Archive for the ‘MAD – Multiple Access Devices’ Category

Vertical User Experience Platform

July 5, 2012

Whilst discussing what a UXP is and who the key players are with a customer I was asked an interesting question, “is there a need for industry (banking, retail, government …) specific UXP ?”.

My immediate reaction was that the technologies in a UXP were generic horizontal solutions that should be agnostic to the industry they were implemented in. The fact that they were specialised solutions and are not industry specific to me was a key advantage. So why would you want a content management solution or collaboration tool that was specific to banking or retail?

The response was interesting: For many smaller companies the complexity of managing their web presence is huge, even if they buy into a single vendor approach for example using Microsoft Sharepoint they still have a huge task to set up the individual components (content management, collaboration, social tools and apps) and this is only made harder with the need to support an increasing array of devices (phone, tablet, TV etc…).

It seems there is a need for an offering that provides an integrated full UXP that can be set-up easily and quickly without the need for an army of developers. Compromises on absolute flexibility are acceptable provided a rich set of templates (or the ability to create custom templates) were provided, such that the templates handled device support automatically. Further the UXP might offer vertical specific content feeds out of the box.

As in my previous blog “The End of Silo Architectures” using a UXP front end technology to create industry specific apps is a great idea. Such a solution could not only provide the business functionality (e.g. Internet banking, insurance quotes/claims, stock trading) but the technical issues of cross device and browser support, security and performance.

So whilst I can understand the requirement and the obvious benefit, the idea of a vertical UXP to me seems like providing a vertical specific CRM or Accounting package. The real answer is that it makes sense to provide vertical apps and use generic Content, Collaboration and social tools from a UXP. Ideally the generic components are integrated and have easy to configure templates.

As I have highlighted before though the UXP is complex not just from a technology perspective but also from the perspective of skills, processes and standards. The first step for any organisation must be to create a strategy for UXP: audit what you currently have, document what you need (take into consideration current trends like social, gamification and mobile) and then decide how you move forward.

Unfortunately this area currently seems ill serviced by the consultancy companies so it may just be up to you to roll your own strategy.

The end of silo architectures

June 28, 2012

From my discussions with customers and prospects it is clear that the final layer in their architectures is being defined by UXP (see my previous posts). So whether you have a Service or Web Oriented architecture most organisations have already moved or are in the middle of moving towards a new flexible layered architecture that will provide more agility and breaks down the closed silo architectures they previously owned.

However solution vendors that provide “out the box” business solutions whether they be vertical (banking, insurance, pharmaceutical, retail or other) or horizontal (CRM, ERP, supply chain management) have not necessarily been as quick to open up their solutions. Whilst many will claim that they have broken out of the silo’s by “service enabling” their solution, many still have proprietary requirements to specific application servers, databases, middleware or orchestration solutions.

However recently I have come across two vendors, Temenos (global core banking) and CCS (leading insurance platform) who are breaking the mould.

CCS have developed Roundcube to be a flexible componentised solution to address the full lifecycle of insurance from product definition, policy administration to claims. Their solution is clearly layered, service enabled and uses leading 3rd party solutions to manage orchestration, integration and presentation whilst they focus on their data model and services. Their approach allows an organisation to buy into the whole integrated suite or just blend specific components into existing solutions they may have. By using leading 3rd party solutions, their architecture is open for integration into other solutions like CRM or financial ledgers.

Temenos too has an open architecture (Temenos Enterprise Framework Architecture) which allows you to use any database, application server, or integration solution. Their oData enabled interaction framework allows flexibility at the front end too.

Whilst these are both evolving solutions, they have a clear strategy and path to being more open and therefore more flexible. Both are also are providing a solution that can be scaled from the smallest business to the largest enterprises. Their solutions will therefore more naturally blend into organisations rather than dictate requirements.

Whilst packaged solutions are often enforced by business sponsors this new breed of vendor provides the flexibility that will ensure the agility of changes the business requires going forward. It’s starting to feel like organisations can “have their cake and eat it” if they make the right choices when selecting business solutions.

If you’ve seen other solutions in different verticals providing similar open architectures I would be very happy to hear about them at dharmesh@edgeipk.com.

