This is the full text of the comment I posted. John makes a reference to "Software wars elsewhere," so hopefully he doesn't take it that way.
I won't mention what devices I carry, because it's not relevant to my message. What is relevant is that I carry both a phone and a tablet, and they're made by different manufacturers. Otherwise, they're basically the same device in different sizes. When the contract on my phone is up, I will be ditching it, because I've found that the tablet works way better for me.
I've always lived on the edge of technology. In Jr. High I was playing with these things called BBS's. By high school I had found this internet thing. I was the first person I know to have something faster than a modem at home. Through all of this, I've learned that I seem to be naturally attracted to that technology which will later become popular.
I've discovered a new way of living now that I have my tablet. The experience is not seamless yet, and the company which made my tablet is horribly clueless in some key areas, but it's helped me to realize what these devices mean and where we are going. Fundamentally, we have not only crossed the tipping point, but the slide is happening, and we're starting to see a burst of human creativity as people adapt their current business and start new businesses to fill the new needs opening up. At the same time, other businesses are going to close down or be drastically reduced because they were unable or unwilling to change their business model in this age of abundant information.
As more people carry around an ever increasing variety of personal screens, from phones with 4" screens to tablets with 13" screens, businesses that want people to come in off the street are going to have to find a way to get their information onto these screens. People in an urban environment are going to rely less on looking at the signs around them, and instead will find an out of the way corner on the sidewalk to check yelp, foursquare, facebook, google maps, or whatever their favorite site happens to be. As a result, I predict that businesses that once spent a lot of money on flashy signs to attract customers will instead spend a lot of money on flashy bluetooth and location based marketing services. In 10 or 20 years, cities like tokyo and hong kong may be able to see the stars again.
These screens mean more than that, however. While the software powering these screens will be many and varied, the hardware will be surprisingly uniform, from a user POV. You interact with these devices by touching, dragging, pushing and prodding, just like you do in the real world. The experience is one of intimately interacting with objects on your screen, not indirectly interacting with them like you do with a mouse. When I read a book in the Kindle app on my tablet, I can absentmindedly put my finger on the right egde, move to the left just a little, and the page curl animates and tracks my finger perfectly so that it look exactly like what happens when I do the same with a real book. Even better, mentally, it FEELS the same as when I read, minus the tactile feel of the paper against my fingers.
Attention to detail like that creates an experience that transcends the device. I forget I'm holding a screen and just fall into the book.
Having provided some background which I think is important to a number of questions you raise, I will attempt to predict what I would write if I were somehow able to travel back to 2010 from 2012, and communicate the important trends and events.
Users, for the most part, will use the devices and software that give them a warm and fuzzy feeling. (Some of my friends gets a warm and fuzzy feeling from using keyboard shortcuts. Some people juggle geese!) There will be a variety of devices to fit almost any need, but generally users will fall into one of 3 categories:
Netbook users - Users who have a very specialized application that requires a keyboard, users who have a disability that makes using a tablet difficult, and users who get stuck in their way of doing things and will not even consider a device without a keyboard. (CF, IE 6 users.) These users will largely run full desktop OS's like windows and ubuntu and probably fall outside the scope of your questions.
Geeks/Power Users - Users who aren't afraid to root their devices and generally judge their machines by the hardware specs and feature list. These users are the ones who tend to push the limits of what their devices can do, and are the most vocal about how the software should operate. (Unfortunately, their collective opinion in that area often contradicts what the 3rd group wants.) These users will be divided into 3 groups: ipad/iphone users, android users, and users of an OpenEmbedded based Linux OS that was put together by independent hardware developers who didn't want to deal with google and the android headache. (Sorry MS, palm and RIM.)
Average Users - These users treat their screens as a black box. They turn it on, it will do stuff for them, and as far as they're concerned it runs on magic. They don't care about how open it is, or what it supports, or have any idea that there's this company called Adobe whose software probably created every icon they look at every time they use their screen. If they are aware of Adobe, it's only because sometimes they get a PDF, and they have to install that $!@# reader software again.
Of the people carrying their own personal screens, 70-80% of them fall into the average user category. Worldwide, 50% of the devices sold have an apple logo on them. The other 50% is split between android, RIM, MS and Palm, in that order. (Palm being bought by Motorola gave them a shot in the arm, but the infusion of cash was too little, too late and WebOS never really gets more than 1% market share.)
Because the market is still young, and it can take 5 or 10 years for a company that has gotten funded and is losing money at a slow rate to die, there will still be lots of options for producing content for these screens. End users will generally favor those sites and apps which give them the most pleasing experience for their device. Sometimes the content or features of an app with a poor UI will be enough to overcome the poor UI and still give users a pleasing experience overall, but those apps will generally be discarded when something with good enough content or just enough features comes along with a really slick interface. The slick app can improve their content problem a lot faster and easier than the app with a poor UI can improve their problem.
