Category Archives: Application

It’s already happening


Only a few days after this post where Social Media adoption by the Banking industry is analyzed, it is already happened. A Bank has taken the step forward to truly start providing banking services to their customers on Facebook.

ICICI Facebook Banking application

ICICI Facebook Banking application

Digital Life

Whether we like it or not, our customers’ digital life happens in the Social Media. They live and interact there, not in our online banking platform. Therefore it was only a matter of time that someone overcame the resistance and found a way of blurring the boundaries and integrating with their customers’ digital life.

As anticipated, security was -and still is- the main concern both for Financial Institutions as well as Customers when approaching Banking services on the Social Media. Other industries and online services are clearly adopting Social Media profiles as a universal form of authentication, in which your Facebook ID or your Google+ profile become your Digital identity. If Facebook and Google+ are a representation of your real life as an individual, your identities in such platforms should be sufficient proof of identity of your Digital existence.

ICICI’s approach is to make the customer go through a registration process which creates a personalized password. Usage of the application also implies a second factor of authentication, so the customer experience will look quite similar to that of the existing online banking, but at least within your Facebook environment. It will be interesting to see how new approaches to securing Banking services on Social Media will help blur the boundary even more, to a point where there will be virtually no separation between your friends’ posts and your account statements, maybe just a step-up with a strong two factor authentication to protect sensitive data, but avoiding registration processes that somehow impact the illusion of full integration. This would have an interesting consequence: If many sites allow you to log on using your Facebook ID, why should your bank be different?. Why not simplify the process and just use your Facebook ID with a second factor of authentication?.

Anyhow, a very interesting and innovative movement by ICICI which will surely be followed by competitors very soon, and will help gauge the appetite of customers for Banking Services integrated in their very own Digital space.

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iTV – Continued


Rumors intensifying and details being leaked suggest that bringing App Store to your TV set will not be the only killer feature in iTV. Following Apple’s philosophy on user experience, it seems that they have managed to completely revamp the overcomplicated interface of current TV sets.

Pile of remote controls

Pile of remote controls

It is not only the growing number of remote controls  you surely have on your coffee table, but also the complexity of them. On screen menus actually did not deliver any simplification, all of the opposite, they added more and more features hidden under long lists of complicated options. So will Apple be able to change this?.

If we take a look at their history, the answer is quite clear. There is one fundamental thing the guys in Cupertino have been able to do. They have been able to make technology that is not felt as technology, and does not look like technology. They look like sophisticated products that anyone can use and enjoy.

Computers that do not look like computers, and do not require any technical knowledge to be used. How many technical messages, data, black screens do you see when your Mac starts. How many of you upgraded to OSX Lion with a few clicks?. SmartPhones and Tablets with an incredibly natural user interface, that does not feel techy at all.

So when the TV set industry is going on a completely opposite direction, are they ready to really break this trend and revolutionize the way you use your TV?.

Siri

Siri

Think Siri. This might be the answer to the way they would want to approach the relationship between you and your TV. No more remote controls. No more buttons. Talk

to your TV.

Thinking about it, probably the TV is one of the first stops in a long conquering journey. Voice interfaces have been there for a long time, but never this natural. Siri is an impressive piece of technology that… doesn’t look like technology. Game changer.

 

 

 

 

iTV?


In the last decade there have been various attempts to renew the old glorious days when the TV set was the king of the living room. Despite set top boxes, which promised a basic level of interactivity, and

some applications built into gaming consoles like PS3, the TV has remained pretty much a one way lane ever since. Yes, higher quality, definition and even 3D, but still a one direction street.

Samsung Smart TV

Samsung Smart TV

Only in the last few years some manufacturers brought some built-in applications and even internet connection to their TV set offering, like Sony with some members of the Bravia family, but the offer was still very limited and fixed to the device, with very little possibilities of upgrade, which meant it would become quickly obsolete.

But then came Apple and introduced AppStore in 2008, not only making the process of buying, installing and upgrading software as simple as 1-2-3, but also creating an incredible appmania that has been conquering other platforms and devices. So it seemed only a matter of time that the format hit the TV, and Samsung did it.

