Posts Tagged ‘devices’

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

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.

HTML 5 makes the browser smarter

January 26, 2012

The unsung hero of the web has always been Javascript, without which the standards-based web would be completely static. Javascript enables functionality to be executed in the browser, and has been used to create all sorts of effects otherwise not possible with HTML alone.

In the early days, Javascript implementations weren’t entirely standard, requiring developers to have to write variants for different browsers; this isn’t really an issue any more.

For applications, developers will either use libraries or develop their own validation routines. This Javascript code adds significantly to the amount of code downloaded.

With HTML5, developers will need to write less Javascript, as the browser provides features to do things for itself rather than rely extra scripting.

Validation is the main area of improvement. HTML5 now provides a number of new validation features such as mandatory checking, type checking, range and field length validation. The validation is done within the browser, and developers can opt to decide how to process errors.

Obviously validation has to be repeated on the server for security, to ensure that data hasn’t been hacked in the browser or in transmission. This then means that validation has to be maintained in two places and kept in sync.

HTML5 also provides a number of new input field types such as tel, email, color, datetime. This empowers the browser, by applying it to display a date picker, or a colour chooser for example. More importantly for mobile applications it would allow the browser to show an appropriate keyboard layout e.g. a numeric layout for tel, and an alphabetic keyboard for email type.

There are also a number of new attributes which previously required Javascript such as autocomplete, placeholder and pattern which will prove very useful.

There will be some organisations that will not want the browser to affect their carefully designed user experience; for these people the answer is simple, just don’t use the new features.

For the rest, you will enjoy having to write less Javascript for HTML5 browsers, but of course you will still need to have backwards compatibility for non-HTML5 browsers which will rely on Javascript.

HTML5 gets fun, without a plug-in in sight

June 16, 2011

I’ve still not finished covering all the new features of HTML5, but I do think it’s time for a bit of a break. One of the real measures of whether HTML5 will take off will be how well it will support the gaming industry, and indeed here some people have feared that it will not deliver and have continued to back plug-in based technologies like Flash, Java or Silverlight. Well after extensive research it’s time to dispel a few myths
.
Now it’s not true that there haven’t been some great HTML games already, remember Google’s re-incarnation of PacMan and recently Effect Game’s Crystal Galaxy which will work even in IE6 !

However a number of features like Canvas, HTML5 Audio and WebWorkers are changing people’s perception of what is possible on the web and all without plug-ins ! So here is my top 5.

In at number 5 is, well not a game, but nevertheless a nice use of the new canvas API’s, a remake of the popular windows desktop app, Paintbrush.

At number 4 is another remake of an old classic, Asteroids! Whilst not up to the standard of today’s modern graphics they are a vast improvement over the games original line art graphics, and offers smooth movement and responsive feedback.

Number 3 is Canvas Rider a simple yet strangely addictive game requiring skill and judgement to guide a motorcyclist across a number of different scenes.

Just missing the top spot is Torus a 3D cylindrical version of Tetris.

However in first place has to be Pixel Lab’s Agent 8 Ball, great graphics, fast smooth operation and sound make it hard to believe that this is a browser game without any plug-in support. In fact this video comparison of Flash vs HTML seems to have totally missed this great example too (see comparison of pool game 3mins in). There are many more great examples out there, even for those Silverlight enthusiasts Microsoft has assembled some great examples of HTML5 in action.

So what’s the future?  Well if Google’s demo last year of it’s web version of Quake is anything to go by things are certainly looking exciting ! The future is definitely not solo game play, as Game Closure showed last month when it demo’d a multiplay social game called Popstar Defense.

All the credit for this new world of possibility can’t just go to HTML5/Javascript as technologies because it is the tremendous improvements in Javascript engines by all the main stream browser providers that is giving the games a useful performance boost.
I’ll be covering some of the HTML5 features that enable these games such as Canvas and HTML5 Audio in future posts, enough research for now…  time to get back to work !

