How to have a great conference experience.

My table spot for the conference.

Nothing like a pen and a pad of paper to organize your thoughts

I just got back from “An Event Apart” in Atlanta. This is the second AEA that I’ve attended, the first being in New Orleans several years ago. If you’ve never attended An Event Apart, it’s a truly inspirational conference. Creatively merging design, development, and mixing them all in a tall glass of web standards, it’s really the one other conference, besides Adobe Max, that I feel is a legitimate, “must-attend” learning experience. It’s not for the feint of heart however, it’s a lot of information over a small amount of time. You’re exposed to an eclectic mix of speakers and topics ranging from high level design discussions to low level, technically challenging sessions like the nuts and bolts of CSS, or technical executions of cutting edge HTML5 solutions. It’s not like MAX, where you’re moving from venue to venue over the course of a couple of days, interspersed with keynotes and scoping the sponsor pavilions. You’re essentially in the same place for two straight days (three if, like us, you attended the additional “A Day Apart” session on devoted solely to “Content Strategy”).

Spending two days in the same room can sometimes try even the most patient observer, but the topics breeze by and the challenge instead becomes, “how do I make sure I’m taking this all in?”. Luckily, the brilliant guys and gals at AEA make the presentation slides available to attendees, and armed with an iPad, I quickly discovered the best way to keep up. Each day, before that day’s sessions, I would download all the presentations to my iPad and set it up at my spot, allowing me to keep up with the talking points on a provided pad of paper. Yep, good ol’ pen and paper worked better than anything I could come up with, and leaving my laptop up in the hotel room enabled me to really concentrate on what was being presented.

In fact, this worked so well I think I’m just gonna plan on attending future conferences armed with a moleskine  and a pencil.

Ten minutes of Hype.

So I downloaded Hype from the Apple App store last week. I only just got around to playing with it this weekend and I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts. If you’re running Safari or Chrome, take a minute to check out the home page. I made the little slideshow there in about ten minutes Sunday night playing around with it. I didn’t browse any of the video tutorials, not because I was trying to avoid them, but because when I opened the program for the first time, I wasn’t really trying to do anything with it. I just wanted to see what the interface was like, how it worked, what the palettes looked like, etc. However, it was only a minute or two into it before I said, “hmmm… lemme go about looking for how to set the stage size…” then, “hey, that was easy enough… now let’s import an image or two…”. I had already read a review that mentioned setting up a slideshow was as simple as transitioning between “scenes”, so I began by looking for a way to import images into different scenes, which turned out to be pretty easy. By then I was about 3 or 4 minutes into it and had all my images imported, all my scenes created and named. All that was left was to start playing around with transitions and trying to figure out how to move between scenes to get the effect I was looking for, which was just a simple cross dissolve between images. This actually took the most amount of time, only because I didn’t quite know how things were set up. However, once I got the hang of the Identity Inspector after a few minutes of tinkering, all I needed to do was “Export as HTML5”, choosing the “folder” option (remind me to play with the “Dropbox” option because that sounded intriguing!) and it packaged everything up nicely, providing me with a couple of <DIV> tags that I copied and pasted. Upload the folder containing the javascript (more about that later), and you’re done.

All in all a pretty fun little experience. I didn’t play with the capture/record feature, but reading about others experience with it makes me wanna fire it up. I definitely think it’s a cool tool with a LOT of potential, and an especially polished “version 1.02”. I suspect it’s exactly what Adobe’s going to release as “Project Edge” though, so it won’t be long before some heavyweight competition moves into that same visual design/development territory. Just between you and me, my money’s on Adobe. Speaking of… I did notice that there’s a nifty little “Dreamweaver Preview” button in Hype. Combined with Dreamweaver’s live view, it makes for a nice little round trip workflow. Props to the Hype guys and gals for that little nugget.

The downside? The animations are javascript. No CSS animations, and it doesn’t even use canvas elements. Just wraps it in <DIV> tags. I know weird, right? A quick browser compatibility test confirmed my fears. It works great in Chrome and Safari… but, well… if you’re not using those browsers, you’ll see what I mean. Or, rather, you WON’T see.

