Antti Kupila

Personal Blog, Portfolio and Online playground

View over the green room at Sid Lee, Montreal

Just my 99 cents

It’s MacWorld ’09 tomorrow. Two years ago Apple announced the first iPhone and people were immediately pretty psyched about it. As always the final product was kept super secret until the big boom. Sure there was speculation around it but looking back now i don’t think anybody could expect what this platform would actually create.

Other phone manufacturers have released new devices for years. Apple comes in with their first model (i don’t count the 3g one as a second model, it’s just an update to the specs) and all of a sudden pretty much all other manufacturers are trying to imitate them. Even RIM released a touch-screen blackberry (a touchscreen only device designed for email? really?) to be their “iPhone killer”. The problem though is that imo everybody else seems to be missing the point. It’s not about the touchscreen or the sleek looks. It’s about focus on usability. I think mr Jobs put this in words saying (i’m paraphrasing) that very few people use more than one or two features on their phones. He wanted the iPhone to change that. People thought, and still do if i ask people that don’t follow tech that much, that you for instance don’t really need to have the internet in your pocket. I think the reason for this is that the experience sucked to much before. Think of it, did you need the all mighty intertubes 15 years ago? No, because it didn’t offer you anything. You could surf sites with a text-only lynx browser with very little usable content. Now though i would bet that very few of the readers of this site don’t use the web almost daily.

Please keep in mind that this article is purely some thoughts put to black on white; what this offers to me, my work and interests ;)

The Apple way

Apple has traditionally been known for restricting their products. Some people say that they tell you what you like before you even know it yourself. After a while you don’t know how you could survive without it. The biggest difference with OS X from windows is that it only runs on mac computers (yes, there are exceptions). This way Apple has 100% control over the entire process and can avoid unexpected issues (such as the driver issues Vista has had). The more control you have, the easier it’s for you to affect things.

This “Apple way” has led to a somewhat cult following of the brand. An mp3 player is called an iPod even if it’s manufacturer doesn’t have a fruit in its corporate identity. The psychological effect they have on their customers, even if we ignore the hardcore apple fan boys and girls, is pretty amazing. Kids give pet names to their iPods! Apple is, after all, a company with one goal: profit. The mantra of the company is still to offer something that the consumers want so that they’ll like you and happily buy your “overpriced” products. It’s kind of the same thing with google, offering a lot of stuff for free, to get a lot of users that they can then advertise to. Very different from a lot of the bs marketing where companies try to trick you into buying stuff you don’t really want. It’s all about the long-term goal. And it’s working.

So, a cellular device from Apple? If they do stuff differently and aren’t afraid of breaking a couple rules to bring the best user experience they can, their phone must be different. Anybody who’s used an iPhone knows the answer to this. Of course it’s not perfect but it definitely is truly unique. The black sheep if nothing else. I would bet that no other phone (with the same level of  sophistication) is as easy to use. You click the icon with the safari icon and you surf the web exactly as you would on your laptop. Well, “exactly” is the wrong word; the key here is that it’s not just a ported platform, everything is unique here and specifically designed for a mobile platform. Screen estate is a difficult problem we can’t solve without big steps in technology, it’s either too small to fit content or too big to fit in your pocket. The zooming feature in mobile Safari is a smart solution for this. In addition Apple has excellent guidelines for UI design that they provide to developers of their platforms. While a lot of the content seems somewhat obvious i would recommend you to look at them, even if you’re not planning on doing any development for the Apple platforms.

Rotten Apples?