Even though the figures are nowhere near the rocketing figures of applications sold for Smart Phones and tablets, there is clearly an appetite for these on TVs, with Samsung having served 5 million downloads in the first 15 months. Clearly the technology renewal cycle of TVs is much slower than that of Smart Phones, and whilst supporting apps might be a factor in choosing a specific TV over another, might not justify the renewal of your working set.

Samsung serves over 5 million apps

Samsung serves over 5 million apps

Other popular manufacturers are joining the apps wagon and are starting to launch TVs with apps capability, but what about the most powerful apps market out there?.

Google is also joining the trend with Google TV and offering perhaps a more open approach to enjoying digital, interactive content and apps on your TV, will they ever make the jump to manufacture a Google TV Display?.

Closing the loop

No rumor around that yet, but yes around Apple. For a couple of years, rumors have persisted that Apple was preparing a revolutionary TV set, which would bring together the traditional simplicity and elegance of Apple products, with their massive app store and the power of iTunes and its possibility (in some markets) of purchasing digital content.

From a device point of view, if the rumors around iPad 3 and its retina display are accurate, its resolution will be far higher than any Full-HD TV, so iOS is already capable of feeding such a screen while granting you access to hundreds of thousands of applications. It supports WiFi, and has a front camera for doing videoconferencing over facetime. Can you imagine a better place to do facetime than your TV?.

Whilst all of these would probably justify consumers to turn their eyes on to an eventual Apple TV Display (not to be confused with the current Apple TV), Apple could possibly be behind something bigger. Think iCloud, iTunes and iTV (should they give it that name) all together. Looks like the perfect way of closing the loop of the iFamily, doesn’t it?.

Subscription

iTunes might start offering subscription services on which you might be access to all the content available via streaming, from any of your iDevices, including your brand new iTV. iCloud would allow you to store and share your existing, downloaded content and enjoy it full screen in the confort of your living room. Should they manage to do this with the quality, elegance and simplicity they usually do things, they could clearly do away with a big portion of the cable TV subscriptions.

The device

Only rumors from here onwards, but most of them point to iTV as the name of the device, and late 2012 as the launch date, with a huge 55 inch OLED screen to enjoy your apps and content from iTunes. It would be powered by iOS as a super-sized iPad, but no information on wether it would be a touchscreen or not. Limited use for this from your sofa, but still would be nice to play Angry Birds at full size…

NFC beyond payments


The spread and adoption of NFC seems to be gaining momentum in the industry, with a number of terminals either supporting or having the intention to support the technology. With the exception of Apple, who still have to make a move in this space, most SmartPhone manufacturers are already shipping NFC-enabled devices, updated list can be checked here.

With strong support from key industry players like Visa or MasterCard, and with Google redefining the whole payments ecosystem, the late 2011 and early 2012 will see the consolidation of NFC as a standard feature in mid to high-end SmartPhones. Yet more to see if Apple decides to include the technology in their yet-to-be-seen iPhone 5.

While contactless payments will continue to be the source of growth for a number of years, however there are many other uses and applications that are strongly emerging, which promise a bright future for this technology. NFC is here to stay.

SmartPhones have been gradually conquering other devices space, replacing your agenda, phone, photo and video camera, business card holder… and even computer with very advanced applications being available out there in the respective appstores. The next thing to come is clearly your wallet, changing your old-fashioned plastic credit cards for their virtual counterparts.

Cash Cards have been successfully implemented in some markets, whilst others are still hesitant to make use of them. The burden of balance top-up is still something to be resolved. NFC can boost the usage of these, as they are really convenient for day to day micro payments where a contactless, signatureless payment can be really convenient. Vending machines, public transportation, paying a taxi or your coffee at Starbucks are likely to be done with a cash card, which now you will be able to store in your SmartPhone. And guess what, recharge it directly from your banking account too!.

But there is room for NFC beyond payments.

Merchants offering loyalty cards, with or without stored value can benefit of this technology. You have loyalty cards from a couple of airlines, half a dozen hotels, your favorite coffee shop and a myriad of other merchants. Now all of them can fit comfortably in your NFC-enabled phone, and you can easily track your points, miles and rewards easily in one single place.

