Last night while I slept (in the US), Adobe was on the other side of the world in Japan at their annual MAX event announcing that the AIR platform had passed 100 million runtime installs. They also announced that as of December, Flash Player 10 had 55% market penetration on Internet connected computers and they expect that number to rise to 80% by Q2 2009, outpacing previous versions of Flash Player in terms of adoption.

The announcement has prompted some pretty strong endorsements of Adobe. Venture Beat, for example, says that Adobe is winning the platform race. It has also spurred some criticism, as well. Specifically, ReadWriteWeb suspects that Adobe is overhyping the success of their platform. “We like AIR, a lot, but the hype smells funny to us,” writes Marshall Kirkpatrick, who says there are reasons to believe that AIR isn’t being as widely used as reported.

While we won’t go so far as to say that Adobe is winning the platform wars — Microsoft has a lot of momentum with Silverlight, and Google’s JavaScript + Chrome + Gears approach certainly has merit — we also don’t agree with ReadWriteWeb.

Kirkpatrick cites two reasons why he thinks that Adobe may be overstating the number of AIR installs. First, he mentions a press release Adobe put out in September talking about AIR application installs. In that release, which Kirkpatrick calls “frustratingly vague,” Adobe claimed that AIR apps had been downloaded 25 million times. “At least we think that’s what the release said, after Adobe PR wrote to tell us that our original report that AIR had been downloaded 25 million times was incorrect. The whole thing seemed like a snow job,” he writes.

We also reported on that press release and found it similarly vague. But after clarifying some points with Adobe, it actually makes pretty good sense. Adobe calculated the number of AIR installs that came when a user downloaded and installed an AIR application, which installs the AIR runtime automatically if the user doesn’t already have it. Or in other words, at least 25 million AIR apps had been installed by virtue of the runtime being installed that many times with an application. More apps in total were almost definitely installed (i.e., some people likely have installed more than one AIR application, or installed AIR first from the Adobe download site), and there were definitely more total runtime installs.

Adrian Ludwig, the group product marketing manager for AIR at Adobe, told me today that they no longer talk about application installs. “We shifted away from talking about application installs because a number of developers commented that it was not relevant to them – the install base was more important,” he said. “While we don’t know the number of installed applications [with] sufficient accuracy to provide a specific number, we do know that the number of installed applications is greater than the number of installed runtimes.”

The second issue that Kirkpatrick takes exception with is that AIR is being bundled with popular Adobe software such as Adobe Reader, which he says inflates the number of AIR installs. He’s right that bundling could certainly account for a very large number of AIR installs, but we’re not really sure that it matters.

Ludwig is right when he says that developers care about the install base more than than the number of people actually using applications — the point for them is the potential user base they have access to. If bundling AIR with more popular software like Reader increases that reach, we’re not sure how that overhypes the numbers.

Kirkpatrick further criticizes the AIR team for listing desktop Twitter applications Twhirl and TweetDeck as being among the most popular AIR downloads. “[If these are] among the most popular apps downloaded by these owners of 100 million AIR installs – then we really suspect this isn’t a serious number. All of Twitterdom has maybe 6 million people and only a tiny fraction of them use these AIR power tools,” he says.

But last April, while writing for ReadWriteWeb, I monitored the public Twitter stream to see what clients people were using, and Twhirl accounted for 7% of all tweets. My methodology wasn’t perfect, but if close to 7% of Twitter’s 6 million users are using or have used Twhirl, that’s 420,000 AIR installs. Yes, a small fraction of 100 million, but not a trivial number. A few weeks later on the same site, we ran a story showing that Twhirl was also the most talked about Twitter client on blogs. Adobe likely included it and TweetDeck on their list because they are very well designed and get a lot of press — if they’re targeting developers with this sort of announcement, as Ludwig says, then linking up good examples of what AIR can do makes a lot of sense.

The bottom line here is that we don’t think there is any reason to believe that there haven’t been 100 million AIR installs (and Ludwig tells us that’s unique installs, not including upgrades), or that the number is unwarranted hype. If the 25 million number from last September holds, then perhaps only just over a quarter of those who have installed AIR are actually using AIR-based tools, but that doesn’t really matter. Adobe’s goal is market penetration, which is one of the most attractive selling points for developers. In that area, though they may not be winning the platform wars quite yet, they definitely seem to have a good head of steam.