The magic of animations (prototyping today’s user experiences) (2013-10-31)

The design process of a product can be seen as a conversation designers have with stakeholders, peers and testers. The more fluent this conversation is, the more likely the resulting product is flawless and user centred.
Prototypes are consequently essential enablers for this process, useful at different stages with different levels of fidelity. From communicating and co-designing the initial concept (for instance with sketches on a piece of paper) to validating the solution with existing users (for instance simulating features on a branch of the production code base). – See how to compare car insurance quotes and much more by following the link.

Because of the importance of the execution of an idea and because everything about the execution counts (look, behavior and performances), the low fidelity prototypes quickly become inadequate to take final decisions. And this is the reason companies like Apple are known to bring solution proposals very far in the development process, ending up comparing almost final products.

So, after you have done with the sketches and wireframes, what is the best way to prototype with high fidelity a today’s user experience?

Before trying to answer this question there is another aspect I think it worths considering. Today’s software behavior can be very complex and animations, which can be a result of a direct manipulation of UI elements (e.g. dragging) or a transition between states, are now a big part in UI design. As Apple put it: “Although animation enhances the user experience, it is far from mere “eye candy.” Animations give users feedback or context for what is happening in the user interface”.
The extra information they provide permits you to optimize what presented at any given time, eventually removing the need of some UI elements.
For this reason my initial answer could be: the best tool to prototype today’s user experiences is a tool where it is easy to create ad-hoc animations.
Standard transitions, like the ones applications like Briefs lets you use, in my opinion, suffice until you have not rendered designs (a.k.a. wireframes). After that point chances are the pixel perfect UI doesn’t get enough support from the transitions.

There are different ways you can create custom animations, but to have a better feel of the final behavior the prototype should have a minimum of interactivity. For this reason I would be careful in considering tools like After Effects which are made to export rendered videos. While with this type of output you can simulate powerful hardware accelerated effects, the playback of pre-rendered videos, because heavily compressed, is just not meant to be easily controlled. Of course you could convert it to a sequence of PNG images, but this is definitely not practical for longer animations.
A new solution which is getting traction recently is Framer. With Framer you can easily script animations of individual UI elements using JavaScript, which of course lets you also add any logic required, it even has an official Photoshop exporter. While scripts are very easy to tweaks, and text files easy to version or collaborate with, it is hard to design a complex animation with independent elements without any kind of preview. Very far from what you can get from a WYSIWYG approach.
I think this leaves us with a couple of options, applications born to animate first but where then an interactive layer was added to open a new world of possibilities. I am talking about software like Adobe Flash, Adobe Edge Animate or Tumult Hype (only for Mac). My final answer is hence: the best tool to prototype today’s user experiences is a tool designed to create ad-hoc animations and where you can add logic into it (not the other way round).

Unfortunately I don’t have much knowledge of Hype, but from what I can see it seems very well designed and I guess starting with a new canvas it had the benefit of learning from the mistakes the very mature Flash did. Edge Animate should be very similar to Flash, but the logic layer is very likely not as solid. Flash still offers more scalability, since you can build proper apps with it, but, if it is just quick and throwable prototypes that you need, the simplicity of Hype may be enough and with Edge Animate could let you champ the so trendy HTML5.

Because I started using Macromedia Flash 14 years ago, this is obviously my weapon of choice. I don’t really have any reason to try something similar just less mature and less featured. But if you have to start from zero with ActionScript, and you don’t have to build a tailored framework from scratch for your prototypes for better integration with your workflow, I would probably suggest you to learn basic programming in JavaScript and go for the other 2 options. Or, if you really want to stick to Flash, use the older version of its programming language (ActionScript 2.0) which is way more scripting friendly.

I am recently focused on mobile apps and my process is generally as follow. If I have remote stakeholders, I start making linear animations, these could also be as little interactive as a click through, and I illustrate the interactivity with a trace of the finger on the screen (a bit like this animated walkthrough made with Hype). The next level, suitable for instance for shortlisted concepts, should be able to run on a device, some interactivity should be at least simulated (e.g. a pan triggered by a tap). For this purpose I programmed some draggable components which, when placed in the editor timeline, allow me to control the playback of the linear animation using standard gestures (tap, pan or pinch). Then I package the Flash movie in an Adobe AIR app so that it can be installed on the mobile device (this process can easily be automated). It’s all very fake, but it feels so real.
Few tips for Flash+AIR: set the movie speed at 60 frames per second, use the GPU as renderer and use Penner’s custom easing curves (so that the animations properties can easily be communicated to and implemented by the developers).