I can’t believe that people still complain about mms. Seriously, who uses mms? Yeah, people who think text messages are high tech. You see, Apple is teaching the herd that mms sucks and email is the way to go for multimedia messages. If everybody else’s phone wasn’t from the stone age there wouldn’t be an issue here. Flash support is another one people complain about. This makes sense considering how far Flash has come; you really can’t surf the web without seeing some Flash content every day. There’s a lot of problems with Flash on a mobile device though, a major one being it killing the battery. Also imagine running your brand new awesome fullscreen papervision based game on a 10 year old computer with a screen resolution of 480×320. The experience is going to suck, bad. In addition to this Flash conflicts with one of the major sources of revenue for the iPhone; the app store. If people can just use flex apps online, there’s less reason to build native software for the iPhone. In addition to the dollars Apple also loses control. We’ll see what’s going to happen here; imaging the iPhone without Flash (or equivalent) support three years from now seems weird. This said, i’ve got to say that copy-paste is something i don’t see an excuse for, except for potential issues the user interface integration. Other things are more hardware related that Apple doesn’t have too much control over (yet, they bought P.A. Semi, a chip microprocessor design company.. ;) ).

Boom.

The app store is what i think is the major breakthrough with the iPhone. Pretty much all phones support java but how many of you have ever purchased or even downloaded for free any apps? The audience of this site may be more techy but the average Joe will only connect the word “java” with coffee. The thing is that the consumer shouldn’t have to care about technology; tech is at it’s best when “it just works”. The more magic, the better.

The app store brings the mobile phone as a platform to everybody. It’s what Geocities and Fortune City were to personal homepages a number of years ago. This is both for the end user but also for the developer, the process is just really easy. A developer can really quickly build excellent apps and installing them couldn’t be easier for the end user. No visible technology involved, it just works. Magic!

I hear a “..but Geocities sucked!”. Well yes, those sites were pretty horrible. Also now we see apps like iFart being #1. The production value is much higher but the content/usefulness can be questioned. I’m sure the content will change. Give the platform some time to mature, it’s just a teenager now. Still the more interesting thing with iFart is that it has sold like crazy. After selling something like 100k copies $0.99 each in two weeks the developer’s hourly salary tops the one of those private jetting CEOs’. Impressive. Oh btw, Apple made a couple bucks with that too, which of course is their reason for making it easy for people to do these things. Everybody is happy :) In addition to easy distribution this also fights software piracy extremely well. For most people it’s just too much hassle to do that; just ask yourself how much your time is worth? As long as it’s easier to pirate, pirates will win. Period.

This brings me to my next point too which is pretty interesting, the $0.99 price tag. Developers can choose what they want to charge. Putting a minimum price tag brings back some money while doesn’t hurt the end user’s wallet. Also with the easy setup of iTunes the user doesn’t need to input any credit card numbers, you just point – tap/click – get the app. The developer gets a dime or two. When it’s so simple those 99 cents quickly turn to gold though. Without the distribution set up by iTunes and the app store this kind of profit would be pretty much impossible. Also since apps for the platform are pretty limited (due to many reasons) and since a simple app simply makes a lot of sense development times are generally really short. No single guy could sit at home and write excel in a weekend and then sell it without taking a loan for marketing. With the iPhone he can write an app that’s really simple and still be able to sell it. Apple takes care of the dirty work (hosting, delivery, credit cards..). Of course this lone wolf can’t charge that much but it’s about the long tail instead. He’s much more likely to turn this into profit, or at least with less risk. Funny also how the magic number is $0.99. Compared to this a $1.99 is twice the price = expensive! ;) Look at the prices for pretty much any software for desktops.

All of this of course brings more competition to the business too, which requires the developers to be even more creative to succeed. I can’t see a bad side with this. Competition = good.

The next big thing?

Look at today’s date. It’s 2009. Wow, sounds like we’re living in a sci-fi movie. Comparing to the time just a decade or two ago we kind of are. So, what’s next? That’s the real question. What we’ve seen so far is only the first couple steps. I’m really eager to see where all this goes. Having worked almost solely with web technologies it’s really fun to experiment with a new platform that’s always in your pocket, knows where you are, knows who your friends are, offers wii-like control and still has the same networking and multimedia capabilities that flash has. In addition objective-c as a language is, well, interesting to say the least :) More possibilities = more room for creativity. Awesome.

