Is Adobe’s new HTML5 Edge tool Expression Blends replacement?

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In October 2010, Steve Ballmer met with the CEO of Adobe the apparent discussion was around how to compete with Apple head-on.

Having been an internal lead on Adobe competes within Microsoft, it got my wheels turning and I tried as much as I could to get some insight into what that meeting was actually about. It was a very weird meeting given the heated competition both Microsoft and Adobe have had over the past 5 years (almost as big as Apple competes).

Adobe have lost some staff to Microsoft so my first thoughts were that maybe the ex-employees are looking to patch a bridge and discuss some ways to work together in terms of how Flash and say XBOX etc. could work together (there’s a huge casual games market up for grabs that uses Adobe Flash).

Today however my spidey senses got all tingly when I saw the new Adobe HTML5 Edge tool sneak peak via Adobe Labs.

This tool is the missing piece in what I call the HTML5 all up story – i.e. it is fine to hack together add-ons to existing tools for HTML5 coding compliance but it needs a designer story.

The more I looked at the sneak the more I started to think about that meeting and how it could have possibly gone down.

If Microsoft wants to sacrifice Silverlight on the web to gain momentum in the mobile device market than overall, the threat matrix for Adobe drops quite significantly. In that, really the only threat to Adobe Flash is around how it sockets into a mobile device such as Android, Windows Phone 7 and so on.

If I was in a meeting with an executive again and I was talking about the SWOT for an Adobe, partnership I would lead in more with opportunities that lead to strengths rather than threats / weakness in this partnership.

Firstly Adobe Flash is likely to be the continues user experience platform for mobile devices – if and a big if – the company can fix performance issues on all.  Creating a universal user experience on all devices is no easy trick in HTML5/JavaScript and having the tooling and cross-compile functionality that Adobe’s been making waves about lately could be a very important technology intersection.

Flash has always thrived at being a parasite on many hosts so it is not as if this is new dangerous territory for it to take such technical dependencies on.  The product also as I stated before has a lot of already existing Casual Games / Widget Apps already made today that could be ported over.

Downside is they do not have the developer base – design yes, developers no.

Secondly, Microsoft has failed at attracting the design market. We spent millions and came up short every time as whilst I use Microsoft Expression Blend daily its one hard cumbersome tool that even most .NET developers won’t touch let alone designers. It just failed.

The Expression Blend team is now parked in the archive bay and I wager Silverlight 5 additions will likely be its last shipment for the product. If that being the case, sure the tool failed at its charter in attracting the devigner audience to the .NET codebase(s) of tomorrow but the problem didn’t go away – if anything it just got worse.

If you are going to then tell designers of tomorrow to build HTML5/JS or even Silverlight vNext solutions for Windows8 and beyond – how do you get them to combine design and development skills?

Adobe.

Adobe have the design audience locked, it’s the only company in the world where in every design agency there is a design tool owned by them either bought or pirated. They make a tidy profit from it as well.

Flash now can produce iPhone and Android based solutions and it would not actually take much to get that solution into Windows Phone 7 given the Silverlight/XAML parity – in fact, some devs in Microsoft have shown that getting Silverlight to cross-compile to a swf isn’t farfetched, as it would seem.

Putting Adobe Flash or at the very least using the same iPhone cross-compile methodology for Windows Phone 7 is a massive win for both. You get a new developer audience on both sides for one and lastly the design audiences can also play their respective roles within the tools they feel the most comfortable with.

Winning as the Sheen would say.

That all being said there’s a flaw in this theory, it positions Adobe to be way to powerful in the device discussion and the last time Adobe/Macromedia held dominance in this space it took Silverlight to wake them up – you don’t want that again, trust me.

How do you keep Adobe in check whilst competing with Apple at the same time as if you create a universal app that works on all devices then this if anything can fuel iPhone’s appstore submissions more so.

The answer is you put your hopes on forking the API’s beyond the HTML5/JavaScript purity. You essentially embrace and extend (yay, it’s so fresh and new right?). Everyone can keep the entire tech on the same playing field initially but with Windows Phone 8 & Windows 8++ it sort of takes on a completely new adoption curve.

That is a good thing as it fuels competition for one and both Apple and Microsoft do not have to necessarily fund large amounts of dollars in both tooling and marketing. Adobe wins because it gets more hordes adopting its tooling but at the same time, it cannot survive unless there’s competition between Microsoft and Apple. Google is the cream on the cake, as it then has to dovetail into the same competition stream – thus a forcing function for their Android story.

All Microsoft has to do is sacrifice Silverlight for the web (video will always be a big problem for both to contend over just like QuickTime vs Windows Media Player) and Expression Blend.

Did I mention XAML team is disbanded and the Expression Blend team has been put in park?

If you can get developers & designers working in both HTML5/JavaScript as well as proprietary platform specific technologies universally its less investment in language / runtime research & development more in terms of differentiation of hardware specific features.

It rather works that way for the console market.

Note: I have no inside goss on this one so this is me just spit balling based of my own conspiracy theories.