This meant that content and application creators had some stark realities to face. They've had two years to watch and examine the market as it's shaped up, and it's clear now that there are two strategies that have worked and two that work well enough to make money in some cases. The rest have been or are in the process of turning into miserable failures.
Working Strategy 1 - Throw money and developers at it, build native apps for every platform that comes along. Most of the big household names did this, and some of the big tech names.
Working Strategy 2 - Learn HTML5 and do it all on the web. Provide an API so 3rd party developers can write native apps for you. Once you've figured out your web app, use nimblekit or phonegap to write cross-platform apps in HTML/CSS/JS. Because Adobe tried to keep flash proprietary, and refused to support HTML5 and canvas in their otherwise excellent content creation tools, these companies are using a piece of software that didn't even exist in 2010, but now looks poised to take most of the RIA creation market from flash. Combined with tools like acorn and pixelmator, most of these companies no longer use any adobe products. Most of the cloud and internet companies that only tech geeks know went this route, as did most of the small (less than 20 employee) design firms.
Partially Working Strategy 1 - Target only apple devices. With 50% of the marketplace plus having more affluent users on average compared to other platforms, companies in the right market segments find that they make enough money here. Successful companies employing this strategy risk being put out of business when Apple rolls out a version of iPhone OS that makes their app redundant.
Partially Working Strategy 2 - Use only Adobe flash. Due to flash's ubiquity on the desktop and finally releasing flash 10.1 for a variety of mobile platforms, companies which have already invested heavily in adobe tools are still muddling along. None of their content ever gets to the iphone or ipad, however, and on the other platforms they're looking at a mixed bag. When it first came out, flash on most of the mobile devices was buggy and/or slow. As new devices came out and adobe improved the software situation, it got to be where you could rely on a subset of flash's features to work on every device, and if you were careful you could use some of the fancier features on a case by case basis. If you target a particular device with your SWF, you could use every feature that worked, but that meant a lot of testing and tweaking per device. Many a mobile flash developer is heard to lament that he misses the days of IE6 and Firefox 1.
History is showing a long march towards more open, and open source, software. As we figure out the best ways to organize our data, and the most efficient interfaces for interacting with software, we're finding that the lower-level foundations that everything is built on changes less and less. The majority of computers in the world now run on top of an open source operating system. Mac OS X, Android, WebOS, and Symbian are all operating systems built around an open source core. A large number of embedded systems are based around linux, bsd and qnx. While qnx isn't "open source," the source is available, and qnx is known to accept patches from companies that have fixed bugs on written features they really needed. (No word is said publicly on how much money is exchanged to make that happen.)
More significantly, history is showing a march towards more interoperability through open and ad hoc standards. As we're discovering certain technologies to be very useful it's natural that some people will want to use these technologies in their brand-new devices. Thanks to the continuing increase in hobbiest electronic designers and companies like gumstix, a world of niche devices has popped up. A device that is being touted as "The Next Chumby" has just been released and is doing things with HTML5 that are incredible.
Every single mobile device released in 2012 supports HTML5. As you would expect, some devices have better support than others, but since every device is based on either WebKit or the Firefox rendering engines the lowest bar in 2012 is higher than the highest bar in 2010.
We have realized that while native apps nearly always deliver a better experience, the web is the long tail. The backend programmer who wants to put together an app for his daughter's soccer team isn't going to spend a week learning enough flash, java or objc to knock together an app, he's just going to write a webapp in an afternoon or a weekend. Doctors, engineers, designers, and other white-color professionals aren't going to learn how to write desktop apps, but they might try their hand at web design with dreamweaver and jquery and learn to make something simple that meets their need. After all, if it gives them some basic interactivity and a way to perform calculations and transformations, isn't that programming?
Apple, once again, jumped-started the "user created webapp" bandwagon with iLife '11 and iWork '11. Numbers has a new "Publish to iWork.com as Application" feature, which lets users create an application inside of Numbers to be posted on iWork.com. During the keynote, Steve brought onto the stage 4 people recruited off craigslist, gave them each an ipad, and asked them to create spreadsheets to solve a need they had. (They had obviously been pre-screened, and while they obviously didn't know what they had to do ahead of time, their tasks were tailored to that person's background, and they already knew how to use Numbers.)
Meanwhile, Steve went on to talk about the other new features of their iLife suite. After the release of iLife '11 for the Mac, and iLife '11 for the iPad last year, there was a lot of dissatisfaction with how they sync, or rather didn't. This year, he announced that not only do they sync, but they automatically sync to MobileMe, and like Numbers, you can create interactive web apps with just a few mouse clicks. Interactive features like commenting, password protection, update notifications, etc, are all built in.
Coming back to the people with iPads, he gave them each some stage time. A car salesman showed off his customized loan calculator, that gives him a hidden slider to adjust the number of extras he includes by default (sneaky.) A science teacher shows off her plant identification guide, which her students will use on a field trip to some wetlands. A System Administrator shows off his Application Scaling chart, which allows him to plug in numbers and instantly project how much server capacity he'll need. Finally, a woman who owns a plumbing company will show off the work report form which her plumbers will use after each job to report basic status information back to her.
