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.]