Posts in Category "Devices"

Simple things

Almost too much discussion recently… lengthy articles, details to debate, personas to ponder, errors to exasperate. Yesterday I walked along The Embarcadero, looking out over the San Francisco Bay. Made me zoom out, look at the bigger picture on this technology curve.

Woodblock prints in the 1400s… Linotype in the 1880s… digital in the 1980s… webpages more recently. Each enabled more people to communicate, more easily, more expressively.

For communications, very few owned signal towers and elevated roadways, until carrier pigeon, then telegraph, later telephone made communications more accessible. We started with one-way broadcast TV, later asynchronous videotape, now realtime peer-to-peer. Remote expressivity evolved from smoky symbols to text, to speech, to photos, to video.

The natural evolution is to become more diverse, more open, accessible to more people. Richer. More options.

Personal computer screens are only twenty years old. Their expressivity has become richer, their communications offer far more choices. From white-collar workstations, to blue-collar laptops, and now to the global denim pocket… different than fifteen years ago, or fifteen years from now.

A future using networked pocket devices will be a little bit richer than a hypertext viewer on a workstation.

How to design presentations and interactions for a world where your audience is using multiple devices throughout the day, where sometimes they may want short text, other times a passive movie, but at times heavy interaction? A world where your devices know where you are and can augment your environment… a world where your friends can “be” with you, no matter where they may be?

We simply don’t know much yet about optimal design of such interfaces. Using networked pocket devices will be much richer than surfing the web.

We heard DHTML will kill Flash, Ajax will kill Flash, “HML5” will kill Flash. That’s a very limiting way to look at things.

“We’ll do that, but better” seems narrower than “We’ll do something better”. Second-movers may need confrontation; first-movers need vision.

Take a walk along the water sometime. Look out, and think about the more important things you could do.

Close with two quotes… wanted to close with three, but couldn’t find something from Gregory Bateson about how the natural tendency of successful ecologies is towards increasing diversification over time, and how it’s less-successful ecologies which focus on killing off The Other… but couldn’t find it from Bateson, though, so there’s just two:

Robert Anton Wilson:

“Information is doubling faster all the time. It took from the time of Jesus to the time of Leonardo for one doubling of knowledge. The next doubling of knowledge was completed before the American Revolution, the next one by 1900, the next one by 1950, the next one by 1960. You see how it keeps moving faster? Now knowledge is doubling every eighteen months.

“With all these new bits, bytes, blips of information, no model can last long because models only include the bytes of information that were available when the model was made. As new bytes of information come in it gets harder and harder to adjust our old models to include the new blips and beeps of information, so we’ve got to make new models.”

JBS Haldane:

“My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

[Comments policy: A masked person with a reasonable question is okay. A real person with a dumb question is okay. A masked person making dumb assertions, not.]

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…. 😉

The third screen approaches

The International Broadcasters Convention in Amsterdam this week produced much news relevant to broadcasters, but a different press release showed a step towards something important for developers… hardware Flash support integrated into a “System on a Chip” which manufacturers can use for different types of televisions.

Implications? Here are two paragraphs from the press release by NXP Semiconductors, a chip manufacturer and an Open Screen Project partner:

“NXP Semiconductors today unveiled a new family of highly integrated system-on-chip products enabling a complete range of high-performance solutions for mainstream HD DVRs and set-top box platforms in global satellite, cable and IPTV networks. Representing the world’s first fully integrated 45nm set-top box SoC platform incorporating multi-channel broadcast receivers, the NXP PNX847x/8x/9x delivers advanced broadcast decoding, media processing and graphics rendering technologies. This comprehensive feature set provides an optimized system that significantly reduces manufacturer bill-of-materials costs and power consumption and also ensures advanced picture quality for an improved home entertainment experience.

“Based on a powerful 1250DMIPS ARM Cortex-A9 Superscalar applications CPU architecture, the PNX847x/8x/9x delivers advanced system level performance for secure, multi-room DVR video streaming on home networks and for fast execution of Java-based STB middleware engines. . Combined with a rich set of hardware and DSP based content decoding resources, the ARM Cortex-A9 CPU’s internet software technology eco-system delivers industry leading performance for user interface environments based on Adobe Flash and web browser technologies. Dedicated hardare for flexible content format decoding along side ARM architecture optimizations for Javascript and Flash components ensures that the PNX847x/8x/9x can deliver the most responsive and robust user experience for on-line VOD and other content delivered via the internet.”

