“Everybody knows” vs “Let’s test it!”

“It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”Will Rogers

Sean Christmann of EffectiveUI benchmarks Flash and HTML drawing and video on various current devices. Flash drawing performance is usually a multiple of each of the “HTML5″ engines, save for video where the availability of hardware acceleration controls all. (Jan Ozer had more on video acceleration last year.)

Background: Rich-media performance is hard. Even simple audio-mixing is hard, when you figure in latency and switching… HTML5 audio problems today are reminiscent of the first cross-OS media runtimes in the mid-1990s. Realworld video isn’t as simple as just adding a VIDEO tag… you need to make it work. Most runtime engines can’t afford to go as deeply into optimization issues as those who write engines for a wider base. Even when one runtime increases its JavaScript performance or its drawing performance, that doesn’t help when you need to run on more than one runtime.

Will the HTML runtimes continue to improve? Of course. Will Flash continue to improve and further diversify its support? Of course. Will commercial social-media accounts assert that Flash is slow and a battery hog, despite evidence to the contrary? That is, of course, possible. But here’s how Sean wrapped up his testing:

“The Flash VM performs really well on mobile chipsets and I don’t see any evidence here to support the idea that Flash is slow on smartphones and tablets.”

Thoughts on “Thoughts on Flash”

April 29, 2010, a year ago today, Apple published a document titled “Thoughts on Flash”. Although weird, it was welcome… for over three years people had been asking about iPhone’s Flash capabilities, and up through the iPad’s “little blue lego of gloom” launch the only guidance offered was some unclaimed “lazy & evil” hearsay. Thanks to Joseph Labrecque for pulling together a few of the contemporaneous reactions to that response… with a year’s hindsight, you can make your own evaluations on the speech of that time.

The bigger issue is how we humans will adapt to our new technology capabilities… how we’ll actually end up using handheld displays, rich and interactive, always in connection with other machines, other people. Developers need to go where their audiences are, where their clients’ audiences are. Publishing workflows must traverse the silos.

Macromedia Director did early work bridging devices, with its Portable Player running on Iris, Scientific Atlanta, 3D0 and other devices, and authoring done on either Mac or Windows. Flash Lite was a bigger success, on billions of devices, but mainly regionally in Japan, Korea, and emerging markets. Today we’ve got a uniform Flash Player which runs the same across laptops and smartphones… a remarkable engineering achievement, requiring great cooperation among scores of industry titans.

The branding wars of today won’t matter much in a year or two’s time. Better to look 5, 10, 20 years out, and see how we humans will need and want to use these various devices. Unlike the PC era, handhelds will have a global reach, be affordable to many more people. Many voices will speak. The implausible Open Screen Project may have been proven a success, but the more important work is yet to come.

Got acne? Blame Flash!

This device too late! That device too different! This one too big, that one too small, this OS too free, that OS too closed, ohmygosh run run run!

There’s a rare layer of hysteria in much of the techblogging today. The nuttiness has been around forever, but now seems to be reaching a fever pitch.

Some ask if we’re in a bubble. I don’t know. But for every person who sells a share of stock above $300, there’s a person who paid that steep a price for it. That’s a lot of people, with lots of self-interest floating around out there. And the financial message boards have never been among the most civil examples of online discussion….

It’s hot. But it won’t persist. We’re already seeing the patterns.

Connected interactive screens are coming in all sizes, with all types of operating systems and native-code environments, in all types of languages, with all types of business models connected to their use. No single brand dominates.

Everyday people in both Palo Alto and Peru, both San Francisco and Singapore, both Cupertino and Hyderabad — and everywhere else! — are all adopting these devices at torrid pace. No single social group dominates.

The technology to publish applications and content across all these devices will vary with device needs, audience needs and content needs. We usually need to blend technologies to reach wider audiences. No single technology dominates.

People delivering their ideas through such devices want a real connection with their audience, and not be intermediated by gatekeepers — few wish to be a mere sharecropper. Cross-device markets, cross-device analytics, cross-device frameworks, cross-device toolchains are the pickaxes and hardware of this gold rush.

In such an expansive world, those who see themselves as the only true path will likely fare not all that well. They’ll rail at competition, scream and shout. Listen to what they say, but confirm the truth for yourself.

Cooperation and mutual benefit are, realistically, a better long-term approach. Just gotta deal with some of the screaming in the meantime…. ;-)

“Better a witty fool than a foolish wit”

Anonymous article at MacWorld today:

“It almost seems a memory now, those heady days of the spring of 2010 we spent arguing over Flash. Do the sands of time cloud the Macalope’s eyes or did Adobe’s John Dowdell really suggest Apple was unethical for banning Flash from iOS?”

I tried to reply at MacWorld, but its registration system (for its anonymous commenters) didn’t permit me, so I’ll answer the question here. The original tweet from 2010 was “I know that a number of good people work at Apple. If you’re seeking a more ethical company, Adobe is hiring: adobe.com/aboutadobe/careeropp.”

