Posts Tagged ‘MAD’

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

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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.

The end of Apple?

February 2, 2012

We are clearly in the web age an era that has turned everyone into readers and publishers of free content. In this era we have seen the rise of open source, free software and the move to software and services freely available in the cloud.

Yet in the “free age”, Apple maintain a huge client base locked into its proprietary and closed hardware, operating systems and stores. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, even the great Bill Gates proclaimed that the world had changed, and that Apple would not survive with Steve Jobs maintaining the company’s control over platforms from end to end.

Despite this Apple is a huge success. Is it likely to last?

As a techie, I’d hope not, because we do want to be able to upgrade our hardware, we want the option to use any suppliers’ parts and we want the same to be true of our software. Do we care what the hardware looks like as long as it’s fast and powerful, not really.

However as a consumer, too much choice is not necessarily a good thing. As a consumer, we are in a world where things get replaced rather than fixed or upgraded. For the majority style is every bit if not more important than features, and customer experience does matter.

How quickly and easily I can use my device has become more important than whether it has all the latest and best features. Going back to one store is easier than have to search several for apps and music.

Apple started with some engineering innovation, and when Steve Jobs was first ousted focused heavily on engineering; this was its downfall in the late eighties. However with the return of Steve Jobs, and his partnership with Jonathon Ives, a return to a focus on customer experience and design revived the ailing technology company.

So although it pains me to see Apple thrive in such a closed environment they really do highlight that style, ease of use and the overall customer experience really does matter to consumers. Hence I would not forecast the end of Apple for some time in the near future unless it loses its way again to “engineering”.

Does HTML5 mean the end of the road for Gears, HTA and Flash?

March 10, 2011

Web standard HTML5 contains loads of great features, from video playback to drag-and-drop. But the best bit, and currently one of the least talked about elements, might be the capability to run apps offline.

The normal web experience is hindered by connectivity. Users can typically access web apps while they have a connection to the internet. Once offline, individuals lose access to email, calendar or notes. There are, of course, workarounds. Google Gears, for example, allows users to navigate compatible sites offline and synchronise when back online.

Microsoft HTML Applications (HTA), meanwhile, is a Microsoft Windows formalisation that provides a web-like experience offline. And Adobe Flash can also be run offline, allowing users to run Flash-based content.

Such workarounds are OK but they are also a bit messy. People want the same experience online or offline; they want to get hold of – and manipulate content – regardless of location and they don’t want to be hindered by platform specific technologies or plug-ins.

HTML5 provides that standardisation. Its two–pronged approach re-connects the user through an SQL-based interface for storing data locally, and an offline cache that helps ensure apps are always available (see further reading, below).

With regards to availability, HTML5’s application cache mechanism provides the ability to have a fall back page for rendering pages when offline. It also provides a means to update cache dynamically. The key, here, is client-side management.

And without wanting to bang my own drum too loudly, it is a rhythm I have been hinting at for a long, long time. I blogged two years ago (see further reading) about client-side management as a method for keeping data in the browser, rather than the server, and as means to reducing memory and processing requirements.

“If only it was supported as standard by the browser rather than having to use hidden fields,” I concluded – and now that day is fast approaching. HTML5 creates a standards-based method for creating local apps that run offline.

As mentioned earlier, HTML5 also provides the ability to store data locally through a client-side SQL database. A series of apps could potentially work with this database, providing a new level of accessibility and integration.

The total approach represents a huge step forwards for web development. It also signals that the end is nigh for proprietary workarounds like Gears, HTA and Flash. HTML5 is the future and web developers simply must get with the program.

Further reading:

http://www.w3.org/TR/offline-webapps/

http://blogs.computerworlduk.com/facing-up-to-it/2008/07/client-side-session-management/index.htm

Mobile User Experience Matters…

November 8, 2010

I don’t want to just knock mobile phones. I might, at times, seem like I’m picking on handheld devices – but nothing could be further from the truth.

 Looking back on my blog posts during the past year-or-so, it’s notable how many times I’ve written about mobile phones. It’s not that surprising. Mobility, after all, has changed consumer and business life – the mobile interface is fast-becoming the new desktop.

 Yet while I appreciate the potential positive nature of this trend, it’s also clear to see that I loathe media and vendor hype. Just because people are using smart devices doesn’t mean we all need to jump on the same bandwagon.

 Sometimes my stance seems strangely isolated. From iPhones to iPads, commentators are queuing up to pay homage to the latest Apple device. While Apple has undoubtedly created a tectonic shift in the traditional geography of computing, some semblance of moderation is always required.

 First, the mobile market is actually fragmented. Rather than being simply dominated by the iPhone, Symbian and Research in Motion are able to command a larger proportion of market share – in fact, almost 50% of phones sold in 2009 included the Symbian operating system, according to analyst Gartner (see further reading, below).

 Second, many businesses are designing the wrong kinds of apps. Just as in the case of cloud computing and social media, the technology associated to smart phones is over-hyped. The result of such hype is that the business starts to become interested.

 Just as an executive might read a feature in a business magazine on the cloud or Twitter, they’re also going to be aware of consumerisation and mobility. The result is an over-enthusiastic and technology-illiterate FD or CEO knocking on your door and asking when the firm is going to release an Apple-ready app.

 You need to be prepared for such a conversation; if you’re not, you’ll repeat some of the mistakes of other leading organisations. Take smart phone banking, which research suggests is one of the fastest growing categories in mobile applications.

 Yet as much as 40% of banking customers are not satisfied at all by their smart phone banking app, according to software firm Work Light (see further reading).

 Most worryingly, almost a quarter of users indicate that a poor user experience is the main reason they do not use their app. Such figures illustrate quite clearly that there is absolutely no point designing an app without careful consideration.

 By all means, be swayed by the call for marketing and create a smart phone app. But don’t be platform specific, not everyone has an iPhone. And don’t – above everything else – forget the customer experience.

 Fail to create a great user interface and you will be left with yet another poorly supported IT project that still needs to be maintained. There is another way, so think before you develop.

Further reading:

 http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1306513

 http://www.finextra.com/news/announcement.aspx?pressreleaseid=34183


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