So it’s like I said. It’s a great start. Fun little program for a nice opportunity to do some visual design without writing code. I’ll play with it more and maybe dump some examples here. I’m not exactly sure I’d use it for production work just yet… well, maybe for something quick and dirty…

And again, let’s not forget that Project Edge is coming…

Web Directions Unplugged, day one thoughts.

I don’t think I’m going to use the word, “mobile” anymore.

I just don’t think it’s an accurate description of what’s going on. Laptops are mobile. So are tablets. Phones are inherently mobile. It just seems that mobile is redundant at this point, and it doesn’t seem an appropriate portrayal of all of this.

I think it’s better if we all just agree to use the phrase, “device development”. That’s what we’re talking about, right? We’re talking about Galaxy Tabs, Blackberry Playbooks, iPads, Xooms, GoogleTVs, a host of smartphones… the only constants seem to be, A) they have screens, B) they have browsers, and C) they have network connections. They all seems to implement some kind of “App Store”, but the implementations vary. Native Apps seem like a perilous journey, as you’re hitching your horse to a chosen cart. Granted if it’s an Apple cart, your chances seem pretty safe, but what about the rest of the world? Are you comfortable making that choice for a client? Or worse, are you comfortable selling a client on a “multiple native app strategy”?

I spent lunch chatting with a nice gentleman from a very large global airline. His airline has an iOS app. They’ve also got an Android app… and a Blackberry App. He oversees three different teams of developers all with different skillsets that he has to somehow manage and maintain. He’s got a creeping codebase, and from the top, he’s getting pressure on the cost of this whole endeavor. He was in the middle of an epiphany that was fun to watch. He realized, “you know, none of our apps rely on any particular native feature. We’re not using geolocation yet (they plan to down the road, but it’s not something that’s high on his list of “wants” right now) and there’s nothing in our app that couldn’t be replaced by HTML5, CSS3 and jQuery Mobile.” So now he’s rethinking their whole mobile strategy, and I gotta tell ya, I was right there with him.

I’ve said before, I don’t think these technologies are going to replace native app development by any means, and let’s be clear, Apple has a huge… we’re talking giant, interest in keeping native apps at the forefront. They’ll (rightfully) point out that there is a lot of things that Web Apps simply can’t do and for speed, games, graphics acceleration, animation, etc, native apps will always “win”.

See, that’s awesome… if I needed that stuff. But I don’t… really, and there’s the rub. I could take care of my current (and future) clients’ needs with about 99.9% of the features that a web app exposes… and I’d be doing them a service (I think). One codebase, a consistent UI, an effective experience. What’s not to love?

I spent today seeing example after example of open, standard, solutions to the need to create a consistent experience across multiple devices, and I’ve been convinced. I think we’re at a real watershed moment in the development for all these screens and I’m happy to see that the maturity of these tools has allowed such a large and diverse group of developers and designers to move forward in this way. HTML, CSS, Javascript (jQuery)… these are well known, ubiquitous, mature, robust languages and the community has really demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt (at least to me) that the future of mobile hasn’t been written just yet.

Whoops! I mean, “the future of device development hasn’t been written just yet…”.

It’ll take some time… old habits die hard, right?

Sleepless in Seattle… at Web Directions Unplugged.

I arrived in Seattle yesterday for “Web Directions Unplugged”, which begins in a couple hours. Thanks to an early flight and a time-zone shift, it’s 5:30 AM (which is roughly 2:30 AM East Coast Time) and I’m wide awake brewing single cups of Starbucks in my room and getting annoyed by the looping Sheraton Starwood promo on Channel 1.

Why do I always turn on the TV and just leave it on that stupid channel? I only realize it ten minutes later when I hear the words, “Vibrant Social Spaces” for the forty-fifth time.

