I started the day at the App Planet exhibition in Hall 7 and whilst one or two of the stands were still busy setting up I started at RIM where they were demonstrating NFC and streaming media from Blackberry to PS3. I found the Blackberry guys to be typically bullish (always a little more so than you might expect) and their offering was quite slick but overall they lacked a ‘message’, especially when compared to their closes rival in the smartphone space: Nokia.
Having kept everything under wraps until after the press conference had finished Nokia really had something to show and the message loud and clear was: “we’re doing lots of crazy cool stuff”. Innovation was a strong theme including high-definition call quality, nano-technology and indoor positioning as well as the superb tie-up with Dolby for digital audio and the frankly incredible 808 PureView boasting so many features you have to double-take when you find out that it’s a Symbian phone. It was definitely good to see them back on form and if the enthusiasm of the staff is anything to go by thing are looking up and seriously, it’s gotta be hard to stay chirpy in a blue Where’s Wally outfit.
One interesting technology I saw was Clic2C, a print watermarking method that gives QR-code like functionality but without the ugly QR code despised by magazine layout artists the world over. Most impressive was the fact that it can work in newspapers which typically have a low dpi. The best individual app I saw was probably Runtastic, a fitness tracking app due to launch imminently which is available with a heard rate strap and receiver for around €60. Another app launching soon is Voice Over IP service Voxtrot, free of charge from handset to handset with PSTN calling coming later their USP compared to Skype is set to be call quality and address-book integration – interesting if it lives up to the spin.
I had an interesting chat with a guy from haptics company Immersion, if you’ve never heard of them you may still have used one of their products – they’re responsible for that little buzz when you press the on-screen keys on your phone. Their idea is to provide a sense of physical action when interacting with touch screen devices and some of the uses demonstrated were quite compelling though hard to explain in writing. The advances are being made in terms of response times, sensitivity (very soft to quite aggressive) and resolution (i.e. how close to your finger does the effect feel), this is great news for gaming though I am convinced that all kinds of apps can benefit from improved and varied user feedback mechanisms.
Down in Hall 1 things were much more carrier oriented With LTE testing gear and a phenomenal focus on small cell and femtocell technologies. One unexpected highlight of the day was SpareOne, an emergency phone that can be powered by a single AA battery with a reported standby time of 15 years (basically, the life of the battery) and a talk time of three hours on a single cell. Sure, it has niche uses and isn’t going to be supplanting the major handset manufacturers but it has the potential to make a massive impact on the niche it serves and will no doubt save hundreds of lives. Also down in Hall 1 were Opera, touting their Opera Mini browser – a great alternative to the stock Android browser and with the benefit that their proxy technology saves on bandwidth and makes content load considerably faster than other browsers.
Back to handsets, HTC were hanging with the carrier-grade boys but had a good showing with their new HTC One lineup and whilst I’d be hard pushed to explain the differences between the V, the S and the X some of the features in the range were impressive. As a photographer the burst mode shooting caught my eye, allowing you to take 5 photos per second which will be great for taking photos of moving subjects – parents taking photos of kids will definitely appreciate that as kids and animals rarely stay still. The Beats Audio addition is interesting and it adds a bit more “welly” but under the hood I’m not sure it’s anything more clever than the “BASS” button you used to get on old portable tape decks.
Well, that’s the bulk of my floor-walking for the day – time for a bite to eat and some shut-eye to prepare for tomorrow’s sights.
Everyone knows the key mantra for designing mobile web sites – “keep it simple” but there are some tips and tricks that will help to create a great user experience for mobile visitors…
- Capture mobile users from the full site – if your full site isn’t rendering well on mobile devices how are people going to find the link to your mobile site? Put in place a redirect to a mobile optimised layout though it’s worth remembering that redirects could also be annoying to users that wanted to see your main site so…
- Provide a link back to your full site – this could be in the footer or as a landing page but in some cases the user may be trying to achieve something not possible on a slimmed-down mobile site or they may be on a tablet that is incorrectly being recognised as a mobile device.
