Tag Archives: mobile

GoPago -> Mobile loyalty

The new GoPago app and service allows you to order ahead at businesses, say a latte at the cafe, and just pick it up. No fumbling for a credit card or phone, standing in line – just show up and say your name. A good competitor to Square.

This is a great example of how to extend a loyalty program though mobile via great customer service.

This Could Be Big

My wife was talking to her dad this morning – he’s has a farm in central Oregon and isn’t into tech – and he said “we need to become more computer literate so we can communicate with the younger generation.” We’ve helped her dad and his wife in the past with getting them a computer and setting it up in the Internet – it has never stuck. But he continued “…well, you know Apple is coming out with a new kind of computer today…”

Now maybe he happened to be listening to NPR or glancing through the paper, but this was an unusual, albeit impressive, statement that i feel point to the secrecy and buzz (and buzz through secrecy) that Apple is very good at.

Because if you give a farmer in Central Oregon a computer…

What’s in store for the 27th?

Tomorrow is apple’s special event during which many are hopeful/expecting a new category of device to emerge. The tablet. Much as been written and speculated over the past few months (years even) about what this will be. Before tomoorow’s event hit, I wanted to put down my thoughts on what this thing might look like – not so much that i want to get my $.02 of speculation in, but rather to see how accurate a prediction I could make (maybe those are the same thing?)

So here goes:
- thin, aluminum device with a 10″ screen. As thin as an iPhone
- few hardware buttons or controls. Like the iPhone.
- runs a new version of mobile OSX – 4.0. This version will also run on the iPhone but maybe with slightly fewer features
- will run iPhone apps, but perhaps be more HD-like
- will connect in with iTunes and app store
- at least 32 GB flash memory (perhaps with 64 GB model for more $)
- weight around 16-20 oz (about 4 iPhones)
- 7+ hours of battery life
- wifi and Bluetooth
- GPRS radio for connecting to Internet and downloading content. On Verizon.

OK, that’s what I’m going with – let’s see how this looks tomorrow…

Will the Real Google Phone Please Stand Up?

My colleague Chris gave a shout out earlier today about Techcrunch’s reported existence of an Android-powered device that will be offered directly from Google. There have been rumors for months about a Google Phone (even hints back when Android itself was first announced many moons ago.)  Now this device from Google hasn’t been officially announced – just tweets from some Google employees who have be using the device, and some rumors at this point.  The early impressions are very positive and the specs do look impressive: thinner than the iPhone, 1Ghz+ Snapdragon processor, unlocked, OLED display, great camera, sound-canceling technology.  This all sounds good, but good specs don’t necessarily make for a good mobile user experience. However, there are a few “features” of this device that stand out and stand to make the Google Phone a game-changer. Here’s why.

First, this is Google’s first hardware entry into the mass market. This puts Google in the position of owning both the software and the hardware, and being able to optimize the user experience.  They of course have to get it right – tight integration of all aspects of the device – but this puts them much more in the Apple and RIM (Blackberry) camp of being able to call the shots on all aspects of the device and how the user interacts with it.  The fast processor will help as well. My experience from owning a G1, and more recently a Motorola Cliq, is that Android needs something fast under the hood to make the screens and interactions move fluidly. Both of my Android devices get bogged down easily from background processes, screen refreshes, and network activity, which make for a painful experience at times. I’m particularly not very fond of the unregistered screen presses and choppy scrolling.

The second “feature” worth noting is that the device is rumored to be sold unlocked by Google itself. What is this a big deal, considering you can already buy many unlocked devices? Several reasons:

  • Google will most likely offer an attractive and competitive price point. Google will want to get these devices into many hands, and may be willing to cover the subsidization costs (that the carriers normally absorb). If any of the free (read: company subsidized) products that Google currently offers is any indication, the Google Phone may carry stong price appeal in the market.
  • The device-network balance will shift. By buying an unlocked device, you get to choose the device first and then shop for the carrier. This flips the model we are used to in the U.S. where carriers tend to have “exclusives” on mobile devices – subsidized devices in exchange or 1- or 2-year contracts – thus locking the user onto a particular network if they want a particular device. Want an iPhone?  You’re stuck with AT&T.  How about a Palm Pre? Hello Sprint. By putting the device first, you are able to select a carrier that meets your particular needs, be that best nationwide coverage, lowest-cost plans, discounted international calling, etc.
  • Carrier contracts may change or (hopefully) go away. If you buy an unlocked phone and can go to any carrier, what will the carrier be locking you into a contract for?  If you are not getting the device subsidized by the carrier, they are really acting as your ISP and providing the data pipe. Aside from startup costs to joining a new carrier like porting your number or activating an account, the whole idea of the Early Termination Fee will become irrelevant.

