Posts Tagged ‘Screens’

HTML5 Audio and Video comes as standard

June 26, 2011

Movie and Audio features in HTML5 are like many of the features I have discussed previously, they:
•    Have a history of controversy over Codec support
•    Specifications are too large to do real justice in these short posts
•    Are an exciting, powerful new addition that will transform the web

To date the most popular media player on the web has been Adobe’s flash player, and arguably it has been it’s most popular use. Apple’s lack of support in their devices for Flash has created a small crack in Adobe’s party, but this crack could open further into a chasm that their flash drops into! However there have been many other shenanigans in this story and rather than delve into to those murky stories I’m going to again give a brief overview of the capabilities of these new features. The good news is that HTML5 will remove the need for proprietary plug-in’s like Flash and Quicktime for playing sound and movies.

audio and video are both media elements in HTML5, and as such share common API’s for their control. In fact you can load video content into an audio element and vice versa, audio into a video element – the only difference is that the video element has a display area for content, whereas the audio element does not. Defining an audio element  and source file is pretty straightforward

<audio controls src=”my musicfile.mp3”
My audio clip

You can actually assign multiple source ( src ) files. This is to allow you to provide the audio in multiple formats, so that you can support the widest array of browsers. The browser will go through the list in sequential order and play the first file it can support, so it’s important you list them in order of the best quality first rather than by most popular format.

To load a movie you simply replace the audio element with video. Video’s can also define multiple sources. You may additionally specify the height and width of the video display area.

Next to control media you can use the following API’s:  load(), play(), pause(), I think what they do is self explanatory. canPlayType(type) can be used to check whether a specific format is supported.

Some read only attributes can be queried such as duration, paused, ended, currentSrc to check duration of the media, whether it has been paused or ended and which src is being played.

You can also set a number of attributes such as autoplay, loop, controls, volume  to automatically start media, repeat play the media, show or hide media controls and to set the volume.

These aren’t exclusive lists of API’s or attributes as there are many more but they are some of the most common features of the audio and video people will use. With video especially there are many more great things you can achieve like creating timelines and displaying dynamic content as specific points in the video (no doubt this will be used for advertising amongst other more interesting uses).

Clearly the web will get richer with full multimedia content without the perquisite of plug-ins. However developers should be aware of the various formats supported by specific browsers and aim to provide media in as many formats as possible.

Many sites today do use sound and movies, but I believe with native support and greater imagination a new world of dynamic rich media sites will change the user experience in the same way that Ajax transformed static content into the dynamic web. With it we will see new online behaviors, a topic I will cover soon, and whilst some have said the future of TV is online the web may just give it a new lease of life !

Further reading:

AppInventor won’t solve your end user development opportunity

November 29, 2010

Once again, don’t believe the hype. Google recently launched App Inventor, a system that claims to enable non-coders to develop Android software.

The principle is sound enough – instead of writing code, interested individuals visually design the way an app looks and use blocks to specify software behaviour. The open platform for developers, meanwhile, could lead to vast array of specialised apps from people who are traditionally viewed as non-developers (see further reading, below).

However, don’t get the party bunting out just yet. The hype might suggest Google has created end-user computing for Android but the reality is slightly more complex.

Yes, the system allows individuals to work with blocks of code. And the system should be intuitive – it has been in development for more than a year and user testing has been mainly completed in schools (see further reading).

But while the drag-and-drop system of App Inventor is reminiscent of fitting Lego blocks together, experienced reviewers believe the fit is not quite as snug as it could be.

TechCrunch writer Jason Kincaid, for example, has experience of programming and attempted to put together a couple of apps. He concludes that the Google software is far from perfect and is by no means a short cut to back room, smart phone development (see further reading).

App Inventor, then, is a neat, graphical programming tool. The concept is innovative and refreshing. It is not, however, a tool for non-programmers. Google have created another step towards end-user development but this is by no means an end-point.

