Adobe AIR, an excellent cross-platform run time for web-connected desktop applications, has been downloaded 100 million times in under one year of availability, according to a post on the AIR team blog today. We like AIR, a lot, but the hype smells funny to us.
Venture Beat says Adobe is winning the platform race and TechCrunch says that AIR is Flying. There are reasons to believe, however, that AIR is not being used widely and news coverage of the announcement so far has failed to look at those details.
Adobe AIR is a platform that many developers have built applications on top of. Big brands like the New York Times and eBay have made splashy announcements about their AIR apps. Are people using them, though?
In September Adobe put out a frustratingly vague press release announcing, in fact, that AIR apps had been downloaded 25 million times. At least we think that's what the release said, after Adobe PR wrote to tell us that our original report that AIR had been downloaded 25 million times was incorrect. The whole thing seemed like a snow job and in fact Adobe's Rich Internet App evangelist Ryan Stewart deleted his own blog post about that announcement.
The fact is, the vast majority of AIR downloads probably come from the software riding along in a bundle with the much more popular Adobe PDF Reader and the CS4 design software. Those are programs that millions of people feel like they have to have. There are a lot of AIR apps that are nice to have, but we can't think of many that are a "must have" for the general population.
Desktop Twitter App TweetDeck is a must-have for serious Twitter users, but when Adobe lists TweetDeck and Twhirl as among the most popular apps downloaded by these owners of 100 million AIR installs - then we really suspect this isn't a serious number. All of Twitterdom has maybe 6 million people and only a tiny fraction of them use these AIR power tools.
Adobe does say however that "the majority of AIR runtime installations occur at the time the first AIR application is installed by a user -- usually through the use of an "install badge" using AIR's seamless install feature."
We suspect though that people are downloading AIR because it tags along with other software they actually want and then once they've got it, they aren't using it. Now Adobe is hyping it like the the company won the Superbowl (that's how many people in the US will watch the game, by they way, 100 million) and it just doesn't seem likely to be true. That's our theory.
We await an official response, but we asked these questions publicly on the Adobe blog post about the announcement and so far only supportive comments are being approved to appear there. Update: Our comment is now posted, so we'll see what kind of response we get.