Category Archives: Technology

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.

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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.

The NFC Ecosystem


Mobile Payments through NFC

Mobile Payments

The technology

From a technology point of view, NFC (Near Field Communications) might not imply a great revolution. In a nutshell, it is an evolution of the RFID shortfield technology that has been in use for years now, adding the possibility of bidirectional communications. With RFID, your device could send some data to the receiver, but no dialogue was possible, allowing for very simple, low value applications.

So being an improvement from RFID, there is nothing too fancy about it as a technology feature. Smartphones today support various types of communications which serve different purposes, like their Wi Fi support, 3G and Bluetooth. So what is NFC bringing to the party?. The main beauty might be in its own nature. It is near field, which means it has very short range, typically up to 4 inches. This has a double advantage, first, it makes it more difficult to intercept (even though it is not impossible) and secondly, it demands very little power from the device.

Finally a solution that allows communication between two devices positioned close enough in a reasonably private manner, that demands very little space and power. How is this little thing becoming the next big thing in Mobile?.

Payments, payments and payments

A number of industries are really excited about the massive introduction of this technology in our devices. Key players from Device Manufacturers, Carriers, Financial Services Institutions, Internet giants, all of them are making their moves in the adoption of this technology. Samsung is including NFC chips in their latest Smartphones, while Google’s wallet makes use of NFC chips to replace your old fashioned plastic credit card. Even AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile have teamed to create the ISIS commerce network supporting NFC payments.

In essence, the NFC chip can communicate with the point of sales device in the merchant, transmitting the necessary information so that the payment transaction can be performed, exactly as you would do with your standard credit card. Typically there will be an application in your smartphone that allows you to store your credit and debit cards information in a secure manner, and that requests a PIN number in order to access that information, securing the usage of the virtual card stored in your phone.

These applications would also allow for your card issuer to provision your card over the air onto your phone.

So far it looks interesting and convenient, but not a killer app. Even if we consider that credit card fraud due to card cloning might be more difficult with the introduction of NFC than it is today, at least for the moment.

Payments

Payments

The real beauty

It is not that you replace the plastic, it is that a whole new channel is opened, allowing Merchants and Financial Institutions to enrich the moment of the payment and use that interaction with the customer to add value, link and increase customer loyalty.

The combination of a chip for performing the physical payment transaction and an application driving the process, is the real beauty behind the NFC application to mobile payments. Now you can have coupons or virtual vouchers delivered by the merchant to your phone at any time, that you can redeem to make part of the payment. What about promotional codes delivered to your phone?. Points redemption, loyalty cards… All become now part of the ecosystem surrounding the little chip, to make the most of every time you tap your phone to pay.

Google seems to have understood pretty well the broader boundaries of what NFC is bringing to the table, with products like Wallet and Offers, which cover the whole range of services for Businesses to make the most out of the new technology. Add this to geolocation and in-door location and you can start to explore the benefits of pushing offers to the potential customers that are on the surroundings of your store, which they can instantly redeem at the moment of payment.

Adoption

It will be some years for this technology to be massively present, with a conservative prediction being that it would be present in 50% of the phones by 2014. So we seem to be giving the first steps on this thrilling technology, both on the physical availability of the technology on our devices and on the number of applications we will see coming and sophisticating not only the payments process itself, but the whole relationship between Businesses, Merchants and Customers.

Thrilling, at the very least.

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.

The impact of the pad


Apple iPad

Apple iPad

It has now been a while since tablets made their way through. The concept has been flying around for some time, but only came to become a massive thing in April 2010 after Apple presented the iPad in public. It has been hardly 18months since then, and now the market is fully populated by a number of manufacturers which are pushing different visions of the concept into the market.

When you look at the evolution of the super-sized iPhone, it is really surprising to see how fast and deep it has come into our lives. From the original and probably most widely use of the pad as a browsing device, news reader and of course, gaming companion, there has been an incredible evolution in the uses of not only the iPad but the tablet concept in general.

Now most of the companies publishing consumer applications for SmartPhones are developing specific variants for tablets making good use of the larger screen and interaction capabilities of these devices. Look at Banks and you will see a fierce competition to target applications to their higher end customers based on tablets, where the graphical capabilities and the touch-based interaction model redefine a completely new stage in user experience.

But all of the above is just the somehow natural (although fast) evolution in the usage of the technology. However, there is one other aspect of this technology that looks very interesting to me, and is the impact these devices (and why not recognize it, specifically the iPad) is having in the Enterprise world.

It seems that the way Execs have fallen in love with the device is helping drive the way into the Enterprise at a speed and path that is breaking most of the existing paradigms. The debate is no longer whether a device is appropriate or not for its introduction into the Enterprise, but rather the other way around. And this is happening really quickly. So now employees are allowed to use their iPads at work, capture notes in meetings, read email in their tablets rather than in their corporate laptops and do almost everything except probably content (documents, presentations, spreadsheets) without the need of a full blown computer.

How many laptops could you see in a meeting of the Board?. You would be surprised by the number of iPads. Does this have a real impact in decission making and access to information in these forums? Very probably yes. So this is being a real driver with real examples out there like Standard Chartered Bank.

So this new revolution is bringing to life concepts like Bring your own device and Self Service IT with which large Corporations have been struggling for some time, but all of this seems to be finding a fast track as the demand from the technology comes top down, which is just the contrary to how normally technology gets into an Enterprise. Can this be the next big thing?.

