AdobeMAX 2011

It is rare that one is present at a defining moment in the history of technology. This was one of those events which focused on the tectonic changes happening in technology today. Although touch and gesture are big, the ubiquity of mobile devices is changing the way we interact. We need to recognize this also has profound implications for the way we teach and learn.

Here are my insights from all the events I participated in at AdobeMAX this year. We are witnessing a convergence of technologies including: cloud computing, mobility, and social media. This will have a definite impact on how we teach and learn. There are three “elephants in the room” that we should focus upon.

  • Combined technologies. Although many of these technologies are revolutionary by themselves (for example, cloud computing), we need to focus on the combination of these technologies. That is where the significant gains in both teaching and learning will occur. Although I am still trying to understand all the implications, tools like Adobe Proto running on a tablet and passing wireframe information to “the cloud” which can then be directly imported into Dreamweaver is an example of a small convergence which may well affect the way we teach web design to our students. We need to start thinking in the terms originally voiced by Tim Berners-Lee when creating the WWW – access to desired information by anyone, at any place, and at any time. After over two decades, this is now within reach.
  • Magnitude. We are probably underestimating the magnitude of the changes happening. Consider that each major technological innovation (whether mainframe to mini-computer or desktop computing to the WWW) resulted in at least a 10 fold increase in the number of devices and interactions. We already have more devices connected to the Internet than there are people (and the cell phone is more ubiquitous than the toothbrush). We can no longer think in terms of a virtual campus with online classes. We need to start thinking about unfettered access to information on an “as needed” basis. We need to think of the experience for both student and teacher and how multiple devices/ views will affect these experiences.
  • Flexibility. We need to rethink how we can make this possible in our institutions. At school, it is impossible for me to set the “out of office” assistant to reach students who don’t use their “sanctioned” email account (news flash – most don’t). We put together rigid budgets annually. We select textbooks months in advance of a given class being taught. All these approaches worked great in the 1960s. However, it is 2011 and we need to adapt. We need to adopt a much more flexible approach to teaching and learning and the devices this is happening upon. On demand eBooks (or chapters) might be the least of our concerns. I can almost guarantee this is going to be a most cathartic experience for most academic institutions.

Ok, enough speculation; here are some notes I took during the various sessions. I have listed them in chronological order.

October 3 Keynote – The Adobe Creative Cloud was announced (planned availability in November, 2011). Services, community, and applications are synchronized via the Adobe Creative Cloud. Initially individuals will have access to 20 GB of storage in this medium. Creative services – Adobe has acquired TypeKit ( This will be a subscription based service with fonts under one license and working with all browsers. Adobe Digital Publishing Suite, Single Edition was also announced. Creative community – Adobe announced where individuals can share examples of their work. One can also search for examples of work and see how it was created. Creative applications – in addition to familiar desktop applications (such as Dreamweaver and Photoshop), there will be a number of touch based apps (for tablets) emerging in the coming months. These include: Ideas (which allows you to sketch on your tablet and upload your ideas for further refinement in other apps), Carousel (which allows you to store, share, and edit your photos form the cloud – they no longer need to reside on a given device), Kuler (to use and design color themes), Collage (think electronic mood board), Debut (for more elegant presentations), Proto (for initial web design work and wireframes), Photoshop Touch (for editing of photos on tablets). These will initially be deployed for Android devices in November, 2011.

Developing Android applications with AIR and Flash Builder – This hands on session provided experience in developing an app and testing on your local Android device. We started with the basics of configuing your device and progressed through the more advanced topics of launching native SMS text and phone call applications, working with gestures, handling multi-touch, interfacing with the accelerometer, performing geolocation and interfacing with the camera. Working code snippets were provided (one needs the latest version of these tools to actually work with the code). Additional deployment issues were also discussed (including whether to pull the AIR app form the Android Market or include a captive Runtime version). I learned a lot in this session.

360/ Flex Unconference session – Getting data from here to there – This session covered the basics of connecting your Flex application to various data sources. Except for raw TCP calls, the following means of passing data were discussed (and code samples were reviewed): BlazeDS, remote object calls, SOAP and Web Services, REST/ JSON calls, XML over http, external variables within the web page itself (using FlashVars). Advantages and disadvantages of each approach were discussed along with a list of which servers work best for a given technology. This session provided a lot of useful information.