- Consider multiple mobile layouts - you could have a theme that optimises content specifically for iPhone and Android, leaving the other mobile users with a plainer but still small-screen optimised site. Figure out what your audience is likely to be using and target that but don’t forget to tweak and customise the site after you’ve gone live based on the type of devices your users are actually using which will change over time.
- Use appropriate input types – if you are asking the user to provide email address or usernames via a form it can be difficult for them to enter correctly if autocomplete is turned on, similarly it would be better to provide the numeric keypad if you are asking for a telephone number and you usually would not want . You can provide this functionality with a mix of the <input> tag and the autocapitalize property, there are a whole host of other possibilities including length checking and regular expressions but bear in mind not every device will respect these features.
- Avoid scrolling – pagination vs. scrolling has long been a debate in web design circles but if you want to provide your users with a more ‘app-like’ experience the key elements to your site should fit adequately on the page without the need for scrolling. This may not apply to content but if the user is being asked to follow through a process or provide a series of inputs it will be much clearer to the user what they have to do if it fits on one page, equally…
- Avoid clutter – if you have pages with little content it may be worth ensuring that any non-essential (but for whatever reason required) footer information sits below the bottom of the screen to avoid clutter, at the very least you should consider a little trailing white space followed by a dividing line to clearly separate the content from the footer.
- Consider the user’s goal – you might be falling over yourself to provide content or services to your mobile users but is that what they really want? Consider whether or not the user might have other goals in visiting your site and show how they can be achieved, even if that is not via your mobile site. For example, it may be helpful to include a ‘contact us’ or a telephone/email link on at least the first page if not every page.
- Don’t be annoying – it’s the little things that tend to irritate users and on a mobile device this is magnified since they are already compromising on screen size and input capability. For example, pre-fillling forms with help text may mean that the user is going to have to delete that text to enter their own – irritating enough on a desktop and even more so on a mobile device.
- Device testing is essential – there are dozens of emulators and simulators for mobile devices but nothing will ever match testing on devices, it is very tempting as a developer to test primarily on a desktop but it really isn’t the same as holding a small device at arm’s length and using a tiny keyboard to provide input. During your testing phase have someone with a very critical eye run through your site to check for any minor irritations, make sure to tell them to be ruthless in their criticism.
I hope that provides some useful information to those of you starting out with the mobile web and of course, much of this is up for debate so do get in touch if you disagree or have content to add. The list is not intended to be exhaustive and over the next few months I’ll add posts on testing and more technical aspects of the process.
Today I attended the SAP BI 4.0 launch event at the Royal College of Physicians in Regent’s Park London, the first major launch event for Business Objects since being firmly under the SAP banner lending it a degree of expectation amongst the BO user community. With all said and done the day had a slightly unusual structure, interleaving the “new features” sessions with “the future of BI” and “other interesting stuff” talks so the remainder of this post covers the main themes of the day and the “big picture” topics whilst I’ve broken out the new features into a “What’s New in Business Objects XI Release 4 / SAP BI 4.0?” post.
The morning’s main talk came from SAP’s Technology Evangelist, Timo Elliott (for those of you from the SQL Server world think of a cross between Brent Ozar and Andrew Fryer) who delivered a punchy and informative overview of the ‘big ticket’ enhancements coming in 4.0. The main themes of Timo’s talk an of the day in general were the forthcoming enhancements in the Enterprise Analytics space including the recently acquired Column-Oriented data store Sybase IQ and AP’s latest iteration of In-Memory analysis, HANA (High-performance ANalytical Appliance). HANA will run on hardware from vendors such as IBM and HP with upwards of 1TB RAM and sit between SAP BW and other large data sources providing lightning-fast (up to 350x faster in SAP tests) though later iterations of HANA will all-but replace the current storage engine behind SAP BW (planned late 2011) and ultimately will replace the entire data storage infrastructure behind SAP’s ERP systems and potentially other third-party applications.
Timo’s enthusiasm for these new technologies clearly showed and having been in the industry (and the company) for 20 years it’s worth noting that he described the advent of large-scale in-memory analytics as a “once in a decade” leap in capability and for Enterprise-class organisations I’m quite sure it will be but having worked in much smaller companies I’m somewhat sceptical about how much of an impact it will make at the lower end of the market.