Senior executives should not be swayed by the hype and should not expect non-technical employees to start creating powerful Android apps. In fact, there is a strong argument for suggesting that the focus should not just be on the creation of new apps.

For some employees, end-user development is a real possibility – and Google’s App Inventor represents another staging post. At the same time, more apps create more maintenance, especially if increasing numbers of non-programmers are really going to get their hands on code.

 Proper end-user development must consider how apps can be maintained without the need for IT to run modifications and changes. Once again, good end-user development comes down to good management.

 End-users can create apps but only if the IT department is able to support such computing easily and cost effectively.

Further reading



The new legacy is HTML !

November 22, 2010

The legacy of past computing decisions is one of the biggest technology challenges facing businesses. What’s more, lessons from the past are not being heeded.

Let’s start with the most famous legacy code of them all – because if you’ve encountered COBOL, you’ve encountered legacy. Invented in 1959, the object-oriented language became a mainstay of business computing for the next four decades.

The legacy, however, quickly turned into a significant burden. Gartner reported that 80% of the world’s business ran on COBOL in 1997, with more than 200 billion lines of code in existence and an estimated 5 billion lines of new code produced annually (see further reading, below).

The reliance on that rate of production came home to roost towards the end of the last century, when language problems led to the panic associated to Y2K. The story since then has been one of decline. The continued move of business online has led to a clamour for new, sleeker and internet-ready programming languages.

First specified in 1990, HyperText Markup Language (HTML) became the predominant web development language. Its use ran alongside the development of open standards, such as JavaScript and the Cascading Style Sheets of CSS.

Such languages and styles helped to define the layout of the Web. But that is far from the end of the story. Online development in the era of HTML has become increasingly patchy, with more and more developers using varying styles of code.

Additional online tools, such as Silverlight and Flex, create further complexity. The result is that HTML, and an associated collection of standards and tools, are fast becoming the new legacy.

Just as in the case of COBOL, more and more lines of code are being produced. The disparate pace of online development is such that we will end up with reams of legacy HTML, JavaScript and CSS code.

Learn from history and get to grips with the problem now. Make sure you have proper documentation and standards. Select tools that are integrated with the rest of your business processes and which allow users to make the most of earlier development projects.

Think about how certain approaches – such as a mix of HTML/JavaScript and Ajax-server based technologies – will allow your business, and even your end-users, to use the same development techniques on desktop and mobile environments.

Also look to the future and take a look at HTML5, which is currently under development as the next major revision of the HTML standard, including features that previously required third-party plug-ins, such as Flash. Don’t stop there carry on with CSS3, Web Worker and WebFonts all new evolutions of current web technologies that will tomorrow be mainstream.

The end result should be the end of fragmented development and a legacy of useful web applications, rather than unusable and unidentifiable code.
Further reading:


Single User Experience

April 12, 2010

You’ve decoupled your enterprise architecture and implemented a service-oriented approach that makes use of business process management and single sign-on. So, now what?

Your using rich internet applications and making use of Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies. So what now?

Leading companies have already begun work on developing “Single User Experience’s (SUE)”. SUE takes the approach that the application is specific to an individual users specific needs, and not an all purpose applications used by many different users for slightly different purposes.

For example, take the word processor: with it you can create documents, letters, fax sheets, memo’s and various other formats of what are essentially documents. However a word processor presents the same options and user interface irrespective of what type of document you create.

It’s no wonder that research has identified that most people only use less than 20% of a word processor capability and virgin users face a steep learning curve.

In the context of SUE a word processor would change it’s menu’s, icons and actions specific to the type of document you are working with or to the type of documents you work within a single context (at home you mainly use one for letters, whereas work mainly for structured documents).

Thus access and ease of use of the tool becomes greatly honed and much more efficient as you do not have to plough through hundreds of irrelevant options.