Future of mobile: Part 3

May 13, 2012

Today I have 3 GPS devices, 4 Cameras, 3 Video cameras, 3 movie players, 5 music players and the list goes on. All of these are in a variety of devices that I use in different places for different purposes.

Drilling down into the detail what I actually have is a phone, a desktop home PC, a laptop, an iPod, a car stereo, in-car GPS, a TV+HD/DVD Player, a digital SLR, that’s just me and not including what the family has.

This presents a number of challenges, risks as well as a lot of cost…

Most of us want as little duplication of cost as possible. Already even though cars come with stereos many people are now plugging in their MP3 players, utilising the speakers in the car only. Many people will also use their phone’s GPS rather than the car’s. Newer TV’s have wireless access to browsing and social apps. I’m tempted by the hype of tablet computing, but have to ask myself, why? I have all the compute options I need?

More devices mean more synchronisation issues for personal settings and personal data. While cloud based services will resolve many of these issues, it is still early days to move everything into the cloud as users of MegaUpLoad found.

In 1999 I went to a tech show in Vegas, where I saw a potential solution to the problem from Sony. They were demonstrating the concept of “apps on sticks”. Basically these were memory sticks (max 32mb at the time) with other devices, like GPS, radio and even camera on the stick. The idea was simple you’d simply plug your GPS stick into your phone, laptop, car or any other device, rather than have that function in multiple devices. This approach would have required a lot of standardisation and clearly is a concept that never came to fruition.

More recently Asus have launched their PadFone, this is a smartphone that comes with a tablet screen. When you need to work with a bit more screen estate, you simply slot your phone into the back of the screen and hey presto you have a tablet that can use the 3G or wireless connection on your phone. Apart from being able to charge your phone, the tablet screen also integrates with the phone itself so voice and video calls can be made/received using the tablet screen.

This concept really works for me, and I could see myself buying into the family of products: TV, Car Stereo, projector. This with the ability to have my data in the cloud so losing the phone is not the end of the world, makes for a great solution. Whether the phone slots in, or connects wirelessly the ability to drive a different screen from my phone, either works for me as a concept. Maybe the idea could be taken even further so that the circuitry for the device could be slotted into the phone itself?

As I’ve discussed in my previous blogs there are many new avenues for phones, in shape, size and function. It would be difficult to predict the future with so many possibilities, but one thing for sure is that for gadget geeks like me, the phone is going to be the constant source of innovation we thrive on

Click, touch, wave and talk: UI of the future

May 10, 2012

First there was the Character User Interface (CUI, pronounced cooo-eey) typified by green letters on a black background screen. Then the Graphical User Interface (GUI, pronounced goo-eey) came along with a mouse and icons. Pen interfaces existed in the era of GUI, but now smartphones and tablets are driving many more interaction approaches using touch interfaces.

Now the GUI itself is going through a re-birth on mobile platforms with many more new types of user interface controls than we have seen in the past, we have gone way beyond simple buttons, drop-down lists and edit fields.

Many devices also support the ability to support voice driven operations, and although voice recognition has been around for over two decades, the experience is poor and more recently drastically oversold by the likes of Apple. However this is an area that will is likely to improve radically in the coming years.

The Microsoft Kinnect gaming platform provides yet another innovation in user interaction, a touchless interface using a camera to recognise gestures and movement. Microsoft are already making moves to take this form of user interaction into the mainstream outside of gaming (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16836031), as are many other suppliers and we should see phones and TV’s supporting these this year.

However even some old methods of interaction are being given a new lease of life such as Sony’s inclusion of a rear touchpad and dual joysticks.

So, with all these modes of interaction what does this mean to User Interface Designers? Shouldn’t they really be called User Interaction Designers? How do you decide what is the best mode of interaction for an application? Should you support multiple modes of interaction? Should you use different widgets for different interaction? Should the user choose their preferred mode of interaction and the application respond accordingly? Should the mode of interaction be decided by what the device supports? Are there standards for ALL these modes of interaction?

This emerging complexity of different user interaction methods will raise many more questions than I’ve listed above. So far I have only found little research in this area, but this is a moving target. The other evidence from the mobile world is the rapid change in user behaviour as users get used to working in different ways.

