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?


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.


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.]

6 Responses to Questions about 2012

  1. ron says:

    this is NOT about software wars:
    everyone will have his/her own device. it’ll be their personal thing, like everyone has a wallet or a phone. you might say it’s their personal extension.
    people won’t switch between devices very often, they don’t have to, because they will always have them with them. so accessing a service from multiple devices (think web-apps) will be less ubiquitous than it is nowadays.
    of course the experience on their device is the key. there will be several devices to chose from, each with its own way of doing things. services and apps have to be tailored for this, one model of interaction shoehorned on every device just won’t cut it.
    this means that in the long run native INTERFACES will win.
    (not necessarily native APPS, people won’t care how an app is written, just as they do today.)

  2. Leo says:

    There has been talk about the mobile revolution for years, but I’m not really convinced is that much of a revolution and see it more as a normal diversification of a market.
    Surely a lot of people either has or will get a smartphone in the future.
    But even if everyone had one, mobile devices are only better when you are on the move. So apart from people that travel a lot, a proper screen and keyboard is preferable. So I think that mobile users will for most applications remain a minority.
    The thing that seems certain is that both hardware and software is getting more and more diverse. Even if mobile users might not become the majority part of your business they are already too many to ignore. And we see more and more web-technologies, operating systems and devices become commonly used.
    So at least there will certainly be a lot of work to do, both for developers and Adobe, in the near future.

  3. Okay, so yesterday, first thing in the morning I checked my mail and answered a technical question from an old friend. This was before I got out of bed, on the iPod touch.
    Late at night, not quite ready to go to sleep, same location, same device, this blog. I tried to enter a comment, but the captcha killed me (at least it wasn’t f lash-based, so I at least could try to do it it) and I abandoned the idea I went to sleep.
    Not even thinking 2 years ahead, I am wondering if anyone recommend a good CSS reference for iPhone and mobile web page design TODAY. Ron’s comment is to-the-point, but at the moment I would be happy just targeting the device with an optimal page.
    One development cost you didn’t mention, and which I think is largely neglected, is the largely quantifiable Cost of Delay. This, and a different way of looking at queuing/wait times for resources in a project, are two of the main benefits of reading Reinertsen’s books.

  4. DaveMatthews says:

    Device to device, screen to screen experience will be consistent. Cyberspace will gain ‘geographic stability’, ‘objects’ will be ‘where you left them’ on your last visit.
    The iPhone interface moves in this direction – turn on the device and each app button is where you left it. Choose an app and that app becomes the interface when it zooms up to ‘full screen’, back out to the broader view.
    With the advent of vector graphics and non-pixelating zoom, the view can be infinitely large.
    Combined with location aware data feeds and apps, real world maps will become the relevant and understandable basis of the initial view.
    Drive by a used car lot and zoom into the map location via Google maps. Choose the lot gaurd camera and pick a specific car. click on that car and access it’s history via the GM database.
    When you’re back at home, retrace your trip on a bigger screen – same controls. From any starting point, access each surveillance camera along the way – seeing yourself or your car drive by in a time based geographically consistent sequence. Or view the trip from your car’s camera angles similar to a Google street view sequence. Should this info sequence be ‘private’ ? …probably.
    Visit a store. GPS aware device knows which isle you’re in. Scan a bar code and see/hear relevant company supplied data and access reviews from the public at large.
    Stop for a meal/drink at a 300 seat restaurant and trigger app showing picks and stats on potential mates in area.
    Again zoom out and access parking lot cameras to make sure the ‘ex’ isn’t keying the car.
    The common element is geographically aware apps, or screen if you prefer.
    With this looming avalanche of data, organizing the hundreds of data streams will be the problem and solution.
    As a favor to the world, people will wear glasses with live video feeds. surfing the net from home will allow seeing highway conditions from any car or truck along the route you are exploring or allow one to wander into any storefront and access individual and establishment cameras and sound feeds.
    Thus, the interface and controls fade to the background and organization of the live streams is synced by the app developer to deliver seamless multiple video and linked location specific 360 degree access similar to Photosynth’s meshing of live video with still photo collections in real time – organized both geographically and chronologically – because information is actually organized in the real world beginning with those two points.
    So we see the importance of accessing any feed AND being able to stop any feed to access the next without choking the device… did Adobe fix that aspect of the newer players yet?… can we unload any asset effeciently yet?
    See for a working example of multiple feeds in the same interface made ten years ago.

  5. John Dowdell says:

    Thanks to Zach White (?) for a comment even longer than this page… he’s got a copy up at, so please do check it out if you’re following this discussion.

  6. Zach says:

    Thanks for the link John, you got my name right.
    I never say in 5 words what I can adequately say in 15. 😉 I hope I was able to keep it entertaining for everyone who reads it.