The concept of SUE can take in many factors to create a more efficient and dynamic interface e.g.:

  • Role: The purpose of your use of the application e.g. Secretary, Author, Researcher, Student
  • Context: The purpose of your use of the tool customer enquiry, sell to a prospect, or provide information to a collegue
  • Channel: The device the application is being accessed from e.g. mobile, PC, Kiosk, Call Centre
  • Location: Where the application is being used from e.g. Home, Office, In-transit (car, plane, train)
  • Locale: Country from which the application is being accessed

In short, give your technology a persona. Once workers have a single user experience, your business and your customers will quickly feel the benefits.


Don’t Lose that Loving Feeling

February 8, 2010

All of a sudden, everyone everywhere is talking about customer experience – “use social media to build stronger customer relationships; find advocates that will help build your brand and reputation”.

 It’s as if a massive light switch marked ‘the customer is king’ has suddenly been discovered. But why the surprise, and why has it taken the combined forces of an economic downturn and a collaborative revolution to make so many firms realise the importance of the customer?

 The answer, quite simply, is that usability and the quality of the client experience has previously been taken for granted. And the web – despite its focus on collaboration – is one platform where the customer has often been left wanting more.

 For many people, a quality experience is all about the look and feel of a site. Whether it’s the business themselves or the individual client, a cool-looking site with sexy visuals can be an appealing proposition.

 Until, that is, download times are increased. Certain businesses are particularly guilty; many car manufacturers, for example, load their sites with dynamic content that forces the reader to sit and watch a ‘loading bar’ before entering the site.

 Car companies are not alone. Media businesses have spent years creating smart sites that include flashy graphics and content heavy visuals, only to forget one key element – most users come to a media site through Google. What the customer wants is news quickly, not slow-loading pages.

 Unfamiliarity – rather than familiarity – breeds contempt in the online world. There’s nothing worse than flicking between sites and being bamboozled by a new series of drop down menus. Go for familiarity across all sites; there’s a reason many successful sites look the same – it’s because they’re easy to use.

 At the same time, do not be put off designing nice-looking web pages. As you design the site, continually make sure the site is usable. It’s no good creating a high-technology portal that takes minutes to download and then requires the user to take a crash course in navigation.

 In this new age of interactivity, where the customer really is king, do not forget the basics – your customer will stay brand loyal on the web if your site is usable. Fail to take heed of this balance lesson and clients will soon lose their loving feeling for your brand.


Does CTO mean “career transition occurring”?

January 4, 2010

As IT professionals, we are not great at defining what we do and why we do it. In an attempt to show the importance of our work, we hide beneath a collection of buzz phrases and three letter acronyms.

Chief technology officer (CTO) could be seen as yet another layer of obfuscation. After all, according to online encyclopaedia Wikipedi, “there is currently no commonly-shared definition of a CTO’s responsibilities, apart from that of acting as the senior-most technologist in an organisation.”

So much for the definition, what of practice? Traditionally, CTOs oversee the technical staff that are involved in archietcture, design and development – but times, and role definitions, are changing.

Underneath the hyped up talk of agility, value and innovation, something real and tangible is happening. Businesses are finally waking up to the need to use and re-use technology resources in an open and integrated fashion.

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) – with its focus on component re-use in new and interesting combinations – provides a way for the business to stay alert in this new era of business technology.

In short, systems, software and services are becoming more specialised. By its inherent nature, SOA demands an integration of resources through a series of layers, such as operational systems, component-based developments, composite services, business processes and, finally, through to the presentation layer.

And to roll with this revolution, businesses must realise that the management of architecture is no longer a simple role for a single individual. Instead of managing a group of general architects, the CTO’s technology team – working to an SOA framework – should become more and more specialised.

Firms should ensure they have architects that focus simply on integration, process, presentation, security and business intelligence. Such layered leaders should monitor standards, vendors and open source offerings, creating a roadmap for their specific area.

Leading-edge finance firms are already undertaking such a transition and new roles – such as chief process architect and chief presentation architect – are beginning to emerge.

Fail to take a similarly deep appreciation and you risk your firm being left behind. So, what does CTO really stand for? In the service-oriented age and for the architects that serve the business, ‘career transition occurring’ would seem an appropriate tag.

