. For example, when Nike began to build solutions to divert a portion of its ad spend away from traditional media, it decided to create a series of tools for consumers that helped engage their clients in fitness and track results. These branded tools, which include running coaches, fitness logs and more, provide value to the users and warrant the allocation of valuable desktop space for the Nike brand2.

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Understanding the Potential of Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR)

The second element to consider is trust. With a web application the browser plays an important role in policing communications, which prevents applications from modifying local files and accessing local data. With Adobe AIR, your applications can now have access to these functions. This means that you need to establish a trusted relationship with your users before many will consider downloading and installing an application from you. In many cases, if you are looking at Adobe AIR as a way to extend your relationship with current clients, this trust may already be established. However, if you are envisioning using Adobe AIR for other purposes, such as attracting new clients, then this is a factor you will need to consider. In order to build trust, it is important to note that all applications created with Adobe AIR must be code-signed by a trusted certificate vendor, such as Verisign or Thawte. Another element to consider is that there is a small barrier to entry with an AIR application, as there is a one-time software install. The good news is that, unlike previous runtimes/plug-ins such as Flash Player, you can package the Adobe AIR install together with your application install, so you don’t need to drive users through a separate process. In addition, Adobe is helping to get Adobe AIR onto consumers’ desktops through the introduction of its own applications that will leverage the software. These planned applications include Adobe Media Player, an AIR-enabled version of Adobe Buzzword as well as Adobe Connect. Once Adobe AIR is deployed to a user’s desktop, your application can leverage the current install.

Alternatives
In looking at your options for creating engaging client interactions, you may run into other technologies that appear, at least on the surface, to have similar functionality to Adobe AIR. Below are some of the different technologies that have been compared as alternative solutions:

Google Gears
Google Gears is an open source browser extension that lets developers create web applications that can run offline. It is a different type of technology with a different purpose. With Google Gears, it is possible for application developers to extend the browser and to provide access to local SQLite databases and as well as to files. However, Google Gears is not designed to provide the same type of interaction that Adobe AIR applications deliver, with a desktop footprint and custom branding. In addition, Google Gears is currently in beta and is not intended for production implementations yet.

Widgets
Widgets, in the context we are referring to here, are movable mini-applications that are tied to full software applications and are used by consumers to craft custom experiences on their desktops, start pages, social networks, blogs and more. The key is that widgets are generally limited to a single purpose or task-specific functions and are not themselves full-blown applications. By contrast, Adobe AIR allows for a fully functioning application to be ported to the desktop, without the reliance on installing a full software application to support it.

Silverlight
Microsoft Silverlight 1.0 is a browser plug-in that allows web applications to include features like animation, vector graphics, and audio-video playback. The goal of Silverlight is to enhance the experience and enrich the content that can be delivered through the browser allowing for the seamless integration of graphics and effects, as well as the use of animation and overlays. This makes Silverlight 1.0 more of a competitor with Flash Player than with Adobe AIR.

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Java FX
JavaFX is a family of developer products that can be used to create desktop, browser and mobile RIAs that deploy on the Java runtime. JavaFX was the first technology designed with the write once, deploy many times philosophy that Adobe AIR promotes. In theory JavaFX appears to be a viable competitor to Adobe AIR, especially for developers who are already working in Java. However, JavaFX is an open source, community-contributed solution, so it is on a slower development path than Adobe AIR. Little is known yet about what the final version of JavaFX will deliver and it will be some time before developers can deploy solutions based on this technology.

Moving Forward with AIR
If you are interested in working with Adobe AIR, and in discussing how you can extend your current web applications to leverage this technology, one way to move quickly is by working with a technology partner. By teaming up with a technology partner, it will be feasible to quickly transform your current web applications and to explore opportunities for new types of applications in the future. By combining internal or agency resources for ideas, application content, branding and experience design, and the skills of a seasoned development team with a strong history of success in both RIA and desktop application development, the combination is golden. Each party can focus on what they do best and can help to create truly engaging, fully cross-platform client experiences. The right technology partner can be a perfect complement to help your team achieve your creative vision and enhance your future client interactions. When choosing a technology partner to work with, you should consider whether the partner: • • • • • Has strong, cross-industry expertise Has a history of successful projects and satisfied clients Is active in research and development and is committed to exploring all of the alternatives on the market Has a diverse team of developers with varied skills and expertise Has a strong project management team and established, yet flexible, processes

Working with the right technology partner can help you to: • • • • Build your AIR applications quickly and get them into your clients’ hands Set-up tracking and monitoring tools to capture valuable market data about how your clients are using your applications Optimize your current web applications to make them richer or fully cross-platform Understand how to fully leverage RIA technologies throughout your client engagement and sales process

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About INM
Integration New Media (INM) helps companies create rich user experiences in both online and offline environments. With projects ranging from rich internet applications through to interactive sales and marketing tools and online libraries, INM has developed solutions for organizations large and small in a variety of different industries. A well-known player in the industry for over nearly 20 years, the company offers top-level interactive project consulting and programming services as well as a successful line of products that includes some of the best-known plug-ins for Adobe (formerly Macromedia) Director, Flash and Authorware. For more information, please visit: http://www.INM.com.

Contact Us
INM Services Team +1 514 871 1333, Option 4 Services@INM.com http://www.INM.com

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Reference Info
1 2 3

The Economist, “Hard Sell”, January 24, 2008 Teknision Blog, “Why to Use AIR. More than Technological Factors”, September 17, 2007 The New York Times, “The New Advertising Outlet: Your Life”, October 14, 2007

Examples
• • • • eBay Desktop Application - http://desktop.ebay.com/ AOL Top 100 Videos Application - http://music.aol.com/help/syndication/desktopwidgets Employee Directory Sample Application - http://www.adobe.com/devnet/air/flex/ samples.html Google Web Analytics Reporting Suite - http://www.aboutnico.be/index.php/googleanalytics-air-beta-sign-up/

Additional examples and sample applications are available at: • • • Adobe AIR Showcase - http://www.adobe.com/products/air/showcase/ O2Apps.com AIR Application Showcase - http://www.o2apps.com/ Adobe AIR Marketplace – http://www.adobe.com/go/marketplace/

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