Anyway, I’m here for a terrific mobile conference that really couldn’t come at a better time. I recently (this past week) upgraded to Adobe Creative Suite Web Premium 5.5 and, as I’ve said before, it’s the most significant upgrade to the product that I’ve ever seen. Integrating jQuery Mobile, PhoneGap, HTML5 and CSS3, this version facilitates the creation of Mobile Web Apps like no other product I’ve ever seen. So like I said, the conference is just absolutely the best conference at the most perfect time. Billing itself as, “two groundbreaking days of practical development and design presented by leading experts in the exploding field of HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript based mobile development” it’s going to be jam packed with terrific speakers, including a couple of speakers from Adobe. Greg Rewis will be speaking on “From Web to Mobile App in 60 seconds” featuring, what else, Dreamweaver CS 5.5, which I can’t wait to see.

The conference has three tracks that focus on three different aspects of mobile development. There’s a “Design Track” featuring content strategy, CSS3, UI prototyping, and touchscreen design (remember, it’s fat fingers, not tiny cursers!). The “Development Track” is going to take a look at maximizing speed and efficiency in your mobile app, HTML5 canvas, offline storage and geolocation. The last track is a “Platforms and Solutions Track” and focuses on the various mobile platforms, devices, and services. They’ll take a look at Android, iOS, and something called, “Blackberry”. Javascript frameworks and packaging technologies like jQuery Mobile and PhoneGap are also going to be featured as part of the Platforms and Solutions Track over the course of the next couple of days.

So like I said, it’s just an excellent conference that’s happening at a perfect time and I’m really excited to get started. I’m going to try and blog my thoughts about all of these technologies and platforms over the next couple of days. Rather than try to “liveblog” the event as one running post, I’m going to switch it up a bit and drop smaller posts about sessions and speakers as they inspire.

First, however, I wanna go get some breakfast. Damn it’s early.

Introducing Project Edge

Last year at Max, there was ONE demo that rocked my world. In fact, it rocked my world so hard, I went on a mission to find Doug Winnie and pick his brain. I was singularly focused wandering the expo hall like a zombie asking everyone wearing a black shirt, “hey, have you seen Doug Winnie?”

It was code named, “Edge”. It’s described as, “an HTML5 animation and interactive design tool”.

Did you read what I just wrote? Stop for a minute. Go back and slowly let that sink in.

The company that owns Photoshop, Flash, Dreamweaver, inDesign, After Effects, Flex, ColdFusion and a whole host of other visual design tools is developing a product that allows you to create interactivity and animation with web standards technologies like HTML5 and CSS3.

When I saw the demo in LA last year, I practically shit myself. I literally can’t wait for this product, and I want you to know, I didn’t use the word “literally” where I should’ve used the word, “figuratively”. No, I literally can’t wait for this product.

Watch Doug give you a couple of brief overviews:

Why I pre-ordered Adobe Creative Suite 5.5. Yes, pre-ordered.

I’ve never pre-ordered software before in my life. In fact, I’ve always given software a wide berth upon release, hoping for that eventual “0.01 update” that gets those inevitable kinks out of before I install it and jump in. So I guess I’ve always been a little conservative with regards to that type of stuff.

Not this time.

Take some time and watch Greg Rewis walk through the creation of an HTML5/CSS3 based workflow using Dreamweaver CS5.5. Watch how he creates documents for multiple screens. Watch how he uses Dreamweaver’s built-in webkit browser. Marvel in amazement.

I’m getting this sight unseen.

From Adobe TV:

Explore all of the new workflows for creating for the web and mobile devices. See how Creative Suite Web Premium 5.5 allow you to create and deliver standards-based websites apps and immersive digital experiences across desktops, smartphones, tablets, and televisions. Author content with HTML5, CSS3, and the JQuery mobile framework; target multiple platforms including Android™ operating systems, iOS, Blackberry RIM and Adobe AIR. 

Adobe Max Day Three. I’m exhausted… but today’s going to be awesome!