Access Control through NFC

Access Control through NFC

Access control

Modern houses use cards and readers to access doors and gates instead of traditional keys, pretty much like you would see in any hotel. Wouldn’t it be nice to use your SmartPhone to access home?. And it would not stop here, home automation might be one of the next things to be conquered by your SmartPhone, so start guessing the possibilities here.

Anywhere requiring identification in the form of a card can benefit of NFC for access control, so will no longer have to carry your identification badge with you. Your phone does.

Information sharing

The next best thing is information sharing. In the era of Social Media, it is all about sharing. Also in the physical world, where you are likely to exchange your business card when you meet someone, give your phone number or your facebook profile to someone you just met, or leave your card to participate in the next lucky draw. All of them can now be done by putting your phone close enough, so you can transfer your contact details, social media profiles or leave a reduced version of your contact details on a merchant. How many times have you been asked to write down the same contact details on a hotel at check-in?. Guess what, never again.

And the last, yet best

Angry Birds Magic

Angry Birds Magic

It had to be Rovio and in had to be Angry Birds to give us the latest example of NFC. The latest version of their ultra-popular game, still only available on the new NFC-enabled Nokia C7,

allows gamers to contact other gamers to unlock new levels of the addictive game. Fun?.

This is not an app review


Technology packed

Technology packed

This is not an app review. It is rather some thoughts and reflections on how much technology and features are packed in any of the SmartPhones you can buy today. We have taken it for granted, but it is truly amazing to see that you can carry in your pocket a device that contains a GPS, a compass, a high definition photo and video camera, plays music, browses the internet and is capable of doing all at the same time through powerful multitasking. But does anyone need so many features?. I thought not.

But then I started running. I am not a big fan of it, so I just started to reduce a bit of extra weight gained during the holidays. However, I found an application that motivated me to start, and to continue doing it on a regular basis. It is called Runmeter. Probably there are a lot of applications similar to this one, but this is the one I chose, and with which I truly realized how wonderful applications and features you can build when you make use of all the powerful technology Smart Phones pack today.

GPS

You define a route, press the start button and there you go. It tracks your run by GPS pretty accurately. Not only it tracks where you go, but also how fast you go, so you get instant pace, average pace, pace per km, even altitude deviations, although these are not really accurate. The GPS bit in action. Good?. Wait and see…

Internet

Do you need Internet connection while running?. Not for web browsing, definitely, but one fantastic feature of this application is that it integrates with facebook and other social networks, so you can choose what the app publishes for you when you start, stop and finish running. Social Media is all about sharing and interacting, so now you can share your progress while you train. Nothing revolutionary here, but this becomes really fancy when you go to the next step, and you not only share but you also interact. How can you interact while you are running?. Easy, the application will monitor any comments your friends might do on your “Started run” post on facebook and guess what? It will read them out loud to you on your headset. This is my favorite feature, it is really motivating, and when your friends know that they are being read out loud while you run, they really become imaginative and encouraging. Really good.

And music!

What is running without music?. All of the above while you keep your pace listening to your music. Either with the standard iPod included in your iPhone or with my favorite Spotify, that allows you to find those disco hits from the early 90’s you used to dance to and remember the time while on the run. Superb.

Probably none of these are truly revolutionary aspects from a technology perspective, not even from the fact of being packed into a tiny little device. It is the combination of all of them working in harmony that makes really good applications possible.

Sensorconomy

We started by integrating data into applications, now we are integrating sensors like GPS or compass. Some analysts predict Sensorconomy would be the next big thing in Smart Phones by introducing temperature, humidity,light and other sensors into Smart Phones to extend the boundaries of your device and allow it to interact more. I really think the hardware is going further ahead than the applications in the mobile space, which is really thrilling. We have just started to take off in making use of the current possibilities so the future of mobile applications looks promising, at the very least.

App Stores in the Enterprise?


App Stores

App Stores

The App Stores are one of the key pillars on which the SmartPhones have built their success. Not that mobile applications where only introduced at the time the stores became available, but they solved nearly all of the issues that existed until them.