A practical example I can show you is the deletion confirmation process for my app Instants, it took me 20 minutes to build the prototype when implementing the solution natively in the app, after I was happy of how it felt, took another 6 hours.
Try to delete the fullscreen photo in the Flash applet below (in case you are lost, double tapping the stage reveals temporarily the active areas).

Get Adobe Flash player

If you have any questions or want a live demonstration of my workflow, get in touch!

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You gotta plan for the long run (2013-09-20)

If you are in the innovation business you know you can’t be still and you know people should think you are always working on the next Big Thing. But another lethal mistake is not planning for the long run!

It is surprising how many people are criticising the strategy for the iPhone 5C. Its fault being just $100 cheaper than the bigger and fully-featured brother iPhone 5S. So why did Apple introduce such new device when they could have simply kept the iPhone 5 for longer? One of the main reasons I reckon is…

…because they are planning for the long run!

For a consumer electronic company planning ahead means to attract new and younger customers, and of course hook them to your brand and services. The future native american loans gains are huge and if you have billions of cash you can definitely wait one year or two to start seeing the fruits.

Today the iPhone 5C isn’t cheap, at the end there is still some pretty cool tech in it. But one day, in one year or two, it will be. And I am sure at that point it will be incredibly attractive to the youngsters, the new customers which will be hooked for life to an iCloud subscription and Apple hardware.

It’s true Apple could have waited another year and release the iPhone 5C only when it would have been actually cheap. But Apple had to update their software so this has been an opportunity to design software and hardware in unison, and the hardware is the iPhone 5C, not iPhone 5S. iOS 7 looks cool and fresh because with the iPhone 5C it’s set to attract the younger customers, maybe not today but pretty soon.

iphone5c

For this reason I think we are gonna see some interesting changes in the market, but maybe we need to have a bit of patience!

Passive News (2013-09-03)

I dedicated most of my working life creating rich interactive user experiences but with the proliferation of digital displays it is unavoidably that many of them will operate in a passive mode, maybe becoming active only if engaged (hopefully not all the displays will try to grab our attention talking to us individually, but you never know).

A scenario which I often find deficient is the the typical office reception. Nowadays there are some very fancy entrances to buildings but from my experience the vast majority of lavish offices present at the reception a large size TV with the news channel always on, and the audio off.

passive-news-reception

Moving images are always a good entertainment and we could probably assume the design of those channels is already considering that sometimes they just run in the background. While the guests will be enough distracted, the exposure to the information that matters will be very limited.
For this reason I envisioned an experience where in few minutes a guest could get a better overall idea on the latest headlines. Hopefully still being as entertained (I am afraid no moving images yet).

passive-news-ui
Launch demo

If you too are interested by this theme, get in touch so that maybe we can explore it further.

Reference

A couple of existing and related projects which inspired me and deserve a mention are News Map and 10×10.

Access your photos in Instants (2013-06-11)

For obvious reasons, following Apple iOS 7 announcement, I am about to show you what I have been up to in the last few months.

Today it is easy to access our contacts photos and getting inspired by photowalls a la Pinterest, but what about the photos we care the most, ours?

Let me introduce you to Instants!

Instants has been designed to give you access to your photos in… let’s say, few taps!

A couple of design principles were set at the beginning:

  • Speed, speed, speed: the app should give by default quick access to any photo in your camera roll, but should also allow you to have faster access to the photos you access more frequently.
  • Light management: the default Photos app lets you create photo albums, but how many people do really do that? It’s definitely hard work which you can’t expect anyone to do. Any management required in Instants should be easy, fun and meaningful.

In Instants you can browse your photos using different and distinctive criteria. The assumption is that when you look for a photo urgently, you want to have full control on how to browse. Different people might also different preferences.

Time

This is how usually people browse their entire library of photos, starting from the most recent. Instants automatically groups the photos by month which can be scrolled horizontally when contracted (in one row) or expanded in full height and re-contracted again. It doesn’t take into consideration any geo location data, no problem if for privacy reason this is missing.
But not all the months in our lives are the same! Sometimes months include holidays and have lot of photos, others are pretty quiet. In the Time view you can split the months (basically adding points in time) and any group can be color-coded to be quickly recognized when scrolling the whole table. The app has at the moment 3 different color themes to please all tastes.