All of these applications which people have posted behave exactly like Numbers on the iPad, but they're HTML5 and work in any web browser. Using cookies for session tracking and AJAX for data storage and retrieval, users will be able to exit and come back to these sheets without any data loss. Application owners will be able to log into iWork.com to view and manage all stored data. The option to email a sheet and a PDF or Numbers doc will be available, and able to be toggled on and off when the web app is published.
After that demonstration, Steve revealed that the projector in the background and the audio being played out in the hall were coming from a computer connected to the new iWork.com presentation service. Create a presentation in keynote, post it to iWork.com. After posting the presentation you can use Keynote on your mac or ipad to connect to the presentation service as a presenter. Audio picked up your microphone or headset will be streamed to anyone who is viewing your presentation. You control which slide they see displayed on their screen, and you have highlighting and "virtual laser pointer" tools available to you for pointing out specific information.
The real shocker, was the One More Thing. Apple had opened this platform up to 3rd party developers. On the stage for the keynote were the CEO's for FileMaker, Evernote, Box.net and The OmniGroup. They each showed off what they had come up with in the last two months to allow users to create their own applications in the cloud.
It was obvious to everyone after the Apple keynote that the cloud and the ubiquitous touchscreen computer were combining to change the fabric of society. Within weeks other large application producers had announced plans to bring cloud computing to their users. Microsoft announced something called Windows Home SharePoint Server, which was apparently a simplified version of SharePoint designed to be used in place of Windows Home Server. It got about the reaction you'd expect.
I've written quite a lot about the last two years in this piece. Two years ago, I'd have said that there's no way this much would happen so quickly. However, as you point out, these devices were cheap, and economy of scale made them cheaper. When the device with the highest quality components and the best manufacturing quality starts at $500 on release day, prices have nowhere to go but down.
During the holiday season of 2010, many people bought cheap tablets for around $250 which whetted their appetites. Because these were cheap chinese tablets running android or linux, they had no flash support. Adobe wasn't willing to release the source for flash 10.1 so the manufacturers couldn't just make it work, and the manufacturers didn't want to pay Adobe to do the work. Since these are cheap tablets based around software that is not popular, the number of apps is small. However, they do have extremely high quality web browsers that support HTML5 and H264 thanks to WebKit, and since most of it's open source the manufacturer can write the driver needed for the H264 acceleration chip.
When Hulu and Netflix came out with support for streaming their content to any browser that supported HTML5 and H264 in the middle of 2011, those cheap $250 tablets became a lot more useful to their owners. Here in 2012, we are seeing more and more people dropping their TV's off at recycling centers. Mostly it's TVs from bedrooms and kitchens, but it's becoming more common to hear that someone's TV broke and they don't plan to fix or replace it.
The much lamented "digital divide" is shrinking thanks to these cheap, small, portable screens. More people than ever before have access to the internet and are taking advantage of it. It's becoming increasingly common for people not to have any phone at all, and to only use email, facebook, or websites. However, a new digital divide is forming, and no one is quite sure whether it's a bad thing or not.
More and more people are not replacing their computers as they break. Since all they do is go online to play farmville, send some emails, and look at pictures of celebrities, a tablet not only meets their needs, but does so with less work and hassle. Schools are using tablets in their classrooms, and the richer schools are giving every student their own tablet. In fact, HTC and Apple seem to have set aside their patent fights, and instead are playing a game of "Anything You Can Do I Can Do More Generously," where each week has an announcement from one saying they've given away tablets to more schoolchildren than the other thanks to their latest donation-matching program.
This sounds like a great thing, but neither HTC or Apple have programming environments available on their tablets, and the tablets given to schools are often locked down so that no non-approved software can be installed. There's a growing worry that young kids will not have an opportunity to discover and be interested in programming. A few people worried about this is 2010, but it was largely dismissed. Now, as more kids have tablets at home but not computers, the worry is spreading.
Some people are taking action, though. Cory Doctorow decided to start the Boing Boing Foundation For Little Hackers. To raise seed money for the charity, which would fund after-school programming and robotics clubs in low-income schools, he announced that he would take a hot air balloon trip wearing only a red cape and chain-mail underwear, and that he would blog using a netbook and 4G data card during the trip. His trip will take him from San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley, to Hollywood, the heart of Silicone Valley.
That about covers all the major events. 2012 is certainly a year full of surprises. If I had to give Adobe one piece of advice right now, it would be to invest in giving flash the ability to export a flash project in SWF or HTML5. As you can see, there are a plethora of devices on the way, and supporting them all is a lot of work. To fulfill your customers desire of not having to rewrite their app for multiple platforms, it's your best shot. Your strength lies in your content creation tools, not the flash runtime that you don't even charge money for.
Copyright © 2006-2008 Zach White