Oh, and the Google Phone is rumored to have Google Voice included, which allow you to make VoIP calls and bypass many of the services offered by carriers such as visual voicemail, low-cost international rates, and built in SMS messaging – all additional charges by the carriers. Another thorn-in-the-carrier-side and disruptive  (did Apple/AT&T ever get around to approving Google Voice for the iPhone?)

I haven’t heard (beyond speculation) about ad integration.  It would seem that a phone built by Google would naturally integrate advertising (and they did just buy the mobile ad network AdMob.)  Perhaps the device will be free, but will have banner ads in your calendar and music player. Who knows – we will hopefully see soon.

With the Google Phone, I see several wins for users here – the potential user experience win that comes from tight hardware and software integration, and the potential consumer win that comes from changing established models in the wireless industry. These aren’t a given, but we’ve seen boundaries pushed by the introduction of the iPhone – perhaps Google can push them even further.

Creating Solid Mobile UX

The momentum of mobile application development has accelerated over the past year.Apps have increased the functionality of mobile devices, and the success of Apple’siPhone app store has lead the charge in the introduction of app stores on other platforms such as Android, Palm, Nokia, and soon Windows Mobile. A key element in the adoption of mobile apps is a focus the user experience. There are lots of good apps out there, but many more bad ones.

So how do you ensure creating a great mobile experience for users? There are two key ingredients: One is focus, the other is testing. “Focus” actually has multiple parts, including simplicity, consistency, and great performance. Taken together, these parts help pinpoint the core elements to meets users’ needs. Focus is especially important for clients that have existing sites or applications – there is often a strong push to include much of the functionality that a user would encounter on a desktop. But because mobile has many different interactions than the desktop – frequency and duration of use, context (e.g. riding the bus, walking downtown), and input methods – it important to focus on core elements that be engaged with during common “mobile” usage.

A great example of focus can be seen by comparing Amazon.com’s desktop homepage and their mobile iPhone app. The Amazon desktop experience (left) includes a dizzying range of information and functionality. The Amazon mobile app (right) includes only core elements – search, product information/reviews, one-click purchase. Picture 11

Edward Tufte nicely describes all the extra screen stuff as the “computer administration debris” – on mobile the content is the interface. Amazon has effectively minimized this debris and focused on content in their mobile app. By providing the core elements, mobile users can quickly and easily engage with Amazon’s extensive range of products and purchase them. Their mobile app is highly focused.

The other ingredient in ensuring your mobile app hits its mark is usability testing. Here the key is to have users engage with the app on the actual device and to have them complete authentic tasks. We like to have users sit or stand in the lab while interacting with the device. We record the device interface (either directly or using an emulator that runs on the observer’s computer) along with the user’s voice and facial expressions. Here we capture interaction issues as well as affective elements – how the user engages with the app, what gets them excited, etc. This provides a great opportunity to test out what features to include, along with highlighting issues that need to be addressed.

I’ve quickly described two core pieces in mobile app creation – focus and testing. It is important to note that there is a ton of thinking and decision making that goes into this process. But doing so helps ensure the best mobile experience possible.

Mobile: a challenger in Google Android?

You’ve probably heard tidbits here and there that Google is going to release their own phone – informally dubbed the “gphone” or “google phone”. What’s really going on is that Google built an open source operating system called Android. Through an alliance with hardware and carriers, there is an initial device being built by HTC and will run on T-Mobile’s network.  HTC is the the Taiwanese company with U.S. headquarters in Bellevue that make some very nice hardware (but often have the not-so-user-friendly Windows Mobile installed on them, like the Dash, Shadow, and Wing.)

Now there are some interesting pieces to the story that have been developing over the last few months. Some is unconfirmed (e.g. analyst speculation, fanboy lust).  I highlight some here:

  • the new phone is tentatively called the “Dream“. It will be a little smaller than the iPhone, but slightly thicker. FCC filings show that it will have a touch screen with haptic (vibration) feedback AND a slide out qwerty keyboard (sweet.)  Also has all the popular radios: wifi, GPS, fast data (i.e. HSDPA). For lots of deets, check out Engadget’s Android post roundup.
  • tentative release date Oct-Nov.
  • they have their own app store called Android Market - similar to the Apple iPhone app store, but some say better and more extensive. There are already some amazing apps announced (thanks Robert B for the link.) Google sponsored a competition for devs to create killer apps before launch – to the tune of several million dollars. The community responded.
  • there is talk that the gphone will be very web and search centric, and will integrate with Google’s suite of online apps. There is also talk that it will support Exchange, but probably not in the initial release.
  • and there is also talk that the gphone will be cheap and, perhaps, supported by advertising somehow. Cheap is nice, but with cheap always comes some other tradeoff like being stuck with your carrier for many years. Not clear on the pricing of the device or data service as of yet.

