Archive for April, 2010

The Road To The Pocket (or: Vive Flash Lite!)

Been thinking about posts last week from Dan Rayburn and Matt Voerman. I saw parts of that history too, and don’t agree with all of the views expressed (particularly those from anonymous accounts ;-) but the blogposts made me think.

Big takeaway: A road may not always be straight and linear, but it does tend to bring you to the destination.

Lots of bright minds at lots of firms have been working toward personal connected interactivity for well over a decade. The path has not been straight, but what matters now is that we have nearly arrived — a world full of new economical devices, with a common presentation layer, and with a new set of tooling for today’s design/development tasks. Most importantly, we have already seen strong consumer receptivity to such new devices.

Tinder and kindling, awaiting a spark… the dawn of a new design.

Adobe Creative Suite 5, the Flex 4 ecology, and the cross-device Adobe Flash Player 10.1 will all help many more designers and developers reach these new devices more easily… sort of like when railroads first united frontier towns. But I believe the domain knowledge acquired over the past few years by the pioneers — Flash Lite developers — will give them a unique edge in this upcoming surge of growth.

Flash Lite developers know about smaller interfaces and more constrained devices viscerally, first-hand… they have experiential knowledge which Device Central alone cannot convey. Flash Lite developers are also experienced in figuring out how to create a business serving device owners — the hustle and scuffle of making things work in novel arrangement. They’ve also watched more, learned more from the experiments of others. For these new devices, Flash Lite developers will have more knowledge, richer context.

And, of course, atop those skills applied to newer smartphones and tablets, there’s also the entire population of existing devices, and new non-smartphone sales… those existing code skills will remain valuable for a good while to come. In a world where selling 50,000,000 of a particular device is considered revolutionary, an audience of 1,200,000,000 isn’t really inconsequential either.

Here’s my point: Creative Suite 5 and Player 10.1 make it easier for more people to reach this new generation of devices. I think it will really open the floodgates. But the early innovators who have grown Flash Lite skills over the decade — they have an intangible edge. They have great domain knowledge, they know how to make things work.

Doesn’t matter how we got here, how you’d do things differently with hindsight. What matters now is that humankind is finally at the point of being able to carry around a connected, interactive screen through daily life.

And you will be the person to design, develop, deliver that screen.

This is where we’re at right now. Doesn’t matter how we got here. What really matters is the road ahead.

I think it’ll be fun, fun, fun. :)

[Comments: Software wars elsewhere, and please “own your words”, thanks.]

Beijing Flex

You likely already know that Flex is the fastest way to create advanced data-driven interfaces which will play nearly anywhere — combines multi-aspect XML workflows, efficient frameworks and sophisticated controls to create screens which will work for the majority of the planet.

But what’s less well-known is the torrid pace of Flex adoption in China. The country has the largest number of Internet users, which also implies a very high number of Internet developers. And these developers have indeed driven many, many downloads of prior Flex SDKs.

This week is the Adobe Flash Platform Summit in Beijing [machine-English]. Attendence blew past expectations… we were hoping to fill a thousand-seat hall, but also filled standing-room only, with many left outside waiting to get in. China and India both have a much larger interest in Flex than most people in North America might suspect.

Ben Forta is already there, as is Deepa Subramaniam… Adobe’s Jack Kang [English] and Xue Wei [English] are also blogging about the event.

Here’s an early article [English] of the event… I believe that’s Adobe’s Alfred Nanning in clasped-hands photo with Ed Rowe and Ben Forta. CNET [English] has a similar article, as do many other syndicated sources. (There are two types of certification noted in there… CESI confirms that software is on the country’s supported list, while certification of developers particularly helps with the hiring market.)

Even better coverage, with many photos, is from a participant with handle of “migsr” at RIAMeeting.com [English] … this RIAMeeting.com site, by the way, is a fascinating community-translation project, and if you look on the main page [English] you’ll see how real people are banding together to make English-language resources more globally accessible.

And in similar vein, Aaron Houston has been collecting photos of recent events… if you’re in the worldwide Adobe User Group program then you already know Aaron, and how to get in touch.

Anyway, I’m particularly excited by how well Flex is being received worldwide… such tooling has not existed before and the demand is great, as the exceptionally strong attendence at the Flash summit in Beijing proves.

Questions about 2012

Trying to think through some trends, would appreciate your thoughts, thanks.

