Flex 5: Everything you’ve been wanting to know

Hello Flex users! This is Branden Rosenlof, the Senior Learning Specialist at Flex. I have been spearheading the design, prototyping, and user experience research of Flex 5 the HTML5 rewrite of Flex. We began this ambitious project several months ago and we wanted to peel back the curtains for all users and explain what exactly Flex 5 is, where we’ve been and where we’re going.
This post will answer the following questions: What is Flex 5? What is the current status of the Flex 5 project? What are the short and long term goals for the Flex 5 project?

What is Flex 5?

Flex 5 is the new version of Flex that will be coded with an HTML5 user interface (UI) that will eventually replace our Flash UI. Years ago when Flex was being built, Flash was the best solution for programming a robust UI for a web-based application. While Flash has served us well for many years, it has become somewhat outdated. After spending some time researching our best options, we decided to update the Flex UI using HTML5, as it offers the tools we need to develop a rich, interactive UI, and is standardized and consistent across platforms and browsers. 
After deciding that HTML5 was the way to go, we had some important questions that needed to be addressed before we could actually start moving forward with the project:
1) How will Flex be accessed on mobile devices? As a dedicated app, or through a mobile web browser?

Since HTML5 is not restricted on some mobile platforms like Flash, it opens up a world of possibilities in terms of compatibility and scalability across platforms. Our initial idea was to just rewrite the desktop version of Flex in HTML5, then have it scale down to different screen sizes depending on the device that you were using. It was a good idea on paper, but we started realizing that there were many programming challenges we would have to overcome to make this work. Additionally, this method didn’t provide a streamlined user experience, since a user would have to launch a web browser on their mobile device, navigate to their Flex site, and login every time they wanted to use Flex. Not a deal breaker by any means, but also not incredibly convenient.

So we decided that the best way to go would be to develop each platform separately using HTML5—phone, tablet, and desktop. The tablet and phone versions of Flex 5 will be available as downloadable apps. And yes, since the apps will be written in HTML5, we will be able to deploy them to various operating systems easily without having to develop separately for each operating system. I’m looking at you, Android users.

2) Are we going to mimic the current Flex UI, or experiment with new ways to make the UI and navigation of Flex more efficient? 

We are still considering how much we want to change in the Flex UI. As Chris, our CEO, is known to say, Nothing is sacred” when it comes to re-developing Flex. But at the same time, we don’t want to change Flex so drastically that it becomes a completely different product. We know that many of our customers were drawn to Flex because of its UI and visual appeal. So we’re working with customers closely and making sure that we are making the right decisions. 

Now, that’s all in regards to the desktop version of Flex 5. The tablet and phone versions will definitely have a new look and feel because we are designing them in a way that works best for use on each device. There will still be plenty of things in the tablet and phone versions that are familiar, but quite a bit will be rethought and redesigned so you can have the best experience using Flex.

3) Do we also use this opportunity to address some of the lingering issues with Flex’s back end?

I will let Roger Diller, our technical lead, answer this in his upcoming post. But I will say that we are taking full advantage of this rewrite, and will be digging deeper than just the UI so we can tackle some long-standing speed and performance issues. This, in part, is why the process has been taking a bit longer. We aren’t just redesigning a new Flex UI. In a sense, we’re redesigning Flex from the ground up.

What is the current status of the Flex 5 project?

The tablet version of Flex 5 is in active development. We have a working beta version that can connect to a live Flex database and we are working on a great set of features for version 1 (contact management, inventory management, warehousing, and more). Eventually we will release version 1 of Flex 5 tablet, then focus on releasing a version 1 of the phone app. From there, we will continue releasing new versions of the tablet and phone versions with new features, bug fixes, etc., while concurrently working on the desktop version. 

What are the short and long term goals for the Flex 5 project?

The big question we keep getting is WHEN?” One of the many challenges with a massive undertaking like this is that it’s difficult to estimate when the product will be finished. Our goal is to begin rolling out version 1 of tablet in the second half of 2017. I know that is vague, but we’ve learned from the past that promising exact dates can be tricky.

Flex 5 Introductory Webinar

On Tuesday January 31st we held a webinar to introduce Flex 5 progress to our users. It was a well attended event and everyone came away excited for what's coming ahead. Check out the video below!

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