Adobe Beefs Up HTML5, Mobile Arsenal With Nitobi PhoneGap Acquisition

Acting on its pledge to support both its proprietary Flash and AIR technologies as well as Web standards such as HTML5, Adobe announced its intent to acquire Nitobi, maker of PhoneGap.

LOS ANGELES - Adobe made a bold, decisive move on the HTML5 and mobile front in announcing its intent to acquire Nitobi Software, the creator of the popular PhoneGap cross-platform mobile application development environment.

Industry analyst James Governor, co-founder of RedMonk, told eWEEK he believes the Nitobi acquisition was perhaps the biggest news of Day One of the Adobe MAX 2011 technology conference here.

"We've looked at the numbers, and if you look at real activity where developers are, PhoneGap is crushing everybody else," in terms of HTML- and JavaScript-based tools for mobile application developers, he said.

PhoneGap is an open-source platform for easily building fast, cross-platform mobile applications with HTML5 and JavaScript. Adobe is looking at the PhoneGap HTML5 application platform to accelerate the creative tools giant's HTML5 and Web standards strategy-which, the company says, will run in parallel with its strategy to continue to evolve and innovate around the Flash platform and Adobe AIR.

The move to acquire Nitobi reinforces Adobe's commitment to helping customers be even more expressive, regardless of the technology, David Wadhwani, senior vice president and general manager of Adobe's Digital Media Business Unit, said at a Q&A session with press and analysts. The deal is also in line with recent product releases such as Adobe Edge and Adobe Muse, as well as the innovation with community-driven projects, including contributions to the jQuery mobile UI framework and Webkit for layout and typography functionality, he said.

With PhoneGap, Adobe will offer developers the choice of two powerful solutions for cross-platform development of native mobile applications, one using HTML5 and JavaScript with PhoneGap and the other using Adobe Flash with Adobe AIR. PhoneGap's open-source framework has been downloaded more than 600,000 times to date and thousands of applications built using PhoneGap are available in mobile application stores that span devices based on Android, iOS, BlackBerry and other operating systems.

"PhoneGap has proven to be an industry-defining app solution for HTML5 developers," Danny Winokur, vice president and general manager of platform at Adobe, said in a statement. "PhoneGap is a fantastic solution for developing a broad range of mobile apps using the latest Web standards, and is already integrated with Dreamweaver CS5.5. It's a perfect complement to Adobe's broad family of developer solutions, including Adobe AIR, and will allow us to continue to provide content publishers and developers with the best, cutting-edge solutions for creating innovative applications across platforms and devices."

"Adobe has always been a big supporter of the open-source community and at the forefront of enabling rich, Web based applications across screens," Andre Charland, CEO of Nitobi, said in a statement. "We share the same philosophy about enabling extraordinary mobile and Web applications. Becoming part of the Adobe family with its industry-leading tools and technologies opens up amazing new opportunities for PhoneGap and our customers."

Moreover, this move to acquire Nitobi "lowers the age of the people who touch Adobe by 10 years," Governor said. "It's the age gap as well as the phone gap they're addressing."

In addition, Governor said he believes the PhoneGap acquisition sets up Adobe to be better equipped to support Windows Phone development as well as Windows 8. "They're really well positioned for Windows 8; they'll be tooled up for Windows 8."

In September, Nitobi launched PhoneGap for the Windows Phone Mango operating system.

Although Adobe is acquiring Nitobi, the PhoneGap framework continues to be open source and is being contributed to the Apache Software Foundation. Yet PhoneGap Build incorporates additional proprietary code allowing developers to build their applications from anywhere without installing mobile platform SDKs, according to an FAQ on the Nitobi site.

Nitobi is pursuing a contribution of the PhoneGap code to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) to ensure open stewardship of the project over the long term. As part of that process, it will be renamed to a new Apache-branded name Callback. Adobe fully supports this contribution and will continue to host the PhoneGap community site with full participation from its contributors, as well as the PhoneGap Build service.

"We are also excited to announce our contribution of the PhoneGap code to the Apache Software Foundation," Dave Johnson, chief technology officer at Nitobi, said in a statement. "Adobe has been fully supportive of our decision, further demonstrating Adobe's continued commitment to the developer and open-source communities. The Apache Software Foundation's model makes it possible for contributors to collaborate on open-source product development, and Adobe and Nitobi look forward to engaging with other community members to advance the PhoneGap technology."

In an Oct. 3 blog post, Scott Schwarzhoff, vice president of marketing at Nitobi competitor Appcelerator, said: "A long-time proprietary software provider, Adobe's acquisition of open-source-based Nitobi signals a larger market-wide validation of the fact that open Web technologies are here to stay and are critical to cross-platform application development in the Post-PC era."

Appcelerator's approach to mobile development differs significantly from that of PhoneGap, Schwarzhoff said. "PhoneGap, like other similar projects, wraps a Website and exposes only a few dozen features (e.g., methods) to create a hybrid application," he said. "Appcelerator Titanium creates a fully native application by exposing nearly a thousand features (methods) to developers."

However, Schwarzhoff added: "In the end, all of this is good news for Web developers, who now have solid alternatives to proprietary operating systems that lock developers into specific OSes. We congratulate Nitobi for demonstrating the power that's possible from the open Web model."

Meanwhile, RedMonk's Governor said, "If Adobe is going to do this hosted thing, they need to do it aggressively. We need to see a hosted PhoneGap."

Nitobi is based in Vancouver, Canada, and its employees are expected to join Adobe. The acquisition is subject to certain closing conditions and is expected to be completed by the end of this month. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.