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UXCAST–Making Isometric Workflows inside Expression Blend–Part 1

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I did it! and I feel exposed. I sat down tonight and put together my first of what may or may not be many (depending on how badly I get crit) screencasts around UI / UX + Microsoft Technology.

In this video, I show folks how one can take a workflow design concept and inject it into your canvas of choice but in an Isometric format. I like Isometrics simply because you can get more of a spatial view than most screen angles that and it derives from my old Pixel-art days so..yeah..Isometrics are the way!

Hope you enjoy, and feedback welcomed.

 

 

RIGANEIC – UXCAST – Isometrics in Expression Blend from Scott Barnes on Vimeo.

In this screencast I show how one can take a Isometric workflow map and transpose it into Expression Blend 4.

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The rise and fall of Microsoft’s UX platform – Part 4

 

WPF Time of Death.

Time to call it, December 2nd 2010. Seriously, I have thought about the Silverlight Firestarter event for a few weeks now with a focus on reading how the rest of the world kind of digests the vNext of Silverlight.

Its very clear if you read between the lines that Silverlight is shaping up to replace the WPF workload, and whilst Microsoft will roll out the engineers + shipping routine its pretty much all they aren’t doing before WPF is officially declared dead. Shipping is realistically the one thing they have left and even that’s looking a bit sketchy and cumbersome to watch.

It’s clear with Silverlight5 my old comrades in arms at Redmond have even stopped paying lip service to the x-platform discussion with many of the new features being Windows specific. It’s also clear given Windows Phone 7 failing in the market that now is not the time to give Microsoft’s biggest competitor, Apple momentum or face an internal career firing squad.

WPF has enormous amount of hidden potential, its not marketed but its there. It’s not a bad desktop platform to build against and majority of the issues that I have personally faced with the product are due to basically quality assurance sloppiness. Its still got work-around solutions though, so you in turn forgive it’s sins.

Technically being ok is not enough though, you need to go wide and far in promoting its existence and the return on investment you could potentially yield from the platform. That’s not happening and its also clear that there’s zero paid community evangelism efforts in market right now to uphold this line of thinking.

An example, Where is the WPF fire starter Microsoft? where is any event for that matter that focuses on exploring the bounty of WPF?

Scott Guthrie’s blog is typically a marketing announcement channel given his geek-fame over the years. It’s often we in marketing would joke (sarcasm) “its a good thing we have ScottGu’s blog, as boy we almost needed an official marketing site for Silverlight” – jokes aside, Scott doesn’t talk about WPF at all (check out the below tag cloud)

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If i were to audit Microsoft today online and tally up WPF vs. Silverlight, which would win? Argue with the notion that something is dead or isn’t but its definitely clear that WPF hasn’t a bright future as its technology cousin – Silverlight.

Windows Phone 7 – Fail.

I have predicted that I think WP7 is going to not win consumers over but I figured that it would take a couple of years before that is realized. Hearing reports that the device has small units of sale and now some resellers are slashing prices in a hope to stimulate the market to buy, is just downright disappointing.

Its not that the phone is bad, its actually got a load of potential. As whilst I’m a WPF fan at heart, I do still also enjoy working with Silverlight (which has this kind of polarizing effect on me). I just think that the Metro User Interface is simply killing the products potential.

It’s important to call that out, given this is the “face” of the brand. It looks tacky, not well thought out and clearly lacks usability principles needed to navigate a small device. It puts to much emphasis on typography and downplays visual elements to provide structure and grouping to the components within (ie Extraneous Cognitive Load).

The keyboard is to primitive and the keys are narrow. I’ve sat down and looked at the iPhone and Wp7 keyboards and for me the WP7 looks like a prototype version of the concept. The keys don’t necessarily guide you to aim for the middle, where as the iPhone keys are spaced but at the same time the hit area isn’t exactly confined to that space. You in turn are more likely to focus on your target even though the spacing is artificial.

Typography is weak and at times doesn’t even do the basics – in outlook a list of bold means new, unbold means read, yet you still don’t even get this? The menu system is a endless vertical nightmare, as whilst its great to list things its important to also balance out your screen between scrolling and displaying. I find the constant scrolling down to be cumbersome and annoying especially when you’re debugging an Application you’re writing for the phone.

I could list more and I’ll be talking 1:1 with Wp7 Product Management, but i think my point here is made, this phone needs more energy and focus. It has enormous potential ahead of it but for the space price or thereabouts as its biggest 800lb gorilla competitor is simply unrealistic. Lower the price or fix the UI, make a choice as the UX for Microsoft is dying as-is. Which brings me to my next point.

Designers aren’t interested anymore.

If you look at the AppStore market place, majority of the apps are visually engaging and have definitely some design bloodlines in the room. If you look at the Microsoft marketplace its pretty clear that designers aren’t in the room in large quantities.

No designers means wasted technology, wasted technology means some team internally right now is coming up with the “fix” for this (which in their minds is an engineering problem not an engagement problem). The reality is you can throw all the tools you want at this problem as well as the platforms, but unless you truly evangelize in a non-aggressive way to this market. You’re just wasting good money on technology that goes nowhere.