Of course another big one at the moment is Google’s Android which i’m sure will grow a lot in 2009 with new devices. Still it feels very beta to me and also is clearly aimed more towards developers than consumers. I would vote for ease of use, as Aaron Hillegass (author of the famous cocoa programming for mac os x books) put it regarding Cocoa and Objective-C: “common things should be easy, uncommon things should be possible”. If you start with focusing on enabling everything you easily miss core problem. Larry Page from Google said that they don’t want to lock anything down and let the developers do whatever they want. Very different from Apple’s approach. We’ll see how this goes.

ps. Having dabbled a bit with objective-c with an actionscript background i was thinking of writing some flash -> iphone/cocoa articles/tutorials. Similar to some other ones seen online, Keith Peter’s in particular. All of this is actually really easy to get the hang of even if the syntax looks pretty weird at first. The development tools are awesome too. If you have requests or ideas, that’s what the box below is for :)

FDT 3.0 Enterprise

The Rolls-Royce of the FDT 3.0 family, Enterprise, was released a couple days ago. This probably isn’t news to you anymore but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

I’ve got to say I’m very happy with where the Powerflasher team has taken this magnificent tool. Today I find it hard to work without FDT mostly because it makes my work so much faster and I can concentrate on what’s important instead of fixing my human errors. Just the fact that i can work for 30min and then compile without any errors (typos etc) is so nice and definitely keeps the creative process going much better than before. There’s a reason the tagline is “pure coding comfort” ;)

The newly released Enterprise version brings more advanced refactoring tools + a similar-to-Flex-builder debugger, both of which are very welcome additions.

FDT 3.0 Enterprise sets you back  599€ for the full version (roughly $950) so make sure you try the product in the 30 day trial to see if it’s worth that much to you.

Check out Carlo Blatz’ present the new features of FDT 3.0 Enterprise.

FDT 3.0 out — in three flavors

My tool of choice, FDT 3.0, has been officially released. No more beta! I was in the beta test program and it has been very exciting to see the progress of this wonderful tool. As I said before, if you haven’t tried it out; please do so. There’s a free 30 day trial too.

FDT Logo

http://fdt.powerflasher.com/

FDT 3.0 packs a whole bunch of features which put the older 1.5 to shame (I won’t even try to compare it to flash, or even flex builder). Features include advanced code completion, an automatic formatter, quick fixes & assists, templates, organizing imports & automatic importign, launchers, semantic highlighting and much, much more. The biggest one though is definitely AS3 support which works like a charm. In short, it has changed the way I work. If Actionscript is the language that brings the bread to your table, go give FDT a spin.

I was kind of surprised to see the split into different versions. While I understand this step as a good “excuse” to make some extra cash (which is well deserved), i find it kind of annoyed. I own a license for FDT 1.5, which I bought when I read that the upgrade will be 99€. Now, however, I’m reading this is just for the basic version which is kind of disappointing. 599€ for the enterprise version is still quite a bit more (i definitely want the debugger and advanced refactoring tools).

FDT 3.0 public beta

I’ve been working with FDT for quite some time. There’s no going back to any tool I’ve ever tried (then again I haven’t worked in Flashdevelop, which many developers working on Windows recommend). Still, FDT is awesome, it has changed the way I work. I simply get more error free code out in less time.

Now FDT3 is now open beta, meaning anybody can try it right away! If eclipse is your tool of choice, go give it a test drive.

http://fdt.powerflasher.com/beta/

FDT3 will be 299€ or 99€ when upgrading from 1.5.

Of course you should realize that it’s still in beta status, so judge for yourself if you want to use it for production work. The private beta has been updated quite frequently and sometimes introduced bugs that made work quite annoying. Keep this in mind ;)

Adobe CS3 release date leaked

Looks like Creative Suite 3 will be released in about 3 weeks, on April 20th!

Canada’s Amazon has put up info about the CS3 package with images of the boxes (which are really pretty!), with the info we want to hear: “Availability: This item will be released on April 20, 2007″.
Now that we know the prices, release date, ui (photoshop cs3 beta) + icons and what’s included in each cs3 package, i guess it’s just the waiting part that’s left.