7: 18 PM
Wow. What a couple of days (three for me, including pre-conference sessions) and I’m starting to feel it. I don’t have a lot of time to write a lot this morning, today begins the day that I’ve been waiting for. Today I get to code in a couple of “Bring Your Own Laptop” lab sessions. These are hands-on coding sessions where you actually create software. This morning we’re going to create an Android App from scratch, and in the afternoon, I’ve got a four hour “Adobe AIR Code Camp”. This is going to be basically an Adobe AIR Boot Camp. You must have the software installed (In my case, the Android 2.2 SDK, Flash Catalyst, Flash Builder, and AIR) and you work on your own machine.

In between those two sessions is “Designing with Fireworks”. This also represents one that I’m really looking forward to, but for much different reasons. This session will be “me out of my comfort zone”. I’m a developer, not a designer. As a developer, I need to have what I call, “Designer Empathy”. So I’m going to put on my “designer hat” and do some learning “as a designer”. Should be fun, and I’m hopeful it’ll give me some great stuff to take back to my creative department that can facilitate the “design to development” workflow. Fingers crossed!

So I’m off. My sessions are long, so I might not blog as much today, but since it’s the last day, I’ll try to wind up this post with a Photo Gallery tonight. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures over the last three days, and it’d be fun to put them into a fun little gallery and blog ’em. So I’ll make up for not blogging as much by posting some more visual, fun things.

9:23 AM
*groan*

Sometimes it’s great to be able to make an informed decision. For instance, I don’t think I’ll do any AIR for Android development. I’m going to stick with this, all the way through the end. I promise I’m not going to bail on this one. I just… well… I just don’t see it. My first thought was, “Do I really want a runtime layer on top of my cellphone or device?”. Superficially it seems cool, and I admit, if I had a client that needed a branded app for Android, this would certainly be a way to rapidly deliver something for a reasonable price… but it feels a little… I dunno… “dirty”? I mean, these little computers are pushing it to be able to deliver the experience they’re delivering. A lot of the most brilliant apps and experiences come at the cost of squeezing every bit of performance out of these tiny little processors, and adding a runtime layer to that just feels like it runs counter to everything you learn in college computer science classes. You remember those? Back when discussions were centered around clock cycles, memory management, and efficiency? Right. Those.

Let me be clear. This is just my initial reaction. I haven’t dug any deeper than an initial gut-reaction to what I’m sitting here doing. If I played with this a little more, I’m sure I’d become a little more comfortable… but that’s the problem. Do I want to become a little more comfortable using this as a mobile development process? I mean, if I’ve got a certain amount of time in a day to learn new things… why wouldn’t I just learn how to do all of this natively? Objective C for iOS? Java for Android?

I’m just saying. This is my sort of… initial reaction. My gut, so to speak. Like I said, I would love to give all of this the benefit of the doubt, and I certainly will… but for now, if I were to make a list of “skills I’d like to learn more about and become better at”, “making AIR Apps for Android Phones” isn’t really in my top 5 right now.

3:51 PM
The “Design with Fireworks” session was great. I mean, every time I do something or learn something new about that program, the more I’m convinced it’s just THE way to create and move graphics from the design process into the web/interactive production execution process.  I understand why Photoshop is still used. I just don’t necessarily agree with it. If I were working on CMYK, high resolution images going to print, it would be all over my workflow. But I’m not. If I were to start any interactive project right now from scratch, I’d basically only need Fireworks and Dreamweaver. I could prototype, design, create, and execute using just those two tools and I would need nothing else. However… old dogs are old, and new tricks are new… and well, a cliche becomes a cliche because it happens enough.

That being said, I’ll just end with, “I love Fireworks” and this last session I attended on designing with it, was preaching to the choir.

I think I’m gonna end the evening with a trip over to Hollywood and hunt for some authentic mexican. I’ll let you know how that works out, but first, I really gotta lay down. The last four days have completely wiped me out and I’m not even sure I’ve got the energy to walk downstairs… Way too much nerd-action over the last four days.

Adobe Max: Well it’s officially day one. Let’s LiveBlog this bad boy.

Starbuck's African Kitamu
Great coffee. I called down to the front desk and had them bring up a couple more of these things.I'm drinking them like they're going out of style.