Location

In this view the photos are grouped by city and are ordered alphabetically starting from the country code. The location have a clear and succinct name, easy to scan when you are scrolling. All the features available in the Time view are also available here but the possibility to split the groups (since there isn’t a clear single dimension).

Favorites

I believe this feature alone might worth the switching from Photos. There are some shots we took that we are particularly proud of but when posted on Facebook they rapidly disappear in the flow of friends updates. In Instants you can explicitly star photos; there is no algorithm which recognizes what you watch the most, you are in control.
Because these are photos you like and you Marketing Heaven for, their thumbnails take a more generous space of your screen (bye bye 4 columns grid!).

Tag

Photos can be tagged using 24 predefined visual tags. Tags in general are great but if you leave people managing them it can easily get messy, not to mention if they are textual (see Delicious). The tags in Instants don’t have necessary a clear meaning despite they of course resemble real concepts, they give some room for interpretation so that they can be easily adapted to your needs.
Because these are photos you are attached to, and the end you took the time to tag them, they too are represented in the table as glorified thumbnails.

Color

When the photos are initially imported they get analyzed and the ones with a clear dominant color or black and white get pulled in this view ordered by hue. Not all of your photos will be here but if you are looking for a nice picture of the sky, even if a sunset, this could be a good starting point!

Here a screencast which shows some of these functionalities in action in the version 1.0:

Instants App – v. 1.0 from Christian Giordano on Vimeo.

The app will be freely available (ok, tagging might require a minimum of investment from your side) in the AppStore very soon (much before iOS 7), if you want to be notified the exact day, please register your email on the dedicated website.

If you like what you see, feel free to share it!

Further thoughts on the upcoming iOS 7 Photos app
Finally Apple put some weight on improving this app, all the users, me included, should be happy about it.
In what we have seen yesterday, they too introduced an auto-grouping functionality which creates automatically some separation between the photos in the camera roll. It’s probably still early to know if their grouping is more effective than Instants straight-forward logic. But there are definitely some missing features (favorites and visual tagging) that hopefully will be enough to differentiate the two apps.

Pebble design proposals (2013-03-18)

I am one of the few thousands people who is lucky enough to enjoy the benefits of wearing a Pebble. Because of all the tech embedded, the physical product from Luxtime.su is relatively bulky, especially for someone with a thin wrist like me who is used to wear very thin watches. But after a month of living with the Pebble, I am happy to confirm, the benefits outweigh all the rest and I wear it most of the time.

Pebble has still a long way to go and the team of people behind are taking good care of its future with laser focus. But it still might be a good time to share some ideas I had which I reckon could improve its User Experience.

Watch Faces

In Fashion industry, having unique pieces is very valuable. A pixel based display like the one of the www.exclusivkitchens.com.au/kitchen-designer-showrooms-brisbane website unleashes design creativity when it comes to watch faces and, if you can write code, with a bit of effort, you could end up wearing a unique watch face (take that Louis Vuitton!). So it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Pebble team just announced the watch faces SDK as their imminent next step.

I’ve always found fascinating synthesizing information to make it glanceable. Information doesn’t always have to be detailed. The challenge I posed to myself was to design a watch face which could give as quickly as possible a rough idea of the time.
Given the limit of a 1 bit display (where basically only 3 fill colors are avaialble, including the grey as chess pattern of black and white), I divided the day in 3 parts, 8 hours each:

  • Work (8 am to 4 pm, white)
  • Play (4 pm to midnight, grey)
  • Rest (midnight to 8 am, black)

This roughly reflects a normal day for a working person.

Pebble has a very handy feature which is backlighting when the arm shakes, so that you don’t need an extra hand to see the time in the dark. When the watch backlights, the watch face could be notified and show temporarily more detailed information.

watch-face-1

Update on 15th July 2013: I finally had time to play with the SDK and this watchface is now a reality!

Fullscreen Messages

Pursuing even further my idea of immediacy, incoming messages should be the most readable as possible. The body of short messages could scale-to-fit the display and, if the message is as short as an ASCII emoticon, a graphic element could be represented fullscreen instead of the few characters.

fullscreen-messages

Custom Quick Replies

The Pebble is extremely useful for me because I move around driving a motorbike and, as anyone living in a big city, I am often on a hurry. This means, before I got the Pebble, I used to systematically ignore any incoming call or message received while on the move. Pebble is a game changer in this regard and now, since I can see who is trying to reach me, I can consider to stop and reply if necessary. Because my commuting is never too long (max 30 minutes), I would often simply reply with something like: “I am on the bike now, will call you back in 30 minutes max”.