3 – long – weeks .. :)

http://www.amazon.ca/s/ref=pd_rhf_s_1/701-7717386-6425965?ie=UTF8&search-alias=…

Photoshop CS3 beta released

Yes, you read the title right. It’s out, since yesterday (just didn’t have time to write about this, due to my flight to finland).
This is especially good news for us Intel mac users, since the beta is universal. A windows version is of course also available.

Photoshop CS3 beta about window

I’m not going to write a full scale review or whavetever of the new version, since I haven’t had the time to experiment with it so much yet. Still, I gotta say the new interface is really smart. It scales according to your needs, and doesn’t have any loose palettes, similar to the After Effects 7 interface. All palettes can be accesses with one click of a button, so you don’t have to navigate in the window menu, or remember shortcuts anymore. You really gotta try it to see what I mean.

Another interesting feature is smart filters, which work like adjustment layers. You can change the options later on. This is great when working with filters on for example photographs. Sweet! Other sweetness such as improved 32-bit image handling is also available.

A new feature, open gl zoom, which will be included in the final release, is missing from this beta.

Update: It’s blazing fast. Oh man, you really don’t need to wait for anything. Also it as loads and loads of really smart features. This is a much bigger upgrade than cs1 -> cs2! Been doing some small photo manipulation and graphics for my new site, and I can say I’m really noticing the difference! Now I’m just hoping for a similar release for Flash and After Effects.

Read more about Photoshop CS3
Download Photoshop CS3.

Great work from Adobe, again.

The Expo-C conference

Today I, Arwid Thornström and Joel Larsson participated in the Expo C conference at the marine museum of Karlskrona, Sweden. The conference was about software development and testing, which isn’t exactly my area, but was still very rewarding, since several big figures in the software industry spoke about their methods of development. These methods can of course also be implemented in for example flash development.

People at the previous Expo-C

After Helena Ola’s (Ericsson) brief introduction Jimmy Nilsson (JN System Konsult) took over and spoke about TDD, Test-Driven Development. He has a background in .NET development and gave a couple very good examples that illustrated easily what he was talking about. With TDD you test your code all the time, which makes it a lot easier to avoid bugs. I’m sure I’ll try to implement these ideas in my flash development. Flash of course isn’t as advanced or widespread (not to mention the different targetgroup & use) as .NET when it comes to coding, so development tools and frameworks are pretty limited. With some googling I found Actionscript 2 Unit, which apparently can be used in a similar way (the website didn’t work at the time of writing) as the framework Jimmy used during his presentation. I’ll look into that when I have the time. Hope they’ll get that site online again..

Jimmy Nilsson and Niclas Nilsson at the previous Expo-C

After this Dr. Aybüke Aurum from the University of New South Wales, Australia spoke about maximizing product value in software development. Among other things she spoke about a study about decisionmaking in companies, conducted in several countries, mostly with telecommunication and IT companies. The whole speech was more business oriented, stating that the product value is not the cost of development, but the perceived customer value. Good point.

Anders Sixtensson from Softhouse then spoke about a project management method called Scrum. This was pretty interesting and totally new to me. With this method, in short, the entire team split into about 5-9 person scrum groups who get a task and then work on it for 2-4 weeks and deliver their work. Each group has a scrum leader who works almost like a project manager, and is responsible for the group. The group meets every day for a short meeting, to see what has been done. The scrum leaders always meet after a sprint (the 2-4 week period). They then get new top priorities on the backlog and start working on new tasks. I can imagine this is a really nice way of working, as you as a developer can focus on one task and one task only for the sprint. No clients coming to say “no no no, let’s do this and this instead”. Of course this might lead into some duplicate work, but in the long run it’s supposed to work well. Anders also took an example project with 58 people working on it, and mentioned a project where over 1000 people had worked in scrum groups. So, apparently it also works very well with bigger projects. Definitely something to look closer into.

