Sunday, September 22, 2013

The new iOS 7 interface, love it or hate it, it's necessary.

Now that the new iPhones have hit the streets and iOS 7 updates have been pushing out to the millions of devices around the world, the world is starting to weigh in. And, as expected, many folks are passionate in their reactions to the radical new interface.

Before we jump into the comparisons, let's examine a few constants and key decisions that Apple has made which make the direction iOS 7 has taken a necessity.

1. Apple hardware revisions come only once every two years.

As a hardware manufacturer, Apple has been phenomenally successful. This is due in large part to their strategy of offering very few devices to a particular segment of the market with significantly higher margins than their competitors. Furthermore, they typically only make significant changes to these hardware designs every two years which reduces costs and increases profit margins.

This choice limits their flexibility in terms of responding to new market demands, especially in the realm of device hardware features. Luckily for Apple, over the past six years they have essentially been defining the gold standard by which other players in the market must compete. This has allowed them to maintain high margins and their perceived position as innovation leaders with a best-of-breed product. Attempts by competitors like Samsung to add differentiating features to their handsets and tablets have for the more part failed to attract any significant traction (see Samsung's 'S Beam'), perhaps with the notable exception of screen size...

2. Apple refuses to compete with other devices on screen size.

Screen size has been the one feature that Apple has consistently chosen not to engage the market in competition on. While Samsung and others have grown to beautiful 5" displays, Apple remains steadfastly committed to their 4" screen. This comes back to the key belief of form over function that has guided Apple's philosophy over the past 30 years. A bigger screen makes for a wider device that simply feels too big for your hand, and many feel looks silly held up to your head. Ever tried one-handed operation of a Galaxy S4?

This decision means that every single pixel on Apple's display must be absolutely optimized to present as much usable screen real-estate as possible on the smaller screen, so that apps can compete with the larger displays available with Android and others.

3. Form over function still rules.

Apple has thrived on its ability to look different, feel different and be different. Leading the charge on this front has been the enigmatic Jony Ive. Now Jony's talents have been squarely focused on the software, as opposed to hardware, and the effects could not be felt any more strongly than what we've seen in iOS7. Jony and Apple have always been supremely focused on building beautiful things, where material and form meet to provide an elegant and superior user experience. The guiding principle from a hardware perspective has always been 'simplicity'. No unnecessary buttons, features, labels, or keyboard keys ('Delete' anyone?).

With Jony driving software design, it should have been no surprise to see the direction iOS 7 has taken...

The bottom line: No more room for Skeuomorphism

Jony has taken this consistent approach to completely revamp iOS, reversing course on key design approaches, primarily by killing skeuomorphism in iOS. Skeuomorphism is defined as the rendering of real-world concepts and interfaces in software in an effort to give users a familiar set of real-world analogies. Think of the leather binding in the previous iOS 6 calendar app.

At the end of the day, the death of skeuomorphism in iOS is simply a practical matter vs. a philosophical one. There's just no space for it. Skeuomorphism requires pixels be committed to rendering the real-world looking buttons, textures and backgrounds. Simply put, the 4" display cannot afford it.

iOS 7 is stripped down to the bare essentials, and that's just the way it needs to be. 

Apple's continued commitment to a smaller 4" display requires the elimination of skeuomorphism which commits far too many pixels on the screen to rendering life-like analogies in all of our apps, especially Notes, Calendar and iBooks.

With Apple hardware that is locked for 24 month revision cycles, it is software that must respond to the market challenges that continue to rise from the increasingly competitive Samsung, LG and ZTE. Love it or hate it, iOS 7 is that attempt, and expect to see continued advancement in that direction.

While rumors continue to circulate that Apple is testing larger displays for it's handsets, the fact remains that a larger display would almost inevitably adversely affect the 'form' of the device which fits nicely into one-hand in it's current dimensions. We will have to wait and see how Tim and his team decide to respond to, or lead, the market with the next revision of the ever-so popular iPhone.

UPDATE: Bonus video from a good mate of mine showing the reaction of a young iOS user to the new iOS 7 interface...

Friday, November 9, 2012

The War Against Obesity

After reading a interesting article on gastric-bypass surgery, also known as 'stomach stapling', I thought of my good friend Dr. Ahmed who is currently a very prominent figure in the obesity intervention community. He operates out of London and is frequently called upon as an expert in the space.

The article cites a study showing patients who have undergone surgery to treat their obesity have shown significantly higher incidents of addiction in other areas such as alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. Are these people tragically trading one vice for another?