So what does this all mean? For one, I think we will have some true competition for the iPhone – not just in the device, but also in the ecosystem surrounding the device. This is really what helps makes a mobile device take of – great integration with, and extension of, your world. One missing piece (that I’m sure is being thought about as you read this) is media content – will there be an accompanying “gtunes” music store? My bet is yes (even though at this point T-Mobile is the only major carrier in the U.S. without some sort of online music/media store.) Perhaps the gphone will let you simply use whatever service you want, like AmazonMP3.  If you’ve heard anything about this, please shout out…

Second, when they get Exchange up and running, it might provide true competition in the corporate space (probably not right away while they figure out all the security/SOX compliance stuff and work on their 1-2 sucker punch on blackberry/windows mobile.) It also might have mass appeal, great usability and low price point that would make it appealing to the masses. As such, it might be a viable option for your own company. Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone is cool and I love that there are more and more of them popping up here at work. However, the gphone may turn out to be another great option (that doesn’t feel like you had to compromise.) Even though the iPhone provides a really great user experience, it is also fairly locked down – the gphone may represent a true open-source mobile device with great developer community support.

I’m excited to see how the synergy continues to develop between Android, device manufacturers, and the growing community of developers…

Where are the Killer Apps?

…on the iPhone. Or should I say, where is the killer functionality? Since the announcement of the iPhone apps store on July 11th, I’ve spent around $40-$50 on apps, and have “researched” many, many more (amazing how you can kill a few evenings looking at app descriptions and screenshots.) In the app store there are tons of games, cool “show off” apps, some productivity and information apps, and some interesting social media tools. Like I said,  I have downloaded many of these and tested them out. I can’t say that I’ve hit them all (there is something like a few thousand up now.) But so far, very few are standing out for me as being must haves.

I really like some of the IM apps, particularly Palringo. I also really like Pandora and AOL Radio for streaming internet radio. And the News Reader RSS app is pretty sweet. But in all of these cases, there is no way to run the app in the background like you can on your desktop computer. This is a big deal, especially in terms of what I like to call the “flow” of the device – the multitasking and switching between apps that make for a fluid mobile experience. Not being able to run apps in the background may not  sound like a big deal, but it really is. Let me explain…

With instant messaging it is important to have a persistent “on” state so your status is visible, you can receive messages, etc.  However, all of the iPhone IM apps shut down as soon as I want to do something else on the device like check my calendar, look something up on the internet, or take a call. And when the app shuts down, any conversations end – just like you went offline. Apple does have a “notification” solution coming in September which will allow indicators to be sent to your device in the background – you can see if someone sent you a message and then open the app to start the conversation. But somehow this seems to put a dent in the user experience of the app. Blackberries and T-Mobile Sidekicks have several options for good instant messaging experiences, all of which run in the background so you feel connected. Pandora and AOL Radio have amazing interfaces, great quality sound, and key functionality. But the fact that I can’t use either of these in the background while doing other tasks also dents the experience (it is interesting though that the iPod part of the iPhone can run in the background). Even the Palm Treo allows for playing internet radio in the background. 

This “not-able-to-run-in-the-background” extends to other apps as well. In particular, RSS newsreaders benefit greatly by being able to download content in the background so that it is ready to go when you open the app. Not on the iPhone – when the app opens it makes a call for data. And you wait. Again, it might not seem like a big deal, but all of these usability hits add up to a less than optimal user experience. If you’ve used an RSS newsreader on your desktop or even Blackberry device, you know how responsive this type of app can be. And you’d also know that the content is available to read offline – say on the airplane or in the subway.

As the “mobile experience” is continually being defined through the plethora of devices, interfaces, and standards, it is important to always be thinking about the overall user experience and to try to leverage the technology where possible. There are many places where focusing on the overall user experience pays high dividends. Mobile device usability is defined by many factors, all of which need to add up to more than just the individual parts. By paying attention to the details, we create a better user experience. 

So maybe Apple’s upcoming notification system will do a good job bringing back some of the usability we’ve come to expect in our desktop machines.  So maybe it is not so much about where are the killer apps, but rather where is the killer functionality that will lead to the killer app. Do location services run in the background – does the iphone “know” where it is even when you don’t have Google Maps open? However, even though the upcoming iPhone OS update (2.1) will include notifications for non-running apps, we will still be limited by the extended functionality/user experience by not allowing multiple apps to run concurrently. It is interesting though that many of the built-in Apple apps can do this – you can play the iPod while using Safari. Mail “listens” for new messages and downloads them even when the app isn’t open. Perhaps Apple will start to let up on the constraints of what apps can run when and we’ll start to see/hear an improvement in the overall iPhone experience…