Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Interactivity - beyond mere interfaces

Now that we have reviewed (in our earlier blog posts) how Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon are advancing interactivity technology, let's take the time to return to basics.

Many people confuse interactivity design with interface design. In this post, I wish to present a simple table that would clarify the difference between interactivity and interfaces.

Beyond Interfaces to Interactivity


Interface
Interactivity
What is it?
The point of access to some functionality. Examples: Radio Button, Text Box, Hyperlink
The whole experience of doing stuff. 
Examples:User Poll, Mind Map, 3D Navigational Space
Objective
Make it intuitive and easy to use functionality of a software
Make it engaging and compelling experience surrounding a functionality
How it is implemented?
Programming using Javascript, HTML, APIs and Flash
Quick and easy configuration without programming

In short, interactivity is a giant leap forward from mere interfaces. Any thoughts?



Saturday, April 7, 2012

Interactivity - New Possibilities with Facebook Technology

In our ongoing 'Interactivity - New Possibilities'  series of posts, we reviewed the key recent technologies from Amazon, Apple and Google that impact the world of interactivity. One company on the technology scene that's on everyone's mind these days is Facebook.  Here are the top 3 nifty Facebook  technologies I am excited about: Timeline, Open Graph and iFrame Page Tab.

1. Timeline: Going Down the Memory Lane
As many of you who spend time on Facebook probably already know, the Facebook Timeline is a great way to re-organize the look of your profile page. It presents an easy way to share your updates with your network, telling your story as it happened.

Timeline-integrated apps make the trip down the memory lane more interesting. A case in point is TripAdvisor, a timeline-integrated app. Say you go on TripAdvisor and post a review of a winery there. TripAdvisor will ask if you want to share your review on Facebook. That part is not novel. The fun starts when you allow the review to be shared: it not only appears on your friends' news feeds, and tickers but  also becomes part of your Timeline.

The aggregation and reporting that Timeline-integrated apps provide make the information more relevant. Seemingly inconsequential events such as travel to a city become interesting when an app connects the dots as it were, and shows interesting information such as the farthest you have travelled, distance travelled and so on.

2. Open Graph : Create Timeline-Integrated Apps

Open Graph stands to take the Facebook 'Like' to a whole new level by diversifying Like. Here is how it works.  If you’ve charted a jogging course in a fitness application, you can click a button that indicates you “Ran this!” Your workout will reflect in your ticker, newsfeed and timeline. This adds diversity to the monolithic 'Like' response, giving it a greater human touch.

App designers who use Facebook API can now develop timeline-friendly apps using Open Graph. The new apps give users a way to share more than just “likes.”

3. iFrame Page Tab: Goodbye FBML
Facebook’s newly announced support of iFrames in Page tabs, and the phasing out of its popular Static FBML application, is an exciting step towards more happening Facebook pages.

The iFrames allow developers to write HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and other Web programming code, to create highly customized and potentially interactive pages. For example, fans can see one version of your messaging and others see another.  The support for iFrames has been greeted enthusiastically by developers who found FBML constraining. From June the FBML support will be stopped completely.

Social interactions can be successfully harnessed for spreading the word and exploiting network effects. With Open Graph, app developers now have a powerful platform to provide novel ways for people to connect and do things online with friends. Facebook pages can leverage the interactive capabilities of web programming through iFrame tabs.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Interactivity - New Possibilities with Google Technology

In our ongoing 'Interactivity - New Possibilities'  series of posts, we reviewed the key recent technologies from Amazon and Apple that impact the world of interactivity. Here are the top 3 recent Google  technologies I am excited about: 

1. Instant Search, Social Search: New Innovations
Most of us have experienced the convenience of Google's instant search - we're almost used to it. Social search makes the search experience richer for those people who have a social network on Google+ (more about that later). It shows you search results - text, photos and more -  from your network. It enables you to find people and pages you may be interested in following.

2. Google+ : Social Network
When it first came out, many people described Google+ as a cross between Facebook and Twitter. The social network has gained traction. It is the bedrock of Google's social search strategy. 

3. Android - Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich : Incremental Innovation
Nearly 700,000 Android  OSs are activated every day on tablets and smart phones. With this momentum, Google has worked at improving features of its Android OS over time. Multitasking, voice input, resizable widgets are some examples. There is a thriving Android Market for applications.

When we look at these three technologies, here is what we find. As search is a key strength of Google, it is natural to expect innovation in that area from Google, and it is good to see greater interactivity in search, also the way in which it leverages Google+. In the operating systems space, Chrome OS did not go far, but Android with its growing user base seems promising for developers who want to build interactive applications.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Interactivity - New Possibilities with Apple Technology

Here are the top three recent Apple technologies I am excited about: iBooks, Siri and iCloud.

