Archive for June, 2010

Mobile Delusions Part Two

June 21, 2010

Lest you forget, 2010 is the year of the mobile device. It’s a subject I blogged earlier this month, and it’s a subject I’m returning to now in order to add further clarity.

That first blog on mobile delusions tackled the thorny issue of return on investment (ROI). In that posting, I suggested that busineses must think carefully before rushing head first into mobile development.

Well thought-out business plans, I suggested, will always win in the long run. That statement remains as true as ever; in fact, its resonance has increased as the proliferation of different smart phones continues to rise.

 If you’re asked to think about handheld devices, it’s more than likely you’ll think of one specific phone and operating platform. That selection might be pushed by your personal preference for a BlackBerry or Nexus One, but the vast majority of people will immediately think of an Apple iPhone.

 Why is the iPhone so all consuming? Consumer and media hype certainly helps: you don’t see national TV news coverage of people queuing round the block to get hold of a new BlackBerry device. For Apple, every new device is a national – no, global – event (see earlier blog on the iPad).

 Apple has been smart. It’s beautifully designed gadgets appeal to a ‘fanboy’ mentality, where the ‘Twittering’ elite will have you believe that each new Apple device is representative of a new era of social and technical development.

 To be fair, some of Apple’s devices are great. The iPod helped make digital music a portable reality. It’s continual development through the iPhone showed how openness can spawn great application development.

 But the iPhone is just one device in an increasingly crowded marketplace. According to analyst Gartner, Apple’s iPhone represents just under 15% of the global smart phone operating system market.

 The proportion, although significant, lags well behind Research in Motion and Symbian, the latter of which still accounts for almost half of the smart phone market. The conclusion is simple: developers will have to look beyond the Apple ‘fanboy’.

 An app designed for an iPhone should be easily portable across all mobile operating systems. Considerable market fragmentation means an app that has limited appeal for one group might be more attractive on another platform, particularly for BlackBerry users that desire enterprise interactivity.

 Which brings me back to the difficulties of getting an ROI from mobile development. Fragmentation and differentiation means you need to be learning about how you can make mobile pay.

 And the best way to create an ROI is through web-based apps that can easily cross platforms, rather than platform-specific software.


iPad an evolution not a revolution !

June 21, 2010

What’s been the big UK story of the last couple of months? The Icelandic ash cloud has certainly garnered some significant column inches and the General Election has been a definite headline hogger.

Yet one topic – the launch of the Apple iPad – has received attention way in excess of its news value. Not that the iPad isn’t a significant technology launch; as I detail below, the portable device requires a new approach to application development.

But how significant is a technology launch? At the time of writing, ash receives 50,000 Google News results; Apple receives 55,000. Could any other company receive so much media attention, eclipsing a once-in-a-lifetime volcanic eruption that has led to huge economic and social consequences?

The answer, of course, is no. While Apple devices are beloved by the media clique, they are only – lest we forget – well designed computers. And while the excitement surrounding their products is excessive, an element of sensible analysis that understands the potential impact of the iPad is required.

Much has been made of the device’s form; what actually is an iPad? Wikipedia – again, at the time of writing – refers to the iPad as a tablet computer that is “unlike many older laptops”. As understated definitions go, that takes some beating – particularly given the level of media hype associated to the device.

So, let’s be clear. What makes the iPad different is its resting place in the middle ground between smart phones and laptops. Its multi-touch screen provides a new way to interact with information in a portable device.

Its intuitive user interface, and Apple’s strong link-up with publishers, will help drive the next generation of electronic books. The device also has a different screen aspect – instead of a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, the iPad screen uses a traditional 4:3 TV ratio.

Analysts have suggested that Apple is trying to find a middle ground between the requirements for publishing, video and gaming. Once again, such converged thinking should be of concern to developers.

Apple is far from taking an all-encompassing approach to software and services. Rival technology giant Microsoft has talked about its three-screen strategy, an attempt to ensure that Windows can give people access to information on the PC, television and mobile phone.

For developers, the message is clear: do not make the mistake of creating an application for a single platform. In the future, successful developers will have to accommodate applications to fit more than one screen size.

