Posts Tagged ‘UI’

Getting apps to cope with different screen sizes

March 3, 2011

Take a ride on public transport and it’s like a game of spot the smart phone. Instead of passing time by reading a paper, more commuters choose to spend time connecting, searching and playing on their web-enabled devices. Soon we will see more and usage of tablets adding to the mix of screens. Then at home and in coffee shops we’ll soon see intereactive web TV’s when screens will get much bigger.

Much has been written, including by me (see further reading, below), about the challenge of trying to write apps for different platforms because of their different operating systems. For the business and its developers, differences in operating systems can be frustrating. Designing a successful iOS app is only half the battle. What about Android, Windows, Linux and BlackBerry?

Worst, however, is still to come. While analysts and experts concentrate on the problems of designing for multiple operating systems, they also often miss out another – potentially bigger – problem: screen size.

The increasingly crucial challenge for app developers is how to get an one to display appropriately across a range of screen sizes without having to recreate pages for different platforms. And that is a real challenge.

Large vendors have already talked about how to cope with the trend. Microsoft created its “three screens and a cloud” vision, which concentrates on how software experiences will be delivered through cloud-based services across PCs, phones and TVs.

Now Google is preparing to join the action, too. In December, details of Google’s next version of the Android operating appeared on the web (see further reading). The supplier started demonstrating how the system, referred to as Honeycomb, will work across multiple form factors.

More specifically, the system promises support for higher resolutions and boasts a frame-based interface that should allow the apps to run on a phone and a tablet, while being perfectly optimised for both. The result is that developers should be able to create one application that works on a number of screens.

Apps will have fragments that a pltform can choose to run depending on screen size and apperance. The result is something like a best-fit solution; an approach to technology that will allow the user to have a consistent user experience across multiple platforms.

That is also an approach that is familiar to edge IPK, with our edgeConnect system dividing a solution into numerous components that are called on-demand. The result is maximum performance and a series of components that can be used and re-used to reduce development cost.

Dealing with multiple screens can seem an added complication to the problems associated to dealing with multiple operating systems. There is no need to panic, however. Vendors are taking steps to design component-based systems for the mobile platforms of the future.

Further reading:

Silverlight bashing

January 28, 2011

Poor old Silverlight. Once upon a time, the application framework was one of the keys to writing rich internet applications and it was the darling of a strong development community.

But it’s been a tough 12 months-or-so for Silverlight. First, HTML5 started to look good – really good. Big providers have been queuing up to back the next generation web framework, knowing HTML5 offers key features that could help break an over-reliance on a series of web-browser plug-ins.

Further pain mid-year came when Apple CEO Steve Jobs laid into rival plug-in Adobe Flash, attacking the non-standardised nature of the framework and removing the capability for Flash to work on Apple’s leading devices such as the iPad and iPhone. Plug-ins, it seemed, were no longer the flavour of the month.

But there was still Microsoft, of course – they wouldn’t abandon their own framework. Not abandon, no – but mixed messages from Redmond towards the back-end of 2010 really didn’t help the cause of Silverlight.

First, Internet Explorer general manager Dean Hachamovitch suggested that the future of the web was HTML5. Then a few weeks later, Microsoft’s director of product management for developer platforms Brad Becker said the Silverlight framework actually extended the web by enabling scenarios that HTML does not cover.

So, what are these scenarios? Well, they’re actually pretty limited. Bob Muglia, the Microsoft president in charge of the company’s server and tools business, recently said Silverlight is the provider’s development platform for Windows Phone (see further reading, below).

Anything else, or is that it? Muglia stressed that Silverlight will also be important in specific areas, such as media. But when it comes to the big stuff – the cross-media development – then he believes that HTML5 offers the only true solution for everything.

That must be pretty tough for the legions of devoted Silverlight developers. And that rough feeling is only like to grow, as Silverlight increasingly becomes a niche platform for niche applications.

That type of specificity is simply a non-starter. The future of consumer and business interaction is the mobile. Businesses have to find ways to write once and deploy multiple times, rather than having to develop across several platforms for a broad range of operating systems and devices.

Plug-ins have a bad effect on the high quality web browsing experience. Users have to run applications before they can see content. In the worst – and increasingly large number – of cases, the plug-in might not even be compatible with the browser or device.

For individuals, the pain of plug-ins will be removed as HTML5 becomes the standard for web development. For Silverlight and its associated plug-in counterparts, the future looks grim.

Further reading

Rich Web Poor Web

September 1, 2008

When it comes to applications developed in Adobe Flash nobody can argue with their distinct visual appeal. Combining rich graphics and dynamic behaviour this is a technology that has focused very effectively on creating truely rich applications.


Now other similar multimedia technologies, such as Microsoft Silverlight – provide great platforms for developing sexy applications. Outside of these two proprietary options, developers are getting spoilt with huge arrays of AJax widgets, DoJo and BackBase to name just a couple.


Suddenly all applications could have the appeal and Mac like interfaces, and that what it’s all about when it comes to user interfaces isn’t it? 


When it comes to applications what is more important, the appearance and dynamism of its interface or its functionality and accessibility to information? Not a difficult question to answer – especially when you consider the demands of your users and customers, the majority of whom will require the right information quickly.


Internal users especially often get used to an application user interface and are able to navigate and enter data without even looking at screens. As such the allure of these sexy interfaces soon fades and the basic premises of usability comes to the fore. Rich web applications with poor web usability will only lose your audience over time.


So don’t be fooled by Rich Internet Applications as meaning “sexy user interfaces”, using the technology to create usable applications should be your first priority.


For example Ajax has it’s place not only for creating a greater array of user interface controls than standard HTML, but also ensuring application performance is optimised especially when users are accessing the application in low bandwidth environments.


As for Adobe Flash, well it’s real strengths lie in being able to create pixel perfect print layouts and creating desktop performant applications in a browser environment.


Smart design is an important consideration, but alone it is akin to putting lipstick on a pig. In the on-demand information age, a usable application is most definitely king.