I’m glad I went to RIA Unleashed this year. First year run by the FITC crew who always have their act together. I always like the crowd in Boston. This year was different for a few reasons.
I gave a 4 hour work shop on Corona SDK by Ansca Mobile and Adobe AIR for mobile gaming. Some of the Flash Lite team members formed their own company and created Corona, a way to build games and simple applications for Android and iOS. Through a performant, built-in Box2D physics/collision engine, light weight language & API, and partnerships with other social services it has scored a lot of points with people trying to hit the simple gaming & app market for the Indie’s, those learning, and those looking to reduce complexity in their development stack.
The AIR part was a little frustrating because things are extremely in flux right now with Adobe’s stack. The future of Flex is mobile applications. The future of Flash Player is low level functionality to support as high end gaming as you can in browser. The future of the Flash IDE appears to be supporting this gaming & mobile workflows. However, none of the gaming engines & supporting frameworks are mature enough yet, most are browser focused vs. mobile, and Flash Player’s new GPU related display mechanisms aren’t in AIR 3 for devices yet. They will be soon, the landscape itself is in flux, and “learning” to develop “games in Adobe AIR for mobile” will be changing big time for the next 12 months as we wait for the tech to hit devices and the libraries/frameworks to morph/be created to mobile work flows.
I really REALLY enjoyed teaching the Corona SDK. It’s been a LONG time that I’ve gotten to speak on something I enjoyed and had ZERO to do with helping my fellow devs build their skill set for their career. This was, “Learn this, it’s fun!”. Granted, I tried to give an overview of the consumer business landscape regarding paid vs. ads vs. micro-payments.
The trend I’m seeing is those building games, once they see Corona, are blown away with how simple it is, and what you can produce with very little effort, regardless of their background.
Sitting in on some of Jesse Freeman’s HTML5 gaming with ImpactJS session, it’s also very clear there are some great minds working to ensure HTML5 is also a valid platform for gaming. It also pointed out some gaping holes of needs in AIR and Corona gaming with regards to helpful libraries and toolsets.
I may not see any money from this, but damn is it fun and great to be learning something development related that’s out of my comfort zone (…and that’s not Sales or Biz Dev related).
I met this kat named Doug Neiner. He’s part of the jQuery team and is the perfect example of what the negative detractors against Flash/Flex think we should be like. Naturally, I did everything in my power to screw with him and learn everything I could in the short time I spent with him.
In our first meeting at dinner, I spilt my beer all over myself and let him think he did it. He was overly gracious and apologetic. And sincere. We chatted about guns. Damn.
I even tried to screw with him regarding religion. He took that one in stride too. Not insecure. Damn.
So finally with more liquor in me we got into a long discussion regarding JS devs perceptions of Flash, misconceptions about what they get paid, and how they develop, what frameworks & design patterns they use, the nomenclature, and basically every question I could possible think to ask with Andy to help mediate. He did a bang up job considering our language barrier (I butcher and give no respect to true meanings of Design Patterns). He was very forthcoming with information, tactful, unapologetic, and sought to understand. I learned we have a TON in common. I mean like 90%. Damn.
I suggested we do a code review of some of the Flex projects I had worked on in the past. The next day we briefly did so. It was eye opening to see the code they wrote after our previous nights conversations. It + the techniques + the patterns + the lingo seemed very familiar.
They do all the same shit we do. Seriously. What’s truly different?
- Their display list is slow, ours is fast.
- They have to remember what works in what browser on what platform, and remember the already created/solved fallbacks.
- They are now creating, and getting paid to do so, some of the same types of browser based applications that we do.
I now understand why Flex is 100% focused on mobile. You can’t fight that encroachment, half being true, half being hype with real money behind it.
My short time with Doug was great. He’s a really nice guy, helpful, and is extremely hard to take the piss out of. We have much in common with our browser brethren.
What remains to be seen on the technical side is how they handle Enterprise sized applications. Most I’ve seen is coded on the server-side and the client is generated (Google’s GWT, Microsoft’s .NET, Oracle’s ADF, Python/Ruby HTML templates). This is not how these guys develop; they develop just like us. They’re deep into the client code and browser and design. They do the work we do.
What I could gather is most is currently offloaded to the server, but based on some of the projects Doug showed me, it’s very clear traditional Flash & Flex applications (not websites nor widgets) are next in line.
It’s also very clear the jQuery team scored big time getting Doug on board. He is whip smart, passionate, and has good character.