First, it was very difficult for developers to find customers, and for customers to find the applications they wanted. This also discouraged many from investing time, effort and money in developing these native applications, which resulted in a low number of available ones.

Second, all the logistics of applications installed in devices rather than browsed from devices where not solved, in some cases falling into the traditional burdens of software distribution. Installing, uninstalling and specifically maintaining your applications up to date was not an easy thing to do.

Last, but not least, charging for the apps meant each developer had to find a solution for managing the payments, with PayPal having been a traditional partner on this space.

But suddendly these App Stores arrive, and buying applications becomes as easy as buying any other article online, making the installation and uninstallation of applications as easy as 1-2-3, and more importantly, you no longer need to worry about keeping your software up to date. The App Store will tell you and let you update what you want, when you want it. Easy right?. Bringing developers and consumers to a single place has also boosted both the availability and consumption of applications, with numbers of applications in the hundreds of thousands.

So are these new stores the panacea for software distribution?. I suspected so, and I kind of confirmed it when Apple launched the App Store for Mac. The concept is reaching the desktop. So this is when things get interesting. Can this be applied to your corporate environment?. I hope so.

Distributed computing

There are a number of issues typically associated to large estates of PCs usually running Windows.

First, one size does not fit all, so you will face different users with different software needs, meaning that you will need to find a balance between standardization (critical to keep support and maintenance costs under control) and the specific needs of your user communities.

Second, you will have to automate as much as possible the possible of provisioning applications upon users requests, and more importantly, keep an inventory of all of this, as you want to know who is using what to avoid any licensing issues.he

Cost. This is usually tackled by complex approval processes which in the end do not really cap the amount of money a user spends on software which is likely to be rarely used.

And not to talk about software updates and patching.

When you look at these traditional issues, it seems miraculous that the App Stores have achieved to resolve most of this issues for a wider, more diverse crowd than the one in any of the Company.

Applying the concept

So how about delivering vanilla desktops or laptops to your employees, and giving them a budget according to their profile?. If a concept such as an App Store could exist in the corporate environment, users could have a budget to spend there. Go to the supermarket, choose what you need and install it. You are running out of budget? Maybe you can return to the App Store that application you downloaded which no longer you are using.

This, if tied to an inventory of licenses, will surely help software costs under control on a very predictable manner, while giving a much better user experience. Your users are now autonomous and can self manage their software, which would also have a very positive impact in your helpdesk and engineering budgets.

Did I talk about software updates and patching? How much money do you spend on that?

I am sure there are lots of challenges to be solved before such a concept can be applied completely in the Enterprise world, but after seeing what Apple has achieved with the Mac App Store I am hopeful it will come…

The way back


New trends

Sometimes, implications are hidden by the glowing success of certain new technologies. This is exactly what is happening with the current smartphones, or I would better say AppPhones. A trend opened by Apple in 2007 when the first iPhone was launched, ever since then most of the companies providing end customer services through smartphones are choosing to do it over native applications that are downloaded from their respective application store.

So far nothing wrong with this, actually from an end user perspective I am personally a great fan of this way of delivering contents and services, as they can provide an incredible user experience as well as providing full integration with the smartphone features like the camera, in-built GPS, compass and whatever will come in the next generations, with NFC chips already knocking on the door.

A bit of history

80's computing

80's computing

It is, however, when you look at the evolution of technology in the last few decades that you find this trend quite curious, as it implies effectively going against some of the basic principles we have been enacting for long years.

Think about traditional systems up to the 80’s where client-server computing used to be the rule. No middleware systems in between, and full blown applications (with exceptions like mainframes accessed through emulators) installed in end users computers.

The web comes in the 90’s, and soon browser-based, thin client computing is understood to be the way to go. Numerous advantages, like eliminating the error-prone processes of software distribution and patching the distributed applications. Looked very good and actually was (and still is) the rule up to nowadays. Except for mobile applications.

Back for good, sometimes

Back to client-server architectures, albeit in most of the cases a middleware will be paving the way between the client application and the back end systems, but client-server, anyway. It must be said, though, that the traditional burdens of distributed computing have been brilliantly solved by the companies ruling the mobile platform industry, with simplified application download, update, install and uninstall processes that eliminate nearly all the issues while maintaining all the advantages of native applications in terms of responsiveness and user experience. So brilliant is the concept of an Application Store or Marketplace, that I bet we will be seeing more applications for this concept outside the mobile ecosystem.

