360|Flex: Day 2

by Thomas Brady

Today started with a celebration of Spoon: the Flex team’s implementation of the open source model. Seems like a good approach they’ve come up with. I don’t care as much as I probably should about this.

Next up for me was a Flash Builder tips and tricks session from one of the developers. Some of the new codesense stuff in 5.5 is going to save tons of time. The code templates feature looks fantastic, and the ability to add that to your own libraries via metadata is perhaps even cooler. Lots of auto-generation features, including lots of smart ones (easily generate public getter/setter and private variables or just a public variable, generate a local variable or a class variable).

Next I saw a “what’s new in Catalyst” presentation. I just don’t know about Catalyst. It’s really compelling in demo form, but when you really use it you find all these corners where the sidewalk just stops. It feels more like a trap than a tool at moments like that. But when you’re in their wheelhouse is it ever convenient. They demoed it as a wireframing tool today. I never thought of it that way. I’m tempted to explore this further.

Next I saw a presentation entitled “jQuery and HTML5 for Flex Developers” which could have been called “trust us, your $699 was money well-spent.” There were a lot of questionable demonstrations of trying to do the same thing two ways: in Flex and in HTML 5. I don’t feel they were all 1:1, but I won’t go into it. I didn’t really learn much.

Next I saw Chris Griffith’s Designing Great Mobile Apps. Nothing ground-shaking, but a pretty good roundup of mobile design mantras.

Next Huyen Tue Dao made a lot of heads spin. She jumped right into the bowels of the Text Layout Framework and Flash Text Engine, and she’s a fast-talker. A really fast fast-talker. 

Next was a big presentation from RIM on - you guessed it - the Playbook. Flash and AIR are running on a lot of mobile platforms now, and I find it interesting that RIM is the only manufacturer that showed up at 360|Flex. They were handing  out schwag left and right: mobile phone headsets (that they didn’t mind telling you were worth $45), odd stereo bluetooth adapters that require a mini-USB power source, and even mobile phones (I think they’ve given out 10 Style 9670 phones - even to a guy that almost immediately tweeted “Just won a blackberry 9670 CDMA smartphone. Not sure what I’ll do with it.”). All this sucking up must have worked on some, as there were also these comments at #360flex:

Finally there is a true competitor to iPad - @sxm20

There is no doubt that the Playbook is an impressive device. Feels nice and smooth, good performance - @deaniverson

At the Meet the Playbook event and I have to say it is a REALLY solid device! - @simpulton

I played with the Playbook some more today, myself, and while I can say the hardware is fairly impressive, I don’t know where all this excitement is coming from. The software has some oddities. I don’t know how final the version I saw was, but you couldn’t easily connect to a WiFi network with WEP or WPA. It seemed to only support WPS. And the panel gestures are an interesting way to handle system events without adding buttons, but gestures are still mostly for power-users. Even pinch-zoom hasn’t caught on with all mobile users. And the placement of the volume rocker and headphone jack is awkward, if you ask me.

Their software approach is not much better. You can write apps in C/C++, Java, Android, QNX, HTML or Flash (or Flex or AIR). The interface to the device itself is written in QNX these days, though many people are still under the impression that it’s done in AIR. That was the case at Adobe MAX last year, but the interface has been re-written since then. It was a bit awkward hearing the RIM engineer at the presentation tonight explain that they moved to QNX - and, indeed, offer QNX APIs to the Flash SDK - because they’re better optimized for mobile devices. Ahem. We’re at an event that could have easily been called 360FlexforMobileDevices.

Speaking of, that’s an interesting benefit for the Playbook platform: you can bundle native QNX code within your Flash project. I can’t imagine anyone bothering to do that, but you could end up with a really stable, performant app that way.

I spoke with several developers who had qualified for free Playbooks. If you hadn’t heard, RIM offered a bounty for apps submitted to their Playbook store if submitted before the first week of February. That bounty was a free Playbook. Yes, you read that correctly: they encouraged developers to submit projects completely blindly - months before anyone had been allowed to even touch a demo unit in person - with free $500 tablets. Every one of these qualifying developers chuckled as they told me that their project was crapware to begin with, and that they had no idea how it would perform on a Playbook. 

I’ll say it again. Doomed.