Tag: apps (Page 1 of 9)

Apps for Good: Future Learning (or learning the future?)

Here’s an initiative to whom a shout-out is long overdue: the good people from Apps for Good have been working with children in schools on making apps. They provide a framework through which children learn everything from concept and market research to design and execution. And some of them then go ahead and publish the results in the wide world of Google Play (check for instance the formidable team from Mount Grace School in Hertfordshire whose “Social Bank” app that helps you to achieve saving what you crave most. Go have a look and download it (here on Google Play); I assure you it is very far cry from Jurassic scenes rebuilt in shoe boxes…

I had the great pleasure to work with some of the teams as a voluntary “expert” and – assuming if you read this blog you, too, are active somewhere in mobile – should have a look at doing the same thing. Here’s why:

  1. It’s tremendous fun. I consider Apps for Good sessions as an energizer to my day: to work with enthusiastic children and seeing them come into their own in a learning environment that allows them (and demands of them) to get out of their usual routines and create something from nowhere – and to then go and execute on it is nothing short of inspiring.
  2. It’s the simplest and, let’s face it, cheapest way to invest in the future of not only those children but all of us: this is an area where children learn 21st century skills that are not (yet) embedded in national curricula around the world (there are some initiatives to change this of course, such as Ian Livingstone’s plans for the Livingstone School in London Hammersmith) but there is still a lot more to be done. And with one hour of your time here and there, you can help. If this is for you, apply here to become an expert.

The work they are doing is being recognised all over the place, expressed for instance by winning Google’s Global Impact Challenge.

Apps for Good delivers its programme in over 200 schools across the UK so far. If you are a school and want to participate, go here.

Capturing Users / StartUp Next Sofia [Slides]

These are my slides from the talk “Capturing Users” I delivered on 30 Nov 2013 at the most excellent StartUp Next conference in Sofia (Bulgaria). For those who were there: the “missing slide” is now included… 😉

Apple, Bubble Designs? Dude, We Can Do That!

Today is a day where I have to sing our own praise a little. Today, as some of you will know, Apple released iOS 7 into the wild. I will spare you a wider critique (I reckon there will be plenty of them out there). But one thing caught my eye. Given my historical interest in social gaming platforms (after all, Scoreloop did a lot of the things – and better – that Apple tried to mimic with Game Center), I went to have a look how they re-designed it (Jony Ive’s hues and all). Now, not only is the dreaded felt gone (phew!) but also did they adopt a playful bubble design. Fits the image and all, right?

Now, it did look somewhat familiar though. And then it struck me: it is very similar to the design approach our very own Blue Beck took when we (well, our teams as I didn’t do much) designed the app for Three, the UK network operator. Compare for yourself (left our Three app, right Apple Game Center):

I actually think, we did the colour scheme a lot nicer! I am still not a fan of Jony’s hues, I’m afraid (though I like the more “contemporary” feel of the new iOS generally…). You can, incidentally, download it here:

And so, tonight I would like to sing the praise of our wonderful team at Blue Beck and our esteemed client Three (on whose style guide we based the design) and will sit with a smug face and think that Apple “borrowed” (which they probably didn’t, but hey) from our own design prowess. Carleton, Dose, Rick, Pete, you rock (and, of course we always knew that), and tonight is the night to call it out! (and, to the rest of the Blue Beck team: so do you – just don’t get the hang of them hues, OK?).

Hail the kings of Blue Beck castle! 😉 (and if you haven’t realised: full disclaimer: I am a shareholder and director of Blue Beck).

Momentum, a Mobile Accelerator in the Valley

Here’s something cool, a mobile accelerator run by people who actually know mobile, namely the good folks from Mobile Monday (disclosure: I am a co-founder of Mobile Monday Manchester). For those who don’t know (and I don’t expect many of the readers of this blog to being that ignorant… 😉 ): Mobile Monday has a global presence in over 140 cities across 50 different countries. As part of Mobile Monday, participants will get greater global exposure with leading brands to help foster business relationships and potentially commercial deals. It works, believe me!

This is a 12-week program (from 23 September – 6 December), run at RocketSpace in Silicon Valley with the aim to help accelerate mobile startups. They will select 8-10 startups from around the globe to participate in each class. If you are not based in the Bay Area, you’d have to cover your own housing and living though (which they say should amount to $2,500/month; also: you need to sort out your own visa should you need one though they’ll help you).

