CES 2010 thoughts

This week’s Consumer Electronics Show should deliver on some early guidance given last year, about the home screen finally becoming an interactive communications device. I don’t know what the announcements will be, but here are some tips to put them in context.

Main theme: As phones and televisions become computers, nearly all manufacturers are optimizing for SWF as an interface layer.

  • This is only the very first generation. The widespread adoption by manufacturers signals a good future, but it will take us all a few generations to really understand multi-device interface design.
  • The early announcements may not make much mention of Flash. That’s normal — they’re announcing their new device, not a universal runtime. For the rest of us the big news is common cross-device capability, but most of the press material should be about device differences.
  • The early shipments will likely have differences in what’s available when — many, many schedules are being cross-plotted to each other, across an exceptionally large range of companies. But a key requirement in Open Screen Project is over-the-air updating. Player fragmentation should be relatively low.
  • I don’t know what the business opportunities will be, what types of stores and financial arrangements will come to pass. Apple’s App Store did a good thing by cutting developers a check. We’ll learn more of different types of contracts over the coming year.
  • Some devices may use Flash mainly in-the-browser, while others use them as native interface layer, or as a user-application layer, or perhaps even as a video overlay layer. Particularly in this very first generation, different manufacturers may make different choices.
  • Most of the “small screen” news should hit next month, at Mobile World Congress. One of the difficulties here is that today’s “World Wide Web” has been designed for workstation screens. Some sites do try to degrade-to-mobile, while others make a special mobile site, but webdesign-for-devices has in general been a moving target. Adobe has been doing outreach to many key websites to improve the user experience, but The Web as a whole may be a little rocky at first.
  • Many of these devices will have HTML renderers too. Brands and versions — and therefore capabilities — will vary. Flash will offer more advanced capabilities, more predictably, more widely.
  • There will be a very strong tendency in popular conversation to port today’s workstation use-cases to new devices. But your TV probably doesn’t need an email program, nor your car a WWW browser. We have to figure out how people can use the entire Internet, most appropriately, when they’re using the new device. We humans tend to see new things in terms of the past. Follow your instinct, not the crowd.
  • My own instinct is that the big home screen will take off when it adds a social layer atop viewing, when it’s used as a two-way communication device with distant people you already know. Early social networks like Twitter, Facebook, even Digg give only a hint of how we’ll naturally interact with our TVs. Think outside the box.

Summary: We’re in a transition year. Very exciting time, very promising, but 摸着石头过河 — we must cross the river by feeling the stones with our feet, it’s hard to predict the exact path beforehand. The other side sure does look nice, though…. ;-)