October 4 Keynote – Where the October 3 keynote focused on design aspects, this keynote focused on developer aspects. One of the items to emerge over and over was the inclusion of greater emphasis on HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript as the core means of developing apps. Flash was covered and the combination of Flash with HTML yields great possibilities. Flash Player 11 and AIR 3.0 were released (with many impressive new capabilities). Contributions from Adobe to WebKit and jQuery were highlighted. PhoneGap has been acquired by Adobe (it is already incorporated into Dreamweaver CS 5.5). Numerous examples of what can be done in Flash for gaming were also covered. Fireworks update pack for CS 5.1 was also released (which allows one to easily modify jQuery mobile templates to create a custom theme). CSS Regions and CSS Exclusions were also discussed (I have demonstrated these at a previous Adobe User Group meeting on campus). CSS Shaders has now been submitted to the W3c (think Pixel Bender using CSS). 2D and 3D graphics and animation within Flash were also reviewed. This was another impressive keynote with a lot of additional information wich may well affect what we need to include in our web classes.

Building your first mobile application – This was another hands on lab session (I tried to focus on the lab sessions as much as possible as I know the other sessions are being recorded and I should be able to watch them in the future). We built a simple application with Flex and Flash Builder. We also saw some of the pitfalls one may encounter when developing for mobile devices. We developed a mobile app covering the restaurants in the vicinity of the LA Convention Center and Staples Center. We also saw how data is passed to the application.

Design better experiences with Fireworks by understanding how people think – This was a great session on UX (User Experience). The presenter has a background in psychology and covered many aspects which can affect the outcome of our testing. These include the framing effect, anchoring effect, and the theory of constraints. We reviewed various techniques to help individuals focus on solutions (such as the 10 – 3 – 1 technique and 6 in 6 minutes technique). The presenter reviewed creativity and flow and discussed how our apps should enhance flow (where you get so lost in the experience that time seems to stand still). A humorous reference was also provided (Sometimes you just have to let an executive make a serious mistake; it is the only way some learn). We also had the opportunity to creatively design a digital mannequin as part of the concluding exercise.

Build it with jQuery Mobile – This was another hands on lab where we developed a wine list application for deployment on Android or iOS devices. We reviewed the advantages of single vs. multi-page apps and spent a great deal of time actually developing a working app we could deploy. I participated in a similar session last year, but this one took advantage of the latest technologies including WebSQL and persistence.js. We worked with swipe gestures (to delete items in the application).

Adobe MUSE overview – Although I have been working with this product for a while (version 3 is available from Adobe Labs), I learned a lot in this session. This also was a hands on session. We covered the basics of working with the interface (I presented on this at a recent user group meeting). There are many new features in version 3. We built a standards compliant site in 90 minutes.

Work in new ways with mobile apps – This session focused on the use of the just announced Proto tool for tablets. We got to see how one can develop a wireframe and then pull the developed wireframe into Dreamweaver (it generates HTML code). This takes the recent trend towards HTML wireframing to a whole new level. One can also collaborate with others via the Adobe Creative Cloud (by sharing these prototypes).

CSS for Web and Mobile Design – This session focused on many of the new CSS-3 enhancements (a fair number of those covered with –webkit specific). Progressive enhancement and regressive enhancement were covered. A number of advanced techniques were covered (such as using border to generate a triangle and making a box shadow with only one side).

Mastering mobile design in minutes with Fireworks – After spending a fair amount of time on the fundamentals of mobile design, the speaker focused on the newly released CSS-3 enhancements for Fireworks. This allows one to rapidly create/ modify existing jQuery mobile themes (much more difficult in the past). I have downloaded a copy and am in the process of developing a deeper understanding so I can share with students.

What’s new in Flash Catalyst CS 5.5 – This was the final session I attended at AdobeMAX. It was also the session where I saw the power of social media. I learned about the death of Steve Jobs before anyone else in the room (roughly 100 people in attendance). Just happened to check Twitter feed prior to the start of the session. The history of Flash Catalyst was covered (beginning with the announcement of Thermo in 2007 – at the AdobeMAX I also attended). Many new features and components were presented (a fair number of which I was unaware of until this session).

One final “take away” – I am amazed at the power of social media (such as Twitter). Yes, I tweet a lot (over 3,500 times at this point). However, I met new individuals at AdobeMAX (they approached me based on my tweets). Turns out we shared a number of common interests. In one case, I tweeted a photo of the speaker and had someone two rows back tell me to look back as they were also in the audience. I have gained new insights into what can be done with social media like Twitter based on my participation in the conference.

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