Which leads me to leadership. It was very clear a lot of people are lost. I’ve seen it online for awhile, but seeing it in person confirmed it. For 10+ years Macromedia & Adobe have lead us technologically. Now they’re not. (paraphrasing Freeman here… or maybe I’m not… *ahem*) Many of our thought leaders have either left or haven’t recognized their responsibilities. In in the past, I’ve done my best to petition people like Brandon Hall, Keith Peters, and others to recognize what happens when they disappear or do certain things without context. Even normally secure people get the insecurity of the masses leaked upon them like spittle in a violent scuffle. This affects them.
It’s not just us. Microsoft is really taking some bold (crazy?) moves with Windows 8. While Apple recognizes some people drive trucks (Desktops and Laptops) and others cars (mobile) and thus made 2 OS’s for each platform, Microsoft is forcing both into the same OS. While Silverlight still has a lot of value and a future, it’s very clear where Microsoft is heading. Those who don’t wish to ride the Silverlight wave have left to other techs, or migrated back to the Win32 land.
Mobile development itself is still in it’s infancy. We have extreme hype continually thrown at us, yet the toolsets are still growing and changing. While some companies are making a lot of their revenue either partially or wholly from it, the “RIA” aspect doesn’t seem to have transitioned to the Flex and Flash world yet. Keep in mind, this could be because I’ve done zero marketing on what we’ve accomplished on mobile regarding our mobile Dashboard and my mobile gaming & mobile application work. I’m starting to hear about (from FITC Toronto, email, and Twitter convo’s) more and more Agency mobile work. If the consumers are paying, and companies are paying agencies, then it’s only a matter of time before it gets into the Enterprises and startups wishing to fund applications for B2B.
Either way, it’s very clear a lot of people are either picking a path that seems safe, or one that pays the bills. Only a few are saying, “This is fun AND makes me money, I’m going here.” If they do, they don’t define if that money actually pays for their mortgage/rent.
It was clear that there is still a lot of uncertainty, about the tech, business, and political landscape both here in the states and internationally. Thus there is also a ton of opportunity. While I’m disappointed a lot of people I respect haven’t provided what I perceived as much needed guidance in these confusing times, I get why a lot of them don’t. It gets tiring justifying obvious things after awhile. I get tired of telling my 2 year old no, but it’s my responsibility as a parent. Others aren’t the “parents” of the industry, but the power of their words, insight, and confidence about the future really do soothe the masses in ways they may not fully understand. I swear I’m not projecting; I see the impact on people not having their thought leaders spout a direction.
RIA Unleashed is clearly in good hands, FITC did a bang up job. Work shops are fun, I’d love to do another, especially for a younger crowd at a local school or something. It’s very clear from my Refactoring preso I need more imagery to convey humanistic challenges in programming. The next consulting article I do, I’ll remedy that.
…which, again, is I guess why Adobe is still pushing hard on Flex mobile. They know that once Android saturates the market more, the manufacturers will continue to screw up their browser implementations with crappy GPU’s, thus ensuring those who want highly branded applications with a lot of functionality will choose Flex. Or Flash. It’s strange, because I keep hearing about those who wish to do web deployments to prevent having to do the 3 development efforts (web, iOS, Android). I used to question and get concerned about what they are doing, but after using SoundCloud.com on my iPhone’s browser vs. the SoundCloud applications for both Android and iOS, it’s very clear: those who want the best experience will go native. It remains to be seen if the right someone(s) see what Flex and AIR can really do on mobile, and go, “Man… this looks great, and can be developed in a shorter time frame… and be re-used across tons of devices with just design changes to handle the variety of resolutions and functionality changes with our existing design tools. Let’s do this!”
We’ll see. And that’s what sucks… this whole “we’ll see”. Remember when we KNEW the Ajax guys were full of shit? Now they’re taking some of our widget jobs. Yes, you could do ‘em over the weekend, but some of those were fun, man… and nice to have some money on the side of you weren’t a full time freelancer. Things were so certain then. The only certainty I have now is:
1. The AIR for Android and iOS is really compelling and no one who matters seems to know about it.
2. The Flex in the Enterprise and mid-size software shops seems un-moveable. While the HTML5 hype is replacing a lot of Flex jobs, just like the iPad did for financial firms moving to HTML/native vs. Flex for some jobs, the HTML5 is mostly hype. That doesn’t mean you can ignore it; a lot of companies make decisions on a CTO’s whim, even if that decision is completely wrong technologically. Either way, you lose a gig. There still seem to be a lot of people who want to write a TON of ActionScript, quickly, and thus, Flex is still in demand.