1. iBooks 2.0: Multitouch Textbooks

iBooks was reportedly Apple's #1 iCloud-enabled app, it was developed even before iCloud was announced. The idea of iBooks was to let you download a book, synchronize bookmarks, highlights and notes between devices. With iBooks 2.0, Apple goes much further. iBooks now supports images, videos, links and other media - valuable new elements that make textbooks interactive. The textbooks are encoded in HTML5 and Javascript. The word goes that Apple has three major publishers onboard - Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin. It's also said that all iBooks will sell for under $15.

Apple's iBooks Author is a wysiwyg editor app that lets you create and publish searchable multitouch books for iPad. It appears to have fairly basic authoring capability with preview and publishing to pdf or HTML5. The level of interactivity is also basic, and includes custom glossary, quizzes and review questions, study cards, thumbnail navigation, annotations, highlighting, notes, multitouch interface and embedded graphics.

2. Siri : Conversational Interaction
Siri is Apple's intelligent voice recognition application. Siri is an intelligent assistant for iPhone 4S that makes calls, sends text or sets an alarm for you. It can not only understand when you say "Where can I get Italian food nearby" but also talks back. The overall experience is like having a conversation.

That said, there are many people who are not yet fully comfortable with the idea of talking interfaces. There are several inhibitors - accents included.

3. iCloud : Seamlessly Integrated User Experience Across Devices

Apart from saving the hassle of keeping a phone and a computer in sync, iCloud goes further by allowing a whole new set of features in applications that create a seamless user experience. You can edit a document on a PC and continue your editing where you left off on an iPad. You can take a picture on an iPhone and see it instantly through PhotoStream on a MacBook Pro.

Needless to say, you enjoy the benefits of iCloud as long as you live in the Apple world. You must use Apple devices.

Although these new technologies come with their limitations, they signal a beginning in the right direction from an interactivity perspective. Also there are interesting parallels between Apple's technologies discussed here and Amazon's technologies discussed in an earlier post in this blog. It will be interesting to see how the competitive games get played.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Interactivity - New Possibilities with Amazon Technology

Here are the top 3 recent Amazon technologies I am excited about: Kindle Fire, Kindle Format 8 and Kindle Cloud Reader. 

1. Kindle Fire
Amazon's foray into the tablet computing space begins with Kindle Fire. Built on Android operating system, this tablet sports a touch-screen,  provides cloud storage and gives access to thousands of movies, shows, songs, books, apps, games and more. Its Silk Browser is ultra fast because it is cloud-accelerated. It uses a split browser architecture that is smart enough to decide a caching strategy based on network conditions, page loading time, already cached content etc.

2. Kindle Format 8 (KF8) 
KF8 is Amazon’s next generation file format supported by Kindle Fire. KF8 offers new features and enhancements – including HTML5 and CSS3 support that publishers can use to create all types of books. According to Amazon, KF8 adds over 150 new formatting capabilities, including drop caps, numbered lists, fixed layouts, nested tables, callouts, sidebars and Scalable Vector Graphics - opening up more opportunities to create Kindle books that readers will love.   Kindle provides tools to convert from traditional formats such as HTML, XHTML and EPUB. Kindle Direct Publishing service also lets authors publish in KF8 format.

3. Kindle Cloud Reader
This software app allows you to buy once and read everywhere. The Reader works not only on all Kindle devices, but also iPads and PCs.Users get a seamless experience as they switch from one device to another. In addition, with Kindle Cloud Reader, people can continue reading books using their web browsers whether online or offline.

Together these three technologies provide a promising platform for creating interactive reading experiences. The Kindle Fire brings together the power of the cloud and the promise of a tablet interface. KF8 paves a way for building moderately interactive content and publishing it using Amazon-provided tools. Finally, the Kindle Cloud Reader creats a standard and seamless reading experience across a wide array of devices.



Monday, December 5, 2011

Mobile eBook Templates - A Technology Solution to Save Costs for Interactive eBook Development


Publishers are increasingly interested in developing interactive ebooks accessible from tablets, smartphones and book readers. The cost of development can be prohibitive, depending on the type of content and level of interactivity desired. There is no getting away from mobile ebooks, because the emerging digital tsunami of newer mobile phones, reader devices and tablets continues unabated, and publishers must catch the new wave of eBooks by supporting these devices - web publishing for computers is not enough. 

One factor fueling the growth of ebooks is the aggressive pricing set by publishers.  With price tags as low as $0.99, readers are flocking to these books. 