Timeline? They expect to provide device manufacturers with “sample quantities in Q4 2009”, so we’re still a ways off from having a sizable home audience. But groups like Intel, Broadcom, and Sigma Designs are also working on Flash/SoC integration too… seems a strong trend, like how flat screens eventually replaced cathode screens.

It may be too early to plan a business around Social TV, but it’s not too early to think of the social applications they’ll need. Some TV/connectivity contracts may end up being walled gardens, but the sheer diversity of chip manufacturers implies multiple business models, and I’m betting we’ll see open models emerge as well.

Bottom line? We already use workstations, and handhelds, and we’re getting closer to sitback screens too. Three screens, all expected to access those services we need, but all three accessing those services in different manners — work at a workstation, fast facts on the go, and notifications and networking while watching a movie.

(There’s a fourth screen too — ambient display screens accessed by personal mobile, such as interactive wallmaps at a transit station or message-boards at a convention. Flash is already well-established in environmental signage, and the screens themselves are prevalent in many public places these days, but I don’t know when we’ll make the social jump to accessing and interacting with ambient displays in public places.)

The notebook-only world of applications will still be useful. But just as with desktop publishing, or CD-ROM, or World Wide Web, or RIAs, the newer areas will grow faster than the old. You’ll still be able to design for a single screen, but the action will be in serving audiences across the different types of screens they own.

Just one small press release this week, one manufacturer disclosing chip and schedule details for the next generation of TV. But to me it seemed a significant marker. That third screen is finally becoming real.

More on NXP and Flash… more on Open Screen Project.

Schedules of Open Screen Project

There was lot of attention given at Techmeme today to the HTC Hero announcement. I saw a few headlines with ambiguous titles, though, which could confuse readers.

Mobiles with regular Adobe Flash Player 10 capability are expected to begin shipping in volume in 2010. Adobe expects to provide a developer preview version of this engine at the MAX conference in October. Manufacturing partners in the Open Screen Project have already received earlier versions of this work. Current shipments will be using the current version of the mobile-specific profile, Flash Lite 3.1.

We’re in a transition year. Adobe combined mobile and desktop Player teams to pursue this effort early in 2008, and publicly announced the Open Screen Project in May 2008 (more info).

This year we’ll be seeing more mobile Flash capability delivered in the existing mobile profile. (It’s shipping, release-quality software.) Towards the end of this year we’ll start seeing real results of having a common engine across desktop and mobile. But it’s really next year when the volume of this mobile integration starts to become significant.

It’s hard to know precise schedules. Look at the manufacturers involved in the Open Screen Project — their release schedules are their own, and they each make different decisions on when they need to lock down their production schedules, when they make public announcements. I was surprised by the Internet television announcements made in January. These partners have a wide range of interests. We’ll see specific news on their schedules. Best advice may be “Be prepared to be surprised.” 😉

Some asked today “Why did it say Flash, instead of Flash Lite?” That’s because it’s all now, at base, just “Flash”, whether mobile or desktop, Flash or Flex or AfterEffects or whatever. The ecology is far bigger than a single development workflow or a single delivery channel… we’ve seen a grand unification of the different niches over the past year. The “Flash Lite” version basically boils down to a versioning difference, one which we’ll soon erase. It’s all the same Flash Platform.

But the above is the general schedule. We’re significantly along in development now, working closely with a variety of important partners, and expect to have a public preview later this year, with widespread deployment next year. Until then most shipments will be of the existing mobile version.

The goal is to make it easy to publish to any screen. SWF is first, rendered by Adobe Flash Player, and the goal is to follow this with HTML in AIR. Whichever way you wish to construct a screen, a presentation, an application, a service — it should just run, on any type of digital display device.

Should be a fun ride. 🙂

Moblin Flash

Techmeme tonight has a cluster on “Intel brings rich UI to Moblin Linux platform”. Here’s the source blogpost from Imad Sousou, Director of Intel Open Source Technology Center. In the section “Moblin v2.0 Beta Feature Summary”, this part caught my eye:

A web browser optimized for the Moblin 2.0 Netbook user interface. Based on the latest Mozilla browser technology revised into a Clutter shell, the browser gives you access to the whole internet, as well as advanced features, such as video embedding and the latest Flash plug-in, while integrating seamlessly into the user interface.