It followed this prominent article about how the late Jerry York, of Apple’s Board of Directors, felt about the topic:


“At Apple, Mr. York was regarded as a relatively authoritative figure on audit and corporate governance matters but tended not to offer too many opinions, said people familiar with the board.

“But he had strong feelings about the way Mr. Jobs handled disclosures about his leave of absence for health reasons in January 2009. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last year, Mr. York said he almost resigned when told of the seriousness of Mr. Jobs’s illness. Mr. York felt Mr. Jobs should have publicly disclosed his health problem three weeks earlier in a news release that announced his decision not to appear at the Macworld trade conference.

“Mr. York said the concealment ‘disgusted’ him, adding that the only reason he didn’t quit at the time was because he wanted to avoid the uproar that would have occurred once he disclosed his reason. ‘Frankly, I wish I had resigned then,’ he said.

This was in the news at the time, but likely off the partisan radar. More recently, Adobe continues to be regarded as one of the world’s most ethical companies. Still hiring, too.

It would be easy to add additional evidence, but argument, in the long run, isn’t fruitful. We know Flash is successful across a range of devices, and that even unauthorized third-party ports work successfully on Apple devices. Objections serve little purpose… the sooner the situation is fixed the better.

Comb Over Charlie vs the Web-Beacon’d Pundits of Doom

Short video worth watching… single game running across multiple screens… more info from Charlie Schulze and Jens Loeffler.

Simple story — delivering to a new form of device should require minimal redrawing/layout/interaction work, and delivering to a new brand of device should require even less work than that. It’s still early days, but Charlie’s experience shows that this is a reasonable and attainable goal.

Is this the story in the popular press? No… the goal of techpress is to earn revenue, and attracting the clicks is the main need. They don’t disclose their private communications with companies, and feature pseudonymous comments which could well be from marketing-agency personas. When they write of privacy their own pages will usually call assets from Google, Facebook, and other cross-site trackers. Even when the New York Times writes of a superquake and mega-tsunami in Japan, they’ll sensationalize the nuclear angle despite all science to the contrary. The chattering-class is often offbase in what they choose to discuss.

Please take a look at the video yourself. That cross-device delivery is the way things should be, and is increasingly the way things really are. And in the end, this reality will trump lame talk.

Recent news, steady progress

Funny news day — lots of little things popping, some drawing much more attention than others, hard to get perspective. There’s a common theme among them, however. Even though there’s lots of growth in new types of environments, there’s a lot of work in bridging them, too.

One example is how browsers are starting to expose Flash Player local storage… from the FAQ:

“Integration with browser privacy controls for managing local storage — Users now have a simpler way to clear local storage from the browser settings interface, similar to how users clear their browser cookies today. Flash Player 10.3 integrates control of local storage with the browser’s privacy settings in Mozilla Firefox 4, Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 and higher, and future releases of Apple Safari and Google Chrome.”

Letting webpages store more-than-cookie-sized data is a good idea, as recent HTML5 local-storage work shows. But as cross-site tracking and personality databases become more worrisome, it makes sense to expose integrated local-storage to public control however people wish to control it. The good news is that different parties can (and do) work together to bring this about. Progress.

Another example is the Wallaby project… not as dramatic as Techmeme may paint it, but it’s still useful to be able to bring basic SWF assets into a different delivery environment. Fragmentation is natural during fast evolution, but connecting such silos is natural too. Progress.

A subtler example is from the Dreamweaver team this week, about the differences in touch events across different WebKit-based browsers. Touchscreens and scrolling forms, or preventing doubled events when there’s also a trackball controller… natural for fragmentation to occur, and natural to bridge that fragmentation too.

More obvious is the work that Adobe’s Digital Publishing group has been doing… working with major publishers to bridge across all the various islands of new devices rapidly appearing. This will soon help smaller publishers too.

Screaming headlines may clash and obscure significa, but the real pattern underlaying the news is easier to see: we’re rapidly gaining a wide variety of connected digital screens, and the big work is in helping anyone to write to them. There’s daily, incremental progress towards that goal… connecting those silos, bridging those islands.

Is video so hard?

The VIDEO tag isn’t as hard to understand as media campaigning would have you believe.

A good example is at TechCrunch today: “MeFeedia Reports 63 Percent Of Web Video Is HTML5-Friendly”. Back in May 2010 the same TechCrunch writer wrote “H.264 Already Won — Makes Up 66 Percent Of Web Videos”. This in itself is pretty confusing…. ;-)

The background is that an encoding site measured what codecs their clients desire, then equated the popularity of H.264 (and any VP3/VP8) with “HTML5″, which advocacy sites then equated with “iPad”.

The presence of an H.264-encoded video does not mean the site has a VIDEO tag to invoke it… retagging a site and providing a control UI does not come automatically with video compression. The numbers, as presented, mean nothing. But the headlines have already attracted further confusion, with weak headlines like “Apple Won The War Against Flash”.

My October post “Who Needs War?” still contains background on how video works, and the title was a soft allusion to those who need to posit some form of conflict to justify their position. Mike Chambers also explained how these basic technical aspects are being misrepresented.