The program is designed for startup founders. It consists of weekly workshops and dinners lead by leaders of “global brands” who will help mentor and work closely with participating companies. You will have the opportunity to pitch their “dedicated” team of VCs and angels. The program will end with a Demo Day attended by industry leaders, VCs, and the press. So it’s pretty much the usual stuff. However, it being run by the MoMo folks, you can probably expect a rather good pick from the mobile world!

Here are the minimum criteria (and you will see from this that you actually have to have something already; this is an accelerator, not an incubator):

  • At least 2 people in the startup (two’s company…);
  • Shipping live product;
  • Angel funding or Participation of a startup program or Experience as a founder in a prior startup;
  • Pre-series A funding.

Each application will be scored on five criteria:

  • Team
  • Product
  • Market viability
  • Traction (clients, users, customers)
  • Fit for mobile industry

All Mobile Monday Accelerator events will be held in the San Francisco bay area. Office space at the RocketSpace Innovation Campus (San Francisco downtown) is provided free to all accelerator class participants. RocketSpace is home to Fortune 500s like, T-Mobile, GM, DoCoMo, Microsoft, ABInBev, LEGO and to 150+ startups including Spotify, Supercell and HasOffers (yup, that is straight from their sales pitch).

The program currently provides 50+ of the best in mobile mentors; Samsung, Sony, Twitter, Facebook, AOL, ESPN, Polariod, PayPal, Intuit, The Weather Channel, Hotel Tonight, Millenial Media and more… (yup, again from their pitch)

Each week, they’ll host a workshop in the San Francisco bay area at our offices or a partner’s office on the usual topics like:

  • Marketing
  • Negotiation
  • Monetization
  • Legal
  • Analytics and Tracking (if you still haven’t got this)
  • UI/UX Best Practices
  • Scaling (under the heading “luxury problems” but immensely important)
  • Selling to the Enterprise
  • M&A How to sell your startup (my guess is they won’t give guarantees though…)
  • Effective Pitching

If you want to get into this (and, hey, it is just about the time when the weather in certain areas get somewhat yucky), you can apply here. Good luck!

Privacy Policy in Apps [ with Infographic]

Developers want to do pretty and cool apps. Tedious privacy policies are often considered “suit-imposed” and not nice. Well, heck, they’re just text, aren’t they? However, not only do 70% of consumers actually want to know what you are doing with their data (this is according to MEF Global Privacy Report 2013). But there also legal obligations, you know. And, since July, there is a revised version of COPPA out (short for the Children Online Privacy Protection Act), which places even more onerous requirements on anyone publishing content aimed at minors.

It is however not only important that you do it at all but also how you do it. Transparency of terms is essential in a world of data (and, yes, I think since a certain Mr Snowden we are all a lot more aware just how significant that can be). If you only link out to a web page with 8,000+ words, you are not doing anyone favours: it doesn’t actually look very good (haven’t we all laughed on the 48 pages Apple wants us to read every time before we accept something? no one in their right mind will believe that even one consumer will do this; shady, isn’t it?). So best practice looks different and I would urgent everyone to follow best practice also for these “little” things.

MEF (full disclosure: I am director of their EMEA Board) has published a neat little infographic highlighting a few dos and don’ts. Have a look and go here for the full thing (and a version into which you can actually zoom into, too).

Leap Motion: First Impressions

I signed up for the pre-order of the Leap Motion controller ages ago. And, of course, it must arrive whilst I was on vacation… But, hey, it’s here now and since I was asked by a couple of friends to provide them with my thoughts, this is my first ever product review. A few words of caution though: I am not providing a fully-fledged review, just a few bits and bobs and my thoughts on the overall thing. For more traditional things, see e.g. here or here (consumer-focussed simple overview) or here (more in-depth technical).

Installation Environment

I installed it on my MacBook Pro (13” Retina, 3 GHz i7, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD) running on the latest OS (at the time of writing, that’s 10.8.4). It comes with two cables, a long and a short one, which is a neat idea. Alas, I would actually have wanted a cordless one but the, I guess, it might be a wee bit early for some BlueTooth 4.0 magic, so I’ll let this pass. It does not come with a manual and whilst that is oh-so-valley-style, a “cheat sheet” for the various gestures might be a good idea: as it is such a completely novel interaction method, it would make peoples’ lives a lot easier if they could check back quickly in the old-fashioned style. I mean, you could do it hipster-infographic-style as a hat-tip to the Valley, could you not?

You plug in, are asked to go to a website and install the software. Simple.