So back for good, I would say, in this case.

Back to square one, in others

Another traditional battle, specially since the early days of the web, has been standardization. Not only a problem for users who had the freedom to choose their browser of choice, but also for developers which had to write, test and maintain

Standardization

Standardization

code for many different browsers which did their own interpretations of the existing standards. This had improved in the last years though through greater standardization, so now we could talk about tuned versions of the same development rather than multiplied developments for different browsers.

Now think about mobile applications from this perspective, and here is where I see clearly a return to the beginning. Multiple platforms, with no grounds in common and even different programming languages, means that a company developing an application for Apple, Android and RIM devices, needs effectively to write 3 different applications. Of course design and some coding frameworks will surely be reused, but most of the work needs to be redone. Promising frameworks are out there to help bridge this gap, however, it looks that in this case we are back to square one.

OS Wars vs Patent Wars


The Patent Wars

The Patent Wars

The holidays are now over, so time to resume the activity after the holiday break. However, August has not been as quiet as it normally is, at least in the Mobile Industry, well, it was, until Google announced by mid month that they where acquiring Motorola’s mobility to seriously jump into the hardware industry and give yet more power to the Android platform they have been developing over the last few years. Although boosting Android (see stats below) is the main official reason behind the operation, Motorola’s vast portfolio of patents has surely played a role in the decision, specially after the war started earlier this year when Apple and a number of other manufacturers, including Microsoft and RIM teamed to acquire other patent portfolios, something which was publicly criticized by Google.

This comes in a moment where Android is clearly becoming the rival to fear for Apple’s omnipresent iOS powering their iPhones and iPads. While SmartPhone sales rocket literally on every market, Android surpassed iPhone in market penetration on a global basis, after it had already done so in the US in November 2010. If we include tablets into the equation, Apple still leads the way.

But not everything seems to be a honeymoon after Google’s announcement. Even though Google claims to have gained agreement with the main phone makers using Android, looks like behind the lines some of them are not too happy about Google entering into competition with them in their traditional marketplace. Maybe casually, only two weeks later Samsung announced a new set of devices using the Bada Operating System, the Waves Y, M and 3.

Probably this will not mean that Bada will gain enough market penetration to threaten Android’s leading market position, but from an application development and marketing perspective, definitely is something to keep an eye on, as this could potentially degrade into an OS war.

When facing the marketing, product definition and development of a mobile application, one of the key decisions to take is the platforms to support. Every business will have different target audiences, and the multiplicity of platforms has a great impact on the total cost of ownership of the mobile software products companies provide. It is not only the different skills needed for development, but also the different user experiences that each platform provides, as well as the increasing complexity of testing, customer support, incident management, etc. This is clearly being a barrier for some other platforms to gain growth in the number of available applications in their respective application stores and markets, as corporations will need a minimum number of customers to justify the development and maintenance costs for a specific platform.

Time will tell wether this evolves into an OS war, or wether the market continues the consolidation under the two -for the moment- winners.

Indoor Location and Visitor Tracking


Now that geolocation is massively present in our lives, and used on lots of mobile applications, a new hot topic in mobile technology seems to be coming. It is indoor, short range location.

Indoor located & tracked shopping cart

Indoor located & tracked shopping cart

Some time ago I discovered that in a popular supermarket in Singapore the shopping carts had an LCD screen that showed information relevant to the section you were walking through at that point in time. At first I thought “well, the latest form of publicity in the kingdom of advertisement”, something fancy, but just that. Or was it something else?. Are they just showing you offers that are at the reach of your fingertips, or are they doing something else?. What if they are tracking the movements of the cart by some sort of indoor-GPS so they can know what are the shopping and movement patterns of the visitors?.

This seems like a very interesting application to every public space that receives visitors or customers, as it provides a very useful and detailed insight of the movements of the visitors within the space, also being able to detect hot spots that draw visitors attention, what are the places, on the other hand, that are barely visited, and many other parameters that define the analytics of how users move themselves in any open space.

