MAX08 Themes

I was away-from-keyboard most of the past week, in the Community Lounge throughout the event. Other people have been reporting from individual sessions, and I’m still catching up with what they saw. But I’ve been thinking about some of the big, high-level topics from the conference.

Scale and relevance

Five thousand people… that’s a lot of people. Particularly when they all commit to a four-figure ticket, with a pricey hotel in a pricey town, and often with lengthy flights to get there. A few years ago, during the boom, only two thousand could make that level of commitment. Something has clearly changed.

But the industry level of commitment has changed too. Looking down the partner list at the keynotes… lots of major, mainstream companies are now delivering rich interfaces to their vast audiences.

This year’s event drew far more press attention too.

What caused the change, the increase in general importance?

  • “Experience matters” has been ratified by the industry. Apple’s iPhone helped the West accept rich experiences across device form-factors. Microsoft’s Silverlight and Google’s Gears helped the acceptance of predictable cross-browser functionality. Mozilla’s Prism acknowledged the need for network applications beyond a promiscuous document browser. Ajax helped the public accept the idea of processing both server-side and client-side, in tandem. The Open Screen Project brought all the players together for mobile delivery. Macromedia proclaimed some revolutionary things, and in 2008 everyone agrees.

  • We’ve actually achieved the goals of standard tooling, high-functionality servers, and predictable universal runtimes. Virtually every visual artifact we see these days has passed through the Creative Suite pipeline at some point. ColdFusion, FMS and CoCoMo span deployment models. And there’s now little remaining disagreement that Player is the de facto standard for advanced clientside work. This acknowledgment has really firmed up over the past twelve months. Production and distribution are solid.
  • The economic constriction has cut down on some of the frothy competition for attention. This year there’s more of an emphasis on solid, reliable performers. Adobe is conservative and diversified, but focuses squarely on enabling publishing, communication.

There are certainly other reasons for the increased size and importance of this event. Whatever the causes, this year’s MAX conference did clearly carry more meaning, to more people, than ever before.

Macromedia Flash Platform, vs Adobe Flash Platform

A few years ago Macromedia used the term “Flash Platform” to talk about the general ecosystem growing around the new Flex, Flash Media Server, Breeze initiatives. This year, “Adobe Flash Platform” was used to describe the quickly-growing ecosystem. I see a big difference.

The Macromedia Flash Platform talked about a promise, the way things could be, the way things might better fit together. The Adobe Flash Platform talks about the way things already are, how people are using capabilities right now, as a guide for new areas to explore in the future.

Flex is out there in the world today, creating public interfaces. Flash video has become the standard. Conferencing has gone mainstream in Acrobat. Desktop tooling is going to the web. Flash is used to re-organize the interface of desktop tools. ColdFusion is very Flash-savvy. There are almost a billion devices shipped with Flash. It’s different today.

The older Macromedia Flash Platform was more of a promise, a vision, a gamble, a bet. Today’s Adobe Flash Platform describes the world’s reality, and how this can grow in the future.

Same “Flash Platform” phrase, but for me, two different sets of context, of meaning.

Future changes

There’s a lot of work we’ve all still got to do.

Start with the little screen, then progressively-enhance to the big screen.

The laptop will still be important. It just won’t be the only thing that’s important. We need to shift our design awareness from the workstation to the pocket.

Adobe used to make the desktop browser plugin, and then try to shrink it down to the handheld. The computer was the standard, and then we refactored down to less-capable devices. You know how hard it was to develop against that.

Now, with more handhelds using open operating systems, there will be one “Adobe Flash Player” powering all display screens. No more “Lite” versions. Mobile will be as-near-to-parity with desktops as possible. There will be one codebase across all interactive screens, but with additional abilities available on more capable devices.

And… in open operating systems (like Symbian, Linux, Windows Mobile, Android) you can install or update a Player yourself, like in desktop browsers.

Developmental profiling will be based on the hardware — the pixel size of the display, offline capability, whether location-aware — rather than by which runtime version was baked into it at time of manufacture.

Upshot? The reach of your project will be greater including the mobile audience, than excluding it. And progressive-enhancement beats graceful-degradation. We need to start considering the mobile experience first, then adding to it.

Client and Cloud, Connected.

The RIA talk over the past half-decade has been about the technology, about how we achieve a mix of cloud and client computing. Now that the technology is well-distributed and predictable, we need to figure out how to best use it.

We need to design for multiple screens. All workstations are on The Internet now. Mobile is finally catching up in North America. And home television is slowly coming along as well. Our applications and data are increasingly moving to “The Cloud”, to remote machines. We’re going to want a coherent experience across those different display screens.

We’ll be in different social settings when using those screens. You’re on-the-go with mobile, and can’t drill down as deeply as at your desktop. Both are different from checking your finances on the couch across from the video wall. Right now we tend to “design an interface”. It’s going to have to move to “design a set of experiences”, which are sensitive to the varying user-situations.

And we really don’t understand social networks yet either. Web2.0 stumbled upon a few good models, but even the best services still have spam and gaming. Yet we need to make it easy to get good advice from friends, and filter out the rest of the noise. Social networks are in their infancy.

We’ve got the technology to have all your devices work together. Now we’ve got to design those experiences.

Those are some of the most important things I learned at MAX this year. But I’m still reading what others experienced, trying to understand it better. I’ll do a follow-up post with some additional items.