I searched for a bit, and found this on the Intel Software site:

The Intel Mobile Internet Device (MID) platform provides a full internet experience in a pocket-sized form factor. Combining Moblin-based operating systems with the Intel Atom processor, MIDs are able to run any application that has been built for the x86 architecture, including Adobe Flash 10* and Adobe AIR 1.5*. While the features of the devices that are and will be on the market vary depending on OEM and target market, there are several features that the devices share in common: small form factor, emphasis on internet connectivity rather than extensive storage, and alternate input methods.

The documentation at has this tidbit:

The current Home Screen UI is written in Adobe Flash. To add a new application icon to the home screen, add a .desktop-formatted file to the /usr/share/mobile-basic-flash/applications directory.

There are also older mailing list archives which discuss installing or redistributing Adobe Flash Player.

Here’s a technote titled “Install the Adobe AIR Runtime on a MID” from Dec 2008.

Not much hard info yet. I know Intel has mentioned Moblin in their profile at Open Screen Project, and their television announcements at CES in January were also a surprise to me.

I’ll ask other folks in the office tomorrow. If you’ve got links to more background, please drop a note in comments, thanks.

Fact-checking a reporter

Sorry, low-info post here… I’m just annoyed enough to correct some of the errors in Ben Charny’s most recent DowJones/CNN article. Here’s a snippet:

“Though a big hit on PCs, Adobe’s video player isn’t yet compatible with devices from Research In Motion, Apple’s iPhone and phones based on Google Android software. The Palm Pre, due in June in the U.S., also isn’t Flash compatible. Microsoft continued the pile-on last week, when it said an upcoming mobile version of its Windows operating system software won’t be compatible in the short term, and that its Windows Marketplace for Mobile online software bazaar won’t offer any Flash-based products. Apple is to update its iPhone software on Tuesday, and by all appearances, it still won’t be compatible with the Adobe feature. The one success has been No. 1 cell phone maker Nokia. While it says a billion Nokia cell phones are now Flash-compatible, many are cell phones, rather than their souped-up cousins the smart phone.”

Just off the top of my head:

Adobe Flash Player is more than “a video player”.

Blackberry doesn’t yet seem to have the oomph for rich-media type of applications, although there’s hope that future generations will.

Apple is a weird case — you’ve got to get them to talk about what they’ll be doing. Adobe has stated we’re working on making it run, but Apple’s got to provide a plugin mechanism to do so. It’s Apple’s story.

Google Android isn’t shipping yet, but they’re Flash-happy.

Microsoft is on board with Flash Lite, although I have no idea when they’re shipping. Puts a different spin on his Silverlight quote.

Palm Pre isn’t shipping yet, but they’ve also announced.

The “only hit is Nokia” bit is wacky… Nokia’s a great partner, and so are others. Flash Lite has been de-facto standard in Japan and Korea for years. We’ve shipped about a billion Flash Lite installations, not a billion Nokia Flash Lite installations. And that line about “Flash works only on the lower-end phones” collides straight with the blather about “Flash is too demanding for iPhone”.

Sorry I’m so cranky to correct — this off-kilter Ars Technica piece set it up, I guess — but technology is complicated enough, why add to the confusion?

Reading notes on Barcelona announcements

Big news yesterday… even further industry support of Open Screen Project, redistributable Player for Nokia and Microsoft smartphones, new Acrobat Reader for mobile with reflow layout, a $10M fund for mobile projects, more. Here are the press releases.

I spent most of yesterday reading commentary. Here are some quotes which caught my own interest — not an overview, more like reading notes — background info up towards top, third-party reactions down toward the bottom.

The one-sentence summary? Computerworld phrased it well: “Google, Microsoft, Palm and Nokia are all expected to release systems or phones next year that will be able to display the same videos and applications as the most recent Flash 10 player for desktop computers.” That’s the new cross-device runtime, beyond the old and very successful Flash Lite runtime. Big momentum now.

On stats, you may have heard that “one billion Flash Lite devices shipped” phrase when it broke into news a few weeks ago… Adobe delayed a press release until this World Mobile Congress event, in case you were wondering about deja vu. There was also a stat of “Flash Lite shipped on 40% of all new handsets in 2008” which was new to me, and which I haven’t seen sourced… I’ll be trying to lock that down, get a link.

