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Adobe Air 2.5 embraces desktop, mobile, and televisions

At its Adobe MAX 2010 event this week in Los Angeles, Adobe has formally unveiled Adobe Air 2.5, the latest version of its standalone deployment platform that enables application developers to target not only desktops and browsers with their applications, but also smartphones, tablets (including forthcoming Android devices), and interactive televisions. Adobe intends for Air to be one-stop shopping for application developers looking to leverage their content and services across a wide variety of devices—not just computers or phones, but the whole consumer electronics gamut.

“With the release of Air 2.5, more than 3 million Flash developers can now build a single game or application and easily deploy it across multiple application stores and devices,” said Adobe senior VP David Wadhwani, in a statement. “This is a huge step forward for developers looking to build rich, engaging applications but who have historically had to incur the cost of building them separately for each device and platform.”

Adobe Air targets an broad set of platforms, including Windows, Macintosh, and Linux desktops; mobile devices running BlackBerry, Android, and Apple’s iOS platforms; as well as a range of forthcoming tablets and consumer electronics, including forthcoming SmartTVs from Samsung. Device makers pledging to include the Adobe Air runtime in their gear include HTC, Motorola, RIM, and Acer. Unlike previous write-once run-everywhere platforms like Java, Adobe Air embraces platform-native controls within applications, so Adobe Air applications can look at feel like native apps on particular platforms. Adobe Air also enables developers to integrate Flash and HTML content, tap into device-specific hardware like accelerometers, cameras, video, mics, and multi-touch interfaces, and cache databases within an app using SQLite. Plus, Adobe Air supports graphic hardware acceleration on chips from everyone from AMD and Nvidia to TI, Intel, Broadcom, and more.

With Air 2.5, Adobe is also getting into the business of helping developers get their application to market, announcing Adobe InMarket, a new service that will enable developers to offer and sell their apps across a variety of online app stores. Although Adobe says it’s working with “several store partners” including Acer and Intel, the exact partner list hasn’t been unveiled—and it’s not clear whether it will include the Android Market or (far less likely) Apple’s App Store—although Adobe is clear that it’s going to pocket 30 percent of every sale.

Adobe Air has already seen some adoption in development circles, particularly amongst folks developing platform-native clients for Web-based online services with APIs: Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook have all received attention from Air developers. However, while many Air apps have been gorgeous to look at, many have been criticized for consuming scads of computing resources and, despite Adobe’s protestations, failing to behave like platform-native applications—to date, Adobe Air apps have routinely been skunked by lean-and-hungry developers working with platform-specific tools. There’s little doubt users will be seeing more of Adobe Air in the future—between traditional computers, mobile devices, and now televisions—but it seems to be an open question as to whether the unified development framework Air provides is worth Air’s overhead and platform-specific tradeoffs.