Another major theme for the day was the advent of Analytic Applications, essentially packaged BI and Data Warehouse products pre-built for specific industries (e.g. Healthcare, Retail, Manufacturing) or for departmental purposes (e.g. Finance, HR). Demoed by Jeff Veis and Andy Hirst, these applications are presented as a series of dashboards but since much of the underlying KPI definitions and data architecture are already built they can reduce implementation time to as little as 12 weeks vs. 6-9 months for a ‘from scratch’ implementation. It’s easy to be sceptical about this as we all tend to believe that our problems are unique but each application is focused so closely on a particular industry/department that even if they’re only able to meet 70% of the core requirements out of the box the simplicity and reduced timescales ought to be well worth the sacrifice, especially since they’re customisable after the initial setup.
The third major theme of the day was Data Quality, in fact in addition to the session on Information Steward by Barry Dodds and Dave Pugh four other speakers made a point of telling the audience that everybody in the room had data quality problems – it’s probably true but I couldn’t help feeling a little nagged by the end of it all! The tool itself seemed very capable and for a DQ application it was remarkably visual and included dashboard-style elements (to paraphrase Barry) “using analytics to improve analytics” which despite being a cool soundbite is a actually a very sensible approach to take.
Also announced was the new Complex Event Processing engine Event Insight, essentially these CEP engines (like Microsoft’s StreamInsight) take an incoming stream of events in real-time from operational systems and provide monitoring and alerting capabilities as well as processing for more traditional reporting and dashboarding. Additional products mentioned but not thoroughly explored were a collaboration tool sapstreamwork.com and a new unstructured text processing engine that is able to parse free text such as Twitter feeds and provide “sentiment analysis” as well as tagging various context indicators including geography.
Roadmap wise we were told to export more along the lines of Pervasive BI, Big Data, Social / Collaboration and more in the Mobile BI space. On the latter we should expect enhancements to the existing Business Objects Explorer mobile app as well as a native WebI application, mobile platforms mentioned included Blackberry, Symbian, Windows Mobile, iPhone, iPad and even the RIM Playbook but oddly no mention of Android. I’m not sure if it was left off of the slide by accident or there are legitimately no Android plans, I’d assume the former since Android is almost certain to become the market leader in terms of wide-spread adoption.
In addition to the Business Objects staff there were also a couple of external speakers both of whom gave interesting talks…
Tony Harper of Capgemini who spoke on the general topic of Mobile BI, highlighting the increased user expectations presented by high quality consumer-oriented smartphone and tablet apps as a particular challenge. The talk was thought-provoking and in particular it Tony’s statement that Mobile BI projects will be “sending information farther from the walls of the data centre than ever before” really underscored one of his main themes that providing so many people in so many disparate locations live access to your data will significantly stretch both performance and data quality and these expectations should be factored into Mobile BI projects from the beginning.
Following Tony was Alys Woodward from the research firm IDC who gave a good talk on the factors influencing BI uptake within organisations listing the most important contributing factors as being as Degree of Training (including training on KPIs as well as the tools), Design Quality (of architecture and processes), Non-Executive Involvement (i.e. get the business users involved), Importance of Governance and Use of Performance Management Methodology (the last two being important drivers in organisations where they are relevant).
Don’t forget to check out my ”What’s New in Business Objects XI Release 4 / SAP BI 4.0?” post too for more detail on the core Business Objects product stack.
Categories: Business Intelligence, Business Objects, Sybase, The Cloud Tags: Analytical Applications, Andrew Fryer, BI, BI 4.0, Blackberry, BO, Brent Ozar, Capgemini, CEP, Column-Oriented, Data Quality, DQ, ERP, Event Insight, HANA, IDC, In-Memory, Information Steward, iOS, iPad, iPhone, IQ, Mobile BI, Playbook, SAP, SAP BW, Sybase, Timo Elliott, WinMo, XIR4