[Update, 02/24/09: The stats both came from Strategy Analytics, in this PDF: “We estimate that over the next 2 years alone, around 1.5 billion Flash Lite enabled phones will be shipped globally, taking the cumulative total to over 2.4 billion handsets by the end of 2010. Flash Lite is being installed in a greater number of handset models from more OEMs than ever before and penetration is expected to grow from 40% at the end of 2008 to over 61% by the end of 2010.”]

The Reader Mobile news didn’t get as much play as the Flash announcements, but it’s significant… the concept of “PDF reflow”, where existing PDF can change its layout to display efficiently on small screens, is huge… adds one of the benefits of HTML to the predictable-layout capabilities of PDF. There’s also support for the EPUB standard (digital books) and Adobe Content Server (protected documents). The press release lays out the significance, and Bill McCoy is a good source for news.

I don’t know the support structure for the Redistributable Player — who handles an update if something goes wrong, etc. It’s apparently limited to machines with an operating system which supports live updating, and is geo-restricted.

“Consumers using supported Windows Mobile and S60 phones in India, Italy, Spain, UK, and the U.S. can easily download applications.” [Adobe Labs]

Mark Doherty [an Adobe employee] added “OTA is available in US, UK, India, Spain and Italy with more following quickly, anyone can download the player from Adobe Labs if OTA is not available.”

In Silicon Valley press, many wove in lines about Apple iPhone. (I didn’t find any statements from any Apple employee anywhere about the event.) Adobe’s Anup Murarka had the best quote on the simple realities:

“‘We would love to see [Flash] on the iPhone, too,’ said Anup Murarka, director of Technology Strategy and Partner Development for Adobe. ‘But it’s Apple’s decision on when and how they support any new technology. So we will continue to work on it.'” [CNET]

And for RIM BlackBerry: “…Adobe is at an even earlier stage with RIM. ‘We’ve had some initial conversations and are evaluating different approaches to be taken,’ [Adobe’s Anup Murarka] said. ‘There is a lot of interest from BlackBerry enterprise customers to be able to build Flash apps. But there is no working solution yet.'” [Computerworld]

Adobe’s goal is simple — we want to make it easy to publish to any screen. Any screen.

One of the oddest phenomena of the past year has been how Flash Lite paying licenses have blown past expectations — even after Adobe announced that the older mobile engine would be replaced by the desktop version and would not require license fees! I credit Apple’s iPhone for raising the bar, and proving to manufacturers and operators that consumers enjoy better experiences. (I guess we can now bury last year’s meme that Flash Lite licensing fees were holding it back. 😉 A representative quote in The Standard:

“Adobe’s Flash Lite multimedia player is spreading like wildfire on mobile phones, according to third-party statistics released by the company on Monday. According to market researcher Strategy Analytics Inc., Flash Lite will have been shipped on 1 billion phones by the end of March this year, one year ahead of Adobe’s earlier target… ‘The take up of Flash Lite has been staggering to be honest,’ Strategy Analytics’s Stewart Robinson said in an e-mail… ‘I think it also comes down to the fact that competition is almost non-existent,’ Robinson said, adding that he expects another 1.5 billion smartphones with Flash Lite to ship in the next two years.”

Windows Mobile 6.5 was announced, and the “deathmatch” rhetoric of the blogosphere got trumped by the realities of everyday life:

“The latest version of Windows Mobile is shipping with Flash Lite, but there’s no word on when or if Microsoft will debut its Silverlight on mobile.” (Other quotes confirm that Silverlight 1.0 for Mobile will be on Windows Mobile eventually… there may have been dates offered in the past, but no date was offered this week.) [Wireless Week]

“Perhaps the most interesting part of Microsoft’s new OS is an updated version of Internet Explorer for Windows Mobile. The company said the new Internet browser features the same ‘engine’ as Microsoft’s browser for desktop computers, and can render Adobe Systems’ Flash technology… Strangely, Windows Mobile 6.5 does not support Silverlight, which stands as Microsoft’s answer to Adobe’s Flash on the Internet. Microsoft executives hinted that Windows Mobile would support Silverlight at a later date.” [RCR Wireless]