If you were to compare 2007/2008 Evangelism efforts to present, You would see this massive disconnect between strong in your face marketing to the art community to today being a bunch of engineers high fiving one another about how awesome things are.  The reality is, unless you can add some design blood lines to this new UX driven world, your technology hasn’t moved forward, you’re just rebadging old technology with much weirder UI.

Summary

Silverlight 5 is WPF’s new replacement, and I really don’t have that much of a problem with this other than if you’re going to make this the vNext desktop focus, then commit. Don’t do it half-assed, get those 200+ engineers and get your butts into gear and open it up more. If you aren’t going to do this, then take 100+ engineers out of that 200 and get them to focus on doing more with WPF so that the two are more aligned to save cross-targeting related issues – as news flash Redmond, nobody really thinks that far ahead as to which technology is likely to give them an outcome they desire. Choosing Silverlight first then hitting a wall and retreating back to WPF is unrealistic as it means people need to know its faults completely end to end and how these map to their business constraints upfront? sorry no.

Windows Phone 7 needs something. It needs a more structured approach to user experience and it needs to solve WPF and Silverlights initial problem – how to get designers to the cause. Unless Microsoft gets off their butts and re-invest into the designer focused communities, these products are destined to follow the same non-starters as previous incarnations of the Windows Phone operating systems as well as the low saturation levels in the wild of both Silverlight/WPF publically.

“There are certainly some functionality shortfalls, and we are going to work to address them,” – Joe Belfiore  / Microsoft.

Microsoft needs to get back to evangelism 101 and more importantly the notion that just because you ship doesn’t mean you’re committed to the future. Creating features and releasing them isn’t enough, unless you broadcast and win the hearts & minds over all you’re effectively doing is having a bunch of engineers in Redmond high five one another over a release that could be epic if it got momentum – FAIL.

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Windows Phone 7 – A phone without individuality and coming soon music?

Microsoft has announced the Windows Phone 7 officially, it’s the coming out party for this late to the market device. I’m on record saying that I think it’s a “meh” release, in that its rushed and not cleanly delivered as it could of been had there more time, but given SteveB underestimated the true potential the iPhone had on the market – here we are, today, new phone.

The phone itself technically has a lot of potential in terms of what i can and can’t do, I for one am going to buy one because this is the space I dwell in. As for consumers, i don’t see it being a rush to buy thing given a few issues with the phone that i’ve noticed already.

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The first issue is lack of individuality, as i scope out the various hardware manufacturers idea of what their Windows Phone 7 world is going to look like there is clearly a lack of remarkable differentiation between the said devices. In that so far, there’s not a lot of personality to the phones other than some minor slide-outs (some opt for physical keyboards etc) but overall it seems very lack luster in range.

Having not a lot of sizzle outside the operating system to me is an early sign of caution, as phones are really part function but also equally part form (it’s a fashion item as well as a worker focused technology).

The most important aspect that I felt the phone has definitely come up short on is the lack of Zune subscription world wide. I’ve got a Zune subscription in the US via my US Credit Card, so for me I’ve been leeching off this cheap approach to solving my music issues. I pay approx $15 USD a month or so, and I get all the music i want for free via my Zune Device and Desktop (It’s DRM and expires in 3 months unless i reconnect to the Zune Marketplace with a content sync).

Not having this subscription channel straight out of the box basically makes the phone part-brain dead as for me this and XBOX-lite games are probably the two focal points of differentiators for “reasons to ditch Andriod/iPhone” for average consumer.

Why is Zune Music subscription important to Windows Phone 7

It firstly seeds an entrenched market, iTunes currently holds supremacy over our music purchases online, and having to pay $2 per song basically creates a polarizing effect on individuals as on one hand buying the album is cheaper than a physical one in stores but on the other hand why buy when you can pirate?

Piracy is an issue that has a lot of tentacles but one component of piracy is lack of access to a credit card. I mean, take an average 15 year old kid who no doubt is into music to get them through puberty blues. These kids don’t have access to credit cards all the time, so the moment they need to buy a song or two, its a case of bugging parents for the said funds. I’d wager most parents give the kid the brush off and so they are left to pirating off their friends etc for the said songs.

Zune subscription however allows parents to buy a monthly/yearly subscription model. This in turn can then be a gift based approach which in turn can also mean the whole house not just the one child can access the said subscription.

It gets better, having this one child gain access to a library of music is one thing but then freely being able to send the said music selection to other friends is also a potential body punch to piracy amongst this said target audience. It also creates a natural evangelism for Zune subscription and if marketed and managed well it basically can put some much needed pressure on Apple iTunes etc, point is this story can be told in a number of different ways all pointing towards an interesting differentiation between Apple and Microsoft.

Combine the subscription model with Microsoft Points (ie XBOX Live etc) and you also have an abstracted currency exchange that can mask users from emotive based purchasing (who knows how much 923pts translates to in real dollar terms off the top of their heads!)

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Zune needs to go global first time out, it sends a strong message about being feature complete for version 1. Failing to do so and via the usual trickle in late to the party progressive disclosure marketing – aka Microsoft Marketing 101 – simply fails to gain awareness as much as it could or should.

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