On the Adobe eBook Platform- Part 3 of 10: What’s New?

This is part 3 of a 10 part series by Micah Bowers, Co-Founder and CEO of Bluefire. Click here to read the first post in the series.

In my previous post in this series I provided a concise overview of the Adobe eBook publishing platform. Many of you are probably already familiar with the basic elements of the Adobe ecosystem, but may not know about the following recent and exciting developments.

Adobe has released significant updates to RMSDK (versions 9.2 and 9.3) in the last year. Along with the usual fixes and minor tweaks, Adobe delivered a brand new EPUB rendering engine. While there are too many enhancements delivered as part of the new rendering engine to do it justice to in one short blog post, the most significant set of new features is related to foreign language support, notably Asian languages. There are also big improvements in typography and text rendering, including support for hyphenation and, importantly, support for text-to-speech (TTS) for content accessibility.

Adobe has also released Content Server 4.1.2 which enables what I call “pass-hash” protection for PDF and EPUB files. This pass-hash system is a new option beyond the “identity based” system that was already supported with the use of an Adobe ID account to authorize a limited number of devices. This pass-hash system embeds an encrypted (or “hashed”) version of a user name and/or password into the ebook file. Any user who receives a copy of the file and knows the username and password associated with the item can read the eBook. Adobe calls this a form of “Social DRM” because the eBook and password info can be shared with others and is not limited to a specific number of authorized devices. (Note that the release of this system does not imply a change to the concurrent device limit used in the more popular identity based DRM option.) Content Server 4.1.2 also added support for TTS as part of the available content protection permission set. More information on these topics can be found on the Adobe Digital Publishing Blog.

Adobe has also released a new generation of the Adobe Digital Editions desktop app, currently available as a Beta release in Adobe Labs. It has a very different look-and-feel than the first generation app, but the most important new feature is its integrated accessibility support. You can learn more about the latest release – “Adobe Digital Editions 1.8 Preview” which was released in November 2011. Download the preview and check it out for yourself! It is still a work in progress but this Beta is a good step forward.

That said, even as ADE improves I think many organizations will choose to release their own RMSDK based desktop applications. The reason for this is that desktop operating systems simply don’t enable a great way to “push” ebook file downloads from a retailer or library website into an application. So in order to offer a good consumer experience, the content acquisition interfaces need to be integrated within the applications themselves.

I believe this is a key reason why Adobe has focused so much of their development efforts toward providing enabling technologies to 3rd party developers – so that the 3rd parties can in turn build ereading apps and devices that tightly integrate discovery, download, and reading features.

The down-side of this focus on providing enabling technology is that it is sometimes “invisible” to a broader audience of folks in the digital publishing space – until companies like Bluefire build things with it.

A great example of this is another new capability of the platform: Adobe Vendor ID. This allows developers to create mobile and desktop applications that do not require that the end user have an Adobe ID. The user can simply “sign-in” to the ereading application with the user account they are issued by a retailer, library, employer, etc. This capability was first introduced in November of 2010, but companies have only begun to release their own products that take advantage of this capability in the last few months.

Another major change took place in 2011 as well: the transition of the eBook Platform to the “reseller” model. I’ll dive deeper in to that and Vendor ID in the next two posts.

– Micah