Thoughts on the unification of all screens

Big news out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week… Intel, Broadcom, Sigma Designs, probably more are building chipsets for internet-connected home televisions, and they’re using the Open Screen Project to provide Adobe Flash playback directly through the chip. Individual television manufacturers can then drop these chipsets into their new models.

Result? Next generation of home televisions will be competing with integrated Internet access and Adobe Flash capabilities. That’s where we’re heading.

Implication? Your workstation screen, and your pocket screen, and your home recreational screen will all have Internet capability, and all share the same predictable clientside media/logic runtime, included by default, updated on demand. These screens must all work together — interface reconciliation, cloud synch, and, hardest of all, social services.

The game is now much, much larger than just the desktop browsers, or even the desktop machine itself.

We’ve got to start designing to the range of inter-cooperating display screens a person may use throughout a typical day in 2012.

And we’ve really got to work hard at bringing in your friends’ and teachers’ understandings of what’s worth your attention onto those varied screens.

Future applications will be multi-screened, using the cloud, to connect with your friends. That’s where the highgrowth markets are going.

Some additional points:

  • That “SoCs” acronym, or System-on-a-Chip, puts many more functions than just CPU-style processing onto a single chip, and is attractive to manufacturers because the entire system is delivered in a single small package. It will provide known, standard capability across a range of consumer manufacturing brands.
  • I don’t yet know what the APIs will be, what the distribution channels will be… some manufacturers may use Flash support internally for the TV’s native interface, as phone manufacturers like Samsung and Prada have long done, and as televisions like CompleteTV seem to be announcing… other manufacturers may go directly to the full web browsing experience, as Broadcom has announced… Intel’s announced support for AIR implies much wider and more significant use. I don’t know how the devices will come out, only that we’ve seen strong commitment to shipping such devices.
  • Intel’s case is significant. They were a founding member of the Open Screen Project, and obviously had plans by the time the organization was announced last May. Now in January we out here in the public now know what some of those plans were. It will still be awhile until there are appreciable audiences using the yet-to-be-shipped televisions. You and I may not know all the details yet, but that heady list of OSP partners raises many, many possibilities.
  • Why start with Flash Lite? Because it is available now, proven out there in the world, dwarfing devices like iPhone and Android. The work on bringing Player 10 to devices is occurring in parallel. Intel specifically mentions that they’ll be working on AIR for home TV later in their press release. It’s one step at a time, and the ability to do over-the-air updates will help such televisions use the latest version.

I’d like to close out with three quotes on how seriously Adobe is trying to bring this about.

First, Adobe’s David Wadhwani on the core goal, as quoted in the Intel press release: “The Open Screen Project is striving to remove barriers for developers and designers as they look to publish content and applications across desktops and devices.” It’s very simple. It’s about removing barriers to publishing.

Then from the FAQ of the Open Screen Project: “One of the primary goals of the Open Screen Project is to reduce fragmentation by providing a consistent application runtime for developers. With the ability to update Flash Player and Adobe AIR over the air and via the network, developers and content providers can create content that leverages the latest features and functionality of the runtimes, without having to wait months or even years for the latest version to be embedded on devices, or for devices with the latest runtime preinstalled to reach significant market penetration.”

Finally, from Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen himself, when telling the financial community about Adobe’s top priorities: “In closing, as we enter fiscal 2009, we will continue to make strategic investments that will position us well for the future while managing our business to ensure consistent profitability. Our strategic priorities are advancing the Adobe Flash platform as the preferred solution for how the world engages with ideas and information; investing in our core businesses, including Creative Suite and Acrobat, to maintain our leadership position through innovation and continue our expansion into new customer segments and geographical markets; and focusing on our growth businesses, which include LiveCycle, Connect Pro, Scene 7, and Dynamic Media as areas we believe have significant potential for future growth.” PostScript united printers; PDF united documents; Flash will unite interactive displays. That’s Adobe’s DNA.

Summary: We’ve all got some big challenges ahead:

  1. Application design will necessarily move to considering the smallest screen first, then enriching that for workstations, and adding appropriately for large sit-back displays. Rephrased, the interface is not the application, but merely one window into that application.
  2. The necessary corollary to this is “we’re all cloud apps now”… there will still be standalone desktop applications, but this new work has the greatest chance of success if it can span device types, uniting usage scenarios across on-the-go, at-the-desk, and on-the-couch. We’ve made great progress over the last five years in seeing how things work in the cloud, but really, we’re only at the very beginning.
  3. The biggest challenge will be in sustainable social systems. The Internet is great at reducing distribution costs, but imposes its own costs for filtering through the junk to find the gold. The best way to filter is to use the brains of people you yourself trust. Buddy lists, authority-ranking, recommendations, annotations, clustering analysis, Bayesian trash-removal… these are all tools we’ll need when figuring how to make the new cloud-based display tools actually useful to people.

That last one scares me — it’s a very hard problem. But it also offers the greatest rewards. As an example of how we’re still in pre-history, Twitter improved on email by letting you choose authors — could you imagine if Twitter showed you everything everyone wanted to send you, like email did? But Twitter still doesn’t bring you news from people you may know of but not trust as much, and still shows the guy saying “eating french toast” among his mobile commentary. How can you set things up to learn from your friends?

Making screens interactive or drawing with vectors are very simple problems compared to getting the best info from the brains around you. But if we can achieve this goal, then, wow…. :)