Archive for December, 2009

Year past, year to come

No Flash-oriented “predictions” here, just what we may reasonably expect from general trends.

2009 was a transition year — not just the economy, but also the gestation period for Flash’s new role. In late 2008 the Player and Mobile teams were merged… last January the Consumer Electronics Show featured big news about the Open Screen Project… mobile partnerships were announced throughout the year. Meanwhile Player Engineering has been creating a single engine that will work across the range of the world’s display screens… to do for interactivity what PostScript did for printing.

2010 is when we’ll see the first generation of results. The Consumer Electronics Show runs January 7-10, and Mobile World Congress is February 15-18. I don’t know what announcements various manufacturing partners will make, but I anticipate much significant news.

But it will take awhile for the next generation of devices to amass sizable audiences. As Scott Janousek notes, content developers have a tricky time assessing which development workflows will reach which audiences when. Some devs prefer the leading edge, while others stay with larger audiences, but everyone developing for interactive screens needs to discover their own best path. The good news is that more options are coming. But the bad news is that more options are coming, too… more to think about, evaluate.

If Flash was quiet in 2009, expect it to bubble and pop in 2010 — not so much with new features as with new audiences, new possibilities for businesses. Expect a lot of discussion about new types of experiences that audiences simply could not have in 2009. It will be a time of experimentation and testing for all of us. Some early adopters will likely have startling successes, while others will not. Best plan for 2010 may be to keep your eyes open, ask questions and stay skeptical, but don’t be afraid to buck the crowd.

I suspect 2010 will be a lot of fun…. ;-)

Helping video understanding

Apple-oriented pundit John Gruber writes of his understanding of showing video in browsers. Here are some tidbits which may help:

  • HTML 4.0 did deprecate the realworld EMBED tag, but the Apple/Google/WhatWG “HTML5″ proposals bless it again.

  • VIDEO tag is not a Standard, nor a W3C Recommendation… this shouldn’t stop your experimentation, but neither should the label “standard” stop you.
  • Congratulations on moving past the very proprietary “QuickTime”… the stewardship of that proposal has been disappointing.
  • If thinking of VIDEO tag, you must think of codecs too… Ogg Theora decoders and VIDEO tag parsing do not completely overlap.
  • It’s fortunate that this experimentation was performed on a site where two-thirds of the visitors use Apple-branded browsers. Most sites don’t enjoy the luxury of such near-monoculture.
  • Yes, buffering and startup behavior, like codecs, are issues which were not adequately addressed in the spec. Specifying a VIDEO tag was an easy first step, but does not suffice… captioning, for instance, has been a particularly divisive omission. The WHATWG proposals make more sense as a “blessing” of what Apple was going to do anyway.
  • “I think the HTML5 spec should be changed such that the value of the autobuffer attribute may not be ignored.” May be difficult, due to last call.
  • “Why would I publish content using a technology that I personally block by default?” Because it works.

Two incidental followups: I’m still seeking the factual basis of that surprising claim “We know for a fact that Adobe has no interest in the Mac implementation’s quality,” and if you could correct that prior “arrogance” claim to reflect what I actually said then that would be great, thanks.

[Comments: Ideas are good, but trolls won't be fed.]

Development models, business models

This morning I’ve been reading reaction to Robert Scoble’s post “iPhone developers abandoning app model for HTML5?” He interviewed a development shop which prefers delivering to iPhone via webpages than through Apple’s store.

The title reads strangely to me… it seems to be comparing a business path with a development path, and then implicitly generalizing the iPhone’s particular “HTML5″ implementation to all WWW browsers’ HTML implementations. This double ambiguity accounts for the divergence in subsequent commentary.

The “app model” in the title refers to using the iPhone’s native code system for developing a standalone app, then using Apple’s transaction/distribution system to earn a monetary return on the work. The “HTML5″ in the title describes one attribute of Apple’s Safari runtime — using a popular label applied to some of its features — but doesn’t discuss how the developers receive financial compensation from their audiences. The title compares two different types of things.

Among business models, Apple’s iPhone store accomplished a worthwhile goal: it provided a way for developers to focus on content development, then to receive money for that work. It also enabled iPhone customers to easily find new functionality while reducing their vendor-evaluation costs. Apple helped many iPhone developers monetize their work. That’s a very good thing.

The webpage world is still struggling with content monetization. Advertising is one path — selling your audience’s attention to third parties. Memberships and registration are another. Collateral merchandise (T-shirts, tipjars, concert tickets etc) are a third approach. But it has proven difficult to get compensated when digital bits can be so easily copied. Newspapers, television, magazines and other popular content providers are looking beyond “open” webpages, even looking into selling their own Internet-enabled devices. It’s hard to compare the business models of “HTML5″ with that of Apple’s store.