The Start

The first thing you do is go through an “orientation” programme, which is sheer beauty and gives you the first, well, orientation on what to do (and what not). This is the first bit where it shows you what it sees (in rough but pretty terms):

Then it shows you what it really sees (in more accurate and mechanical terms):

The rest is play. Here’s my son practicing his signature:

Using Leap Motion…

Then I started off. There are quite a few pretty cool apps available already (the company announced 1m downloads today, a mere 4 weeks after starting to ship to consumers). The New York Times app is nice (if practical). There are some sweet ones exploring molecules, etc. There are, alas, also some that don’t really work (yet). The usual shenanigans every new platform goes through. Anyway, I then downloaded the “Touchless for Mac” app, which turns the Leap controller into a navigation tool for your computer. And it works: It took me the best part of 20 minutes to actually get going nicely. I could open web pages, scroll through my Facebook feed, open links, play (and pause) video, etc. without too much struggle or stress. Latency is basically absent.

Mind you, this is not Minority Report if you are in the early stages of use (there is a “basic” and an “advanced” setting; I haven’t ventured beyond “basic” yet). But what would you expect? It is new, you have never used gesture controls in space (unless you’re Tom Cruise of course), so you will have to learn. I have little times for nay-sayers that already point out that it’ll fail because it is not perfect. It is a very impressive start!

My son (18, slightly geeky [and designy] aspiring Physicist and skateboard apparel entrepreneur) was, unsurprisingly, a lot faster than I in picking this up. It took him the best part of 5 minutes to successfully navigate around the parts that caused me some trial and error (small buttons, e.g. the “close window” one). BTW: Even my wife thinks is cool, and she hasn’t even seen Minority Report!

Apps, Apps, Apps…

In the year of the Lord (if you are so inclined) 2013, we all know that any device is only ever as useful as the applications that exist for it. And this is where the whole Leap experience delights and, erm, shows potential for growth at the same time: there are some apps out there already (and bear in mind that it’s a mere 4-5 weeks they are in the market only) that show you what can be done with this. And I would say it shows great promise! There are, however, also some absolute dogs (I won’t name and shame as I have no inclination of rubbishing brave developers that took an early leap [sic!] of faith to get behind a new platform).

User Interface

The biggest challenge is the bridge between today’s computer interfaces (I have yet to play around with it on Windows 8; need to “borrow” my daughter’s computer for that) are either mouse- or touch-centric. This is to say that they do not take into account the intrinsic constraints of gesture-based UX systems. That is to say: there is a natural constraint in how the Leap Motion can work with today’s computer systems. That, however, is (arguably) not the Leap Motion’s fault. The promises are huge as it removes artificial middlemen between the content and the user’s natural input mechanism (of which gesture is one). However, the full power of it will only come to fruition if paired with an OS interface that is designed for it, and this might – at least in the short term – be the snag: Leap doesn’t have that.

They have done a lot of things right though (the developer uptake is testament to that for a start) and it would be thrilling to see it being married to an interface that is actually built for it. It is not that hard, I think: Leap Motion’s own store shows (in a webpage) how to adapt a few things that make it very usable indeed.

Big buttons, clear borders between items, etc. make it a whole lot easier to navigate fluently and quickly using the gesture input. This is running in a present-day browser, so can’t be rocket science. There are already some convincing implementations of the Leap’s controls into live services: Google Earth as well as Nokia’s Here Maps already allow you to use the Leap Motion controller as an input device and that works really well!

One downside is the “jump” if you scroll: it sometimes just drops when you move your finger forward (a “click”), essentially misinterpreting what you want to do. This then can open another app (because it got “hooked” in the app tray below) or do some other stuff you didn’t really want it to do. Because of the above-mentioned challenge with small “close window” buttons, this is not a welcome distraction.

Another challenging piece is to use the Leap Motion in concert with keyboard and touchpad: because your fingers move in and/or near the “vision” of the controller, it sometimes interferes by e.g. re-setting your pointer to somewhere else on the screen, which is somewhat annoying. For everyday use, this is even fatal: if you always have to activate/de-activate and/or connect/dis-connect, you will probably not be using it at all once the early excitement has worn off. But let this not deter you from the concept: this last challenge could very easily be abolished would OEM incorporate the controller into an actual computer: the moment you use the keyboard, the Leap controller would simply be “muted” (or something a whole lot smarter than that). None of the constraints are flaws of the technology but merely on how it interacts with today’s commercially available hardware. If you allow a crude comparison: a Lamborghini Aventador would not have been much fun on cart tracks in the 19th century: the device would simply not interact that well with its incumbent environment. Alas, we are not 150 years apart here: all components exist and could work hand in glove (I know, tacky pun) with each other with only very few tweaks.

And Onwards!

