It’s great fun to be a designer, developer and also a journalist because I get invited to some of the press events such as executive Q&As (which I totally missed due to yesterday’s keynote messing up the schedule) and press parties, which I attended last night at The Yard House in L.A. Live. I arrived late due to my Ajax For Designers session running long, but was able to have some good discussion with three important Adobe insiders.
- Heidi Voltmer, Group Product Marketing Manager for Creative Solutions Business. Heidi’s domain includes the Flash Platform, which made probably the most news yesterday with the announcements surrounding Flash Player 10.1, AIR 2.0 and the surprise about building native iPhone applications with the upcoming Flash Pro CS5. A lot of my conversation with Heidi revolved around the question of Flash Pro and where it resides in the growing landscape of Flash Platform. Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder (previously Flex) seem to make more news and have better-defined markets than Flash Pro, and perhaps that’s because the original Flash application started it all. But I suspected (and Heidi confirmed) that Flash Pro’s market is being fine-tuned to appeal to the creative Flash designer. It used to be that Flash was good for everything from drawing animations to developing ActionScript applications—and it still is—but Adobe has expanded the Flash Platform application family and Flash Pro CS4 and CS5 are seeing new creative advances you won’t find in Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder. At the keynote, John Loiacono demoed a new text engine for Flash that will be familiar to InDesign users. I’ve always hated Flash’s type handling and Adobe is wisely improving Flash Pro’s appeal to designers like me.
- Will Eisley, Director of Product Management for Adobe’s Creative Solutions Business Unit and also an instrumental member of InDesign’s initial product team. I was honored to meet Will because I’ve been an InDesign user since version 1.5, back when every printer and even my early mentors were telling me I absolutely had to use Quark to be relevant in the industry. I was even more honored when Will told me he already knew who I was and read my work on Designorati! That was a thrill. Anyway, Will and I talked more about Flash but how it relates to InDesign, the XFL file format and the creatives who use it. Will commented that I’m actually a rare breed who designs and also writes code, and I thought there were more designer/developer hybrids out there than he thought but we left that question unresolved. The concept that designers and developers are different groups fuels Adobe’s separation of designer and developer products, though they also strive to build tools to let designers make code-based applications without getting their hands in code. Flash Catalyst and InDesign CS4’s Flash exporting are prime examples. In the end I tweeted the designer/developer question to the Adobe MAX attendees, and one person responded that they consider themselves a “designer/developer.” I’m sure there are more of them, but maybe Adobe’s research suggests they don’t come around often.
- Adrian Ludwig, Group Product Marketing Manager for Adobe’s Flash Platform. Our discussion was focused on the big news of the day, Flash Pro CS5 Beta’s exporting to the iPhone, and it’s exciting news but we also talked about the technical limitations that temper that excitement. There are still relatively few Flash-based iPhone apps on the market, and even though the ones out in the wild look good and perform well there are still questions about long-term performance and the viability of developing for iPhone with Flash when the iPhone doesn’t support Flash. Perhaps the greatest takeaway from all this is the fact that the Flash Platform can now be an iPhone app development tool and this gives every Flash user the possibility to be an iPhone app developer too—without needing to learn the Objective-C language.
It’s been a week since I returned from Adobe MAX, but I still have some notes to publish. Here are my notes from the keynote on Tuesday, October 6:
We’re watching MLB executives David Yu and Jen Taylor talk to themselves about MLB.com’s use of Flash video to stream their games. I wish they were talking to the crowd instead of themselves—Jen Taylor doesn’t have much to say other than “very cool, very cool.” And David just walked off the stage after maybe four minutes of dialogue. Jen is much more interesting, talking about Flash video innovations. I’m excited by David’s mention of delivering a DVR experience to MLB.com, and Jen’s mention of new HTTP streaming with Flash Player 10.1 is great news. It sounds like there’s also going to be some kind of security protection for Flash video online.
- Jen Taylor has just officially announced that the Strobe project is now OpenSource Media Framework (OSMF). Ironically, I just finished a hands-on session working with OSMF and I found it to be fairly easy to use if you’re a professional coder.
