RC Flex 4.5 Hits and Misses – Part 1

I am flying back home and want to share some thoughts on what has been happening in the last 4 days here in Denver. Obviously, you know about all announcements related to Flex 4.5. The sessions were very well prepared and extremely useful for majority of the developers. A lot of information was provided in more informal sessions. The community was as excited and enthusiastic as ever. And yet I am leaving with a feeling that Adobe’s marketing message is missing the point.

The main message of the conference was: now you can develop great applications for mobile – and with minor tweaks it will work on all MOBILE devices from phones to tablets. I disagree with this message. Concentrating on mobile at the expense of the desktop is a big mistake. Let me explain.

Our company – Farata Systems – have been working on Flex for mobile technologies for about 16 month now – on IoS and Android. At the conference I presented the View-based application for insurance agents that was written with mobile toolkit. Despite the fact that it was written with mobile toolkit, our application does run in browser, desktop and tablet – all from the same source. We run a small fraction of the app on the phone as well, mostly as a remote assistant to the main application. Here we do high-tech tricks like letting the customer to sign with his finger (or a felt pen), swipe his credit card, speed up data entry via voice recognition etc.

Unfortunately, one can not develop desktop View-based applications out of the box. We had to substantially tweak the components and skins. And I think this shortcoming will hurt success of the Flex, if it is not addressed by Adobe for the benefits of all developers.

Here is why I think it is crucial. There are about 100K Honeycomb devices sold. By the time Flex will catch up with IoS – June – the number of sold iPads maybe will reach 3-4 Millions . My estimate is that less then 20% of the users (in case of our application the clientele are independent insurance agents) would have necessary hardware. However, all 100% have access to web on laptops and netbooks, and 80%+ are allowed to run desktop AIR. We, at Farata, can not justify development of multiple versions of the software for desktop(Air), web (Flex Hero) and mobile (Flex Hero Mobile) – and I can not imagine many other companies doing so! Aside of development issues, I can not imagine training and supporting 3 different user experiences (with obviously different UIs).

Not only Adobe has to fill the gap. Developers should adjust as well: as conventional OS-es are becoming gestures based (please see preview of Apples Lion coming this summer) – and very much like tablet ones, developers should not design and develop multiple experiences either. I mean they should abandon legacy UI metaphor and deliver seamless experience across platforms.

Anatole Tartakovsky

5 thoughts on “RC Flex 4.5 Hits and Misses – Part 1

  1. Just because the data 2 different clients (desktop and mobile) access is the same does not imply that the views must be a “seamless experience”. I’ve learned to accept (reluctantly) that the two client platforms are two very different beasts. As long as you have a thick client code base, mobile will require additional man hours to maintain on top of the desktop. Mobile has been very hot for the last 2 years but I have yet to see any companies monetize well trying to migrate desktop users away from the desktop experience.

  2. Hilary,
    Please see announcement of Flex 4.5 – it talks in details of mobile toolkit

  3. Mark,
    As soon as you accept that client code base is different your management has to accept the cost and time involved in development of two experiences, which in poor man terms comes as 3-4 times of the cost of a single platform. As you add independent platforms that had to maintain data and workflow compatibility the whole process becomes management nightmare. At any rate case for flex as UI tool flexible enough for all platforms is lost. That is something Adobe has to prevent at any cost.

    This year hardware for tablets will break the mark needed to require companies to support them. A lot of our clients allow their employees to use tablets instead of laptops. With more productive applications / better consumer experience available on tablets we have clients that would require their employees to use tablets if the software is good enough. Now, how many IT departments can double/triple the development.

    There is a difference between hot technology that can turn cold in a week ( see the second posting of the necessities of integration with native platform) and cool well defined technology that allows you to migrate on your pace. Flex 3 to 4 transition was painful enough and a lot of shops are still using mx. Creating incompatibilities within the same version is just beyond any reasonable expectations.

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