Some of the expert quotes contained jarring notes… I have no idea what the speaker might have intended with this “look how long it took Macs to get Flash” line:
“The other reason, at least with Apple, is business. ‘Apple wants to push its own technology, in this case, QuickTime,’ Gold said. ‘It has its own interests at heart. Look at how long it took to get Flash onto Macs. I honestly don’t think you will see Flash on the iPhone anytime soon.'” [Computerworld]

Some made simpler, more direct, and more observable points:
“Say what you will about Flash, it’s unquestionably a significant component of today’s ‘real Web,’ and I’ve spent enough time being frustrated by its absence that I’m anxious to see how it translates onto a tiny screen.” [Harry McCracken]

At The Boy Genius Report, the comments were not deep, but were excited… it was the emotional tone which struck me here. People were involved and committed to a consumer device… doesn’t always happen.

Now, for the bobos…. 😉

Erick Schonfeld’s TechCrunch article is snarky, but he gets outdone by the head-in-buttiness of the comments… sample:
“The fact that they left Flex 3 out of CS3 premium suites left me SO BITTER, that I think JavaFX will have to take it’s place.”

The most negative (and unrealistic) assertions were from Apple fanboys — while reading through the comment section at A VC from NYC I wanted a little webcam to see how these anonymous spouters of balderdash lived their days:
“Last time I checked, flash is not an open standard. HTML 5 is open and handles 95% of what flash is used for.”
“Mobile flash is nerfed (I believe Steve called this out), and I’m about 99% positive that the version of flash on Nokia and Palm will not support Flex/AIR apps.”
“Because Flash is a proprietary technology, while HTML 5 is an open standard. When it comes to the Web, open standards will prevail. Flash is the past, HTML 5 is the future.”
“As a number of commenters have pointed out, Flash is a hog.”

Just goes to prove that internet text is bloated, I guess. 😉

I’ll keep reading today, and will update this post if I find anything significant. If you caught a novel perspective or useful news, or have questions about any of the announcements, please drop a note here, thanks!

The work of the OSP

Great interview at EffectiveUI from Doug Schmidt (of Dryerfox fame 😉 as Adobe’s Anup Murarka discusses the goals and progress of the Open Screen Project.

It’s a long interview — printed out for me at 13 pages — and seems to have flown beneath-the-radar since published two weeks ago. I’m remixing some of the highlights topically below, but I’d urge you to read the original conversation too… OSP is an ambitious yet convincing proposal to gain the ability to write to any display, and I think this interview will help you predict the shape of the next few years.

What are the goals of the Open Screen Project? To make it both practical and economical to deploy to any digital screen.

We’ve centered on two key goals. First is the development and distribution of a consistent runtime that’s available across all sorts of screens, not just the desktop, but also mobile, television, set-top, and other consumer electronic products.

Second, is the notion that it needs to be easier to publish and distribute content to those screens, not just from a technology perspective, but also from the business relationship perspective. Too often, Adobe hears horror stories from developers about how hard it is to get their content to a mobile phone or to a television. Companies in the Open Screen Project would like to see that become easier.

… The Open Screen Project is really more about allowing developers a much greater level of flexibility to design and move assets from one screen to another without having to rebuild applications every time.

We’ve got to improve, not just the technical capabilities, but also the business realities. That’s why such a diverse partner list is needed:

When the Project was originally announced, we had companies from all segments of technology ecosystems participating. We have companies at the silicon layer actively participating — organizations like Intel and ARM. We also have OEMs, including all of the top five mobile OEMs: Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, LG, Sony Ericsson, and also companies from other industry segments that build other a wide range of consumer products — like Cisco and Toshiba.

We have service providers NTT DoCoMo, Verizon Wireless, and Comcast who most recently joined the effort, as well as major studios, content producers, and media brands including NBC Universal, MTV Networks, a division of Viacom, and others. We see the Open Screen Project as a very broad industry collaborative effort rather than just something that is applicable only to software companies… Since the original public announcement, we reached a very significant milestone in seeing some additional companies join the effort.

Why is such a diverse consortium of stakeholders so necessary? Examples here from service providers and hardware manufacturers:

One of the key Open Screen Project goals is to allow for over-the-air and over-the-wire updating of the core run time, just as we allow for that on the desktop now with Flash Player. If we can make that a seamless process and as easy to use as it is on the desktop, we think developers will get really excited and they’ll be able to do even more wonderfully creative things.