So probably these guys are not just offering me the current promotion on house wines as I walk by the spirits section, but they are actually tracking, recording, and analyzing all my movements in the store. This way they can know where do I spend more time, whether I come back to a section where I have been before, maybe indicating the products are not too clearly shown as I needed to come back and find something.

The technology seems to be very interesting in its practical applications, but in this particular case it is very probably based on RFID, which means that each cart probably has a passive RFID and they have a number of receivers in the store to track our movements. Not rocket science, definitely, but a very intelligent way of having some insight onto an otherwise very complex problem to resolve.

Removing the cart

Having recognized the value of indoor location and visitor tracking, we can imagine a lot of applications for this, virtually anywhere subject to receiving visits of customers. Airports, Supermarkets, any type of stores, even bank branches can benefit of this to optimize resources and know what are the patterns that drive customer behaviour in real life interactions -as opposed to virtual interactions over the internet, which are much easier to track-.

But the fundamental limitation seems to be how do we stick our customers and visitors to an RFID. Easy in the case of a supermarket where you are very likely to pick a shopping cart, but complicated in many other situations. However, there seems to be some possibilities in using three forms of signals that your mobile phone can be publicly sharing: TMSI (Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity), Bluetooth and Wi Fi. Whilst Bluetooth and Wi Fi depend on the user having this feature activated on the phone, they are quite good sources of information to perform indoor tracking.

However the first one seems to have a broader application, as it is first anonymous, resolving the traditional privacy issue of location and tracking, and second, is always active. It is based on a regular communication all mobiles perform with their base stations in order to report their location. These communications can be picked by indoor antennas and can be used for locating the position of the user with a precision down to 1-2 m. Good enough isn’t it?.

There is a very interesting paper that describes this technology in detail as well as providing a pilot study with very interesting results. As stated in the paper, this is the having Google Analytics for real life customer interactions…

Breaking the screen barrier


I must admit that when I first got introduced to Microsoft Surface 2 a few weeks back in a Microsoft event I was a bit skeptical about its potential applications. Maybe it’s the size or the price tag, but after reflecting on it a bit I think there is one

Surface 2

Customer interaction

fundamental thing in which it can be extremely useful. Breaking the screen barrier. If you think about customer interactions, a big number of them happen in front of a counter or desk, where the an agent is normally looking at some information in a computer screen in order to complete a transaction, hotel or flight check-in… What about configuring your new car with the sales agent?.

Surface 2

Surface 2

I do find this situation a bit odd, as the screen is not shared, so the customer experience is somehow affected by this barrier. This is precisely where Surface can bring a completely new customer experience by allowing the customer and the agent share the same screen, not only by placing the screen in a horizontal manner, but also not having a default orientation. This means that content can be placed, rotated, fliped, etc. so it can be looked from any angle. This is new. So now you have your customer and your agent interacting with exactly the same information. The multi touch experience adds so this, actually Surface can handle up to 50 simultaneous touch points, and that is a lot of fingers.

When you think about it, this can be really have a great impact in your whole customer interactions. Imagine a financial planning session with your relationship manager in your bank, looking at the same widgets, market reports and graphs, your expenses and investments, your risk profiling. You can now have all these elements in the screen, and they can be placed, moved around, zoomed, all in a shared manner. Or maybe you are checking in for your next flight, so no longer you are looking over a counter where the airline staff key in cryptic commands in order to find you your preferred seat. Now both of you can share the same screen, look at the seatmap, use gestures to zoom and pan around it.

Actually Surface 2 brings a lot more than the ability to look at a screen from many angles and have multiple interactions with it. It opens a whole new way of human to computer interaction. Actually the screen not only recognizes your touch, but can also see you. Or any object placed on it. This opens yet another completely new dimension, but I admit I need more thinking into it before I can imagine practical applications. However, I still wanted to share the customer interaction bit which is more due to the form factor and the multi touch capabilities rather than the new Pixel Sense technology which brings the vision capability.

Now just imagine a 15 inch Surface and you have something that can fit on every customer service counter and deploy massively into branches, airports and hotels.