Initially I would imagine most applications to use basic interactions like touch/click so that the widest possible range of devices can be used. However those targeting specific devices will be the “early adopters” for the common interaction mode for that specific device (e.g. 3D gestures on Xbox Kinnect).

In the very long term standards will evolve and interaction designers and usability experts will combine to design compelling new applications that are “multi-interactive”, choosing the most appropriate interaction method for each action and sometimes supporting multiple types of interaction methods for a single action.

Multi-interactive interfaces will make users lives easier, but are you ready to provide them?

Is apple Siri-ous about voice?

May 4, 2012

When I first saw the new iPhone ads that featured voice interaction all I thought was WOW, Apple have done it, they have mastered voice interaction. What appeared to be natural voice interaction is the nirvana many people have been waiting for to replace point and click interfaces.

Speech recognition is not new and certainly both Microsoft and Android had speech driven interfaces before Apple. However it was the ability to talk naturally without breaks and without having to use specific key words that seemed to set Apple apart from the competition.

Instead we were all fooled by another Jobs skill, his “reality distortion field”. Indeed one person went as far as to sue Apple for selling something that did not perform as advertised.

What exactly is the difference? Well both Windows and Android recognise specific commands and actions rather like just “talking the menu” e.g. Saying “File, Open, text.doc”. The Apple promise was that you could simply talk as you would normally speak e.g. “File, Open, text.doc” would be the same from Apple if you said “get me text.doc”.

So why aren’t we there? The challenge is creating a dictionary that can understand the synonyms and colloquialisms that people may use in conversational speech as opposed to the very specific commands used in menu’s and buttons in graphical user interfaces.

Whilst this may seem like a daunting task, I believe the first step to solve this puzzle is to reduce the problem. So rather than creating this super dictionary for absolutely any application, dictionaries should be created for specific types of applications e.g. word processing or banking. This way the focus on creating synonyms and finding colloquialisms and linking them is more manageable.

The next step would be to garner the help of the user community to build the dictionary, so that as words are identified, the user is asked what alternatives could be used so that synonyms/ colloquialisms are captured.

I know this is not a detailed specification but this is an approach that Apple might use to give us what they promised – and what the world is waiting for… speech driven user interfaces.

Is the growth of Mobile Apps overhyped?

March 22, 2012

There are numerous statistics on the growth of mobile apps in the various stores, and also about the number of downloads. Apple claims over 500,000 apps in its store and Google claims over 450,000 (this time last year it had only 150,000). The number of apps, downloads and rate of growth is phenomenal.

Is this just a temporary fever or will this growth continue, and if so what will drive it?

I believe this growth has only just started and that there are two key trends that will drive this growth further.

Firstly, development for smartphones will get simpler. VisionMobile’s latest survey profiles over a hundred development tools for creating mobile apps. My guess is that is a very conservative estimate of the actual number of tools out there.

A common goal for many of these providers is to make programming simpler so that more people can code. For some, this goes further, to the extent that tools are being created for children to develop apps at school. So more developers will mean more apps!

Secondly and this for me is the more exciting aspect, is that phones will do more, which means that apps will get more innovative.

Today there are a wide variety of apps already, some of which use features of the phone itself like the camera, GPS or microphone. Coming down the line are many more features that will get embedded into phones, for example the ability to detect a user emotions and the ability to monitor a users health. Such features will drive yet more applications and innovations from personal healthcare to fraud detection.

Apart from new features, phones will start interact with other devices such as your TV. At a simple level, your smartphone can be already be used as a remote control for your TV or to join in with live TV quiz shows. Already phones are interacting with cars, and this integration will inevitably go further, so that your engine management system feeds your phone with data that an app can use.

Recent surveys from recruitment agencies highlight the growing demand for mobile developers, and more interestingly the re-skilling of developers to position themselves for this growth.

Exciting times are ahead for developers and entrepreneurs who will show that Angry Birds isn’t the only way to make big money in mobile.

Mobile Apps: When to go native

March 15, 2012

Let me say from the outset, that there is no right answer for everybody. The battle between cross-platform solutions and native mobile applications is going to continue for years to come; I know I have blogged about this before, and probably will again.

