Category Archives: Uncategorized

Mobile Analytics

I seem to come across more and more talk/pointers to analytics aimed at mobile. I know of some of Omniture’s offerings and am coming to find out that the iPhone, because of its javascript ability, is opening up multiple advertising and tracking option. Even to the point of tracking what apps a person uses on their iPhone and features within those apps. Sweet.

I came across a nice breakdown of some different iPhone analytics options outlined and discussed by our friends at ianalyzr.com and was compelled to do a quick summary here. Note that all of these provide mobile analytics solutions, but some focused on iPhone. Not listed in any order of preference:

  • AppLoop - provides analytics tracking and distribution of advertising for iPhone 3g apps. Tracks usage, user location, and session information. Leverages GPS, so can track how a particular app is used in a given area.
     
  • PinchMedia - provides location-based statistics as well as usage/session data. Similar to AppLoop.
     
  • SOMA - analytics and mobile ads. No location-based capability though.
     
  • AdMob - another mobile analytics solution. See http://analytics.admob.com/ for details/demo on their mobile analytics

Mobile US Sales down, Smartphones up

NDP report on US mobile device sales just released. A quick highlight: “Handsets sold with a QWERTY keyboard saw the greatest year-over-year rise, with 28 percent of handsets sold with this feature in Q2 2008, versus just 12 percent the year prior. Smartphone sales comprised 19 percent of all mobile phone sales in Q2 2008, an increase of 9 percentage points since the same period a year ago.”

This is worth thinking about: As more smartphones reach end users’ hands, more people are experiencing a richer mobile experience. And they are expecting more out of mobile devices. With the iPhone being the mobile “for the rest of us” and being one factor pushing manufacturers to improve usability, the bar for mobile user experience is continually being raised. And that’s good news – as more people expect great mobile usability, the opportunity to design and build for this experience increases.

Mobile Safari caching

I’ve been a mobile Safari user for over a year now, on both the 2G and 3G iPhone models. One thing that I’m continually bugged about is that it seems whenever I hit the back button, Safari goes out and gets a new version of the page. And if I have multiple pages open, typically when I move from one to the other (in effect moving from one “tab” to the next), the page usually refreshes. (OK, that’s two things.)  In my experience, Safari doesn’t do much in the way of caching pages.

The user experience when using the browser takes a hit. What I’m not sure about is if the mobile Safari is intentionally set up this way, to make a call to the network every time a page changes. Perhaps it is too much to ask of a mobile browser that is capable of rendering full, true-to-life webpages (not just smaller mobile sites.) Since mobile Safari is capable of keeping up to 8 pages open, this is a considerable amount of information that Safari needs to keep open and readily-accessible, let alone keeping additional page history and assets stored so they can be pulled up immediately. I’m sure there is a pretty good hit on the processor as well since it takes some work to simply render a page from memory, let alone load one as it rolls in over the network.

If you’ve ever used the mobile version of Opera, you know that the “back” action is very fast and visually cool – the pages “swipe” back from right to left, as though they had been sitting in a long row. Granted, Opera uses techniques for optimizing the content to generate smaller pages that work on browser. With the Blackberry browser it seems sometimes is was quick loading a previous page when selecting “back” and sometimes it made a call to the network and refreshed the previous page. I was never quite sure when it was going to do which. The Blackberry proxy servers do some optimization on the server-side, so the pages that the Blackberry browser rendered were somewhat mobilized. (note: I’m referring to the the browsers used prior to OS 4.6 – the browser in the Bold and the Kickstart might provide a different experience.)

Since OS 2.0 of OSX for mobile is bringing the iPhone platform into its toddler years, perhaps we will see an improvement in the responsiveness of Safari this over time?

It’s the platform

Mobile devices, particularly smartphones, are often introduced and talked about as sole entities with this feature and that feature. The spec sheets about the devices and the review of the hardware and software running on them is usually the focal point. But what is often left out is the interaction of the device with the larger system. Sure, reviews tend to include quality of reception on a carrier’s network and what features tend to be locked down (e.g. MMS, IM). But what is often missing is talk about the ecosystem. Here I’m talking about how well the phone is supported through OS updates, how easy it is to find/download/install applications, etc.

The experience of the device – i.e. the full user experience — isn’t about device specifications. If the device is built well and has solid hardware and software under the hood, the specifications shouldn’t matter. In fact, if done well, the particular specs (e.g. camera resolution, screen resolution, speakerphone loudness, etc.) should fade into the background and fall out of focus for the user. The user can then focus on the tasks – sending a message to a friend, taking a picture, placing a call. It is when the hardware and software isn’t up to snuff that they become more obvious, more obtrusive, and tend to interfere with the user experience.