From the article:
...candidates suffer from binge-eating disorder and display addictive personalities, therefore after their weight loss surgery, they may replace overeating with a different substance... Patients documented noteworthy increases in the amount of substance use (a combination of drug use, alcohol use, and cigarette smoking) 24 months after surgery...

The good Dr. Ahmed and I shared many a good laugh while he was studying his craft at Stanford, or 'cutting', as he referred to his surgical skills. He thought of his mission on this planet as doing what he could to bring about victory in the global War Against Obesity. He called himself merely a foot-soldier on the front lines of the battle. Fighting the good fight one laparoscopic gastic bypass surgery at a time.

As tribute to my friend, his fight, and the good people he is helping, I wrote a short poem in his honor... My wife thought it was amusing, so here we go:

An Ode To The Warrior...

They seek him out, to ease the pain,
To stop the mass they gain again...

Poke the holes! 
Drain the fat! 
Sew them up....
... and that is that!

Bellies shrink,
...yet how they drink!

More, then more, struggling, stop. 
Will other vices rise to top?

Hunger falls 
into Abyss....

All the while, their saviour smiles...
Our good doctor delivers BLISS...

Keep cutting my friend! Victory will be hard fought but is not out of our reach!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Building Enterprise Mobile Apps? Try this...

One of the better resources out there on mobile development and the mobile market in general is Simon Judge's Mobile Phone Development site. In it, a multitude of topics are covered regarding building and delivering mobile apps efficiently and effectively. 
One insightful posting from Simon discusses the challenges on inter-dependencies on systems as they relate to mobile app development. You can read the posting Saving Mobile Development Time, Effort and Cost here. In the post, he mentions:
In mobile, dependencies tends to be the server side, embedded data, UI graphical assets and sometimes localised text. The problem is that these are often not ready when the app is developed causing placeholders to be used. When the actual items become available there are often problems to be resolved that might have been more efficiently been resolved when the code was actually designed/written.
I couldn't agree more, and this is a prime example of where the new trend of Service Virtualization can have a tangible impact on the delivery of your mobile apps. By using the capabilities that an SV solution provides to abstract away the back-end server side components that most enterprise mobile apps rely on, development and test teams are unlocked, and able to execute in parallel while those back-end pieces, web services or data models are being built and finalized. 
With all of the complexity and lack of mature tooling that mobile developers and testers currently have to deal with, having the ability to remove the constraint of off-device systems should be greatly appreciated.
This is something that many large enterprises we talk to are looking to take advantage of. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hybrid Mobile Platform from Oracle? Worth a look...

This week at Oracle Openworld 2012 there has been a significant amount of focus given to enabling mobile platform for our enterprise apps. Oracle has made some interesting moves in this area with both the preview release of Oracle ADF Mobile, as well as the latest updates to the Oracle Developer Cloud Service. There are some very nice features available from both ADF and ODCS that I recommend folks have a good look at.
With mobile growth rate explosion showing no signs of slowing, companies like OracleAdobe and Appcelerator are making investments to facilitate the path for enterprises to address the demand for mobile access to enterprise data and apps. Whether it is through updating enterprise app interfaces to support tablets and phones, providing hybrid app platforms, or exposing back-end enterprise data via APIs and connectors. If you are tasked with building a mobile app in the enterprise today, you'll find a lot more help than existed just 6-12 months ago.
The latest hybrid app platform from Oracle embeds PhoneGap as part of their solution, but also enhances what is generally possible with PhoneGap by providing common UI elements and business logic widgets out-of-the-box. The choice of a hybrid app platform over a native app, or mobile web-based approach (i.e. via Safari, Android browser or mobile Chrome) is increasingly looking like the logical choice if what you need is to get an enterprise app deployed into an App Store quickly for BYOD consumption.
Here at CA, we are seeing more of our customers take advantage of Service Virtualization (SV) to accelerate their mobile app development. By leveraging the capabilities in SV, mobile app teams doing development, testing and performance tuning can de-couple their apps from the backend services that are either providing business logic or serving as data-sources. This allows much faster iterations during app development which has been key to getting apps deployed quickly.
By having an entire infrastructure essentially in a box using SV, mobile app developers can verify business workflows directly from their mobile devices without requiring enterprise infrastructure access. Primary use-cases as well as edge-cases for their apps can be independently validated without affecting production systems or requiring test or dummy data to be placed into corporate databases.
This is a big win for most teams, especially when it comes to testing and performance tuning. We'll be talking a lot more about mobile in the upcoming months, especially as it relates to SV. In the meantime, check out the latest offerings in the space and let me know which platform you decide to go with for your app, and why.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tesla, We're Pulling For You.