I believe we’re on the verge of tremendous changepocket screens, universal, all communicating… tooling, already familiar, tuned to the change… the Dawn of a New Design.

The first screen was custom-fitted to its content… a book, a painting, another artifact… moveable type and desktop publishing, movie screens and recordings, all kept lowering the costs to make new artifacts to hold new content.

The second screen was dynamic, the PC which could display any content, even content which did not previously exist elsewhere. The third screen was when these PCs could communicate with each other, the Internet and its most familiar application, the World Wide Web.

Now we’re on the verge of the biggest of them all, the ever-handy personal screen of nearly every human, and the larger social screens these personal devices can control. It’s coming, massive as a freight train, faster adoption than print or PCs or Web.

By 2012 we won’t have seen the full scope of this change, but we will have much clearer evidence of its directions. What do you think we might have seen by then?

Adoption

It’s a safe bet these screens will become part of daily life quicker than PCs did, quicker than the WWW did. They’re far less expensive and will reach far more people. We’ve already seen how explosively people in any region adopt pocket voice or pocket text. And pocket screens are simply better toys.

But what will “adoption” mean? It can’t mean just “smartphone or featurephone”, because different brands and lines will have different abilities… that’s too simplistic a metric. Should we measure audience support by particular features, such as multitouch or device orientation (GPS, magnetometer, accelerometer)? But what then when two machines of similar capability are on different networks, and are permitted different experiences?

Illusions of inevitability aside, just how will this whole ecology grow?

How will we measure “adoption”? And how fast do you think people will carry around good, functional pocket screens? How are you planning on making decisions in this area… what will be the trigger for you? Thanks in advance for any anecdotes, perspectives.

Regionalism

PCs started in affluent pockets of North America and other urban centers. The Web started from more locations, but was still centered early-on in North America and Europe. Mobile voice and text, on the other hand, grew up in Japan, Korea, Australia, Norway, while North America was the laggard.

But this next generation of devices… it’s not just a local thing. Capability will be available everywhere in the world where the economies and networks can support them. Some even think it will grow much faster in depressed economies such as Africa, because phone-sharing can unite neighborhoods of people with the world. We’ll deal with global markets much sooner than we did with PCs or the Internet and Web.

How do you think you’ll approach strictly local markets, or multiple local markets, or global markets? Will you make more use of imagery and video, less of text and audio? Will you make your projects with external language assets which can be readily translated into other languages later, or just hardcode English into the app? Will regional development styles emerge?

What are you thinking about how regional, how global, your future work will be? If you looked back to today from the year 2012, what type of advice do you think you might be giving yourself?

Cost per action

What makes a project worthwhile to do? Usually how much it costs, compared to how much it accomplishes.

Every communication has a goal, whether to persuade someone to push the “Order” button, or to seek out a certain brand in a store or election, or even just to watch the next episode of a creative work. Audience reach is an important metric, but the real key is audience conversion, getting them to do the thing that you hope to persuade them to do.

(That’s one of the reasons “rich media interactivity” works… it has a higher conversion rate than just text.)

So… to get one desired action to occur, how much does it cost you? It’s not just initial development costs, “I coded that in only 20 hours”. There are also support costs, maintainence costs, and, at the end of a project’s lifecycle, the migration costs to get the data and user habits into a more modern setting. Smarter projects use analytics of some sort, to test and refine how well the project works for its intended audience. The total cost of development is much bigger than just the cost to develop.

For some of us these calculations are easy — a developer for hire just needs one client to sign a contract, and they’re good to go. But what makes the client sign the contract? Some don’t think of one or the other of the above costs, but most savvy ones do.

Some clients will be satisfied with a small attractive market which requires custom coding. Other clients, like governments, will need to satisfy diverse audiences. Different equations will fit different situations.

How are you looking at your full development costs, the total costs of a project, compared to how many people it reaches, and how well it reaches them? If you could put yourself in your 2012 shoes for a moment, what type of advice might you give your self of today?

Broader effects

This is the fun one… imagining the unexpected. ;-)

I’m already keen on ARAs, BSIs, VEAs… whether you’re in Vegas or Beijing you can already see stupefyingly big shared screens, which could handle interactivity from pocket screens just as well as they can handle today’s linear video. And using handhelds as, not just a “window to the world” with remote experiences, but a “mirror to the world” with location-aware interactions… don’t get me started, it’s very exciting.

