What’s Your Mobile Strategy?

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak to a media distribution vendor who posed the question “Does your University have a mobile strategy?” Absolutely we do- at least my group of developers does. We’ve had the same strategy for a number of years now and that strategy is to hold and observe. This strategy will be modified slightly with the advent of Flash Player 10.1 for mobile devices next year to one of active, holistic, cross-platform development.

motorola-droid-flash

The vendor in question was visiting to inform us of their specialized video capture and delivery solution. This solution is heavily tied to the iPhone and Apple’s set of hardware and software tools. While this may be appealing to those students and faculty with iPhones and iPod Touches, the emergence of a number of Android-powered mobile devices deserves some real consideration, and the Windows Mobile, RIM, and Palm devices are nothing to dismiss either. If you target the iPhone today, you are greatly restricting the use of your application to one device out of many (which may be perfectly okay for some apps). I’d prefer to write my applications for the widest number of platforms and devices available since this expands the userbase and does not exclude anyone from using the tools I’ve worked hard to create. In a university setting which encourages open exploration of platforms, you need to remain as open and accessible as possible. The Adobe Flash Platform fulfills all of these needs in a platform-agnostic manner.

All major mobile platforms have their own version of an “app store” or “market” in which applications are developed and targeted for that specific platform. But what of current browser-based applications in use by students and faculty? If they are built upon the Flash Platform (as many are) then they have been effectively cut off from use on almost all mobile devices since, as of today, Flash Player is not widely available for mobile. HTML-based mobile apps may be one solution, but their capabilities are restrictive, and you must deal with a great number of cross-browser issues. Today- there is no good solution for this range of applications but to design them with mobile in mind… and wait cautiously for something better to come along.

At the University of Denver, we have a mature media delivery ecosystem (CourseMediaâ„¢) that absolutely requires Flash and AIR for even the most simple usage. Modern web browsers on mobile devices do a great job at rendering HTML-based web apps exactly as they appear on desktop and laptop computers… almost. The most sought-after missing piece of the puzzle is the Flash Player. With no Flash on these devices, web content delivery is severely restricted. There are platform-specific apps for audio and video delivery alternatives through popular services such as YouTube, but what of the plethora of applications that go beyond the simple viewing of video content? As things currently stand- there is no solution!

We are very excited about the upcoming Flash Player 10.1 release as this means that users will effectively be able to use the full toolset we’ve created to manage, explore, and display rich media objects on a wide array of mobile devices. If we do find the need to target Apple iPhone down the road, we can use the same Adobe toolset to compile apps specifically for that set of devices. While this is not ideal in the case of Apple (everyone I talk to desperately wants true Flash on iPhone), the fact that we will soon be able to “write once, deploy anywhere” is simply an awesome thought to ponder.

motorola-droid-cm

So what would be a likely scenario as Flash Player is released for mobile in terms of university usage? I envision faculty preparing media arrangements on their mobile devices while riding public transit with full video editing and annotation capabilities over their provider network. I can see students, later that day accessing this same content in a park or coffee house while studying for an exam that will utilize the same ecosystem through an AIR-based hardware projection system in an upcoming lecture. At first, we developers will not necessarily need to make many changes to the tools that currently exist, users will simply be interacting with mobile devices to do their work instead of sitting at a workstation. As time passes and needs arise, we will be able to modify our tools to better suit this approaching reality and create new tools specifically for these devices. As the hardware becomes more powerful and the Flash Platform itself evolves in the coming years, there will exist truly great opportunities that forward-thinking universities and corporations would be foolish not to embrace.

Our mobile strategy at the University of Denver CTL is strongly tied with the Adobe Flash Platform and the future of Flash on such devices is especially bright as 2009 draws to a close. Welcome, 2010 and Flash Player 10.1!

References:
Open Screen Project
Flash Player 10.1
Adobe Flash Professional CS5
Mobile Framework ‘Slider’

Flex Builder “Gumbo” Renamed to Flash Builder

Flash BuilderThe obvious reason being that Flash is the overarching platform with many tools, IDEs, runtimes, et cetera and Flex is a framework used to produce Flash content. Flex Builder has always produced Flash (NOT FLEX) and I’ve encountered many people who just never could grasp this fact. This will help clarify things for so many people. Unfortunately, there will probably be a pretty big backlash from some sides as well.

Ted Patrick (@adobeted) announced the change over Twitter this evening. There’s a lively conversation going on now: Join in!

UPDATE:
Read an official statement from Lee Brimelow or Serge Jespers regarding the change.

Google Analytics for Flash (gaforflash)

For some time now, I’ve been using Google Analytics for various personal websites including this weblog. Recently though, we’ve begun using it at my place of employment and have received a request to track user generated events from a live Flash Media Server stream. After poking around a bit and coming upon numerous dead ends, I was lucky enough to stumble upon Google Analytics for Flash (gaforflash).

gaforflash

Not only can you pass in “page views” to be reported just like HTML, but you can also craft custom events in a very customizable format:

trackEvent( FMS, Seek, rtmp://localhost/vod/mp4:test.m4v, 60 )
trackEvent( FMS, Pause, rtmp://localhost/vod/mp4:test.m4v, 8 )
trackEvent( FMS, Play, rtmp://localhost/vod/mp4:test.m4v, 8 )
trackEvent( FMS, Pause, rtmp://localhost/vod/mp4:test.m4v, 10 )
trackEvent( FMS, Play, rtmp://localhost/vod/mp4:test.m4v, 10 )

The “Event” view within Analytics itself is still in closed beta but you can request the UI to be enabled on a profile via this form.

You can also track events with a little cheat. Once logged in, just edit the address bar from “reporting/content” to “reporting/events”. You can even then add it to your Dashboard.

ActionScript 3.0 Client Library for Facebook Platform API

Nice. Adobe has apparently been working closely with Facebook and Jason Crist (original API dev.) to get a nice, solid API for Facebook apps ready for the Flash Platform. As a Flash Platform developer and Facebook user, this is nothing but good news. Very timely, too – as my department is looking to expand into the social media space. I look forward to integrating this into my day-to-day work and our overall codebase!

http://www.adobe.com/devnet/facebook/

Presenting at the VRA Conference

I’ll be presenting my work with Flash Media Server and the DUVAGAII project as part of a panel on March 29th at the Visual Resources Association‘s 25th Anniversary conference. It should be a fairly interesting panel and I will be demonstrating some of the video tools I’ve authored allowing instructors to produce short clips of longer film materials online, at their leisure, for presentation in the classroom and on the web. For anyone interested in using the Flash Platform, Coldfusion, and Flash Media Server for dynamic video delivery, this should be a panel worth attending!

A Burgeoning Beyond Restraint: Delivering Video, Audio, and Image Data to the Classroom

With advances in presentation platforms, file storage systems, and the increasing functionality and power of computer hardware, software, and network infrastructures, there is very little to hold back an educational institution from implementing a full-featured, bleeding-edge multimedia delivery system. During this session, we will demonstrate different systems built to take advantage of these advances in digital technology, and begin a discussion to further advance the development and implementation of such systems, while remaining mindful of very real restrictions placed upon us by fair use and intellectual property considerations.

During this session we will address three important areas software and hardware requirements for storage and delivery, the development and usage of advanced media delivery tools, and a discussion of questions surrounding copyright and security policies.

System demonstrations will include the DU-VAGA media presentation application, the ALORA digital object repository application, and the Media Mill storage, processing and delivery service.