Written by Jay Fortner and edited by Richard MacManus. Jay was Read/WriteWeb's representative at the Adobe Engage event, held yesterday in San Francisco.
During the presentation, Adobe mentioned that their Flash Upgrade 8 reached an 85% penetration rate within 9 months, which is amazing. The diffusion rate was aided tremendously by social network sites, which helped prompt people to upgrade their players. So does Apollo have a compelling application opportunity that can deliver that same market penetration? Is the ability to blur the lines of offline and online, as well as the ease of starting an application on your desktop, important enough for my mother or brother to want to download a desktop version of one of their favorite sites?
In all fairness, Apollo is not for every application - as was stressed by the Adobe representatives who spoke at Engage. You probably won't see World of Warcraft or Second Life run as an Apollo desktop application, and many websites and web apps won't find enough utility to justify having a desktop version. However Adobe would serve itself well by being hands off - and allowing enough flexibility in the architecture to easily enable developers to work on value-added tools using Apollo. I think for quite some time, Apollo will be mainly a techie product for development and consumption. Their mission is groundbreaking, but many iterations are needed in the short term for this to reach the mainstream user. As one commenter at the presentation mentioned, Apollo aims to transform our notion of the desktop and how it interacts with the Internet - and vice-versa.
Safety and Security issues
It is often difficult to get viral reach with desktop applications, unless they are packaged up with another product (e.g. Google Pack). Often when I hear of a new start-up that involves a downloadable application, I immediately think they have more of an uphill battle to achieve user take-up. Outside of all the compatibility issues that can come up, consumers are apprehensive about downloading applications because of viruses and malware - even if an indicator states that it’s safe. My non-tech friends often state that even with these indicators, in the back of their head they worry that someone has circumvented the process and attached spyware. Others are wary about installing applications on their computers that are in the beta stages, because they are worried about it crashing their system. So Adobe needs to educate the mainstream user about the safety and security in their software. They should make this their top priority, while techies are testing and developing on top of Apollo.
Immediate Value Proposition
Tim O’Reilly once mentioned how he’d love for applications like Google Calendar to automatically display via his desktop, because of how often he uses them. For others, this may not be compelling enough - because typing in calendar.google.com and logging in is not painful enough to want a desktop application.
But my bet is that many productivity applications will arise that use Apollo; and these will be the early ecosystem that keeps Apollo moving forward. Those who use productivity applications use them often and are are often on the move, so there is a lot of value to be gained in desktop/web hybrid software here.
Can anyone think of web applications in which they’d like Apollo desktop-web functionality? Perhaps, for example, offline widgets with internet capability.
Favorite demo using Apollo
The demo of eBay using Apollo was very impressive (it was also presented recently at the Demo Conference). The application was very seamless, allowing tremendous offline functionality and synching once the user logged back in to the network. With drag and drop features, it seems like the perfect tool for the eBay Power User. The value in this application is that it makes it easier to list items on eBay - even easier than using the eBay website. So if I'm a Power User and have to go to eBay a hundred times a day, it makes perfect sense to just launch it from my desktop. But we have to remember that the eBay Power User is a minority in the eBay community.
Image credit: Ryan Stewart
Other demos that I enjoyed getting a live view of was Brightcove’s AfterMix, which provides online video editing tools and video sharing. It is easy to use, but the catch is that it uses commercial partners to provide "quality" sources to mix and re-mix content. I also enjoyed yourminis, which is a slick start page and widget platform that allows great customization and sharing. Online organizer Scrybe also showed some great Apollo functionality.
Overall, the Engage event was very interesting and had some compelling applications on show. I’ll be curious to see the iterations and applications that are built off the Apollo platform - and how they will 'engage' the average user.
Photo credit: Mike Downey (nb: not taken at Engage, but at Adobe MAX 2006)