Adobe Max – New York Times readers get breath of fresh AIR

What do a senior executive from the New York Times Company and California’s first lady have in common?

Each took the stage at Adobe Max 2008, on Monday, to tell of how digital technologies (including Adobe Flash Player 10 and Adobe AIR) are bringing a new dimension to tasks such as newspaper reading and “interactive education.”

Michael Zimbalist, vice-president, research and development operations at the New York Times Company demoed a unique application that adds quite a bit of pizzazz to the task of reading a newspaper online.

VIDEO: Michael Zimbalist demoes the NYT News Reader Application


And Maria Shriver waxed eloquent on her pet project – California Trails, an initiative that harnesses technologies, such as Adobe AIR and Flash, to help students get to know California better – and see there’s more to the legacy of the “golden state” than the Gold Rush, the missions, and Hollywood.

The New York Times Company’s tryst with the “news reader” started with its R&D group investigating various kinds of products and services its audience would likely want moving forward.

“We’re always looking for the right hardware and software that [offer] audiences…the best possible user experience,” said Zimbalist.

This quest, he said, led the company to work with Adobe to create an advanced news reader application that “properly renders articles and media content as they were intended, regardless of what size of display or what platform the user is on.”

Zimbalist demoed some of the compelling features of the news reader app for the International Herald Tribune (which is the global edition of the New York Times).

The application – built on top of Adobe AIR 1.5 – brings readers “today’s paper” by caching the latest feeds from the New York Times Web site.

These are presented so you can read can the news online or offline (as Zimbalist said he did on his flight over from New York to San Francisco).

At the top of the reader are displayed all the latest headlines –pulled every few minutes from the New York Times Web site, when readers are online.

Zimbalist resized the application window, making it bigger, and when he did the layout changed automatically – article summaries appeared, as did thumbnails. This feature, he said, enables the reader to provide an optimal experience on a screen of any size or dimension.

He demoed how an article lays out dynamically – with wrapping columns of text – when you click on it. Words, he said, hyphenate automatically, while pagination changes to accommodate different screen sizes.

Navigation, Zimbalist said, is easy and intuitive. “You navigate through all the articles with the arrow keys, paginate within an article with the Up and Down keys, while the Left and Right keys take you from article to article.”

Also included in the application is a “Browse” feature that simulates for the user some of the nice features of reading a print newspaper – such as the ability to flip back and forth between the pages, scan headlines and photos.

Zimbalist said ads in the newspaper combine the impact of print, with embedded interactivity characteristic of the Web.

“If you roll the cursor over the ad, it comes to life. If you click on it, it launches a video,” Zimbalist said, noting that the ability to embed Flash video and interactive content right inside the ad is a feature of Adobe AIR.

He said it’s not just video advertising that readers can access, but also news video content that comes in through the feeds.   

Other interactive elements include, a crossword puzzle embedded right in the application – which you can click around and highlight a clue or get a hint or a letter. 

Interactivity and flexibility are also hallmarks of the California Legacy Trails – a new Web site launched by the California Museum on Monday.

While Shriver came on stage later to talk about Trails, it was Adobe’s chief technology officer, Kevin Lynch who demoed some of the site’s capabilities and how they are driven by Adobe technologies.

On the Trails site, said Lynch, students can learn a great deal about California – where the progressive movement started, where the best grapes and software companies are – and can participate in a new legacy trail on remarkable women in California.

He said an application under construction, called Learning Lab, offers different views to the teacher and student.

Teachers can log on to the app – built on Adobe AIR – to access content from the Web site and create instructional material around it, such as quizzes, a photo essay assignment.

When a student logs on, the application shows them projects assigned to them.

Because it is built on AIR, the application can blend the power of client and cloud computing, said Lynch.

He demoed how students could create a photo story on the legendary Susan Kaye, for instance – pulling in art work and other resources from their local machine and just dragging and dropping these into the Learning Lab app.

Say you have a story on Susan Kaye an amazing designer. You have pics of Susan, edit it etc. As this application is built on AIR it can integrate with local information. “And when you’re done you can present a slideshow right from the app – a nice montage of photos and text.”

Both the New York Times “news reader” and California Trails projects exemplify a significant shift in software development, Lynch said.

“It’s moved from being purely on the client, or purely on the cloud, to a combination of both client and cloud computing.”

Adobe, he said, sees amazing opportunity in blending client and cloud computing and balancing the two. “The future of computing is combining processing on the local client, while taking advantage of a bunch of different services on the cloud.”

Lynch said this blend of client and cloud computing is one of the three “tectonic shifts” in computing we’re witnessing today.

The other two, he said, are: the rise of a “social computing” environment in which software development is no longer a solo experience but a collaborative one, and the shift to a multi-screen world – where far more mobile phones are connected to the Internet, than personal computers.

Lynch demoed a new Adobe technology dubbed CoComo that he says supports such collaboration. “It’s an extension to the Flex framework and enables people to easily build collaborative features into their Web applications.”

Adobe, he said, also offers such collaborative environment as a service. “So we host, and the Connect components also make use of Adobe social services.”

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