6:58 AM
Lots going on today. Have I mentioned how much I love this coffee? They have Starbucks “African Kitamu” for the little single-cup coffee maker here in the room. I’m drinking the crap out of this stuff. I’m gonna head downstairs, get some breakfast and walk down to the Convention Center. According to Google Maps, I’m about a mile away from the Convention Center and they say it’ll take about 13 minutes to walk there. I don’t really feel like sitting on a shuttle this morning, and I wanna move my legs, so I’m gonna walk it. It’s a nice walk, actually, I’ve walked it both nights I’ve been here.

By the way, today’s Keynote Address can be viewed online. Visit max.adobe.com/online for more details. I’ll be blogging thoughts as they come to me (if they come to me) so I’ll try to add some editorial commentary to what I see live.

The view from the walk in this morning. Great walk. Excellent weather. The perfect temperature.
Why anyone would ride a bus/shuttle around here is beyond me. The walk is fantastic. Best mile you've ever walked. Perfect temperature.

9:06 AM
Okay, we’re inside the Nokia Theater. Pretty much a mob scene. The place is completely packed and the whole center-front of the theater is reserved for “Press”. I don’t recall so much space being held for “Press/Analyst” before, so my curiosity is definitely aroused. I don’t know if this is just natural curiosity on the part of the press given recently developments in the “Apple vs. Adobe” skirmish over Flash, or if it’s because of some impending “announcement”. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough though. Lots of talk about Flash, Flash’s future, Android, Apple, iPhone and the Mobile-slash-Tablet space. The ground is definitely shifting beneath a lot of people’s feet, and that’s a pretty uncomfortable place to be for a lot of developers to be.

9:12 AM
Okay, I gotta admit, starting off the Keynote with a DJ playing live dance music while a guy onstage writes code projected onto the main stage screen is… um… interesting. Didn’t ZeFrank do something like this in 2003?

9:22 AM
Oh, I see what you did there. There’s a live DJ creating music using AudioTool, Natzke creating live artwork and Joa Ebert live coding some sort of 3D sound visualization display thingy. Now you’ve hooked all three of them up and there’s this sort of live-3D-Flash-Art-Trance-DJ-German-Bitmap-Visual-Performance-Code thing happening… with a giant multi-touch screen. This is the sort of thing my friend Marty Hardin would mess his pants up seeing… However, it’s the sort of thing that causes me to have a Grand Mal seizure and bleed from the eyes.

9:36 AM
Kevin Lynch onstage now. Processing power is driving the whole revolution. Power per weight and battery power have enabled the mobile revolution. Cool slides. Lots of logarithmic growth charts.

Not the "Gadget Lab"
No, no, no... it's not the *Gadget* Lab... it's the *Device* Lab.

1:36 PM
Okay, so the Keynote is over, I’ve gotten my free Motorola Droid 2 phone (CDMA, and I’m on T-Mobile, so it’s basically just a Wi-Fi enabled Development/Testing device) and I’ve spent the last couple of hours in the Max Pavilion. I spent about 45 minutes or so wandering around various booths and checking out the vendors (effectiveUI is top of my list so far. UI testing, User research, Interface research services… I’m all over that one) and about 45 minutes playing in what I’ve been calling “The Gadget Lab”. Apparently it’s “The Device Lab”. You say “tomato”… But seriously. Google TV looks awesome, and I have to admit, Adobe AIR for TV looks, well… it just looks cool. If enough set manufacturers support it (Samsung is first!) then I could see it gaining significant traction. Personally, I’d love to develop apps for HDTVs. That would be cool, daddy-o. SDKs are everywhere. Every group inside Adobe is pimping their SDK and I’ve already got a hella collection of discs. I’m doing the whole “Bring Your Own Laptop” labs this time, and I’m probably going to install the Android 2.2 SDK and Flex for Android SDK tonight after I get back to the hotel.My sessions start in about 15 minutes. First up is “Dreamweaver and HTML5 & Javascript based Widgets”.
Here’s the description:

“Join Scott Richards for a guided tour of the latest features in Dreamweaver that enable you to harness the power of HTML5 and CSS3 in your site. See how you can use the Widget Browser to easily add Javascript based Widgets to your pages. As your web sites rely more and more on CSS and Javascript make sure you are taking advantage of the tools in Dreamweaver to help you quickly navigate to the css controlling your web pages and help you troubleshoot problems.”