That’s why it was essential to have service providers participate in the project from the start — to help guide how we would do this successfully. The idea of tens of millions of wireless subscribers suddenly doing simultaneous downloads over a network is frightening. Consumers can undoubtedly overwhelm the network. So it’s something that has to be done carefully, and again, that’s why we wanted to make sure that we had partners in the project that could educate us on what the risks and struggles will be.

… One of the most complex problems we’re seeing right now is getting ActionScript 3 running in low-end, mass-market devices. It’s not easy. We’d love developer participation there. It’s going to require a lot of energy. We’ve had a number of the Open Screen Project partners participating in that — companies like ARM, Intel, and Qualcomm — working on getting a well-performing, just-in-time compiler working on current and future processors. There’s a lot of juicy work to be done in that regard…

One example is the announcement we made with ARM stating that Adobe is working with ARM directly to optimize Flash Player 10 for playback on processors. So much of the early engineering work is happening at the very low hardware levels in order to take advantage of hardware acceleration. ARM has made key contributions to the Tamarin project by getting the just-in-time compiler working with ARM processors instead of just desktop X86 processors. These optimizations are for core Flash Player 10 and Adobe AIR.

Adobe’s motivations and business goals?

As we shipped millions of units of Flash Player onto various mobile phones, we didn’t see real global success in terms of broad amounts of content being available everywhere. We saw many little ecosystems, smaller silos that made it challenging for Flash developers to see their content become globally available. If you look at the way Flash content has grown on the desktop and the Web, comparing that to growth outside of the desktop, it has been slow to develop.

We’d like to accelerate that. We’ve certainly played a role to some extent for mobile, particularly in Japan, in parts of the U.S., and parts of Europe. But we’d like to see mobile become a more consistent environment that developers can take greater advantage of.

… We don’t want designers to worry if Flash Player 10 on devices shipping now will work on devices that ship three years from now. I think this is a key aspect of what we’ve heard from Flash Lite developers over the last several years.

… We see consumers demanding greater access to the content they enjoy and the services they want. Rather than forcing developers to learn a completely new set of APIs, a completely new set of capabilities, we think if they have a common tool set, and a common language to deliver those applications and services, they’re much more likely to make them consistent and make them available on a wide range of screens so that experiences can move with users and not be dependent on a desktop in any one location.

Again, our goal is to make Flash more open and more appealing to developers around the world. That represents a significant step to allow for new innovation and for faster development to happen.

What about commitments and progress?

We’ve made some significant commitments to the Open Screen Project, as well as financial commitments by agreeing to waive the royalty fees, for example, for device-based implementations of Flash Player technology.

… We published the first round of specifications and details for development, as well as a schedule for releases that would be ‘Open Screen Project compatible.’ These future releases of Flash and Adobe AIR will really move the the Project’s goals forward.

… We’ve also published Flash information, including Flash technology specifications. We’ve made available various protocols over the course of the last year, such as the FlashCast client server protocol. The goal for that portion of the effort was to ensure that companies didn’t feel locked into some other piece of Adobe technology just because they wanted access to this runtime. Our other products and solutions, tools, and server services will compete on their own merits and not just because there’s any sort of proprietary lock-in to the Flash Player runtime.

… One of the exciting elements of dealing with ActionScript 3 is the fact that the Tamarin Project and Tamarin-tracing have been created as open source projects of the Mozilla Foundation. The Tamarin project is incredibly essential to making this effort one that’s going to truly be multi-screen.

Specifications, roadmaps, timelines?

For the desktop, nothing really changes. For smart phones, we think the specs are somewhere in the 300 to 400 MHz processor range — the really high end of the smartphone category for now. That means devices like the G1 or the iPhone, or some of the higher end series 60 devices are the best — basically the PDA class of devices.

The lower-end smartphones and mass-market phones won’t get all of the same desktop compatibility that we’re offering. They’ll miss some of the class libraries or actual APIs, but the core runtime will be identical. It will be better than what you have with Flash Lite today, but still not 100 percent equal to the desktop.

We think the profile is going to be somewhere in the 300 MHz range for the device processor on, let’s say, a quarter VGA, half VGA screen. We’re also targeting a similar footprint for set top boxes and mass-market TVs, although with some hardware acceleration.

… Schmidt: Did you say that you foresee the first Open Screen Project devices coming to the market in Q4 of 2009?