 While the iPad isnt the social and economic revolution suggested by media type, it is a significant evolution in technology and developers must be prepared

Further reading


Mobile Delusions

June 14, 2010

2010 – the Year of The Tiger, according to the Chinese calendar – and the Year of Mobile, according to technology experts.

 The plethora of internet-enabled, handheld devices means analysts and journalists are queuing up to report how important mobile will be in this first year of the new decade.

 There’s just one catch; every year – since the hype surrounding WAP at the turn of the Millennium – has meant to be the time mobile comes of age. So, why should 2010 be any different?

 The rhetorical question – given previous false dawns – is a good one. But let’s not be too negative. Now is your opportunity to take the challenges associated with mobile and make a real, lasting difference.

 Mobile is hitting the mainstream this year, but not in the way your business might expect. The high profile nature of certain platforms – notably Apple’s iPhone – will mean the IT department is likely to come under pressure to create a public-facing app.

 Before you follow the herd, take a step back and think about the business reasons. How will your application create a return on investment (ROI)?

 Take mobile banking as an example. Certain high profile financial institutions are heavily promoting their newly created iPhone Apps as a way of completing banking on the move.

 Great, but how many people will really want to complete banking transactions on their mobile phone? First, not everyone will have an iPhone; of those that do, not everyone will want to use their iPhone to complete banking.

 Second, think of the interface. Not every transaction is best suited to being completed in the palm of the hand. Third, think of the security implications. Many consumers all still not keen to undertake home-based online banking, never mind on the move through a portable device (which they often lose or change without wiping data !).

 What you’re left with is probably a small percentage of users that are willing to use their phones to complete transactions. And that means creating an ROI is difficult, especially once you’ve spent a great amount of money developing the app – which is likely to be for one device (the iPhone), rather than multiple platforms.

 Such issues mean you will need to make sure the business understands the challenges and opportunities of mobile. There’s nothing wrong with creating an iPhone app as a means of advertising and as a means of showing your company is first.

 But don’t – at the same time – expect a big financial ROI. Being first has an associated range of pitfalls. And if you’re second, don’t fear about being left and behind.

 Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race. And in the fast-changing year of the mobile, well thought-out business plans will always win in the long run.


Gestures to Help the Business

June 3, 2010

Business IT is now all about the consumer. The CIO faces a series of demands from employees keen to use high-end consumer hardware and software in the business.

 Such demands present significant challenges, such as technology integration, fears over openness and potential security risks. When it comes to the continued development of these challenges for leading executives, there is good news and bad news.

 The bad news is that consumers – particularly those entering the business – are only likely to become more demanding. With converged technology in their pockets and detailed personas online, blue chip firms will find it difficult to lay down the law for tech-savvy users.

 However, the good news is that the next wave of consumer technology is also likely to produce significant benefits to the business. Take Project Natal, Micorosoft’s controller-free entertainment system for the Xbos 360 console that should be released by the end of the year.

 Motion-controlled technology has been in-vogue for gamers since the launch of Nintendo’s Wii in late 2006. The system, which allows the user to control in-game characters wirelessly, has been a a huge commercial and technical success.

 Natal is likely to take such developments to the next level, giving Xbox 360 users the opporuntity to play without a game controller – and to interact through natural gestures, such as speaking, waving and pushing.

 Maybe that sounds a bit too far-fetched, a bit too much like a scene from The Matrix? Think again – early demonstrations show how the technology could be used in an interactive gaming environment.

 But that’s really just the beginning. With Microsoft pulling the strings behind the technology, Natal is likely to be provide a giant step towards augemnted business reality – where in-depth information can be added and layered on top of a real physical environment.

 The future of the desktop, for example, will be interactive. Employees will be able to use gestures to bring up video conferencing conversations and touch items on the desktop to bring up knowledge and data.

 Employees in the field, on the other hand, will be able to scan engineering parts using their mobile devices. Information send back to the head office will allow workers to call in specific parts and rectify faults.

 The implications for specific occupations are almost bewlidering. Surgeons will be able to use Natal-like interactions to gain background information on ill patients; teachers will be able to scan artefacts and provide in-depth historical knowledge to students.

 The end result is more information that can be used to help serve customers better. And that is surely the most important benefit of next-generation consumerisation.

 Further reading