But getting back to the often one-sided reviews – leaving the ecosystem out of the discussion and focusing just on the device provides only half the picture. Getting my first Blackberry – a 7100 from T-Mobile – is a case in point. I had had several Treos and two Sidekicks by then, but was really interested in this device that looked and felt like a phone (tall/narrow) but had smartphone features. I was particularly interested in the modified QWERTY – the SureType keyboard – which seemed to be a nice compromise between the standard T9 entry and a full QWERTY (like on the Treos and Sidekicks). I spent time learning how to navigate the often cryptic menu system. I felt like I was becoming a power user as I learned more and more shortcuts and settings. But what I really started to long for was additional applications. Where do could I find applications for a Blackberry, for my particular Blackberry. I relied on reading Blackberry Forums to find the nuggets, the cool apps, along with the reviews of these apps by discerning Blackberry Forum members. But the apps were all over the place. Often, the could be downloaded from the app’s website. This frequently involved downloading it to your computer and then uploading it to the device during a sync – similar to the Palm Desktop model. Occasionally I’d find direct downloads to my device (which I thought was the coolest thing – no computer involved!) But all of this was work, and it felt like needless work. Why couldn’t all the apps be co-located in one place, searchable by the type of Blackberry I had? And why couldn’t they all be downloaded to the device directly? If I could do it with a few of the apps, why not all?

It seemed to me that RIM should have been in charge of corralling all of these into one place. To me, and I’m sure to a lot of people, having the ability to quickly and easily add functionality to my device so I could do more things was not just a feature, but part of my overall experience. And it seemed that RIM didn’t quite pull this together. Maybe it’s not the device manufacturer’s issue? My frustration was with a particular device, but in a way it was with the carrier as well. Either way, the ecosystem could have been much better and to stay competitive in the consumer space I think creating and maintaining a robust ecosystem aroudn a device is key.

Upcoming Mobile Conferences

Just wanted to highlight a few upcoming mobile conferences. There are many conferences of course, but these are a few that are not too far from Seattle and ones that I’d love to attend…
  • Mobilize 08 – Sept 18, San Francisco.  This conference focuses on the “mobile web (of) today and tomorrow”. Organized by Silicon Valley elder Om Malik, this is a one-day event that has a particularly strong industry/VC/startup influence (Om is an ex-VC). Great stuff at this one:  wide representation including Google Android, Yahoo, Symbian, Cisco, and Adaptive Path.
     
  • Mobile2.0 2008: Nov 1, San Francisco.  A one-day event focused on the future of mobile – what is converging, what new services/features are on the horizon, what we need to be thinking about regarding dev and UX, etc. I’ve heard great things about it and am (hopefully) attending this year. Registration is tentatively scheduled to open by end of August on the site.
     
  • CTIA Wireless 2009: April 1-3, Las Vegas Convention Center.  This is one of the biggest mobile/wireless conventions in the world. Pulls in 40k+ people, with reps from just about every part of the industry (device manufacturers, carriers, developers, etc.) I haven’t been before, but it has always sounded like it was the wireless version of the annual CES – 3 full days to geek out on mobile technology. 

iPhone power management

The big talk around the office this week has been about the iPhone battery and how bad it has been. With all radios on (3g, wifi, gps) most people were getting to mid afternoon with a dead battery. The problem doesn’t seems to be the 3g really (although it does consume more energy than the original 2g version) – it is the gps, with the wifi a close second. The bummer is that the radios in the device should fade to the background and what you can do with the device should come front and center. I don’t want to have to tell Google Maps turn on the gps radio so an application can find my location, then I manually turn it off afterwards to ensure that I can listen to music and send some texts on my bus ride home. I don’t want to have to think about it. To be fair, Apple was under a lot of pressure to introduce a 3g version of the iPhone, with gps mind you. There was disappointment around the first iPhone release, as cool as the device was, that it was running on EDGE.

So how much of it falls on Apple that the technology that we are all demanding is power-intensive. Its not cheap to run a 3.5″ screen with multiple radios running. So what would you be willing to give up to have longer battery life? Drop down to a a more standard-size 2.5″ screen? I had a Blackberry 8110 (the Pearl with gps) and it had the same problem – even though it didn’t have 3g, if I left gps running in the background, I could barely make it through a full day. So there is some trade-off at this point in the technology evolution, really at all points in the technology evolution. We want the latest hardware features, but they always come at a cost. I remember the Sidekick II and how cool it was to have a device that was constantly in communication with the network – downloading emails, keeping me abreast of incoming text and instant messages. But the battery took a hit.

So for now, I guess I’ll just have to plug my iPhone in during the day or be a little more conscious about what parts of the device I have turned on.