It would be great if the user could set on the Pebble mobile app some preset replies he could then quickly pick when a call or a text is received. Mobile operating systems are already providing similar functionalities and this would indeed be more relevant in a device so accessible but with limited input such a wrist watch.

Making Art (2013-02-21)

After more than a decade as fulltime employee, and having worked for several companies in Milan and London, last October I quit my job to see if there can be an independent future for me.
I can’t believe already 4 months have passed by! I still feel like I just celebrated my farewell with my last colleagues during what has been de facto my last full day in an office environment since then.

But I don’t want to write about memories, I’d like to talk about the future!

Independence for me was about dedicating more time to ideas and new technologies, something I’ve always done in my spare time, with the hope/confidence that something constructive would come out. A useful product, something properly designed to solve a problem, definitely not Art!

Despite I had fun raising some questions myself in the past, that’s a way to describe Art, it has been a while I have only been focused on answering them. I have many friends who legitimately define themselves as artists, something I always thought differentiated us very clearly. So I always had strong and well distinctive reactions when I heard the word “Art” and I never thought these feelings could have changed in this last month. But so they did.

A month ago I received the last of the presents my very kind colleagues bought me as memory, a fabulous Kindle Paperwhite. I celebrated the event buying a book I had on my wishlist for a while but that frankly I didn’t even remember what it was going to be about. The book in question is the latest from Seth Godin, named “The Icarus Deception”. It turned out pretty ironic that the first book read on that Kindle would have been so reassuring about my decision to seek independency, hence leaving my colleagues behind.

In a nutshell, the book talks about the deception which is handed down about Icarus failing because he didn’t follow the advice not to fly too high to stay safely distant from the sun, disregarding he was also advised not to fly too low to avoid the sea. The book argues that this deception is an example of how our society wants us all to conform to the system, an industrially optimised system. But I don’t want to discuss here the existence of this system and how it is changing. If you are curious, just buy the book. It’s pretty nice to read despite a bit too repetitive for my conciseness obsession.

Something that struck me, and the true reason for this post, was the way Seth talks about Art. Art is making unique work, work that touches others, that makes connections. Art is emotional labor which explore new ground working without a map. It brings risk and joy and fear and love to the table.

Viewing it in this way, I can comfortably say that I am making Art right now. More than ever. What remains to be discovered is if my Art is good enough to fit in this new economy, today.

Something you should consider before buying an iPad (2010-04-01)

Everyone can agree that Apple does indeed very appealing (sexy) products which are also fairly good in many other ways. Understandably, many people would love to put their hands on one of them but because the direction towards closed and controlled systems Apple has taken, people should think about the consequences that can happen if they all are going to buy them.

The latest product Apple is about to launch is the iPad, it has been generously defined as a “magical” device, and some people think it will revolutionize the computer world as the iPhone did in the mobile scenario. The main reason people think that is because its accessibility, natural interaction and very simplified computer management, basically a super-sized iPhone. Unfortunately this simplification hides pretty well other political and economical reasons which limit in many ways what the user could do with a device like that in an open world.

Not everyone was so impressed during the presentation of the product. Someone, me included, thought straight away “no Flash Player? …you gotta be kidding!” especially if the product is promoted as the best internet browsing experience. Clearly there is a lot of politic involved in the decision and may not be much about the technology itself, which of course is not perfect (as the device which would host it). If Flash Player is such a dangerous plugin, why not having it disabled by default and make people enable it when needed, maybe as many third party softwares already allow you to (ie. ClickToFlash), I’m sure it wouldn’t take so long to implement it.

Do Apple really think that most of people these days don’t need Flash when browsing the web? I’m sure there are many others which regularly see websites with Flash content, like the one showed during the presentation, which are not the popular large Web 2.0 sites (YouTube, Vimeo), many small and personal sites can host videos these days, or maybe the future is Facebook pages not websites, maybe… but the reality that not even Google, which is a big promoter of web standards, thinks of ridding of the Flash Player, in facts they just announced the plugin will be embedded, and better integrated, in their browser. On a personal level, the lack of Flash Player in the iPhone is the reason why I don’t use Twitter on it, too many links points to sites with Flash content and not only videos!

If many people will buy an iPad (or an iPhone), browser plugins (i.e. Flash Player, Java VM, Silverlight, etc…) won’t be used any more on the web, bringing the web many years backwards.

