Wearable gadget

Identity and Anonymity

In the coming years most of us will be carrying or wearing smart technology. How to manage the digital trails we emit in everyday interactions? We need solutions that can protect both our identity and our right to anonymity  Read More

Mobile and movement matters

flickr-ipods recharge

Summary: Location-aware applications continue to be one of the biggest growth areas for mobile scenarios. Putting motion into the mix will bring about a fresh round of innovative solutions

So the new iPhone announcements this week have been met with a resounding ‘meh’ from tech pundits and Wall Street. Whenever people start saying Apple has got it all wrong, there’s usually some valuable titbits in the details. And whilst a lot of focus has been on the colourful new iPhone 5C range that appears to be merging with the iPod Nano, the interesting innovation is unsurprisingly in the more expensive iPhone 5S.

The iPhone 5S includes a new capability called M7, a ‘motion coprocessor’. A motion coprocessor can track and log the motion of the phone with minimal battery use. This is significantly more efficient than the current methods that require apps to be running continuously in the background to record activities. Instead, it becomes possible for apps to simply read the log files when they are launched. Whilst the focus is on the impact to fitness apps, that’s just one narrow market. The world of work is increasingly going mobile and being able to adapt alerts, feedback and notifications based not just on location but also on current movements opens up new possibilities.

Whilst a lot of people talk about the visual and physical design of Apple devices, what impresses me more is the thought and detail that goes into designing everyday interactions.  An example I frequently give is that, when you are on a phone call, the simple act of moving the phone will reactivate the display with the keyboard displayed. It’s a simple thing. The chances are, if you are moving the phone away from your ear to look at it, you are talking to an automated system that requires you to key in something. If the display remains in sleep mode, you have to first activate it. On my previous phone (running Android), you had 2 buttons to pick from and a 50:50 chance of cancelling the call instead. The devil is always in the details.

Location-aware applications continue to be one of the biggest growth areas for mobile scenarios. Putting motion into the mix will bring about a fresh round of innovative solutions. And I am guessing we can expect to see the hardware move beyond the mobile phone to wearable devices, if/when Apple finally produces the long-rumoured iWatch. Google is already heading down that path with Google Glass. Yes, other companies have recently announced smart watches. But I’ve yet to see one a non-geek would want to wear. Apple continues to be the leader in designing for the mainstream and ignoring the technical and financial experts who think they know better.

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References

Flickr image at the start of this post: The Operating Table kindly shared by Blake Danger Bentley. I was looking for something to symbolise extended battery life but this was far too fun to not use instead

Aligning investment with reality

HeartBeat

An interesting article appeared at the end of last week, highlighting a shift in thinking towards IT projects within the UK government:

Gov.uk was launched quickly and iteratively, with a new simplicity that has resulted in a website containing fewer than 10% of previous separately hosted pages and is set to save as much as £70m on previous arrangements.

A new online system for people to apply for Power of Attorney on behalf of others had taken 10 working days to procure, 24 days to build and code a prototype alpha system for live testing and a beta was due to go live in two months, he said. The whole project had been commissioned from a small business using the G-Cloud for around £50,000 a year, compared with a quote obtained from one large existing provider of £4m set up plus £1.8m per year

There are two reasons why the costs to deliver an IT project should drop significantly to the established normal. 1. At the tail-end of a previous disruptive innovation, 2. At the beginning of a new one.

hype-curve

The hype curve of innovation applies to just about any industry. A new concept is invented. It starts small and is highly specialised but creates demonstrable value to customers. Such success never goes unnoticed and demand begins to grow. That brings competition and rival proprietary solutions. To begin with, more value is created, usually at an increasing pace as different companies come up with more innovative features to compete with one another. But then a tipping point is reached and, for a short while, everything gets a bit chaotic and messy. Hidden costs emerge, problems arise, competitors get acquired and solutions are suddenly discontinued or dramatically altered. Out of the disruption comes a new demand – standardisation that allows for continuity and economies of scale. And so the market settles down into slow growth, cheaper solutions and small incremental improvements. Until a new disruption comes along.

Building traditional web sites for publishing content are at the end of 15-year innovation cycle. The standards for design and formatting of web content have become so well established that even Microsoft has just about embraced them within the latest versions of the Internet Explorer web browser. Most popular public-facing web sites now follow familiar conventions regarding navigation and page layouts. To consolidate multiple different government departmental web sites under a single umbrella gov.uk web site makes absolute sense and should save a lot of money.

Using agile approaches to software development has grown in popularity in recent years. The goal being to do ‘just enough’ design to build a working solution, and quickly tweak and iterate based on actual usage patterns rather than predicted requirements. It requires far less ‘up-front’ investment due to much shorter planning cycles and usually results in far better user adoption rates. But it doesn’t guarantee a cheaper solution over time. That will depend on the iterations and ongoing development.

Applying an agile approach to business systems is at the early stages of the innovation hype cycle. Some solutions are simply brilliant, but growth in competition means some are not. The disruption and hidden costs are yet to emerge and it’s a little early to be celebrating dramatic savings in annual operating costs. I have already seen one government project that I know is so under-costed, it will take the supplier in question into bankruptcy unless they are able to renegotiate down the line. Yes, the bigger systems integrators were insanely expensive in their quote for what was needed. But insanely cheap is a short-lived improvement.

A comment was made by Tom Loosemore, deputy director of the Government Digital Service (GDS) responsible for the projects quoted above:

“We don’t talk to IT departments other than to ask what legacy can offer”

That’s not a healthy comment and was not well received at the conference where it was made. Today’s IT legacy is just yesterday’s innovations gone stale. I think the GDS could look to the automotive industry for how to better embrace IT as part of doing business. The current approach may be saving a lot of money in the short term (and that’s an understandable driver in the current economic climate) but there are going to be consequences.

Seeking innovative ways to use technology to solve business problems is a good approach. But assuming it is a panacea for all IT projects is not.

References

Platform or Application?

Platforms are often criticised when compared to applications for delivering IT solutions. They rarely offer the same richness of features and can often be more complicated to set-up. But that doesn’t mean they are without their own benefits  Read More