Recently, a good friend sent me a note expressing his skepticism about our stalwart pioneers at Tesla Motors. It went something like this:
...but even after ten years they are in the development stage? Why go to three models? Oh yeah, right… To get more people interested and put down the money…

I hope the best for the boys at Tesla, I’d be interested in buying one… but I wouldn’t be putting down cash like this.
My response: Ye of little faith, my friend!

The pent up anticipation about this car is overwhelming here in California, and the price point I believe puts the Model S at the top of its class in terms of performance, practicality and style. The danger is that the Model S ends up with some early reviews like Fisker, which had a Karma arrive DOA when Consumer Reports was reviewing it. Ouch.

The Model X is a fantastic prototype, super exciting and more than a concept from what I've seen. It's purely designed to generate investor interest in the stock, as well as advance orders. There's no good business reason that I can see to tip their hand so far in advance of production if their cash position wasn't the principal driver. Although it has been very successful at generating great buzz for the Model S.

I think consumers feel better about a car company that has more than one model, even if not yet in production. It creates a sense of security, a larger image of a brand. Losing the ability to produce the Tesla Roadster was unfortunate for them, IMHO. Continued production of the Roadster would have really helped bridge the Model S production gap.

It's difficult to find any reviews on the Roadster that are not glowing and exceedingly positive. Sure, there's the novelty and 'shiny new toy' factor that gets everyone putting on rose-coloured glasses, but the reality is the thing goes like stink and hasn't stranded anyone out on the highway just yet to the best of my knowledge.

I'm a big fan of what Tesla is working to achieve. Let's put aside the environmental benefits, and the positive impact a reduction in imported oil dependency can have on our foreign policy for the moment. This is about innovation, entrepreneurship, and an amazingly cool set of cars that are fun to drive and nice to look at.

Where's the debate here exactly? Americans need to get behind this company.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pontifications on Agile ALM, Continuous Integration and Software Quality...

I recently was invited to participate in Speaker Series program hosted by Morgan Stanley on the topic of Software Quality. It was a fun talk to put together and I was honored to have the chance to present to the global IT and Quality organization at Morgan Stanley.

The invite originated from an article I wrote on Automated Testing that was published by StickyMinds, a great resource for software best-practices.

Here's the presentation... look out for 'The Donald' easter egg in the slide deck!

If you have any questions or would like to discuss please get in touch with me!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Even Intel struggles with this stuff…

For the past few years Intel has been steadily working on bringing an exceptional step forward in processing capability to market. They internally called it Larrabee and it is a chip that is widely rumored to have as many as 32 or more cores on the chip. This would bring multi-core parallel computing to the consumer market in an unprecedented way.

Recently, however, news came out that at least the first iteration of this chip was being officially canned. Although it’s not unheard of for a big company like Intel to sack a project, in this case the number of man years, resources and buzz built up around Larrabee represented a substantial investment on Intel’s part.

This news for me really drove home the challenges that the computing and software industry is facing as we continue to attempt to scale out as opposed to up. To build more processors on a chip instead of faster ones. To fundamentally change the way we design and implement hardware and the applications that run on them.

This stuff is hard! Really hard, in fact. And although the concept of putting a bunch of processors together on a chip is simple, actually harnessing that power to do real work is anything but. There are many reasons for this, but one is that writing multi-threaded software that actually can tap into this power is exceptionally more challenging that just waiting for Intel or AMD to produce another CPU that is 50% faster than the last.

It’s hard to conject exactly what stopped Larrabee in its tracks as it was seemingly so close to launch. What we do know is there was a tremendous amount of horsepower built into the chip, but tapping that potential apparently proved elusive. A public demonstration of Larrabee at a recent trade event was met with a relative ‘Hmmm…where’s the beef’ kind of reaction from the press and analysts.

As the hardware scales out with multi-core and the applications get more complex, the tools and infrastructure needed to support them, including debugging tools and defect resolution solutions, need to grow and evolve as well.

I will be anxious to see what AMD and NVIDIA are working on in their respective labs as each race against each other and Intel to keep up with Mr. Moore. It’s an exciting time as the industry looks for innovation from our hardware and software vendors to keep up the pace of advancement that we’ve grown to expect…

Onward and outward!