And this is where it gets exciting: imagine a controller like this for navigation tasks, voice, etc for things like text input and couple this with anything from Google Glass to Pico Projectors (fairly sure Wikipedia needs an update here) to proximity-aware screens in your environment (you walk into your home, it all comes alive on a 50” screen whereas it would happily play on your Google Glass-type screen whilst you are on your way from work in the metro/tube/bus/subway). You have the freedom to choose and use natural inputs (voice, gestures) depending on what makes most sense for the task at hand. Doable? Absolutely. Close? I suspect so!

Conclusion?

So what do I think? After the above, you’d appreciate this is only an interim conclusion. In principle: I love it! How often will I use it in the next six months or so? Not very much, I guess, as it still doesn’t have the critical bits I particularly need (I am one of the boring MS Office/Keynote/Chrome types). But what can it (and/or competitors, successors, subsequent evolutions of it) do? Enormous things!

Carnival of the Mobilists # 270

Greetings, friends. Due to the English inability to have bank holidays on days other than a Monday, this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists is a day late but it is here nonetheless, and with verve! I have spent reading through a plethora of good stuff from the trenches of mobile:

Our friends from All About Symbian (yes, that name is still around!) have a bit of a prolific blogging streak and brings us two contributions this week looking at aspects of device and OS design respectively. Since both are intriguing, they get a double mention.

First, the function of home screens (note the plural) is queried and the question is as simple as it is compelling: if you have seven (or nine or eleven) “home” screens, do you then actually still have a home screen? Do you also have nine homes? Steve posits that simplicity should arguably win it, which of course is the opposite of what the iPhone’s all-app grid or Andoid’s army of home screens do today. Interesting!

Secondly, Steve looks at the burgeoning size of smartphones. He points out that the Nokia N95 screen size of a whopping 2.6” was huge by the standards then. It is dwarfed by the Samsung Galaxy S III’s 4.8” screen though. And the question is raised when is big too big. The answer is suggested to be at the end of people’s arms: Steve points out that hands are not growing as quickly as the screensizes (if indeed at all) and that therefore there should indeed be a perfect size for a phone – which 4.7” or bigger is, alas, not.

Moving on to even bigger things, and it doesn’t get any bigger than the Chinese market. Andy from Mobithinking has looked at recently released figures from some of the bigger analysists in the space and compacted this in a post that gives us numbers that make the mind of even the hardened mobilista boggle. China has now more smartphones than the US (22% vs 16% of the overall market). China has 3x more mobile subscribers than the US (1bn vs 330m). The country’s largest operator, China Mobile, alone has more than 2x as many mobile subscribers than the population of the US (which is itself the 3rd-largest mobile market in the world – India is a long way ahead of it on #2 though). China has more than 430m mobile Internet users, which is more than the population of either Europe or North America. For more, make sure to read thoroughly!

MobileGroove has a post from guest author Jeff Hasen on something that piqued my interest significantly when I heard about it, namely the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) attempt to regulate the disemination of content via social media (and mobile). Jeff’s background as a reporter and marketer of previous Olympic Games adds further insight. The long and short is that the IOC has set up a “hub” that will post content for more than 1,000 current and former athletes directly from their Facebook and Twitter accounts (which I would suggest is the antithesis of social media). Restrictions as to what you can share apply, however, also to ticket holders (so don’t you dare tweeting that photo of Usain Bolt using a Mac; Acer is a sponsor!). The predictable result? Uproar, mayhem and another big old body having to bow to the anarchic power of social (and mobile) media!

Lastly, something more (seemingly) mundane but (evidently) more practical: MobyAffiliates has a post on AppStore optimization, namely a guide what you need to do in order to make sure that your app doesn’t sink in between those other apps upon launch. This takes everything from app title, keywords, description, icons, imagery, etc, etc. An eminently useful post if I may say so!

As is good tradition on this blog, I will not choose a winner – I think all of them are good and important reads! So go ahead, get a coffee (or glass of wine) and do yourself some good! 🙂

Next week, the Carnival will be hosted by MobiThinking. If you want to submit something worthy, please e-mail us at mobilists [at] gmail [dot] com by the end of the week. And if you need more information on the Carnival (or to catch up on a wealth of information from all the previous Carnivals), make sure to visit the Carnival’s own site.

UPDATE: we have had a late bloomer to this week’s edition but I wouldn’t want to omit this, so here we go: The Mobile Payments Today blog brings a report on the jungle that mobile payments still are (using the example of Google Wallet) and highlighting the apparent complexities in connecting the various ecosystems (different POS systems, card providers, loyalty programs etc).

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