At the same time, cost of development is an important consideration. Publishers need effective technology options for supporting interactive content development with minimal costs. 

One such option is template-based content development. The attractiveness of this option has been known. At the same time, the development of platform-specific templates can be costly. With industry standard specifications and formats such as HTML5  and ePUB, however, it has become more realistic to attempt building cross-platform templates.

Based on my experience of work with leading publishers in this area, here is a short checklist for template developers.

·         1. Adjusting to form factor: 
         With each form factor the screen real estate varies and the content template needs to adjust to the reading area. The new standards like ePUB3 with HTML5 support, which are capable of self-adjusting to the screen sizes, are fast picking up.         

            2. Loose coupling between interactivity and back-end computing: 
         Often e-books include back-end computing engines. For example, in an e-learning context, there may be a score computation. The reader is evaluated as he/she is working through an interaction. When the template provides flexibility to easily replicate/replace such interactions keeping the scoring and other logical computations intact, we say that loose coupling has been achieved. This is desirable in many situations when you want to re-use back-end computation while changing the front-end interactivity.

·         3. Device Capability Utilization: 
         With ongoing releases of newer mobile platforms and devices the publishing output must be well supported on these. Templates must be designed to keep minimal efforts for achieving compatibility. For example, a template should have hooks where native device capabilities such as text-to-speech could be accessed from. Other examples of native capabilities include touch/swipe gestures or sync with audio, accelerometer or device orientations.   
·          
       4. Digital Rights Management (DRM) support: 
         The templates need to honor the DRM configurations to ensure content copyrights are protected.

·          5. Annotation support: 
        Truly participative reading experience and user generated content is another trend evident in new ebooks. They provide the ability to bookmark, highlight texts, annotate and share. The templates need to provide flexibility to carry all the metadata configurations for such user activities.

Overall the mobile ebook templates would have more challenges to address but the payoff is worth the trouble. Mobile templates help create more interactive and engaging experience for the readers affordably. 

- This post was contributed by Umesh Kanade, our guest author.  Umesh Kanade has architected numerous content publishing solutions and works as DGM - Technology Solutions with Harbinger Systems, a Harbinger Group company.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Free the TV: What SmartTV Apps Can Learn From SmartPhone Apps

I'm in the market for a new television for my father. He wants me to decide between LCD, LED and Plasma. Regular and 3D. Sony, Samsung, LG, Sharp and Philips. Prices vary. I'm curious to see how the sales person at the retail store helps us differentiate between the choices. I'm expecting to hear about picture quality, power management and 3D capability - what I hear instead is wifi-enablement, internet access and apps.

Has something changed again? You bet. And I can see why. A 50+ inches screen that is web-connected sounds like an attractive idea. Both to me and to my father.

So I get a hold of Pravin Kulange, my colleague at Harbinger Systems - who has worked on all kinds of interactive applications for over a decade. Pravin is an accomplished software engineer and an avid gadget admirer. The Q and A with him goes thus:

Where is the interactivity on television going?
Vendors are trying to leverage the natural advantages of TV over other display devices: big screens, powerful sound systems and so on. For starters, search is a killer app. Users will increasingly get the ability to use TV wifi and search for video content and create custom playlists.

What kind of other apps will we see?
Social networking can coexist with entertainment. You will see sidebars that feature Facebook, Twitter and other updates.  And of course, there are games you can play from the remote. 

How about collaboration?  
Of course. Panasonic and Samsung’s Skype enabled television’s are already available.Sony and VIZIO will be shipping Skype enabled HDTVs later this year.

How is the app market evolving?
I think Samsung is by far the leader - although the overall SmartTV app market is way behind its SmartPhone cousin. That said, Google TV with its Android platform will make rapid gains in this space. I recently heard that Philips, Sharp and LG have announced an alliance for an open specification that will help developers build interactive apps. Likewise, Google and Sony will be working tightly together. The critical mass of applications must come together rapidly for this market to take off.

What about the input side?
TV remotes will increasingly have qwerty keyboards. Besides, users will increasingly use their smartphones as TV remotes and input devices.

How about a feature like Samsung's AllShare, so your TV simply takes over a video stream being shown on your iPad?
That is another direction to watch - this might make SmartTV apps redundant. But I think users will prefer a seamless experience where the app resides on TV, not on a computer.

Can TV apps rival tablet apps someday?
Well, today they are fairly lightweight - owing to limited processing power. But I see no reason why TV won't grow in processing power. Not to mention the cloud playing a big role in making apps snazzy.

Now my head is reeling. The possibilities are endless. Where will the smarts reside? In the TV? The Blu-ray player? The set-top box? or simply a tablet?

Buying TV has changed for sure.