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The Portuguese startup company AREAL-MEDIA is helping produce more than 1000 books per day with their product AdigitalBook, a digital album creation software for amateur photographers developed on Adobe's Flex.
Located in the city of Braga, Portugal, this startup differences itself by targeting amateur photographers and focusing on usability, simplicity and speed.
We wanted to ask this startup how they are doing and how using Flex affects their business. Areal-Media's CEO Pedro Veloso emphasizes several advantages of using this technology and says that Flex helps increasing both productivity and sales.
Dreaming in Flash (DIF) - Tell us a bit about AREAL-MEDIA, how did the company get started? You have been in operations for 5 years now, did you always plan to use Adobe's Flex or was that something that happened along the way?
Pedro Veloso (PV) - In fact, we have been operating in the market for 6 years now. Areal-Media was founded by two people, my partner and I. Areal-Media has held certification according to the ISO 9001:2000 standard since 2007, and changed for ISO 9001:2008 in 2010. In the beginning, the focus of the company was to develop websites. Quickly we understood that we should choose a specific market to focus on so we chose the photography market. Areal-Media has developed products for several business sectors, with the photography sector as its core focus.
We began using Adobe Flex in 2007 when we started developing the AdigitalBook software. We chose this technology because it works well on all operating systems, and with Flex it is possible to create very attractive software layouts.
DIF - How many people did AREAL-MEDIA start off with? How many of the starting founders are still with the company?
Pedro Veloso (PV) - We started with two and are now ten people (7 Flex developer's). I'm the CEO and my Partner is the CTO, which we have been since we founded Areal-Media in 2004.
DIF - How do you differentiate your product Adigitalbook from the other Flex-based digital album creation software, e.g. Blurb.com?
Pedro Veloso (PV) - Before we started developing Adigitalbook, we tested different pieces of software, and we understood what we should do to innovate and bring something new to this kind of software. At that time and even today there aren´t a lot of great applications in the marketplace, in my opinion there are three or four worldwide. AdigitalBook brings more than new features, it brings a new business model to big Labs. A very lucrative business model for those Labs, and with the big advantage to have the same software in both PC desktop and web based versions, it is something new to this type of Application. Also, AdigitalBook has some attractive features like the possibility that users have to create, store and share their own photobooks for free. Users can share their albums on facebook, by email, or with a simple URL. If other people want a printed copy of their friend’s book, they have the ability to purchase it as well.
DIF - Using this technology, it allows you to distribute the software on different platforms (Windows, Mac, Web). How do you grade the importance of using the same code base while targeting these different platforms? Is it really such a big deal?
Pedro Veloso (PV) - Definitively, this is one of the biggest advantages of FLEX. This technology brings to software development companies, like Areal-Media, the possibility to be more productive, reducing the time for bug tracking, testing, and other various time consuming procedures.
DIF - How much time was necessary before you could release the first beta version of Adigitalbook? When was it?
Pedro Veloso (PV) - The first beta version was shown last Year (March 2009) in Las Vegas at PMA2009. The Exhibition was a success and we gained customers all over the world. This year the show was in Los Angeles – Anaheim, we presented the online version (web based) and the new desktop version. As a result of AdigitalBook’s success, Areal-Media is growing up very fast.
DIF - So far, how was been the adoption of the product and the user feedback?
Pedro Veloso (PV) - The best key performance indicator is the number of Albums produced per day with our software, and at this time I can say that our systems estimate processing more than 1000 books/day. This is a very good feeling.
DIF - The user interface of Adigitalbook looks really user-friendly. One can see a lot of time went into designing the user experience. How do you approach this at AREAL-MEDIA and how important is it to assume the focus on usability?
Pedro Veloso (PV) - This software is going to be used by everybody, not only by the Experts. We think of the mother that wants to create a photobook of her son, the people without vast technology experience that want to order a photobook. The software must be easy to use, and we can only get this objective correct if our concern is the user experience. We have changed the layout many times as we tested it with regular computer users. There are many small things that in this type of software, are very important to help for a more intuitive user experience. The user’s photos and album pages must be always visible. Also, the users are able to create a book in an automatic way without any problems. The workflow of choosing, importing, creating, and purchasing is imperative.
DIF - Do you have plans to add further integration with third party services, e.g. Flickr or others? What else does the future hold for Adigitalbook?
Pedro Veloso (PV) - In fact, Adigitalbook has already integrated the API’s to import pictures from Picasa, Smugmug, Flickr, Facebook and photobucket. Also, the user can share the album on his facebook wall. These integrations are already done and working properly. In the near future we will integrate new products in AdigitalBook, like Photo Gifts in 3D. Also, we want to develop a module to synchronise the Web-based Version with the desktop Version.
DIF - How do you market Adigitalbook and how difficult is it to market Flex-based products?
Pedro Veloso (PV) - In fact, the Flex technology helps us to increase our sales of the software. We do not sell this software to small companies. Our target is big labs, and so far the labs that we have sold our software to, have already know about the Flex technology. The attractive layouts, the same software working on different Operating Systems, the same software working in desktop and web based version, are all benefits that we couldn’t do without Flex. AdigitalBook has for nine months now, been a featured offering in the Adobe AIR Marketplace under the Photo and Video Category. Some Labs found our software from the Adobe Marketplace, others found us through the exhibitions that we participate in, with the rest being from our website.
