Lack of innovations: the Achilles’ heel of Adobe

I left Adobe a few months back and there is one aspect of their business model that I always wanted to write about. I’d rather get my thoughts out and ‘move on in life’, so to speak! Trust me, this is not an account of a frustrated ex-employee! And my thoughts are not about the product I worked on there- I’ll keep that for a later post.

First of all, this is how I would rank the software companies in contemporary times:
  1. The best, undoubtedly, is Google- it is literally everywhere. I personally am a huge fan of Google search, Gmail and Drive and I also really like Blogger and Picasa. Google’s Android is an unignorable competitor in mobile OS and few of us know how big a player Google really is in online marketing and analytics
  2. Facebook and Apple are the best in their line of business (Moreover, although the social-media advertising platform developed by Facebook is not that mature yet, it has the potential to give a tough competition to Google in future). The same can easily be said about Amazon- I have used their web services, called AWS, and the solutions they provide are incredibly elegant and path-breaking; we already know about their e-tailing business.
  3. Microsoft has ventured out in many different fields- except social networking, they have a presence in web search, cloud-based services, email solutions and softwares for creative professionals; and of course, they created Windows and Office. Adobe too, in my list, ranks third along with Microsoft.

More on Adobe now. Adobe develops a wide range of softwares many of which are targeted to creative professionals. A major part of its revenue comes from Creative Suite, Acrobat and Photoshop. There is no dearth of talent at Adobe but the reason it still lags so much from other giants in the industry is that it favors business over innovation and creativity.

The only thing Adobe is concerned about, while deciding on something, is how that ‘something’ will bring in money in the near future. Adobe solicits new ideas, every now and then, from its employees and if you have something, you can get a chance to build it IF you can convince the decision-makers about the financial worth of your idea. Now, I don’t mean that Adobe should turn into an NGOs and begin working for the greater good of the society- what I feel is that you should never judge an idea by its probable financial merits because if that is how you do things, you would never have bought the concept of Facebook when it was still young.

Moreover, Adobe isn’t even very creative when it comes to conceptualizing a new product. While I was there, I attended two Technovation events with high hopes of seeing something genuinely out-of-the-box. But all I found was either a somewhat different type of printing or a slightly optimized functionality for native pdf-creation on Android. They once introduced Collage which provided paid functionalities that were already available on the internet for free.

The core of the problem, I think, lies in the fact that Adobe is run by people who have a background in business and not by technology visionaries. These people are almost always more concerned about the firm’s stock prices than about creating something revolutionary just for the sake of it. Adobe could never have created an entirely new flavor of a desktop or mobile Operating system, but when one arrives, all they frantically try is to port their existing softwares to it. Also compare the major functionalities Google gives away for free in Google Docs to a relatively unknown and rather buggy online document editor that Adobe distributes (on Acrobat.com, if I am not wrong) for a price.

I am also reminded of an incident that happened sometime before Steve Jobs passed away. The relationship between Apple and Adobe was strained, to say the least, and when Jobs announced that he preferred HTML5 over Flash in iPhones, Adobe went gaga over how cool Flash is and even gave away free Android phone to its employees in an attempt to evangelize Flash. It was a little funny, in its own way, when a few months later, Adobe suddenly announced that they no longer cared for Flash and that they would concentrate mostly on HTML5 because that was the new in-thing!

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