For many corporate applications, native code offers the marketing group richer customer experiences, the business the chance to innovate solutions using device-specific solutions, and IT some new development tools.

However, if an organisation has to support the widest range of phones possible, the development of native apps becomes cumbersome, since you then need to write apps for each of the major mobile platforms available.

Part of this decision depends on whether you decide to support older phones, i.e. non-smartphones. For non-smartphone support you’ll need to build in support for features from SMS text services to basic text browsers.

Typically this is aimed at operating in developing countries. In developed countries like the UK, the growth of smartphones means that there is now a critical mass of users crowding out lower-featured handsets.

If you decide to target smartphones, then you still have a choice. You can either:

  1. Build for each platform, using it’s own development tools
  2. Use a cross platform mobile development solution, or
  3. Write your app as a browser solution.

So how does an organisation decide which way to go?

I found this useful little questionnaire developed by InfoTech. It takes you through a set of questions about your needs, and then suggests the best way forward between a native solution and a web-based solution.

As a quick guide to review a specific tactical requirement, I thought it was pretty good and asked very pertinent questions. Obviously this is something that an IT department could expand or specialise for their own needs, and so provides a useful structured approach to making impartial decisions without any emotional bias.

Where support for multiple platforms is crucial, a more difficult decision will be whether to use a cross-platform mobile development solution or to go for a pure web (and possibly HTML5) solution.

I’ll discuss this issue in a future blog, but for the time being, check out the questionnaire to start thinking about your mobile approach.

Future of mobile phones (part 2)

March 8, 2012

Previously we looked at the form factor, what shape phones could be in the future. But what will phones do?

Clearly phones are getting smarter and able to do more, so here are some thoughts on the changes that could occur.

Phones replace your laptop/PC

Sometime this year we should see phones with quad-core processors, making them as powerful as some PCs. Following Moore’s law, they will get more and more powerful. And the same goes for storage/memory, although as “cloud applications” improve you will need less on your device.

With this in mind, you could easily see a phone that slips into the back of a tablet which is only a screen. Already, the Motorola Atrix shows that you can have a dockable phone that could replace the need for a PC.

Phones replace your wallet

This one’s not really news at all. Already there are a whole lot of mobile cash/payment solutions, so I won’t go further into this just now. However with NFC (near field communication) expect to be able to pay for things simply by tapping your phone on a till or another phone (e.g. to give your friends money).

Phones replace your keys

Again, NFC could quite easily be used to allow your phones to open car doors, your front door at home and even replace security badges at work. It might be that phones will have multiple slots for NFC chips.

Phones replace your brain

Not literally, but they will save you having to remember things. Growth in memory capacity means that you could have chips that store everything: what you see, say, hear and do. Coupled with powerful search capability you’ll never forget people that you met, actions from meetings and the name of the little restaurant you loved on holiday.

Phones replace your doctor, mechanic…

Google has toyed with the concept of phones with monitoring capability, immediately alerting you of heart, blood pressure and maybe even sugar level issues. Ford have toyed with phones alerting you of servicing needs in a car and other advanced telemetry. Following on from this, there’s no reason why your phone won’t become your central processing unit for anything: your home security, your gas boiler servicing and more. Expect a future where there is a lot more device to device interaction than today (I will write more about this soon).

Phones replace your personal assistant

Already there are apps to help you with everything from planning your train journey to scheduling parties. In the future, your phone will also tell you when you’re close to shops you like or that have offers on things you might like based on your personal tastes.

You may be on holiday, and your phone will let you know where the nearest bathrooms are or how to navigate through a city to make sure you see all sites of interest with the most efficient route possible.

So with all these capabilities phones could be very important. How will be secure something that can so easily be lost? It could be that they move towards biometric security: voice, fingerprint or facial recognition. Or it could be that a secondary NFC chip that is in some jewellery or even embedded inside you grants you access.

This all sounds very futuristic, but some of the features discussed are either already here, or could be within the next five years. It seems phones are going to be part of an important and exciting future for us all.