DIF - Would you like to say something to entrepreneurs that are planning to launch Flex-based products and services?
Pedro Veloso (PV) - Well what I can say, is to test AdigitalBook http://demo.adigitalbook.com and ask them if they can do the same using another technology. This technology allows my company to save time and money.
Thanks for the interview!
AdigitalBook demo: http://demo.adigitalbook.com
Flash and Flex frameworks.
Lately I've working on three big projects that would require the usage of a framework, and not wanting to extend my own framework, that consists mostly of accumulated libraries over time, I decided to give the most prominent ones a go.
So I started by checking out what was on the market, I found as-hive, pureMVC, Cairngorm and Mate ( there are a few more but somehow I didn't feel they were mature enough to be used.
First of all I donâ€™t really use flex to do flex stuff and Iâ€™m not a big fan of flex. But in my latest project I had to build with flex an interface witch would be always diferent (a dynamic interface). In the beginning we thought in parsing some type of XML, but if we are in flex why not parse MXML? I took a look over the internet and I only found MXMLLoader component v0.01, witch didnâ€™t compile on flex builder 3 and was really in the beginning. So there it is, as XMMLLoader class for flex builder 3. You just have to instantiate the class with the mxml :
You can access objects by name:
Or by id:
And have access to component events like:
The class with an example:
Loading the swf is easy; you can make a normal loader and load it. And now the tricky part, if the swf is a swf flash file you can call the function you want, but in flex, because it have 2 frames, (first frame is just for loading), you need to wait until frame 2 is available, you canâ€™t also access directly to a swf, you have to refer application before, so thereâ€™s the code:
you can also add Event Listener's to myClip.application , like myClip.addEventLIstener(â€œON_CHANGEâ€,function), so by this way you can embed flex swf into an flash application and communicate with him by calling function and receiving events.
Today our good friend Gabor announced his new baby: Decorator.
Decorator is an Image Generator that exports/print postscript from it. Which means you can print your images a large as you want, without any pixel.
It generates lovely outputs and I can already see the potential to this awsome tool, my living room will love this new way of wallpaper, and the best about it's always unique due to a random seed generator.
I've had the opportunity to try the closed beta, and I must say that I was impressed with the outcome of just a little fiddling with the engine.
Have you ever wondered why Flex doesn't have a nice library like Flash IDE?
You'd love to use Flex but not having that nice little library there puts you off?
Well here's how we do it:
First create your FLA file, then create all the items you want inside (they don't need to be on stage just library will do), be sure to tick 'export for actionscript' and 'export in firstframe', also you can change the base class to something else that will add functionality to your movieclip.
Then in export preferences, tick 'export swc'.
Ok so now we have a nice little SWC file, how do we get it into Flex? Easy
Open project properties, go to Build Path > Library Path and add your SWC file.
Congratulations now you have auto complete goodness on your AS3 Flex Builder application
Just keep in mind that these elements will be exported in the initial load of your website, so if you want to preload them be sure to use the preloader.
These were the news everyone was waiting for, both AIR and Flex3 are out, they're final, ready to be taken by us and pushed to new levels!!!
The details and pricing for Flex3 can be found here and I find them quite accessible for a full version going only for CHF 319.00, it's a bargain for the best Flash/Flex development IDE.
As for AIR it now has a nice little official Adobe link, and they even show an impressive list of clients for a just released product, featuring the likes of ebay and nasdaq.
So get your copy of Flex3 while it's fresh, I know I'll get mine
Ah, also for those of us who live in Europe we'll have plenty of chances to catching the on.air tour here's the link with the dates.
Here's a set of different perspectives in respect to the use of the Model-View-Controller software architecture when using Adobe Flex:
"MVC considered harmful" [weblogs@macromedia]
"How Flex fits the MVC models" [livedocs@adobe]
"The Flex Show - Episode 33: PureMVC Framework" [theflexshow]
Update: The follow-up by Grant Skinner is also a good read on the subject.
After reading about the eBay Flex widget contest over at Doug's blog and seeing eBay changing the contest rules, to allow the use of open-source code licensed under the MIT or BSD licenses, I got curious and went to the site. I registered, got the API access keys and tried a couple of samples they have for download. Just like Doug said: "thought maybe Iâ€™d whip something together and enter".
While I was brainstorming today with Bilou about possible things we could do, I went over to to read the FAQ again and saw this clause:
The eBay Developer Widget Build Off Contest 2008â€ (the â€œContestâ€) is open to legal residents of the fifty United States, the District of Columbia, Canada (excluding the province of Quebec) or the UK;
Since we're in Portugal, I guess we won't be entering this contest anymore. That's bad, why not open the contest for other developers?
Update: Sunny Li, from eBay, was kind enough to reply to us saying that the reason only US, CA and UK are allowed into the contest is purely legal. You can check his response here.