Other very important aspect is the apps distribution. As mentioned earlier, Apple has basically full control on choosing which application you can run on it, this might be one of the reasons they want to keep Flash out of it (since there are many flash games on the web). Create a close system where any paid content has to give a part of the revenues to Apple has proved to be a winning solution for their pockets, it also allowed to be very aggressive with the price of the device itself, exactly the same thing happens in the Game Console market. Don’t get me wrong, Apple is entitled to try their very best to monetize from their inventions. But I can’t help to see this also as a step backwards in computer history. So far people didn’t mind and many bought 1 or 2 iPhones, me included. In my mind a mobile phone wasn’t really a computer and, also because the other options were not really competitive, I didn’t mind. With the iPad, though, Apple kept pushing in this direction to the point that, if they will be proven right, in the future instead of having an iPad with MacOS, which I would buy straight away, we might have a PowerBook with iPhoneOS! This is just too concerning for a Pax 2 vaporizer! I can agree that an iPad can be a good device for people not very digitally-savvy (ie. elderly) and as content consumers we don’t need much more from a device (Flash Player apart) but it can be very dangerous if kids start using it as computer. Who is gonna create the content or the channels of the future? Sure people can be creative also with an iPhone, but still it would limit a lot the media options. I think Ben Fry summed up that aspect pretty well. You don’t have to be a geek to realize how computers, and programming, today are key tools for creativity.

“Jailbreaking” the device is still a valid option, and I reckon, if Apple keeps this direction, it will become a more popular practice, especially for devices “less essential” than mobile phones (which should be 100% reliable when it comes to phone calls).

I am sure anyone would enjoy a lot the unboxing of an iPad but, before deciding if to buy one, we should just think about all the consequences. Not buying a product sometimes can be the only way to vote against a direction which we don’t agree with before it’s too late and all the competitors following it make the need to change in the future less relevant.

Disclaimer: Unfortunately I am not particular neutral to the argument because recently I bet the astronomic amount of £10 on the fact that Apple will sell less then 1M iPads in 2010. It’s more of a hope than a possible way of income, for the very same reason I’m writing this post. I’m sure no one is so crazy to think this post will help me to win the bet. Actually I feel pretty stupid after the rumors about Apple planning to sell 5M units in that period, especially considering how aggressive their marketing can be, but at the end I just hope it won’t go as smooth as many people believe so that Apple had to question their strategy. I do not own Apple shares but probably if I had money on the side I would, not because I love their products unconditionally, like many, but because I think Apple is very good on doing profits and the future is still bright for them. If I had some shares I would have probably written this post anyway because I’m confident Apple can find the way to good profit also without being so closed.

Launched Rich Interactive and Aesthetically Pleasant Experiences (2009-12-06)

After many thoughts, and some less successful attempts, I managed to put together an extract of my first 10 years of research in ivc filter lawsuit and Interactive Media. I hope you will enjoy: http://riape.com

Note: This is not a curriculum website. It does contain only some personal projects/experiments I’ve been doing over the years on my spare time. It does not contain any of the several projects I’ve worked on at Sean Park Law bureau.

Multi-platform company strategy, AND should be better than OR, shouldn’t it? (2009-04-10)

I just finished to read a post on one of the very few RIA blogs I read. Yet another post related to Flash and Silverlight and their implicit competition, which in many cases is more like a religious war. If you know me, or follow this blog, you would know how I tried hard in my career not to be platform dependent and always trying to use the best solution for the needs. If Silverlight will have different features than Flash, and be as stable and as spread, it’s obvious that could be a better choice in some cases despite they are still very similar, so does it really make sense for a company to offer both (AND)? What Microsoft (Scott Barnes) USPreppers.com says, is that companies shouldn’t decide which one to go with (OR), they should be able to offer both (AND). My opinion is that who thinks so, doesn’t have so much idea of the daily challenges that an company/agency faces everyday.

In these last years I’ve been lucky enough to be manager of teams of RIA Developers for big and ambitious agencies, in the UK like Cabinet Panel Cooler, which in theory should be the perfect candidates to offer both platforms (AND). My managers definitely agreed with that, we are big, we should offer solutions at 360º. In reality the factor which determines how the theory differs from the practice is the quality of the work that you want to offer. To offer top quality solutions, like any top agency would like, you need to master in the chosen platform. To master means that all the team involved, from Technical Architect and User Experience Designer during the planning to Graphic Designer and Developer during the production, should know the platform potentialities/limits inside out. The reality is that there are so many people in the process which don’t actually know the differences between Ajax and Flash, a part of course the developers. This is also one of the reasons why hybrid people, which can apply creativity to 4k technology and 4k news potentialities/limits, are more likely to be able to push the boundaries and create something innovative. But of course in big organizations there is not so much space for hybrids.