Murarka: That’s our hope, and things look like they’re on track for that. But ultimately it’s in the OEM and service providers’ control. So I think that’s certainly the target that we’re all trying to work towards, but I would expect the volume of the products to be available in 2010.

What’s the general strategy for developing atop common runtimes spanning diverse device types?

Today, Flash Lite developers have to consider the specific device and the specific operator, and what version of Flash Lite is in use. Our hope is that all these Open Screen Project devices will be able to support a consistent ActionScript environment and a consistent Flash environment. Yes, the physical differences of the device will still be there. Is there going to be a keyboard, is there going to be a mouse, is the screen resolution going to be HD resolution or is it going to be a quarter VGA on a small phone? Designers have to worry about those things even today on the desktop, although not quite as extensively.

We want to simplify the language constructs, we want to simplify the class libraries, we want to make sure that the same authoring tool is in play — and ideally even the same Flex framework and SDK in the future.

But today, many of the richer tool sets that are available to desktop developers are not available to Flash Lite developers. We think that’s a big obstacle to overcome — one that will help simplify the development process for all different screens.

… One of the biggest challenges that developers have described to us is trying to keep track of all the many different devices, and all the different implementations of software on them… The idea of testing everywhere is cumbersome, it’s expensive, and Device Central is a great way to help mitigate some of that cost in time and money. We expect that to continue; Device Central is going to be just as useful as it was before to help designers get a feel for what’s available across devices, but the big steps are really to try to close the gap.

The core focus is on the “big three” screens (laptop, mobile, television), but the principles and capabilities should also extend to any upcoming types of Internet-enabled digital display:

Adobe Flash technology has been used in such a wide range of devices — from digital signage to ATM machines, to toys to informational gadgets, and developer platforms like the Chumby. There is broad adoption of Flash across devices, but it has not reached the penetration and mass-market consumer awareness that televisions, phones, and desktop computers have.

We talk about those three categories most because they are the three largest consumer products categories, but the technology evolution we’re undertaking should benefit other industries and other segments over time. So you can imagine car navigation systems utilizing some of the same benefits that we’re working on for these other three categories of desktops, mobile, and television.

Just as PostScript made it easy to publish to any printer, Flash must make it easy to publish to any screen. I’ve been waiting for this convergence a long time, and the strength and diversity of its ecosystem makes the Open Screen Project look capable of realizing this goal. Nothing’s shipping yet, but if you want to better predict where we’re going, then Doug’s interview of Anup offers a very good return on investment.

Thoughts on the unification of all screens

Big news out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week… Intel, Broadcom, Sigma Designs, probably more are building chipsets for internet-connected home televisions, and they’re using the Open Screen Project to provide Adobe Flash playback directly through the chip. Individual television manufacturers can then drop these chipsets into their new models.

Result? Next generation of home televisions will be competing with integrated Internet access and Adobe Flash capabilities. That’s where we’re heading.

Implication? Your workstation screen, and your pocket screen, and your home recreational screen will all have Internet capability, and all share the same predictable clientside media/logic runtime, included by default, updated on demand. These screens must all work together — interface reconciliation, cloud synch, and, hardest of all, social services.

The game is now much, much larger than just the desktop browsers, or even the desktop machine itself.

We’ve got to start designing to the range of inter-cooperating display screens a person may use throughout a typical day in 2012.

And we’ve really got to work hard at bringing in your friends’ and teachers’ understandings of what’s worth your attention onto those varied screens.

Future applications will be multi-screened, using the cloud, to connect with your friends. That’s where the highgrowth markets are going.

Some additional points:

  • That “SoCs” acronym, or System-on-a-Chip, puts many more functions than just CPU-style processing onto a single chip, and is attractive to manufacturers because the entire system is delivered in a single small package. It will provide known, standard capability across a range of consumer manufacturing brands.
  • I don’t yet know what the APIs will be, what the distribution channels will be… some manufacturers may use Flash support internally for the TV’s native interface, as phone manufacturers like Samsung and Prada have long done, and as televisions like CompleteTV seem to be announcing… other manufacturers may go directly to the full web browsing experience, as Broadcom has announced… Intel’s announced support for AIR implies much wider and more significant use. I don’t know how the devices will come out, only that we’ve seen strong commitment to shipping such devices.
  • Intel’s case is significant. They were a founding member of the Open Screen Project, and obviously had plans by the time the organization was announced last May. Now in January we out here in the public now know what some of those plans were. It will still be awhile until there are appreciable audiences using the yet-to-be-shipped televisions. You and I may not know all the details yet, but that heady list of OSP partners raises many, many possibilities.
  • Why start with Flash Lite? Because it is available now, proven out there in the world, dwarfing devices like iPhone and Android. The work on bringing Player 10 to devices is occurring in parallel. Intel specifically mentions that they’ll be working on AIR for home TV later in their press release. It’s one step at a time, and the ability to do over-the-air updates will help such televisions use the latest version.

