In a recent interview with Beet.tv, Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch talked about trends in the design and creation of content. As smartphone sales outpace PC sales, he expects more and more consumer entertainment content and applications to be created for mobile devices first, in a reversal of today’s PC-first approach. Kevin points out that given the explosive growth of video content available on the Web and that a growing number of smartphone users are expecting to access more video content over the Web, videos will be soon produced and optimized for small screen devices before the traditional personal computers. You can watch the entire video interview with Kevin on Beet.tv.
To read more on creating a new breed of rich Internet applications optimized across devices visit Adobe Developer Center, where you can download whitepapers and learn about best practices for designing contextual applications. Let us know if you notice this trend as well, and share your thoughts and experiences in creating content and applications across different devices.
Beet.tv has a good interview with Kevin Lynch in which Kevin talks about the shift in how content is created. The gist is that content creators will start creating for the small screen and scaling up from there. I think that plays with how we’ve been talking about contextual applications. The small screen is a very different beast to design for and it forces you to really think about your user interface. You just don’t have the real estate to make mistakes on the small screen. That’s going to be a key discipline and I think we’ll see UIs scale up from those small screens which hopefully improves the UI on the larger screens as well.
We did a soft launch with some information of a concept that Adrian Ludwig and some of the other brain-trust folks at Adobe came up with recently called Contextual Applications. I have absolutely fallen in love with this term (and I had nothing to do with thinking of it). In a lot of ways I think this is RIA 2.0. One of the problems with RIA was that it had a grossly vague definition. It was kind of a Frankenstein combination of a desktop-like user experience, better design, real-time communication, rich media, and Web 2.0 ideals. In the end, RIA encompassed almost everything; Ajax, Flash, Silverlight, Adobe AIR, WPF, etc. That’s not a bad thing but it became hard to distinguish the value of RIAs because everyone could claim they were doing “RIA stuff”. The important thing is that we made a lot of progress with RIA and changed how people thought about software development.
Defining Contextual Applications
Contextual applications are a lot more concrete and have a better value proposition for both end-user and developer. It isn’t defined by a particular technology but instead a particular type of experience. So what is it? The idea is fairly simple. You’ve got a core set of data and a core experience that you have to deliver. But in today’s web there are multiple “touch points” out there. What about mobile? The desktop? A browser experience? A widget? An experience specific for social networking? Maybe a television? Users expect to have their content everywhere, on demand, regardless of how they’re connecting to it. The user experience and design challenge is creating a unified brand and experience that leverages the same content and is tailored to the specific technology limitations of a particular “touch point”. Solving that challenge will give you a contextual application. An application that moves with the user across a number of screens/devices while maintaining content and a user experience that is consistent but unique to each device.
Finetune: The Ultimate Contextual Application
The Contextual applications site has a number of examples but my favorite is definitely Finetune. They are a great example of one of the earliest contextual applications. They started out with a web-based application. Then, with the benefits of the desktop they created an AIR application that had native windows and used the file-system capabilities of AIR to tie into the iTunes library and pull artists that were interesting to the user; using the technological features of the underlying touch point to customize the experience. Then they were interested in deploying a version of the Wii so they created a Wii-specific browser application that ran on the Flash Player in the Wii and maintained the Finetune branding. Then of course mobile was a big demand. So they built to mobile applications; a Flash Lite app that reused a lot of code and still maintained the Finetune experience but customized for the small screen. They also built an iPhone app with touch support that captured the experience of the iPhone while maintaining that core Finetune interface.
To me, the Flash Platform stands alone at being able to let developers and designers easily deploy contextual applications. With so many different operating systems and screens supported, it becomes easy to reuse the tools and workflows to create applications that are tailored for those screens while maintaing a sense of continuity. And think about the server infrastructure. Are you using FMS to stream Flash Video content? That content will be supported everywhere the Flash Player is so you can quickly jump between screens and be sure that your base content, the most important thing, is completely in tact. It lets you design around your content and maintain that emotional branded connection with your users.
Ultimately it is about productivity. The number of touch points is only increasing and to be able to deploy on as many of them as possible you need to be able to reuse code, design assets, and workflows as quickly as possible. The Flash Platform gives you the broadest reach with a large community of designers and developers who are skilled with the tools. Ultimately that means you’ll be able to create contextual applications quickly and reach your users wherever they are. That’s why I’m so excited about this concept: ultimately it gives the user more control.