If you would, I’d appreciate hearing outlandish visions you may have, of how we just might be using these devices in 2012. If this transition is as rapid as logic seems to dictate, then what types of surprises might we, somehow, quite reasonably expect…?

If I could ask you to daydream for a moment, and try to put yourself in 2012 looking back, what types of things do you think might be good for us 2010-lings to know? Silly question, I know, but what types of things come to mind for you…?

[Comments: Software wars elsewhere, thanks.]

The Gradual Disappearance Of Flash Bashing

… likely won’t occur until the incentives disappear, unfortunately.

I’m linking to this article mostly because it just popped up on Techmeme unlinked, and I’d like to help out Gabe…. ;-)

If you read the article itself the author takes the title as a given, and then extrapolates upon what a world would be like were this so. But many will read only the headline, and assume that it was substantiated. Whether the writing and its promotion had this as a premeditated goal is difficult to accurately guess.

Even though Brad is a self-described “Flash hater”, I agree with him that “In the end, we’re all just trying to create websites that can be accessed and used, regardless of the tools we use to deliver them.” I also like that he links to HTML-based work he likes, down towards the end… if you can do something good, it’s to everyone’s benefit… no real need for one to fail for another to succeed.

What drives Adobe is removing the barriers to publishing. Just as every manufacturer is releasing a dizzying range of new personal digital screens (almost all of which are being optimized for Flash work) the new Creative Suite aims to become the most practical way to publish to whichever forms and brands of screens you and your audience choose.

There’s a remarkable consistency in that drive…. ;-)

Update: After a few hours there are many comments there, with a very firm sentiment of “use the best tool; don’t trash Flash”. Sounds like many web workers just want to get on with their work, with a lower level of divisive hype…?

Next generation creative tooling

Kevin Lynch highlights some of the big capabilities we’re trying to deliver in this cycle of work on Creative Suite: easier ways for groups of people to work together on creative content… better ways to see how this material actually works for your audiences… being able to design and deliver for any device.

More Monday. Big news with long-term significance… dawn of a new design.

(Delivery to Apple devices is still included, although “it is up to Apple whether they choose to allow or disallow applications as their rules shift over time.” We’ll do our best to make it easy for you to satisfy your audience, no matter where they may be.)

Religion in China

Fascinating subject. Wikipedia has a good intro…. starts off: “Religion in China has been characterized by pluralism since the beginning of Chinese history.”

Animism, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, even Atheism… China’s history is remarkable for how these various systems of belief tended to just get along. If you ever get the chance to enjoy Journey To The West, I’d highly recommend it… the Waley abridged translation particularly show how belief systems need not be intolerant of another.

There were, however, exceptions….

In the year 845, after a bankrupting war, Emperor Wuzhong launched the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution:

“According to the report prepared by the Board of Worship, there were 4,600 monasteries, 40,000 hermitages, 260,500 monks and nuns. The emperor issued edicts that Buddhist temples and shrines be destroyed, that all monks be defrocked, that the property of the monasteries be confiscated, and that Buddhist paraphernalia be destroyed. An edict providing that foreign monks be defrocked and returned to their homelands resulted in Ennin’s expulsion from China. By the edict of AD 845 all the monasteries were abolished with very few exceptions. When the monasteries were broken up the images of bronze, silver or gold were to be handed over to the government. In 846, the Emperor Wuzong died… Shortly thereafter, his successor proclaimed a general amnesty.”

This repression was only one chapter in the long history of Buddhism in China. Today Buddhism is said to be the largest organized faith in China.

Islam in China… well, again, the intro paragraph at Wikipedia summarizes it:

“Islam in China has a rich heritage. China has some of the oldest Muslim history, dating back to as early as 650, when the uncle of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, Sa`ad ibn Abi Waqqas, was sent as an official envoy to Emperor Gaozong during Caliph Uthman’s era. Throughout the history of Islam in China, Chinese Muslims have influenced the course of Chinese history.”

Some more on the continuing influence:

“By the time of the Song Dynasty, Muslims had come to play a major role in the import/export industry. The office of Director General of Shipping was consistently held by a Muslim during this period… During the Mongol-founded Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), large numbers of Muslims settled in China. The Mongols, a minority in China, gave Muslim immigrants an elevated status over the native Han Chinese as part of their governing strategy, thus giving Muslims a heavy influence. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims immigrants were recruited and forcibly relocated from Western and Central Asia by the Mongols to help them administer their rapidly expanding empire… During the following Ming Dynasty, Muslims continued to be influential around government circles. Six of Ming Dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang’s most trusted generals were Muslim….”

