The speaker interviews: Brian Fling

In the first of our speaker interview for Webstock 2010, we talked with Brian Fling. In addition to speaking at the main conference, Brian is also taking a workshop, ‘Designing mobile experiences‘.

1) The past year has been pretty busy for you. Tell us what you’ve been up to.

What? It has been a year already? Wait… it is 2010 already? Actually the past year was crazy, challenging and fun all at the same time. The first part of the year I was finishing up my book, Mobile Design and Development followed almost immediately with starting up the mobile agency, pinch/zoom.

Since then we’ve had the opportunity to work on some fantastic projects with some amazing clients. While iPhone apps have been our mainstay, we are certainly seeing an increased need for other app platforms and a renewed interest in the mobile web.

But my main focus these days is helping people “get” that the interactive landscape is not the same as it was one or two years ago. These little mobile devices, that we sometimes call “phones” are changing everything.

2) Nexus or iPhone?

I’m an iPhone guy. I bought a Nexus One and while it is a pretty sweet little device, I still think the Android user experience is lacking. It is as if it is living in a time prior to the iPhone. And I don’t just mean the user interface, I mean the total experience. People are expecting a lot out of these smartphones these days, from form factor, to UI, to services, and I think the iPhone is the only one that offers a complete package.

3) Looking further ahead, give us a snapshot five years into the future. What’s the relationship between mobile, web, ubicomp look like? Who are the players in this space? What’s the endgame?

You didn’t just say five years did you? If you think about it, it took us nine years to put all the guts of the original iMac into what we now call the iPhone… and it is a phone too!

I try to look at the future as what we know now:

• We know that the always on, ubiquitous network is here. The pipe is pretty constrained today, but there is new tech on the horizon that has the opportunity to fatten it and change the way we look at the network in the process. I think roaming data plans and mobile payments are the next big hurdles that we face, but I expect more here within the next few years.

• We know the cloud is here to stay, but I think instead of thinking as one big amorphous cloud, I think we will see lots of small local or regional clouds emerge. Basically information and services that are highly relevant to my location, but are also highly connected to everything else.

• We know that all devices will increasingly be on the network, and they won’t just be phones. Machine to Machine (M2M) communications is growing fast, especially in the US where billions of stimulus dollars are infused to put everything on the network. But I think of it this way: If it has power, it is on the network. If it has a screen, it has a web browser.

So to answer your first question, I no longer see a difference between mobile and web. It is all mobile, and it’s all on the web.

As far as players, I think we will continue to see Apple play a crucial role in the space for many reasons that a lot of their competition hasn’t even begun to rival. They have redefined the mobile ecosystem in a way only Apple can. Even big names like Nokia, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung and RIM will be hard pressed to compete as long as they serve the operators first and users second.

An endgame? The user… always. Mobile, like no other medium, highlights the importance of user needs. I’ve seen even a basic mobile strategy cobble large companies because they can’t figure out how to shift to being a more people-centered organization.

4) You were a judge in this year’s ONYAs. How did you find that? Any comments on the quality of what you saw?

Overall the entries were pretty awesome. Some of the design was some of the best I’ve seen. However I was a bit disappointed to how some interpreted what is means to be “accessible.” Accessibility isn’t just about technologies like screen readers, it is how your content will be interpreted by things other than humans, like mobile devices, search engines, or even other websites or applications. Poor accessibility traps your content into a single presentational format, the death knell of a by-gone era. With devices like the iPad, eReaders and other mobile/netbook hybrids looming, content must be fully accessible or die.

I also have to admit that while reviewing the entries I went into a prolonged and ill advised tirade on Twitter about Flash. Tasty nuggets like: “The future of the Web simply doesn’t have Flash in its roadmap. Devices that can’t support will become the major mode of access on the web.” and… “Flash will never come near to being ubiquitous on the *thousands* of different types of devices on the network.”

5) You’re giving a workshop at Webstock on “Designing Mobile Experiences”. Who should attend and what will they learn?

Anyone. I try to make sure I have something for everyone. In fact I make a point to talk to everyone before we begin to make sure I understand their background and needs and adapt the workshop of the fly to the people in the room. So no two of my workshops are ever the same. We will cover a lot of ground from how to create a cross platform mobile strategy to building prototypes and testing them. In some workshops we make awesome prototypes and in others we coded up apps.

We’ll cover some things that are specific to iPhone and even the iPad, but I always make sure to abstract it out to the patterns I’ve seen in other mobile application platforms I’ve worked with over the years. My goal is to make sure that everyone, regardless of their level walking into the workshop, walks out with a firm understanding of mobile, gets the basic principles of strategy and design and how to take it back to their organization and take it to the next step.

Thanks Brian. We’re really looking forward to having you here! And re the future for Flash, well, you’re not the only one. *cough* Steve Jobs *cough*

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