Evaluating device choices

We’re entering a period of high change, high choice in new types of devices… phones, tablets, readers, televisions, computers in various form-factors. Things will change even quicker as more operating systems make their Flash-enabled releases. I don’t know enough to offer a model-by-model buying guide, but here are a few quick questions which can help classify device choices.

One of the tricky incentives is that nearly every manufacturer wants to highlight the world’s creative SWF content… they want Flash. This leads to differences between various Player 10.1 and Flash Lite offerings… between devices which have worked with Adobe for mutual optimization and those which haven’t… even between Adobe runtimes and non-Adobe SWF renderers (whether JavaScript or native code or third-party ports).

Fastest shortcut is to check the devices Adobe has tested, in the Player 10.1 System Requirements page. [Update: New device page now available, more models.] These are known quantities, where both parties have worked together for a highlighted release. I don’t know how frequently this list will be updated as device shipments swell this autumn, but if you see a model on this list, then you know Adobe has confirmed the results.

Next, check the partner list at OpenScreenProject.org. These are manufacturers who are working with Adobe to bring a consistent high-performance interface layer across any screen. If they’re on this list then check more into particular models, but if they’re not a partner, then it’s good to check more into their particular SWF support.

Those are the big two differentiators — look for a known quantity, whether a model or a vendor. Here are some other tips, based on current online conversations.

  • Whose code? If an unexpected site offers an installation called “Adobe Flash Player”, then please really check into what it really is. There are some legit non-adobe.com installations (OS partners, some high-profile download aggregators, a few) but if a download doesn’t come from adobe.com, then it’s good to wonder why. Same goes for the operating system. Mainstream configurations are more predictable. (The history of early PostScript has some parallels, but on today’s Web there are additional security concerns.)
  • Flash Lite or Player 10.1? Up to you. Each is a different era, will do different things. There have been a billion or two devices shipped with Flash Lite through the world, and they’ll continue to play a role for some time to come. You may want your own high-end most-current device, but it’s really vital to know how your potential audience may experience things too. If you’re developing creative work for realworld audiences, then experiencing their experience is vital. Up to you.
  • Will my model play Flash later? Will it update? The manufacturer will be the best source of info. The general goal is for all devices to just automatically auto-update as time goes on, but it will take awhile to achieve that.
  • Will it all be totally groovy? Groovier than without, but the World Wide Web’s graphics & video haven’t always anticipated being displayed on itty-bitty screens (or great-big screens either, for that matter). It will take a few years before the Web is equally happy on all types of displays. High-resolution video files will particularly strain a connection. Set your expectation against prior reality, not idealized reality. It’s a big step forward.
  • How to troubleshoot? First step is to identify the actual problem, whether it’s stability, or performance, making the problem happen on-demand. On customizable devices it’s particularly necessary to get back to a known configuration. Adobe has info on general support, but for a new device, your manufacturer’s support area would likely have more pertinent and timely info.
  • Player vs AIR: The Adobe Flash Player works within browsers, and there’s a lot of existing web content, whether that’s one-third, two-thirds, whatever. AIR is applications, where the interface logic and data remain on your personal machine. Whether the app code itself is “in the cloud” or “on the desktop” is your own choice, and most people find both are necessary. First AIR/mobile deliveries are expected to appear on Android later this year. Do what makes sense for you now.

Bottom line: Try lots. Not just one form factor either. The devices you’ll use daily eighteen months from now likely don’t even exist yet. Experiment. Figure out how applications should work in daily life, how these devices should bend to your will. Watch young kids, to see how they naturally want to use it. Even if you can’t purchase one soon, then you’re still free to think, to imagine, to figure out what would be really useful, in a world where any screen communicate with any other. Now’s the time. Go for it.

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[Comments: Platform Wars elsewhere — and personal attacks from anonymous accounts, no way. Creating the future is bigger and more important than any investment in a brand.]

5 Responses to Evaluating device choices

  1. Robert M says:

    It seems like a bum deal for consumers if they have to evaluate devices. Seems like it ought to be simple: Does this device play the video links my friends send me? Can I play my Pandora radio stations? Can I play Facebook games? Can I do instant messaging? Can I take a photo, then crop it and email it? As you say, it’s not about a specific brand or technology — it’s about what I can do, not what tool I use to do it.

  2. When I’m evaluating a device, my big concern with Flash ends up being “Can I turn it off?” I would encourage device manufacturers to make Flash as easy to disable as possible. The ultimate nightmare scenario is mobile device UI actually written in Flash. Like Fireworks’ pallets, only you can never escape.

    Come on, man. I know it’s your job to champion this tech but this business of “creating the future” smacks of self-righteousness and doesn’t add anything to the conversation. The practical reality is that Adobe is king of short-term thinking in tech companies. The future has, indeed, been in the process of creation, but you guys were nowhere to be seen while that was happening.

    Adobe could charitably be called a speedbump between me and the future. Not much more than that.

    • John Dowdell says:

      ?? If you’re actually using these devices, you’re aware of the browser’s “On Demand” setting under “Enable Plugins”, right?

      … oh, I see, your Twitter page lists you as a developer for another brand of devices… got it.

      jd

  3. JD: “Try lots. Not just one form factor either. The devices you’ll use daily eighteen months from now likely don’t even exist yet. Experiment.”

    Don’t you see what a poor user experience this is? It’s *Adobe’s* job to make sure Flash works as expected.

    • John Dowdell says:

      Please re-read. Flash is just software. It’s up to thinking humans to figure out how to best use these tools.

      Not much different than text, when you really think about it….

      [I’m un-approving other comments here about Flash being a “parasitic nuisance in my pocket” and stuff. We’re talking about navigating this entire class of new devices, and there are many other venues for attempts at Platform Wars evangelism.]

      jd