And for development models, I think the Nextstop developers will encounter a very different equation if developing beyond the iPhone’s implementation of “HTML5″… fragmentation of features across different runtime brands is a big issue, and this must be surmounted before attempting to reconcile different device form-factors. The little five-letter label “HTML5″ hides a multitude of shifting meanings.

Bottom line, “How do you get compensated for your creative work?” remains a big issue. Apple has taken a worthy step towards that goal. Others will take different steps. With enough experimentation we’ll discover better answers.

But comparing a business model with a development model… that can be as confusing as comparing ravens and writing desks, I suspect…. ;-)

[Comments on blogs.adobe.com need to go through a moderation queue. I'm eager to learn new ways of thinking, but won't publish comments which are ad-hominem, strawmen, or otherwise aren't worth the reading time.]

“Pull the wool over your own eyes!”

The Apple fansites are covering an article today with titles like “iPhone users suffering ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, analyst firm reckons”, and “iPhone Owners Plagued by Stockholm Syndrome, Analysts Say‎”.

It took a little bit of searching to find the original article, but Fierce Wireless has the source, with title “How will psychologists describe the iPhone syndrome in the future?”

Note the difference in headlines alone… the original essay describes the syndrome of aggressive overcompensation among a minority of owners, while the followups extrapolate this to all iPhone users and owners.

The article clearly focuses on the cognitive problems of a minority of Apple customers: “Apple has launched a beautiful phone with a fantastic user interface that has had a number of technological shortcomings that many [emphasis added] iPhone users have accepted and defended, despite those shortcomings resulting in limitations in iPhone users’ daily lives.” It goes on to list twenty complaints, as well as the typical defenses to those complaints raised in online discussion (“The phone cannot send MMS: There is no need to send MMSs, hardly anybody sends MMSs” etc.) This pattern of overcompensation is not addressed in the defending essays, shifting instead to (in broad stroke) “Hey! Those guys over there are saying all you iPhone owners are sickies!”, which was not the point of the original essay.

Rephrased, the defenses themselves exhibit the same problem the article describes — an inability to focus on the issues at hand, with deflections using strawmen to attack The Other, all in the defense of The Precious.

Remarkably, the iPhone’s major complaint of “Full Web (just no Flash)” is not mentioned, but the same dynamic of “oh who runs around with spare batteries anyway!?” and “oh the phone quality is the networks’ problem” is common to all these rebuttals.

The authors close with an evocative tangent: “In reality the iPhone is surrounded by a multitude of people, media and companies that are happy to bend the truth to defend the product they have purchased from Apple.” Apple gains consistent blogosphere hype on a remarkable basis, and there has long been suspicion that they seed false rumors into the blogosphere for buzz. It’s hard to know just how much back-channel manipulation there is, because few in the rumor mill cite their sources, and few are transparent about their private communications with the company. We can see the truth-bending, but we cannot yet see how this truth-bending comes about.

Bottom line, it’s no big deal… we’ve all seen these patterns of evasiveness in online conversation. But even when these are openly identified and discussed, there’s a scurry to distort and misrepresent the uncomfortable conversation. And Adobe sees Apple as a significant part of today’s computing ecology, and will continue to work to connect content creators with their audiences wherever they may be.

[The title? A wonderfully counterintuitive phrase from The Church of The Subgenius and its inspiration J.R. "BOB" Dobbs... as explained by Pope David Meyer: "BOB (once properly compensated) wants his minions to pull the wool over their own eyes. You see, all our lives we've been sold everyone else's wool. Our parents' wool, our church's wool, our teachers' wool. But when you pull the wool over your own eyes, when you relax in the safety of your own delusions, in five minutes you'll be so bored you'll do what BOB (once properly compensated) wants you to do: you'll start thinking for yourself! BOB is that rarest of gurus. BOB is a short-term personal savior!" Given that all we frail humans are fallible, it's better to take responsibility for our own beliefs than to just blindly Obey Alien Orders.]

[And comments are turned off on this blogpost, because I've no interest in publishing those who can't focus on the subject... easy enough to find the flamers elsewhere.]

Macintosh enfranchised in Japan

Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) has moved its On Demand website to Flash video. Previously it used Windows Media, which placed barriers in front of Mac users… better than QuickTime, which placed barriers in front of Windows users, but still not ideal.

I don’t have much to add to the story myself, just trying to bring the news into the English-only weblogs. There’s a Japanese entry in an Adobe blog (Google translation), and a few Japanese news results, of which this one (translation) seems the source.

The video producers want their work to reach their audience. Their audience chooses a diverse assortment of browsers and operating systems. Flash works with all of them. It’s a pretty simple calculus.

(Flame-arresters: “HTML5″ and either Ogg Theora or H.264 would not help the existing audience. The garden wall around Apple’s iPhone still disenfranchises those audience members, but is not significant cross-culturally.)

Yellow Kid journalism

I’d like to thank Ed Bott for documenting this timeline of how the tech blogosphere failed to substantiate a story before attempting to earn revenue off it.

The habit needs to change.