Further reading


Everythings going mobile…

November 2, 2009

One out of every seven minutes of media consumption today takes place on mobile devices, according to new research from IPG’s Universal McCann and AOL. How can companies prepare for – and communicate with – their customers in the mobile age?

For many organisations, throwing out the existing rulebook might be a good start. Too many firms still think of customers and customer service in an old world style.

Such old world thinking suggests customers are people that usually buy from you in a face-to-face format, where service is all about building interaction and managing delivery. And that’s where the catch comes.

Interaction and delivery are crucial but such tenets of customer service need to be managed across a series of channels – from face-to-face to internet, and from call centres to mobile devices.

Mobile might seem like a fairly insignificant element of the customer service puzzle right now, with analyst Freeform Dynamics suggesting as much as 60% of users rarely or never take advantage of advanced services such as information, navigation and social networking.

Expect that picture to change and quickly. As stated above, individuals are already consuming media on mobile devices and that is simply the starting point, with mobile usage expected to grow by as much as 60% by 2011.

Such growth needs a strategy. Do not make the mistake that many firms made on the transition from old world selling to web-enabled delivery. Too many companies bolt internet and call centre offerings to existing face-to-face services.

Integration should be your watchword and you should identify the existing services that your customers could use to connect with you through a mobile device. People use mobile phones on the move and on an ad-hoc basis.

The success of the apps service on Apple’s iPhone shows that individuals are simply looking for useful tools that can help them fill otherwise dead time. Such tools could be games or enterprise apps, but they might be a sales channel to your company – and you need to plan accordingly.

Analyse mobile devices, speak to your customers and develop an interface that helps your customers speak to – and buy from – your business. Such developments could take the form of an advocacy network on Twitter, where customers help to spread the benefits of your service.

The developments could also take the form of mobile payments, one of the fastest growing areas of online purchasing. Think, plan and integrate your customer delivery interface across all channels.

You have been warned. Don’t get left behind in the old world because the age of mobility is fast approaching.

Further reading


WYSIWYG is dead go with the flow

October 12, 2009

Since the birth of window based user interface (MAC, Microsoft Windows) application designers have adopted the What You See Is What You Get approach to creating User Interfaces. Visual Basic was one of the early tools to provide a canvas onto which a screen can be drawn by simple drag and drop of screen elements on top of the canvas. “Property” sheets allowed these controls to be specialised/designed further for example change font, size, captions etc. This paradigm of development has since stuck with us, and this post questions whether this is right and whether this is the future?

Most corporates have started to standardise front end screens to be developed in browser technology for the right reasons such as; cross platform, ease of distribution, zero install. As expected tools vendors have provided good support for browser application development. However does the WYSIWYG paradigm apply? Should you still create browser screens in the same way as desktop applications?

Browser applications typically use a “flow layout” whereby the screen layout changes according to the size of the browser window. This is very useful because users could have different screen sizes, or browser settings (e.g. lots of toolbars) or even be viewing the application on a mobile device. Using a flow layout means that screen layout will change according to the users browser window size, thereby automatically handling each of the differences above.

Using this approach however means that creating a screen using a drag and drop approach onto a canvas does not necessarily give you a view of the final screen layout, hence you have to question whether now WYSIWYG is the right development paradigm for browser applications.

Another issue is that different browsers sometimes interpret the browser differently, causing screens to appear in differently across different browsers.

There is also the issue that “look and feel” is actually separated from the screen code into a style sheet, and a screen may be presented using different syle sheets, Hence displaying a form could be drastically different depending on the stylesheet used ( some great examples of this can be seen at ).

With the above in mind is it time for a new approach? Perhaps using a more “real time design” approach. With such a tool, users would create screens and then run them to see how they would be rendered in different browsers, devices and screen sizes. With the proliferation of devices a multi-channel approach is becoming core to many organisations, and in such a world screen sizes will vary greatly, a new approach is required for creating screens because now the paradigm has changed to What You See Is What You Might And Most Probably Wont Get.


