In 1935, in the depths of the Great Depression, several men took it upon themselves to create an event to "change the conversation" from one of uncertainty and insecurity to one of optimism and wonder. New York needed a shot in the arm and they thought a major event would draw both immediate stimulus and long term benefit to the region. Four years later the New York World's Fair opened with the slogan "Dawn of a New Day."
"The eyes of the Fair are on the future – not in the sense of peering toward the unknown nor attempting to foretell the events of tomorrow and the shape of things to come, but in the sense of presenting a new and clearer view of today in preparation for tomorrow; a view of the forces and ideas that prevail as well as the machines. To its visitors the Fair will say: "Here are the materials, ideas, and forces at work in our world. These are the tools with which the World of Tomorrow must be made. They are all interesting and much effort has been expended to lay them before you in an interesting way. Familiarity with today is the best preparation for the future.'" - 1939 New York World's Fair pamphlet
This year's Adobe MAX, while nowhere near as large in scope, was an awesome parallel to 1939 New York. The global economy isn't anything special. Innovation continues unabated. Piles of money are sitting idle waiting for the right reason to get back in the game. Adobe's people worked hard to put forward a vision for where these trends will go and how we will be able to take advantage of them, just like the guys from New York did with the World's Fair.
We came to Los Angeles for the opportunity to hear about the "materials, ideas and forces at work in our world" and learn more about the "tools with which the World of Tomorrow must be made".
What we saw did not in any way disappoint.
Mobility and immobility to the forefront.
Since MAX 2009, the diversity of web-enabled devices has shifted dramatically. Last year was all about iOS and various masked/unreleased mobile devices. This year was about mobile on more pieces of hardware than you could carry home, tablets of varying lineage, and surprisingly, television. This happened practically overnight - the iPad hadn't even been released this time last year, let alone the soon-to-be-released competitors. Nobody was talking television (that we heard, anyway).
We are now designing and building software in a world driven by the complimentary yet wildly different states of mobility and immobility simultaneously. The mobile vision that Macromedia pushed in the early 2000s we once laughed about has now become reality. Our televisions, instead of being "consume-only" devices, are poised to finally and seamlessly become a part of the online world. We as designers and developers, visionaries and builders, are now facing the challenge of targeting both the really-really-small screen and the big screen with our content *and* on more hardware platforms than ever before.
Did anyone really see this coming? In the US, carriers had a stranglehold on the mobile device market until Apple and Google broke it up with a combination of compelling hardware, attractive features and the savvy application of piles of R&D money. A similar situation exists in the cable television world: the cable companies have a lock on the pipe and an uneasy (yet long established) relationship with the content people that is now being rapidly eroded by the success of Hulu and similar services. The Google TV, Boxee Box, Roku and Apple TV devices mercifully save us from the awful UX of the dreaded cable box while adding a pile of new internet-enabled two-way capabilities. These disruptions to the mobile and television spaces open up opportunities on globally accessible, established platforms with wildly differing standards, sizes and capabilities.
We need tools that help us do this efficiently. At last week's MAX, Adobe delivered strongly with compilers and tools for mobile and television based on technologies we as designers and developers already know. We who came to Los Angeles are coming home with the knowledge that we can now build apps for more devices than ever before using the tools we're already skilled with.
Developers will still use AIR, Flash, Flex, ColdFusion and Dreamweaver. Designers will still use Illustrator, Photoshop and Catalyst. We dream, we draw, we build, we test, we release and it all just magically works. Try that with anything other than what Adobe is offering. There's no way it is as easy, as rich or as accommodating. The most important take-away from MAX this year is that evolutionary changes in Adobe's tools are enabling us to keep ahead of revolutionary changes in the way information and entertainment are shared with the world. That should be reassuring (and exciting) news to all of us who use Adobe's tools.
One other fascinating historical parallel to the 1939 World's Fair:
NBC used the event to inaugurate regularly scheduled television broadcasts in New York City over their station W2XBS (now WNBC). An estimated 1,000 people viewed the Roosevelt telecast from about 200 television sets scattered throughout the New York area.
It's about time the internet turned into a "lean back" experience ala TV. We saw the future this week and it's both stunning and immediately available for us to create.
And one more thing...
Anyone who still dismisses Adobe as a strictly PDF or Flash company doesn't have a clue what they're talking about. Adobe is first and foremost a tools company. Their "bet" is on designers being able to accurately get the vision in their heads to the real world more efficiently, not on locking every designer in to a Photoshop license. The "bet" is on developers being able to deliver their applications to more screens as efficiently as possible, not forcing them to target one specific runtime or operating system. Adobe's very existence depends on shipping tools that meet the needs of those two groups - be they for print, HTML-based web applications or Flash-based web applications. "Targeting" HTML5 is nothing more than a continuation of trends that we've seen over and over with Allaire/Macromedia/Adobe: something new emerges (electronic publishing, the web, animation, browser wars, multimedia, new platforms) and Adobe responds by offering tools to help us bring that stuff to the masses. We're not married to Adobe - we're in a long term relationship with a company committed to the community that supports it. That's the way it ought to be - and their responsiveness to emerging technologies (not threats!) is one of our best assets.
I loved this year's MAX. I left exhausted and inspired to do way, way more on devices I had never expected to touch. That's one very effective conference, and one I plan on attending again next year.
Go. Create. And until next year's MAX, go to your local user group. They'll be talking about this stuff all year long!