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…

Moving into the Social Network


Malaysia Airlines MHBuddy

Malaysia Airlines MHBuddy

Malaysia airlines has recently announced their MHBuddy application, which basically introduces all the flight search, booking and check-in features IN facebook. This is not a link to the Malaysia Airlines site, it is really a booking engine within facebook.

Where are your customers?

This idea, not specifically around flight booking but more on banking and financial services has been flying through my mind for the last months. There is one fundamental question I ask myself: How much time do our customers spend in our websites or online applications? The answer is simple, very little. We spend millions in improving our look and feel, making channel based pricing to make the Internet channel more attractive, but still it can not be even compared with the time our customers spend in facebook or other social networks.

People do not log into a social network, they are IN the social network all the time. Through their smartphone, tablet, netbook and desktop, through notifications, email or browsing. No matter where and when, you are connected, like it or not, part of your life happens there. And moreover, it does not happen in our corporate websites or online offerings, we are outside the life of our customers.

So it does not seem too wild to think that a possible way to go is to stop trying to pull our customers to our sites but, put our sites and online offering where our customers are.

The implications

I know this opens very serious security concerns, specially in some industries that deal with sensitive information and are prone to attacks, phishing and fraud in general, but if you think about it, this is probably one of the trends we will see in the next few years, with more and more moves into the social network, name it facebook or others, but ultimately, I bet it will happen, and ways to make this secure enough will be found to make the risk acceptable when compared to the benefits.

The most powerful CRM

Now think about the power behind this. Not only you are now part of your customers life, also your customer will be sharing with you lots of precious information that you would have never imagined, this is the most powerful CRM system you can imagine. Habits, friends, likes and dislikes, it is all there for you to be exploited and to adapt your offering to your customer, individually, and in the place where his/her life is taking place. Interesting?. I think so.

Adoption curve

We will probably see companies drifting some of their low risk customer interaction points to social networks, possibly things like customer complaints, surveys and service requests. Maybe even online stores will start selling their goods in facebook. Buying tickets for events is also a very possible application leveraging the existing event management facilities in facebook. I see a lot of constraints before we see high risk customer interactions in these places, but after we are able to understand the security implications and overcome the existing issues, what stops us from offering financial services to our customers in their preferred social network?. Do you want to apply for a credit card or loan, while you tag your last trip pictures?.

Do you prefer your own laptop?


What do you prefer, your fancy MacBook Pro or the corporate laptop you have just been handed over?. Or maybe you want to stick to Windows but rather carry your stylish Vaio. There seems to be a new trend by which your personal devices are being allowed into the corporate world. This opens a very interesting debate with very interesting ramifications. Studies by research firms show that, although current CIOs are quite reluctant to allow this to happen, they also recognize this will eventually happen in the next few years.

Vaio

Bring Your Own Device

This is broadly known as BYOD, Bring Your Own Device. Which effectively means that the company allows you to use your own devices to perform your duties, instead of providing you with a corporate laptop and smartphone, to say. Normally this comes at a price, which is that the company will not give you technical support for these, however, you might still be comfortable with this as anyway you didn’t have any support for this at home did you?.

Let’s go wild for a second and imagine that we are allowed to take our lovely MacBook to work, so let’s think about the implications and interesting topics this opens. Rather than doing a deep analysis of all of these implications I would leave these for further posts, so just take this as food for thought for the time being.

  • Self service IT: Is it possible to simplify the current Corporate IT Support structures in our organizations?
  • Mobile Device Management: How do we manage the devices we allow into our network, regardless of who owns them?. Remember BES for Blackberry? Now we have a broader landscape.
  • Application Management: How do we balance the freedom of choice versus the control of licenses and software costs?. This specific topic opens one idea I like very much, the idea of extending the AppStore concept to the Enterprise World. What about creating an internal marketplace where applications can be downloaded and installed from?. Users can have a budget assigned so they can manage which applications they need and which they don’t. Sounds good right? Let’s explore this in another post.
  • Intellectual property: What are the implications in this space? How do we establish some boundaries between what you create on your free time versus what you create on your time at work?.

I think this is a very interesting topic to explore in detail, so don’t be surprised if you find further posts on the implications of this topic because yes, I am one of those that would love to bring my MacBook to work…

Welcome!


So finally I found the time and the theme to start my own blog.

Singapore Airlines A380 Business Class

Airline sophistication

I guess the most difficult thing when starting a new blog is defining what is all of this going to be about. I just realized that this blog will not have a single theme. It will be around a few things for which I feel specially attracted or passionate, and hopefully the posts here will be around them. And what are these things? Everything within Technology, Banking IT, Aviation, Cars and Travel. And sophistication, I love sophisticated stuff.

 

 

 

 

Enterprise Technology

Enterprise Technology

Quite disperse, yes, but I guess there is something in common. How these industries have excelled in some aspects, and how these can be applied to the others. Don’t be surprised if you find a review about a flight or a restaurant I enjoyed, or a funny application for a new technology I just learned about.

Above all, the whole idea behind opening this blog is about finding how technology and sophistication can be applied to the Enterprise World by becoming a bit wild. Some of you would agree that in todays average enterprise, the application of technology is somehow restricted by policies, controls and other forms of governance.

So this tiny little place in the web is where we can all go wild and imagine how those innovative technologies that we use, and those we only read about, could break through in the Enterprise World and find fabulous applications. Let’s go wild.

The journey starts, Welcome onboard!