Niclas Nilsson from Activa then continued on what Jimmy started earlier, except “taking it to the next step”: BDD, Behavior-Driven Development, a method of coding developed by Dan North. To describe the difference between DBB and TBB Niclas said a quote he had heard at a conference last year “if you just change the word from ‘test’ to ‘should’ in your test cases, people will suddenly understand TDD”. This of course can be a bit over the head, so he continued with explaining it more closely. With TDD you write something, then do a test that ensures what you just wrote does what you want. With BDD you decide what you want to do, and write it accordingly. My explanation of course is extremely simplified. You set goals using a story that defines the whole development process in tiny pieces. The story can also be understood by clients, projects managers and other less technical people as it usually is something like “Given X when Y then Z”. Niclas Nilsson’s blog post about BDD is good to read to continue on the topic.
This was again something new to me that gave me some “aha!” experiences. Cool

Daniel Häggander from HL&L Computer Systems then had a short session titled “Non functional demands – how do we catch the ofter implicit needs of the customer”.

To end the day we had discussions in smaller groups, going thru some questions that were raised during the day. This gave a new perspective to everything said, as questions could directly be asked to the speaker, and more specific answers, with examples and more specific explanations were given.

The images here are from the previous conference held earlier this year. I’m sure pictures from this conference will come to the Expo-C website anytime soon.

All in all, even if the focus of the conference wasn’t exactly what I’m doing, it was really nice and inspiring. It will definitely help us when when we’re structuring work for developing the Crew 12 site. Applauds :) The entire conference was also extremely well organized, and I can definitely recommend it to anyone in software development or management.

Adobe kuler

Yesterday (or officially today, according to Adobe’s blog post) Adobe Labs has released a new Flash Actionscript 3 based online application called kuler.

kuler - color (explore + create + share)

This application is an online color schemer application designed both as a standalone application and to complement the creative suite. You can also save your schemes, view other people’s schemes, rate them and download the ones you like as Adobe Swatch Exchange (.ASE) files, to be directly used in CS2 applications, as well as other formats that can be used in specific Adobe applications.

More information about kuler
Try Adobe kuler

Adobe Soundbooth beta

An interesting move from Adobe. Adobe Labs has released a public beta for a new sound editing software, called Soundbooth, competing closely with Apple’s SoundTrack Pro. The usage, however, is different, Adobe Soundbooth is targeted more towards creative professionals, and not so much audio pro’s.

Adobe Soundbooth

As Adobe already has Adobe Audition, also for sound editing, this is still an interesting move. Here’s a quote from an interview with Hart Shafer, senior product manager for Adobe Audio products, done by Macworld by Jim Dalrymple:

Adobe said that Soundbooth was designed from the ground up with the video and Web workflow in mind. While many professionals have to be able to manipulate audio, they don’t necessarily need the vast feature set that many high-end audio applications offer.

For me this seems very nice, as Adobe Audition seems a bit overkill and as I use other Adobe products on a daily basis, the logic should be the same, making it easy for me and frankly, quite many others, to get into the product. Nice :) Soundbooth will be a very familiar application for Adobe’s customers, explained Shafer.

Soundbooth is immediately available for download for intel based macs (PowerPC’s are, and will be, excluded) and pc’s

http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/soundbooth/

Firefox 2.0 released

Firefox 2.0 is now out, altho not officially as it’s not up on getfirefox.com yet. The official release should be any time soon. Still it’s now freely available at firefox releases:

Windows: http://releases.mozilla.org/pub/mozilla.org/firefox/releases/2.0/win32/en-US/
Mac: http://releases.mozilla.org/pub/mozilla.org/firefox/releases/2.0/mac/en-US/

You've Updated To The Latest Version of Firefox

Before this i wasn’t using firefox 2, mostly due to the lack of support for some extensions I’m using (for which I found a work-around later, but was too lazy to upgrade & fix..). Still, now this seems pretty nice, almost had forgot about it.
Back then, with the beta (which was some time ago!), firefox also crashed from time to time, now it seems pretty stable (using the en-us on OS X).

Some nice new features here, especially microsummaries seem like a good idea to make websites more usable for the end user. Smart idea. Another feature that’s pretty handy for me is that you can configure your default feed reader. Then again of course anybody who’s reading this probably already knows about these ..
Anyway, if not, read on about the rest of the new features here.

Update: It’s now officially out