There are so many blindspots and contradictions with this persuasion campaign. Take a look at browserrank.com, and their maps of popular browsers across the world. Firefox is the biggest “HTML5″ desktop browser, yet doesn’t decode H.264 video. Opera is the biggest “HTML5″ mobile browser, yet also doesn’t do VIDEO/H.264. Apple is just one small part of the total “HTML5 VIDEO” discussion. H.264 != “HTML5″ != Apple.

More confusion: “The choices between Flash, H.264, Ogg, and VP8 means that if a video publisher wants full user support (and they should), they’ll need to support several formats for each video.”

Makes no sense. Adobe Flash Player has used H.264 for three-and-a-half years now, reaching +80% consumer support within six months. There is no “choice between H.264 and Flash”, just as there’s no real comparison between your groceries and their shopping cart. One contains the other. This is very simple to understand.

In the real world, to show video to everyone, you need Flash, and then something for Apple devices. Doesn’t require re-encoding the video, just re-working the site. Maybe provide something for older devices too.

And to understand the real world, do we need techblogs? The evidence they’re giving doesn’t lend confidence….

“Like sands through the hourglass….”

Big Techmeme cluster today, prompting headlines of “What’s Going On, Adobe?”… seem to be triggered by this Engadget blurb: “Verizon’s webpage dedicated to the Xoom has just gone up and one of our eagle-eyed readers has already spotted a disquieting bit of small print: ‘Adobe Flash expected Spring 2011.’”

I don’t know Motorola’s schedule myself, but it’s usually better to wait for actual news than to get all excited about a partner’s little snippet.

The important thing is that humanity is now on the verge of universal connectivity through personal displays. The trend is for common high-performance among them — with hardware, OS, engines, distribution, and business models all evolving simultaneously to attain this. Hot “Brand X vs Brand Y’ debating may bring in click-revenue from early adopters, but is less important in the long run than how we’ll end up using these new communication abilities. That’s the real priority for attention now.

Update: Matt Rozen has more on how the early Honeycomb releases will go: “Adobe will offer Flash Player 10.2 pre-installed on some tablets and as an OTA download on others within a few weeks of Android 3 (Honeycomb) devices becoming available, the first of which is expected to be the Motorola Xoom.” Estimates for 2011 total shipments have risen recently, too.

“FLASH IS OFFICIALLY DEAD”

Doing the usual news searches, came across a headline with above title, but kept on being redirected to various reprints… Google Websearch shows many hits, all low-value.

Going to what appears to be the canonical link, the story in whole seems to be the headline: “FLASH IS OFFICIALLY DEAD: This super interactive Nissan Leaf site is all HTML5.” The whole is linked to this Nissan USA site, which in my current FF/Win comes up as Flash, baby.

Takeaways? Flash doesn’t seem as “dead” as do for-pay bloggers and the whole weblog news culture. Look at the noise they generated, on how little thought! Look at how few costs they pay in return for increasing all readers’ costs! Look at what has been done to search engine results! And look at how the bloated Business Insider sites so frequently fail to complete loading, as they make unnecessary third-party calls to doubleclick.com, yieldmanager.com, pubmatic.com, tacoda.net, adnxs.com, sailthru.com, facebook.net, insightexpressai.com, openx.com, twitter.com, fbcdn.net, and many many more cross-site tracking web beacons.

Hot headline, startlingly poor observation, no real argument, no feedback mechanism, but lots of slammin’ the SEO and social media channels with self-serving, public-penalizing bloviation… the writer makes a good case that it’s the web which he’s actually killing.

Blends of native and global

It’s not as simple today as it was when applications were developed for Windows, sometimes considering a Mac port, and wondering how Linux could recoup development costs. Now we have not only different form-factors (big multiscreen desktops, little pocket phones, in-between tablets and looming TVs) but we’re split on mobile between Apple OS, Google OS, Microsoft OS and other options. Fragmentation is big.

Some say the choices are “web apps vs native apps”. Some of the more enlightened also mention bridging technologies (AIR or other cross-device frameworks/compilers/runtimes). I don’t think it’s so cut-and-dried as “completely global” versus “completely native”.

For direct OS coding, unless you’re planning to deliver to only one brand of device, you’re going to divide up the work with both portable and native aspects… you’re going to make it easy to port to other environments later. You’ve got your core data structure, media assets and business logic, and then will handle specific devices in a separate layer.

Same when using the browser as your runtime, although inverted… here the instructions are mostly portable, but you’ll still have to build switches for slightly different runtime behaviors, or very different permitted services. The great variance in mobile HTML/JS/CSS performance pushes its promise of full-functioned cross-device compatibility off into the hazy future… you’ll have to handle the edge-cases.

That’s what I think it’s not “all native” or “all universal”. There’s always a blend between portable aspects and idiosyncratic aspects. People who argue polarities may not provide the best investment in listening time.

(Adobe’s role? To make it easier for creators to reach their audiences, however they choose to do so. Adobe tooling is used in even Microsoft-only development or Apple-only native-code development… used in most every webpage in the world… and Adobe also creates great runtimes for those seeking a more portable codebase with lower testing and support costs. Adobe supports varying blends of native and global — your choice.)