After that one, I’ve got “From Design to CSS and HTML with Fireworks and Dreamweaver”:

“Learn how to take a finished web design and turn it into CSS and HTML using Adobe Fireworks to optimize the images and generate the initial CSS and HTML pages, and then use Adobe Dreamweaver to refine and optimize the code. We’ll cover essential techniques to control the page layout in the CSS, as well as hints and tips such as how to save time by generating CSS styles directly from the design and how to use placeholders for interactive elements and dynamic content.”

Then I finish the day with, “Creating Interactive Rich Media Advertising Campaigns with Video”:

“In this session you’ll learn how video can be one of the most engaging components in Rich Media Advertising. We’ll discuss how: use multiple videos in standard or HD format leveraging Dynamic Streaming; record your own video with a webcam and send it to email or a smartphone; post videos on Facebook; play a 3D multiplayer game using Papervision and Flash Media Interactive Server; and go mobile with your campaigns. We’ll show examples of real rich media campaigns from top advertisers, discuss the technologies powering the creative, and try to dispel all the myths around the limitations of video ads.”

So the next three hours or so should be really really fun. On to the first session!

7:30 PM
So, as you can see… long day. Exhausted. Drained. Stuffed with horrible food (not badly prepared, or bad tasting. Actually really, really, really delicious food… just bad for you) and getting ready to buy Adobe Creative Suite CS5 Web Premium. Again, I don’t really know what to think about all the Flash stuff. With everything going on between Apple, Android, Adobe and Flash, it’s tough to make a call right now. AIR for TV looks really cool, and there are arguably a LOT of devices out there besides the iPad and the iPhone. I know because I actually spent a great deal of time today touching a lot of them. Then there’s blackberry. Say what you want about RIM, there are a TON of people using Blackberries, and the audience is out there. The Playbook looks really good. I can’t speak for the UI or touchscreen, because the single Playbook they had on display was behind glass, but the damn thing sure as hell exists, and it looks nice.

So while I can’t speak for the rest of the world, I do know that for a long time people lived and did business without Apple hardware, and there’s an entrenched community that simply isn’t going to vanish overnight. The Samsung people seem committed to Android and Flash/AIR, and I personally talked with representatives from a lot of companies, from TV to print manufacturers (have you seen the Lexmark printers with built in apps and CCD scanner/printers? They’re hot… seriously cool) and they’re sinking millions of dollars into products that integrate with Flash and Adobe AIR. There are literally hundreds of screens out there beyond the iOS world, and honestly, Flash is viable on pretty much all of them. That’s my take-away today. All I know is, the next time someone says, “Flash is dead”, I’m not going to be so quick to agree with them… that’s all.

The other thing that I took away today was this: I’m a died in the wool Dreamweaver user. You’re going to have to pry my Dreamweaver from my cold, dead fingers. The things I saw today with HTML5/CSS3 integrating Fireworks and Dreamweaver and Photoshop for a robust development and design workflow leave me absolutely convinced that if you’re a creative professional, and you’re creating online interactive solutions for your clients, you owe it to both yourself and your clients to check out the production workflow that these products represent.

Okay. That’s all for today. I’m exhausted. I’m going to go use my Max discount and grab my copy of CS5. I’m hopeful that the bandwidth here at the hotel will accommodate me. I’ve got some “Bring your own laptop” (BYOL) sessions tomorrow, and the requirement for a couple of them are several of the CS5 Web Premium products (Flash Catalyst, Flash Builder) as well as the Android 2.2 SDK, and I’ve got to take some time tonight and make sure they’re all installed before I go back tomorrow.

More liveblogging tomorrow. Another Keynote, probably more big news (if the rumors I’m hearing are true, it’s going to be another big day), and I’ll have plenty more to write about.

See you tomorrow!