Thursday, April 29, 2010

Goodbye Flash. Hello, iPhone OS!

In another life (a couple years ago or less) I was working for Curl, a Rich Internet Application platform that you've probably never heard of and probably will never hear of again. The executive team (of which I was a member) did its best to convince businesses across the World that Curl was a better choice than Adobe Flash.

In truth, we were kidding ourselves. While Curl had some technological advantages, Adobe Flash was the RIA winner with somewhere around 97% penetration on the Desktop and an army of hungry Flash developers creating really cool web sites. We didn't have a chance. I got laid off. My friends and boss got laid off. The company has all but disappeared as far as I can tell. Here is my blog post from January 2008 when I joined Curl. And here is my first blog post about the company after I left. (I was really into Microsoft Surface back then.)

In the last days of my short tenure at Curl I watched with envy while Adobe took over the World with their awesome graphics and tools. If you would have asked me then I would have said that Adobe was going to rule the Internet in another five or ten years. How wrong I was and how tenuous is the domination of any company in these fast moving times.

When the Apple iPhone came out without Flash people complained. I complained. But in truth it wasn't that big of a deal and soon I forgot all about Flash as I surfed the web from my little Jesus phone. It's been less than two years since then and the World, in my eyes is totally different. Now the coolest kids on the block are developing iPad applications. Don't believe me? Go to any party loaded with software developers and its the iPhone or iPad developer that walks out the door with the hottest date - and probably the only one with a date for that matter.

All kidding aside it seems like the dominance of Adobe Flash was eons ago doesn't it? How fast things change. If you want to be doing really cool work there is only one place to be in my mind and that's on the iPad and iPhone. At least for now. Talk to me in another two years and I'm sure I'll be off doing something totally different. I love this business. It's impossible to get bored.

Today, I discovered that Steve Job's has written an open letter about why the iPhone OS will not support Flash. Although some of it is a bit of a stretch (like the roll-over stuff) the bulk of it it is right on target. I've worked for the last 15 years on platform independent technologies and I can tell you that's its a joy to be doing platform specific work for a change where the software and hardware are like one. You know how things are going to work and when you run into problems finding solutions is sooooo easy, because everyone is working on exactly the same hardware, operating system, and SDK as you are.

So are iPhone and iPad developers "locked-in" to the iPhone OS? Most definitely. And no one is complaining about it. In fact we are bragging about it. For me. For now at least. It's: Goodbye Java. Goodbye Microsoft. Goodbye Adobe Flash. Hello, Apple iPhone OS!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Manual Deskterity

Lewis Garmstron brought "Manual Deskterity" to my attention. It's a video by Microsoft Research showing how a pen and touch interface can be used in combination. It's very interesting - one of the objectives was to do this with with no buttons on the pen; just using touch and pen gesture combinations. Personally, I think having a couple little sliders on the pen to change its function would work great but they've demonstrated that you can do a lot without instrumentation on the pen too.

I enjoyed the video because I'm very interested in multi-touch as part of a multi-modal interface for a digital drafting board which could be used by engineers and artists. I've written about a digital drafting board many times before (here, here, and here).

iPhone OS 4: Incredible

I just finished watching Steve Jobs announcement last week about iPhone OS 4. I watched as he introduced 1,500 new developer APIs (I suspect that's messages or methods not classes) and 100 new user features. Chief among the new user features, which is what really matters to users after all, were seven improvements: Multi-tasking, Folders, "Better Email", iBooks, Enterprise, Game Center, and iAd.

iBooks and "Better Email" were kind of no brainers. Obviously, they are going to extend iBooks to the other iPhone devices and mail has been in serious need of improvement for a while. In terms of usability the big stories are Multi-tasking and Folders. The way in which multi-tasking is to be implemented is brilliant in my opinion. It doesn't give 3rd party app developers carte blanche which may piss off developers but who cares as long as it doesn't allow a 3rd party app to run wild on my iPhone. Personally, I think they nailed multi-tasking perfectly for this first round. Folders was implemented so elegantly - just as was cut-n-paste - that it is, hands down, one of the best touch features I've seen this year.

The really big news, in terms of business opportunity, were Game Center and iAd. I've been playing around with a game idea for a while. The one thing that was slowing me down was how to make it possible for players to challenge each other to games, see their status compared to other players, win awards and so on. Game Center provides all this automatically. I don't know what it will cost to utilize Game Center from a 3rd party application, but I know its going to be a lot cheaper than developing all those features myself.

iAd has implications so large it deserves a blog post dedicated to it - sadly I don't have the time for that - I shouldn't even be taking the time to write this blog entry. If you are looking for the next big consulting opportunity look no further than iAd. The implementation is brilliant - its as smart as Google Ad Words but its totally different captures a different kind of market. As Steve Jobs says the demographics of the iPhone audience is simply amazing not to mention the potential for laser like focus of ads and, unlike Ad Words, front stage opportunities for advertisers. Where Google presents adds as very lightweight and unnoticed text links, iAd is subtle but can be engrossing without being in-your-face. iAd is going to be huge and its going to make HTML 5.0 mainstream. Watch out Adobe this is going to be your greatest challenge yet.

You can call me an Apple Fan Boy if you like - I don't care about that label. I don't like everything Apple does (personally I think customer service kind of sucks), but you can't look at iPhone OS 4 and not be impressed. If there is one technology company that defined personal computing in the 20 century it was Microsoft, but the 21st Century belongs to Apple.

Update 4-14-2010

Where I see brilliance and opportunity, the Valleywag see's evil. Read this interesting article, "The Dark Side of Steve Jobs".

Friday, April 9, 2010

iPad is an outrageous success

Steve Jobs announced the iPad sales figures and they are, to put it mildly, outrageous! In a good way. On the day the iPad launched it sold 300,000 units. They've sold another 150,000 in the week that followed (450,000 total). That's a margin (the retail price less cost) of over 107 million dollars according to figures announced by iSuppli. But the money doesn't stop there.

As everyone knows its the accessories that traditionally make all the money (iPad is also profitable as a device which is rare) and for every iPad sold, I would conservatively estimate that Apple sold at least two accessories.

In addition, the App Store has distributed 3.5 million applications and 600,000 books. 600,000! The device is so successful that Best Buy and many Apple stores are sold out. That's not a good thing - you loose business to competitors that way. But Apple is apparently pushing manufactures had to meet demand - possibly too hard.

I received my own iPad on April 3rd and I've been glued to it (along with my kids when I reluctantly let them use it) ever since. I'm also developing an eReader application for a client on the iPad which has been a wonderful experience - developing for the iPad is even more fun than the iPhone.

I have to laugh when I see the articles about why iPad is bad or why it won't succeed. You have to be pretty thick not to see the potential and the immediate success of the iPad. Call me an Apple Fan Boy if you want, but the numbers speak for themselves.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Don Norman on NUI

Don Norman, the author of The Design of Everyday Things, Emotional Design, and The Design of Future Things among many other books and papers has written an interesting article, "Natural User Interfaces are not Natural" about gesture-based systems and Natural User Interface design.

Although nothing in the article is earth shattering - simply having him endorse and acknowledge NUI is wonderful. The main gist of the article is that gestural systems are not a panacea and that we have a long way to go before standardizing its use.