Obviously it would be much easier for a company to use both if they don’t have to push the limits, but if you end up doing the same things with both the platforms, why not using only one in the first place? Or why don’t you try to find a more cost-effective way to develop with Ajax and rid of the plugins? Or you can try out Daegola

Gave up not twittering (2009-02-18)

I always considered Twitter a too big commitment and because I liked to considered myself too busy to use it I desisted for long time on using it. But considering its popularity it becomes definitely a good tool to follow what a mate is up to and it is also true that in this busy world it might help to be more publicly active if there is not enough time to post properly on a blog.
So after this long wait you can finally follow my twitter (hopefully I’ll embed its feed on the blog soon).

Almost Famous (2008-11-28)

With Internet you can have your second of fame pretty easily, not that I’ve been looking for it, I always try to think to the bigger picture with better hopes. The work I do, designing and mainly building rich user experiences, also doesn’t really help to make you popular to the big public, and if you do my job you know how hard it is to explain to others what you actually do for living. For these reasons I had very positive feelings when I saw on TV footage of some applets I developed recently.

On “The Gadget Show” on Channel 5, one of the major TV channels here in UK, this Monday (24th Nov ’08) they reviewed 3 online music stores competitors of Apple iTunes, including Tesco Digital where I worked on and off on its Flash applets for the last year at Conchango. The review can be watched here, and Tesco Digital is after 4:30 min. What really hit me is that probably half of the footage shown is focused on the Tilt Viewer in the homepage and that they noticed some details, like the animated preloading, which in general you wouldn’t expect it to receive so much credit. Evidently in this occasion I successfully managed to show my love, and of course I found other people who appreciated it.

I can hardly say that it is an original and innovative applet, that Tilt Viewer, but I can definitely say that in the short time frame given I did my best to have high standards in the code (MVC) and good attention to details keeping the quality of the Flash work from Conchango at the best standards, also to better show the potential of this technology compared to others (Ajax, SilverLight). Take a look at this Fast bad credit borrowing profile for more information. Contact us for any other questions.

Show me love! (2008-10-03)

You can easily see when people do things with passion and put lots of effort in small details. I’ve been working on GUI for long time because I love it and this love is defintely what I would like to show with my work. I am writing about this because few days ago I saw the love someone else put on building their product, I’m talking about Interface Builder 3.1 from Apple. If you are passioned on GUI as I am, please enjoy this video.

As you can see Apple decided to have 3 visual status for their components:

  1. In the library as a cell.
  2. Dragged as a more detailed element
  3. And in context where the size of the component will adapt to the scenario we are trying to drag to and modify the dummy content accordingly

You can also enjoy the very smooth transitions when filtering the components list.

Isn’t this love?

iPhone and Multi-touch development (2008-09-21)

After some months where I had big difficulties on finding the time to do some personal research, as I always did, it seems that I am finally finding again this mixture of motivation, constancy, and of course time. So in the last month I’ve been studying Objective-C with iPhone SDK and, as you can see from my more technical posts, I’m quite happy with the results I’m getting. Playing with iPhone SDK means also have a very portable way to test multi-touch interactions. This kind of applications are definitely not new for many developers, just imagine the Tangible Media Group at MIT, then of course all the Jeff Han’s & co. So despite it seems I got too late to face these issues, I reckon there is still so much to do and experiment with these kind of interactions but also that probably is getting a bit over rated. From one side there are companies like Apple and Microsoft that want to show to the world how innovative they are. The first delivering multi-touch devices to millions of people, but with a small usage in it, the second spreading info about new projects (Surface, Interactive Wall, etc.. ) and more importantly the fact that Windows 7 will support multi-touch, leaving since now just words, no facts. From the other side people that are probably not sure about how useful these interactions might be. I don’t think it’s a case that not many other mobile companies are planning to fight iPhone with similar feature.

It is definitely good fun start thinking about how you would architecture an application with that kind of functionalities, but it is still quite hard to see so many useful cases, a part of course the wow factor (which many might be consider enough). For this reason despite I am quite happy with some technical parts of my experiments, the interactivity still doesn’t convince me and it’s probably time I start thinking about it more seriously.