Future of the mobile phone (part 1)

March 1, 2012

For a few months now I’ve been having conversations with colleagues, friends and family about the future of phones, sad I know but at heart I am still a geek ;o).

I see three possible futures for mobile form factors. Phablets, smartphones, phone jewellery (starting with watches and bracelets, then other jewellery).

The smartphone we all know and love. Multi-functional it is technologists answer to the swiss army knife. This is currently the most popular form and for many will continue for years to come. However, the downside to this is that screen estate is limited and the need to zoom and scroll detracts from any serious browsing.

This has brought an opportunity to try a new form factor, the “Phablet” (phone-tablet), a phone that is not as big as a tablet, but not as small as a phone. The Galaxy Note is a good example, with a 5.3 inch screen it’s a little big for a phone, and perhaps too small to be called a tablet.

What’s interesting though is that the screen resolution (1280×800) matches most current tablets, and is better than many of the earlier tablets, so what you get on the screen is the same amount of information as a tablet. This for some will solve the problem of having to carry a phone AND a tablet.

However for some people a phone needs to be a phone and nothing more. For my wife, for instance, ideally this would be not much bigger than the size of a lipstick and just as simple to use. Phone size and weight can place a burden in pockets so going smaller also makes sense. In addition to that there mobility makes them easier to lose, which can be a real issue for most people.

There are already phones in watches, and there are some great prototypes of bracelet style watches. As batteries improve I can see phones being embedded into other jewellery also such as pendants or earings. This is approach is great from a security perspective as people tend to lose more phones than their watch or bracelet, and with mobile payments this may become an important factor.

The smartphone itself may yet bite back, there have already been concepts of smartphones with projectors and ones with roll-out screens that solve the issue of screen estate. Other concepts include “flexible phones”, phones that are so thin that they can flex. In fact Nokia has taken this further so that the phone has “flex-gestures” for example bending the phone up or down scrolls pages.

Or will we become phones ourselves? Will we have bionic implants?

So what do you think? Will you wear you phone, carry it or will you be a phone?

HTML5 will be key to a MAD world

February 16, 2012

According to researchers, over 5 billion devices connect to the Internet today and by 2020 over 22 billion devices including 6 billion phones, 2 billion TVs will be connected. By 2014 sales of new internet connected devices excluding PC’s will be over 500 million units a year.

We’re moving into a connected world where people expect internet access any time, any place and on anything, and so many of us will have Multiple Access Devices (MAD).

Therefore it still amazes me to find large corporate with a separate Internet strategy and Mobile strategy. I won’t name and shame but you know who you are! What next, a strategy for tablets and a separate one for Internet TVs?

One of the key principles of HTML5 is that it aims to give you the tools to write once, deploy everywhere; that is, to create applications and content that can be developed to run appropriately for every device. Of course where it makes sense an application might need to take advantage of a specific devices capability (e.g. a camera or GPS), but even then conditional behaviour can be developed to provide such differentiation rather than develop a whole new application for a specific devices.

One of the key enablers here is adopting an approach whereby the content/application VIEW (look and feel) is fully controlled by CSS, and namely version 3. CSS3 has a number of features that allow you to control layout and look and feel according to screen dimensions/estate. The enabling technology is Media Queries, which allow you to create different VIEWS of an application based on screen dimensions. I’ll be writing more about this soon.

Creating a MAD (Multiple access devices) strategy is not all about technology though. Organisations will have to monitor and sometimes drive changes in customer behaviour, look at how much more time youth spend on smartphones than watching TV or in fact any other device. With each person having multiple access devices, different devices will likely to be used specifically for different parts of the customer buying cycle. If a purchase requires research and thought then most likely this will be done on PC’s/Laptops, for instant updates (news, stock prices, weather, scores and so on) smartphones for entertainment maybe tablets will prevail.

There are many more challenges to be discussed and I hope to cover these in more depth in follow up blogs, but for now small or large organisations need to create a single MAD strategy that encompasses customer/user needs, monitor behavioural changes and trends and investigate the capabilities of enabling technologies.

The change will be profound, as organisations realise the total impact to processes, skills and technologies to really master Customer Experience in a MAD world, a journey which the visionaries have already started.