And yet, during the fading years of the Qing Dynasty, the Panthay Rebellion was a very sorrowful event. Periods of synergism, punctuated by expedient intolerance.

Judaism in China goes back even further, from Silk Road traders up through pre-war tycoon families of Sassoon, Kadoorie, Hardoon. And during World War II, the Shanghai Ghetto was exceptionally moving, one of the few places in the world where tolerance could be found.

And, of course, all religions were ransacked during the 20th century’s Cultural Revolution, along with many of the nation’s cultural and historical relics… an exceptionally sad time.

Yet today Taoism, Islam, Buddhism and more are flourishing, while the Gang of Four, like Wuzhong and the Qing, quickly became toast.

Intolerance doesn’t seem to have a very good track record.

We humans have been around a long time, seen a lot of sorrow. The trend is pretty clear towards cooperation, tolerance. It’s quite miraculous we have ownership of a piece of consciousness during this moment. How are you willing to spend it?

A tale of two venues

One blogpost, published on two different sites, resulting in two wildly different comment sections. The difference? Anonymous Apple attack squads.

If you work with professional video you know Dan Rayburn. On Friday he wrote a post at Streaming Media, pointing out how many consumers wish to discount the costs content producers must incur to double-encode video and develop dual control interfaces. There were some objections, from screen names like “Bobby” and “James”, but only 13 comments.

Over the weekend the blogpost was republished at Seeking Alpha. This weekend copy drew 130 comments… after being linked from macsurfer.com. These comments were not only more insulting, but some kept on posting and posting half-a-dozen, a dozen times.

There are many stupid objections which have already been debunked — mouseovers, battery life, “apple=open adobe=proprietary”, and so on. Worst, for me, are the personal slurs on Dan and other proven video pros like Jan Ozer. Apple’s little attackers do not need to listen, they do not need to have any idea what they’re talking about — they only need to keep speaking to drown others out.

Crowds are directed to sites to shout down any opposition. Keep an eye on macsurfer.com to predict which “inconvenient truths” will receive abusive comments. We don’t need to publish the words of those who speak pseudonymously… we do not need to spend far more time listening to them than they to us.

The culture of Apple is flawed. They are secretive and authoritarian, and attract (among others) angry little submissives who then act out on others. We should listen to them, but not unduly, not more than they listen to others.

The Golden Rule has arisen spontaneously in almost all human cultures. If you believe some people do not follow it, then the usual reading is “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” But if you believe that all of us do, in fact, follow it — that the universal Golden Rule is descriptive, rather than merely prescriptive — then such abusive commenters are treating others as they themselves wish to be treated. Finding an ethical middle between these readings is our challenge to resolve.

My thanks to Dan, Jan, and all those many others who “speak truth to power” and are personally attacked as a result. The mob’s power, while sharp, is small and weak, and shall not stand. Truth will out.

Driving towards tablets

Whatever you may think of Apple, they accomplished something significant for us all this week.

It’s one thing to touch a small circle of tech bloggers, but another to reach a larger portion of the general population… on their morning news, in their TV entertainment, from their favorite celebrities.

In working towards increasing desire for their own version of a lap tablet, Apple PR has also prepared the ground for any manufacturer of a lap tablet, any manufacturer of a pocket tablet. Thanks to Apple’s publicity, everyday people are now exposed to the concept of digital interaction away from the workstation.

The tablet is no longer strange.

These new devices are emerging into an exceptionally competitive market. It’s difficult to compete on merit, so it’s understandable to compete on allure. Expect more irrational dismissals of technology not invented in Cupertino. Nothing personal; just business… a requirement of the branding strategy.

It’s easy enough to differ with Apple’s ethics or rhetoric (where not supporting HTML’s standard EMBED/OBJECT is “supporting W3C standards”?), but they accomplished something substantial for us all this week — they brought to public attention this entire class of new devices, and drove home that we’re at the dawn of a new design.

I’d probably say “Thanks, Steve!”, if only I wasn’t so lazy….. ;-)

Update: For an example of how Adobe sees this revolution playing out, watch this new video on YouTube, “One Web. Any Screen”.