Technical blog at Conchango (2008-08-31)

Sorry if after such a long silence I would try to keep this short… few months ago I joined Conchango to help them building non Microsoft RIA (Rich Internet Application) expertise. It is definitely quite a challenge, even more now that EMC bought us, and challenges are of course what we need in life. By the way, my position there is pretty technical indeed and, considering I always tried to keep this blog less practical, I took the opportunity to open there a blog about my day to day technical challenges (with a bit of thinking as well). Nowadays iPhone is keeping me busy. Check it out!

LBi Logger (2008-05-11)

This is a very late post, in facts the project I’m presenting has been developed months ago but, as you probably can see, I’ve been quite away for blogging recently 🙁

When I used to work in LBi we used intensively Eclipse to develop in ActionScript with FDT plugin. In FDT at that time wasn’t possible to debug the application a la Flex, so the main support was still the old trace in the log file. When the application gets bigger, though, the traces increase and gets difficult to differentiate visually one from each other. For this reason I created an Eclipse plugin which permits to log files assigning different styles to the traces, it has been named LBi Logger and it can be downloaded here.

LBi Logger screenshot

The plugin has been developed mainly during my working hours there and also because it is very branded, I don’t see so many possibilities for me to develop it further (since I don’t work anymore for LBi). At least, different people found it already very useful and hopefully it can still be handy for many others.

It’s an open-source project part of an ambitious initiative at LBI called LBi Useful (unfortunately almost all the initial contributors left since then).

The plugin project page is here.

New mix after years (2007-09-12)

As not everyone knows, because my love to club music, years ago, I used to play as DJ on my spare time. Not many performances in clubs but I managed to record some studio sessions. Which some of them I’m still proud of. One of my last mixes before yesterday was dated 2000 and it can be heard here.

Because I played at my birthday this year and I should play this weekend, at my company’s summer party, I had some records I could gather in a mix. Yesterday I had the opportunity to record it at my parents’ house (that still hosts my old DJ equipment). You can definitely hear the influence that London had on my taste in these last three years.

You can hear it here and any comment will be of course welcome. Please forgive my mixing technique, which got probably rustier during the years of not practising.

Enjoy!

Why Software Houses hate users (and developers) (2007-06-11)

The first days we buy a new computer it always seems much faster than the old one and we are very delighted. But what happen after? Do we get used to it and we don’t notice the speed anymore? Maybe. Do we install lots of software and it gets slower? Maybe. Do we install new much heavier versions of our software and it starts struggling? This for sure!

Come on, it’s cool to have a new flaming version of our favorite software with lots of new feature we almost never use. It’s true, this is a cheap argument, but the benchmark published few days ago should make us think more about this. Hopefully with flash hard-drives at least the starting up will speed up a lot (of course if we wouldn’t have to restart Windows continuously because all its dirty resources usage), but what will happen with all the other applications?

If we think about what happened in all these years, we can easily understand why this happened. The first reasons that come to my mind are:

  • Much higher competition: many more software houses fighting to implement the most pointless feature, the important is that LG portable air conditioner it is new, otherwise you wouldn’t pay all that money for it.
  • Much shorter software life: The software life got much shorter, computer companies changed processors continuously (especially Macs) so when you change computer you have to update your software as well. Who would bother to fix some bugs when a new release will come shortly?
  • Many users like stupid stuff like buying YouTube views and stupid effects on their computer’s GUI: I was looking for some videos on YouTube related to OpenGL and the firsts I got where the ones that represented a Linux distro with the fire effect burning the windows, to close them, or distortion effect on the windows while dragging them. Weren’t the Linux users the more pragmatic ones? I’m also wondering who likes that cheesy effect of the Time Machine in the new MacOS with moving stars and so on.

In a very competitive business we know how the user experience is easily the last issue to be considered. Take the mobile phones as example. Why after so many years there is still so much crap around? The only explanation is that the customers are all fools. Maybe they never had a good phone or they just don’t give a s*it. Personally I care about it and I’ve been lucky enough to have a Treo650 for more than 2 years. It is very good for many things:

  • It doesn’t crash
  • The Operating System is very user friendly and it is designed for touch-screens (and it has of course one)
  • You have many applications, sometimes open-source and written by single developers, that make it even more handy
  • The battery lasts a lot

Of course there where also some bad things:

  • Very poor audio quality during conversation
  • Very poor camera definition

Not so many bad things, so the minimum that you would expect is that the newer versions will solve those stupid issues and will provide you a fantastic user experience. Too easy, reality is that the new versions (also years more recent) are even worse.