I’d like to close out with three quotes on how seriously Adobe is trying to bring this about.

First, Adobe’s David Wadhwani on the core goal, as quoted in the Intel press release: “The Open Screen Project is striving to remove barriers for developers and designers as they look to publish content and applications across desktops and devices.” It’s very simple. It’s about removing barriers to publishing.

Then from the FAQ of the Open Screen Project: “One of the primary goals of the Open Screen Project is to reduce fragmentation by providing a consistent application runtime for developers. With the ability to update Flash Player and Adobe AIR over the air and via the network, developers and content providers can create content that leverages the latest features and functionality of the runtimes, without having to wait months or even years for the latest version to be embedded on devices, or for devices with the latest runtime preinstalled to reach significant market penetration.”

Finally, from Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen himself, when telling the financial community about Adobe’s top priorities: “In closing, as we enter fiscal 2009, we will continue to make strategic investments that will position us well for the future while managing our business to ensure consistent profitability. Our strategic priorities are advancing the Adobe Flash platform as the preferred solution for how the world engages with ideas and information; investing in our core businesses, including Creative Suite and Acrobat, to maintain our leadership position through innovation and continue our expansion into new customer segments and geographical markets; and focusing on our growth businesses, which include LiveCycle, Connect Pro, Scene 7, and Dynamic Media as areas we believe have significant potential for future growth.” PostScript united printers; PDF united documents; Flash will unite interactive displays. That’s Adobe’s DNA.

Summary: We’ve all got some big challenges ahead:

  1. Application design will necessarily move to considering the smallest screen first, then enriching that for workstations, and adding appropriately for large sit-back displays. Rephrased, the interface is not the application, but merely one window into that application.
  2. The necessary corollary to this is “we’re all cloud apps now”… there will still be standalone desktop applications, but this new work has the greatest chance of success if it can span device types, uniting usage scenarios across on-the-go, at-the-desk, and on-the-couch. We’ve made great progress over the last five years in seeing how things work in the cloud, but really, we’re only at the very beginning.
  3. The biggest challenge will be in sustainable social systems. The Internet is great at reducing distribution costs, but imposes its own costs for filtering through the junk to find the gold. The best way to filter is to use the brains of people you yourself trust. Buddy lists, authority-ranking, recommendations, annotations, clustering analysis, Bayesian trash-removal… these are all tools we’ll need when figuring how to make the new cloud-based display tools actually useful to people.

That last one scares me — it’s a very hard problem. But it also offers the greatest rewards. As an example of how we’re still in pre-history, Twitter improved on email by letting you choose authors — could you imagine if Twitter showed you everything everyone wanted to send you, like email did? But Twitter still doesn’t bring you news from people you may know of but not trust as much, and still shows the guy saying “eating french toast” among his mobile commentary. How can you set things up to learn from your friends?

Making screens interactive or drawing with vectors are very simple problems compared to getting the best info from the brains around you. But if we can achieve this goal, then, wow…. 🙂

W3C mobile best practices

“Best practices” documents must always make some judgment calls, but this new summary from the W3C is a good checklist for evaluating a project before it goes public.

The emphasis is on HTML development (“do not use tables”, “do not use frames” etc), but lots of the recommendations are good for any runtime engine: strike a balance between similar experience across devices and using device-specific capabiloities… use emulators early but be sure to test on the varied devices themselves before release… minimize auto-refresh without audience disclosure and control… doublecheck contrast and color use under various viewing conditions… my favorite: “Use clear and simple language” (which implies acceptance of language-neutral imagery and appropriate animation).

There’s a longer version available too, but it’s good to keep the summary bookmarked, both for personal checking and as ammunition in internal workgroup discussions.