Project failures can be good news

October 5, 2009

When it comes to software development, the latest research from the Standish Group presents very little in the way of good news. Failures are up and projects are considered less successful.

Just 32% of all projects deliver on time and on budget, with required features and functions (see further reading, below). Standish estimates that 44% of software projects are late, and over budget, and another 24% fail and are cancelled prior to completion, or delivered and never used.

The figures do not make impressive reading for IT executives, especially at a time when the business is putting pressure on the technology department to deliver more with less.

One thing is for certain; the current economic climate definitely does not help. Standish suggests the recession has helped push IT project failure rates higher and estimates that as much as 20 to 25% of failures during the last two years could have been caused by the economy forcing project cancellations (see further reading).

The upside is that IT departments are being persuaded, or even forced, to re-evaluate technology initiatives. Projects that might previously have stumbled towards completion are being canned as a result of the recession.

Good IT can help users work more effectively and efficiently, saving the business time and money. Bad technology is a money pit and too many IT executives end up pouring good money after bad, attempting to fix projects that do not provide a usable interface.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. While new economic realities help executives cull costly IT projects, remaining projects will still regularly fail to meet user expectations, as the Standish report confirms.

For your remaining projects, look for specialist approaches and tools that can help ensure your projects run in-line with user demands. An agile development approach will help you to make such tests on an iterative basis.

edge IPK offers such a strategy, its Early Visualisation Approach (EVA) provides an agile development lifecycle that allows business analysts to focus on online and offline front end applications.

Supported by the edgeConnect platform, which enables much faster entry points to development than traditional tools, analysts estimate EVA can reduce development cycles by as much as 85%.

With project failure rates rising and IT executives struggling to justify the cost of technology initiatives, investing in an iterative development approach could be your must successful decision of the year.

Further reading


Arise, Sir Presentation Architect!

September 28, 2009

Someone, somewhere is always willing to step into the limelight. In an age of celebrity culture, where self-promotion almost seems like the key to success, the real stars can sometimes get hidden beneath the hype.

The same is true in the world of IT. The input of real experts is sometimes drowned by the deafening noise emanating from a combination of technologists pushing their latest concepts and executives that are concerned about business alignment.

Now is the time for the real experts to stick their heads above the parapet. In an age of on-demand computing and web-based interaction, the architects that develop your interfaces have never been more crucial.

For a start, our interface for interacting with computers is changing. Where once applications sat on our desktop, more and more users are interacting with applications through the browser. The broad range of next generation browsers – such as Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox – show how the web can be a platform for business computing, not just searching and browsing.

Ajax and Flash have given developers the opportunity to develop cool web-based applications, many of which work more smoothly than their desktop-based cousins. Those developments are only likely to get more impressive, with platforms like Adobe AIR and Mozilla Prism allowing users to connect to their web applications through the desktop.

Underlying such developments is the progression of broadband and wireless networking. Long gone is the time when domestic internet users had to rely on dial-up access and painfully slow web browsing. The average UK broadband download speed is now above 4.3Mbps (see further reading) and the government continues to work on its plan for a highspeed broadband network, with a universal 2Mbps broadband link “virtually everywhere” by 2012.

Such developments mean more and more of your customers will be online. And in an age of constrained financial returns, your customer has just become even more important. Clients will quickly change supplier if they believe they can get a better deal or a better experience somewhere else. Strong customer advocates are likely to be your quickest way to retained clients.

So, ensure your front-end – your window on your business and its services – is usable and reliable. This means presentation architects must be close to the business. The user interface – or presentation layer – is the face of the business and the significance of individuals in such architecture positions is unlikely to diminish.

In fact, the importance of presentation architects is only likely to increase as more internal and external users rely on usable web-based interfaces to communicate with the business.

Want to get ahead? Then look after your presentation architect

Further reading