Home Are You Over AIR Applications?

Are You Over AIR Applications?

When Adobe AIR was first released, we were in love. These glorious rich internet applications let us interact with web services outside our browser. In many ways, AIR apps were revolutionary. More complex than simple desktop widgets, these programs delivered the web to us in beautiful little packages. Almost immediately, we were updating Twitter, streaming video, reading feeds, editing photos, and so much more using various apps built for this new platform.

But recently, we’ve begun to question AIR’s longevity. Now don’t get us wrong – many of our favorite apps (TweetDeck, Tumbleweed, Yammer, etc.) are built using Adobe AIR. However, there’s no reason why these apps couldn’t just run in a browser instead…and that might even be a better place for them. 

Twitter on AIR

When we think about AIR apps today, one of the top apps that comes to mind is TweetDeck, the multi-columned Twitter application which includes much sought-after features not built into Twitter.com’s own web site such as groups, photo-sharing, and saved searches. Yet despite everything we love about TweetDeck, we wonder why it can’t exist simply as an online application. What purpose does running TweetDeck in Adobe AIR serve? It’s not AIR’s cross-platform abilities – after all, web browsers are the original cross-platform apps -and it’s not that AIR is notably faster than an online version either. Probably the only reason for TweetDeck on AIR is that when the app was first built, AIR was the hot new thing. Now that the company has settled on the platform, they’re just sticking with it.

Yet on the flip side, another popular Twitter client and originally an AIR-only app has gone the other direction. TweetDeck competitor Seesmic, once solely an Adobe AIR desktop application, is now offering a web-based version. Not only is the online app more than functional, it’s also being lauded as “the best Twitter browser interface yet.” More importantly, it goes to show that you don’t need a desktop application to have a speedy, pretty, and useful app.

Streaming Video: Yeah, We Can Do that Online

Outside of the Twittersphere, other AIR apps on our radar in the past have included video-streaming programs like Adobe Media Player, AOL Top 100 Videos, and the YouTube-streaming DeskTube. Incidentally, today DeskTube is launching a new beta of their application, claiming “performance improvements” that now make their player “netbook-ready.”

This immediately got us thinking: why do we need netbook-ready AIR applications? Maybe I don’t speak for everyone, but my netbook is currently running XP and the only “app” I’ve installed is Google Chrome. With this fast, lightweight web browser and its pop-out tabs, desktop apps all of sudden seem so passé.

Besides what does DeskTube do (or any of these video-streaming AIR apps for that matter) that the web cannot? In DeskTube’s case, in addition to playing YouTube videos, it includes a search feature, top video lists, a built-in uploader, and it lets you share videos via Twitter and Facebook. All those things can be done via YouTube.com right now, so what’s the benefit of AIR?

Is the Future RIAs or Just Better Browsers?

Adobe AIR launched back in February of 2008, a time when browsers seemed either hopelessly out-of-date (IE7) or bloated with a plethora of add-ons (Firefox). We saw these little internet apps that could sit on our desktop connecting us to web services as truly amazing creations. But then in September, Google launched their Chrome browser and nothing has been the same since.

At first, we railed against Chrome’s lack of extensions and lack of support for RSS among other things, but after a while (and once we filled up our bookmark bar with add-on like bookmarklets), we got over it. Surprisingly, you can live quite well without loading down your browser with extensions. In fact, the only thing that Chrome desperately needs is a Mac version so our non-PC friends can dump the open-source Chromium and use the real thing.

You see, once you “go Chrome” it’s hard to switch back. As much as we fear handing yet another bit of our online life to Google, Chrome is where it’s at now. Firefox now seems heavy and so much slower than before. Instead, we’re popping out tabs to watch sites like FriendFeed and Twitscoop update in real-time. We’re switching from online mode to offline courtesy of Google Gears in our Gmail and Calendar. And we’re wondering why on earth we need another AIR app.

Today, AIR almost seems like a stop-gap between the heavy web browsers of the past and the speedy WebKit-powered browsers of the future…browsers like Chrome and whatever else comes next.

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