Make sure you use a current browser supporting HTML5 features like Canvas to view / play these.

http://www.google.com/pacman/
http://www.effectgames.com/effect/games/crystalgalaxy/
http://mugtug.com/sketchpad/
http://www.kevs3d.co.uk/dev/asteroids/
http://canvasrider.com/
http://www.benjoffe.com/code/games/torus/
http://agent8ball.com

http://www.beautyoftheweb.com/

HTML5 gets very chatty

May 26, 2011

The web started birth with very much a “click and wait” experience. Any interaction with the server meant a round trip of data across a slow line and ended up with a page refresh. In the Web 2.0 era things changed dramatically with the exploitation of an API: XMLHttpRequest the foundation of a framework called Ajax. With Ajax web pages could now interact with the server without page refreshes. This was transformational, and especially as bandwidth speeds increased people got very inventive with Ajax and created applications that started to feel much more like desktop applications.

Whilst this created a massive step forward developers were still having to create proprietary approaches, sometimes using plugins, for other forms of communications with the server. Ajax allowed the client to call the server, what about the other way round? And further still how about a server sending a message to multiple clients – either on the same machine but in different windows or indeed to multiple physical clients?

Step forward HTML5 which brings a number of new capabilities for communication. There are plenty of resources that provide tutorials on how to use these new features, the focus of this blog is just to raise awareness of the features and the possibilities they present.

Cross Domain Messaging is one of my favourite features of HTML5 and worthy of it’s own separate article, which I will do in my next post. Essentially Cross Domain Messaging allows you to send messages between separate applications running in separate iFrames, Tabs or even browser windows. It is facilitated by the existing PostMessage api (see next post for more details).

XMLHttpRequest has also been upgraded to support Cross Document Messaging. This now means that an application can communicate with multiple servers. For example imajine a News page that contains an article about Japan, the page may have separate sections containing local weather and currency rate updates. Previously the page would have been built up with content from different sites at the server end, now it is possible to do this from the client. A further enhancement to XMLHttpRequest is the addition of Progress Events. Previously when a request was made to the server there was only the “readstatechange” event, which was limited and no implemented consistently across browsers. Now there are several more meaningful and useful events (loadstart, progress, abort, error, load, loadend) that can be processed

Another constraint the web has faced has been the ability for servers to send messages to clients. The most common example being stock markets feeds. Typically developers have created a polling mechanism to get updates from the server at regular intervals most likely using XMLHttpRequest. This creates unnecessary load and traffic to the server. HTML5 also introduces the concept of Server Sent messages using the EventSource interface.  This is basically a publish and subscribe approach: the client subscribes to a message event source, and the server code publishes messages to those subscribers.

XMLHttpRequest and Server Sent Messages are uni-directional messages, but what if you need bi-directional messages: the ability for either the client or server to send/recieve messages? Well HTML5 also has an answer for that with WebSockets (note it is possible to achieve bi-directional messaging without WebSockets, but it is much more difficult, unreliable and network inefficient)

WebSockets is a large topic, however the key point to be made here is that it is a more efficient and standard mechanism for enabling bi-directional messaging. The first step in the process is establishing a handshake between the client and server, this is done by upgrading from http protocol to the websocket protocol. Where websocket communication provides a significant advantage is that once the handshake is established, communication between client and server is free from the heavy load of http headers! Http headers can reach 2k in size, which is a massive overhead if the message is only 10 bytes.

When you compare this to applications that have implemented a polling approach you can see that WebSockets are not only more efficient in message size but can significantly reduce unnecessary traffic created by polling and reduce latency of updates (created by the polling time).

Using WebSockets today does require a server of which there are many available, and of course like all HTML5 features browser support varies and hence needs to be checked.

This post aimed to key you a flavour of some of the key new features that enable web applications to become more chatty and in doing so not only make applications faster, efficient but richer and more dynamic than we have been used to. I believe just these features alone could drive a new generation of web applications across many industries like gaming and financial services. Could this be Web 4.0 ?

 http://www.whatwg.org/specs/web-apps/current-work/multipage/comms.html#comms