- Adam Mollenkopf, FexEx’s Strategic Technologist, is now showing FedEx Custom Critical, a very nice browser-based enterprise application FedEx uses to monitor truck positions and the number of carriers in any given area. The vehicles even return temperature and speed data via an RTMP streaming server, the same technology used for streaming video (though Flash Player 10.1 will also stream from HTTP servers). LiveCycle Data Services and Flex were used to build the user interface and move the enormous amounts of data around.
- Heidi Williams, Adobe’s Senior Engineering Manager, is walking through a Flash Catalyst/ColdFusion 9 demo. I’ve never used ColdFusion before but the fact that it’s closely entwined with ActionScript and Flash makes me wonder if it’s a smart choice for Flash designers who want to branch out into application development like I am. Heidi and Ben say this entire demo can be done without writing hardly any code, but there’s a lot of code up on the screen and it didn’t just magically appear. Even when there’s prebuilt components and frameworks, the developer has to know how to handle code when the inevitable bugs arise.
- Daniel Fiden, EA’s Senior Producer for POGO.com, is talking about POGO.com and the variety of online games available there. The statistics say it’s the US game site with the most engagement (minutes per visit) and traffic overall. It’s interesting to know some of their games’ early development involves building cheap mock-ups in Flash and playing it during development, creating many iterations along the way before a decent game takes shape. All this is done with Flash.
- Serge Jespers, Adobe’s Senior Platform Evangelist, wrote the Flash-based MAX widget—looks nice, but I never put it on my website—is demoing a simple Flash game that sends win/lose notices via Adobe’s Wave, a new notification service that I just heard about here on MAX. I’m running it right now but I haven’t found a good use for it yet. Anyway, Serge just built a simple demo application and is using the Flash Platform Services Distribution Manager (bundled with Flash Builder) to track installations of his widget around the world. Adobe’s CEO Shantanu Narayen talked yesterday about not only giving people the tools to communicate but to also track and optimize, and this is an example. Serge is also showing how to export the Flash application to AIR, upload to the AIR Marketplace and let Adobe handle the transactions and report your sales and revenue. It looks great and the demo mentioned only three lines of code are needed, but I still think it can’t be as easy as that.
- CTO Kevin Lynch is back from yesterday to demonstrate augmented reality in Flash. The major demo is a new song by John Mayer, which has a multimedia component using augmented reality. Now on stage is John Mayer himself, talking about using augmented reality to tell a story and create an artistic experience. He mentioned “the Blitz guys and the Adobe guys” so I am sure John isn’t actually sitting in front of Flash producing this piece, but he knows that it’s the cool online videos that get passed around (or the funniest or the stupidest). The very short clip that was shown here looked interesting technically and for John it’s about combining an art form that’s “been around for a thousand years with an art form that’s not been around for a thousand hours.” That’s an interesting (and smart) approach, though I’ll be curious to learn if people do all the necessary work to experience Augmented Reality.
The press conference after the keynote
Kevin Lynch spoke to the press after the keynote and spoke in a little more detail about some things. Keynotes tend to be flashy without drilling down into the details, so I was glad to attend.
- Adobe is being cautious about entering the 3D market. Kevin mentioned that Adobe products already handle 3D well: Photoshop has 3D capabilities and Flash Player and PDF also support 3D models. It seemed that a full-fledged 3D application was not yet on their radar.
- Augmented Reality is still new and hasn’t found its killer application. It’s cool to watch but computers still need a black rectangle or colored rubber bands in view to motion track and add graphics. Kevin thinks AR will eventually work without these requirements and offer a blend of virtual reality and true reality.
- “Flash needs to be on mobile to be relevant,” said Kevin, and the Flash Platform is now being engineered for mobile first and the desktop second. The Flash mobile and Flash desktop teams have in fact been merged at Adobe, whereas until now they have worked separately. I think Kevin is correct that Flash needs to stake its claim as the dominant mobile media format, but the mobile device industry is so fragmented that I think it will be a hard goal—the fact that the iPhone does not support Flash is a prime example.
- Kevin briefly mentioned the multitouch and multiscreen market, which is emerging for both mobile devices and desktop monitors. Many desktop computer users have had multiple monitors for years but touch monitors are still not very common in the market. However, Kevin thinks it will emerge and the market share will go to the companies who work best within “the ecosystem” of their competitors. He cited the example of the PC market in the 1980s and 1990s: while Apple followed their own vision, Microsoft partnered with other companies in the ecosystem and Windows thus gained dominant market share.