I tried to change the phone with one running Windows Mobile 5, but that OS would be able to make the biggest Microsoft fan trash a brand new phone straight away after some of those fantastic error windows. We were almost forgetting that the phone now is a computer.

Finally Steve Jobs arrives and claims that he will provide the best phone experience with their new Iphone. At least they noticed that at the moment there is no phone on the market that doesn’t have same bad defects. For them, though, the phone is something you use to see movies, listen music or watch the internet. Personally instead I write messages, I write new appointments, I write notes. In few words, I write! For this reason I would appreciate much more a full qwerty keyboard like the Treo, but I’m probably a minority and they will also provide a fantastic multi-touch sensitive screen! I’m sure they will make some clever changes because at the moment it doesn’t appeal to me to do hundreds time the same gesture to scroll my pictures when I could just repeat the pressure of a button (or keeping it pressed). They wanted though to keep the user experience safe and thus not to make the platform accessible to bad developers. Hey, they just found a solution, since the phone will run Safari, why not to use javascript? Wow, very good news considering the limitation of it and that of course you won’t be able to use the multi-touch capability. Couldn’t they certified the quality of third part software or have a way to easily uninstall the software in the case some amateur, like me, would ruin their fantastic user experience? Another missed opportunity to make the World better, or at least people more happy!
I don’t want to be hypocrite, I did lots of not user-friendly softwares in my life (including very CPU intensive flash banners), but I’m feeling it’s time to do something NOW. Vista is out and is rubbish, new mobiles are out and are rubbish. Let’s stop buying new technology until they won’t care about the user long term satisfaction and thus not considering us as kids that after few days won’t play anymore to the same toy (but of course they really wanted it). At the moment I just hope my Treo650 will run for long, very long.

Thanks for reading guys,

on the next post will show you some more intersting facts about the tribal lending via IndianMoney.

Mobile display messenger (2007-05-19)

Our mobiles screens are getting everyday bigger and brighter, my Treo, for instance, is capable of transforming itself in a light in not daylight contexts. This made me think of many ideas around the context of using the mobile display as a short range communication tool. Quite interesting the fact that it is meant to be for very long range interactions.
There are also situations in public where speaking becomes odd and also shyness can be an obstacle. If we consider that nowadays our environment is getting crowded of flat screen / projectors, why not to use our own?

IMG_0109_modified.jpg

In this first implementation the user can use the display to show text messages he writes, not sms. The size of the text of course depends on the display size. The user can then change the text speed if necessary. As you can see it’s a pretty banal application, but it could be a good start to investigate on the usages we could do of those big displays.

Following two demo videos, unfortunately not a proper scenario, I’ll leave it to your imagination (someone trying to approach a gril in a club, for instance, or suggesting something private to a friend in public spaces).

Due for technical limitations of the platform I developed the first prototype, many of my ideas are not yet implemented, but hopefully I’ll be able to do it soon or later (if anyone is interested on helping me, it will be of course welcome).

At the moment it has been developed a PalmOS version, thanks to the fundamental work from Jagat N. Mahapatra, and a FlashLite 2.x version, that I did by myself. At the moment I’m considering the eventuality of developing a J2ME version (that would make it much more accessible).Also now you can find Kik usernames at – kiksnapme.com.

Any feedback is welcome.

Mobile development winter issues (2007-05-13)

When this autumn began I decided as indoor spare time activity (everyone knows how sad winter in London is) to improve my poor C++ maybe applying it to hand held devices. I had some applications in mind that I wanted to create and as Palm Treo owner, and in need of multimedia functionalities, with J2ME it wouldn’t have been straight forward anyway.

After my computers have been stolen (and thus lost the source of many experiments) and found out that OOP in PalmOS is not that recommended, after many months of not exiting results I ended up looking for a technical partner for PalmOS development. At that speed I would have probably delivered the applications way after PalmOS was extinct.

Of course my interest was far from producing final and refined software, i wanted mainly to prototype some ideas and it’s clear C is not the most recommended platform for prototyping, but due to my learning interest and poor testing devices availability I gave it a go.

Luckily I recently bought a second hand Nokia N70 where I could easily install FlashLite 2.1 and very easily prototype the applications with limited hardware access. In the same device I will be probably be able to use in Java at least some multimedia functionalities for more complex prototypes.

I’ll post soon the first concept, stay tuned!