Payments made easy
It was in December 2016 that the BHIM app was launched by our Prime Minister. BHIM couldn't have asked for better timing. It came at the heels of demonetization when all of India was focusing on cashless payments. Cash was in short supply and alternative means of payments were in demand. About two months later, YourStory carried a story about 27-year old Nikhil Kumar who had apparently built the BHIM app in just three weeks. A few days ago Nikhil Kumar spoke at a small gathering of enthusiasts at Thought Factory, Bangalore. I attended mostly to know about UPI and BHIM but also partly out of curiosity to see the man behind the app.
I am yet to install the BHIM app on my smartphone. While I'm not a Luddite who stands against the advance and adoption of technology, I'm certainly not an early adopter. Since I know the engineering side of things, experience tells me that early releases are prone to contain bugs. Particularly in today's world of MVP releases and lean/agile processes, no one waits for a well-tested product. First releases will certainly contain problems when test-driven methodologies are not followed; or test automation has been sidelined due to more pressing delivery deadlines. So I haven't been using BHIM but I certainly wanted to know what it was.
A small selection across domains
There's so much happening in the space of Virtual Reality (VR), that it's becoming hard to keep track. The ecosystem has progressed sufficiently that content creation is becoming a serious focus. Those with intent and resources are in the race to create engaging quality content. Headsets are now available by the dozens and at a range price points. VR is by no means a mainstream technology yet but it's getting there.
Here's a selection of VR companies and content that have been in the news lately. This selection is of course just the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Some of these are accessible with nothing more than a smartphone, a downloadable app and a cheap VR headset. Often the app itself is free. Often content is also free, which is expected of any new content distribution platform keen on attracting users. Where devices and content are at a premium, they're for the early adopters willing to splurge north of $2000. Thanks to them, innovation continues to happen and technology continuously nudges past its limits.
The Calldorado SDK
I have been a web app developer for many years now. Although I downloaded the Android SDK way back in 2007 when Android was first released to the developer community, I had other priorities and getting into mobile app development took a backseat. With the world going mobile, especially in developing countries where most folks' first access to the Internet is via the mobile, lots of web developers are migrating to mobile apps, particularly on Android and iOS. But do they make enough money?
Published in July 2015, a report from Developer Economics revealed some interesting facts. If $500 a month is the poverty line, more than half of the developers are making less. Only 10% of developers use m-commerce as their revenue model whereas 46% rely on advertising. Mobile commerce from native apps are overtaking the same from mobile web. While cloud services are lucrative, IoT is bringing in the least revenue.
A Selection from India Electronics Week 2016
What's an IoT company? Companies that have been around for three decades or more are suddenly calling themselves IoT companies just because their products have embedded firmware, some sensors or wireless connectivity and control. Since IoT is a buzz word, everyone wants a piece of the action. IoT was featured prominently at the recent India Electronics Week 2016 that concluded day before yesterday in Bangalore. While there was a conference component, I did not attend more than a couple of talks. Hence this post reflects more about what was on the exhibition floor and what I saw.
There were companies offering design and system integration services. Other had actual products including hardware. Home automation had its place. Meta Appliances is an example. I saw a few wearables. One was for pet activity tracking and location monitoring named Wagr. The other was Portuspine that helps with better posture and lesser back pain. Kratos uses intrared and BLE on a watch to enable gesture-based control of devices in the home. All were good ideas but not novel. Their hardware devices too lacked the image of a polished market ready product.
Another company imports and integrates baby warmers (from Brazil) into a complete healthcare solution for prematurely born babies. IISc showcased their concept of Astronome, a network of LEO satellites to provide Internet connectivity to rural areas. It is expected to be operational by 2020. Perhaps Astronome will succeed where Motorola's Iridium failed. There were others in the business of looking at data and running analytics on it. Some traditional ones were trying to position their M2M solutions as IoT solutions without knowing the difference between the two. I leave it to the reader to decide the worth of these companies.
What I Learnt at Today's InMobi Bangalore Meetup
When it comes to mobile app design, two words always come up in any discussion among designers: storyboards and wireframes. Beginners are always confused between the two. I've developed responsive web apps in the past for which I've done detailed wireframes on pen and paper but I never understood storyboards... until today.
InMobi organizes monthly meetups that are open to the developer community. I had a chance to attend today's Bangalore meetup. The speaker, an experienced designer and consultant named Prashanth, spoke on the app development process. In particular, he informed us how important it is to sketch. Sketching is an essential skill needed to execute storyboards.
A Framework Worth Learning
There are probably dozens of web frameworks out there in various languages. My favourites are Joomla and WordPress because they are easy to learn and use. They have an intuitive administrator interface that help us get a decent website up and running without even writing a single line of code. They are also designed for content management. With plenty of readymade templates out there, it's no surprise that both these frameworks have the largest marketshare.
My only complaint is that we have to live with the constraints of these frameworks. It would be difficult to achieve a unique design that deviates from the framework's scaffolding. Performance may also suffer. These frameworks may also be clunky for a really minimal website. Finally, they are not great for web services that would like to expose RESTful API.
Interface design considerations
Earlier today I was in a meeting where we talked about designing an API for an app hosted in the cloud. The app was getting data from hundreds of sensor devices out in the field. These could be temperature sensors attached to patients in hospitals. They could be water level sensors in storage tanks. They could be events recording the opening and closing of doors. In short, it was data generated by machines, data that was a reflection of the world around us. It was data from the Internet of Things (IoT).
It's typical for security and performance reasons never to expose the data storage to the external world. Devices should instead use published APIs to store and retrieve data. From the perspective of design as well, this is a good thing. External entities need not worry about how the data is stored, the exact format or the nature of the database. This also means that storage can be changed without affecting its users.
Lessons in UX
A couple of days ago I needed to travel from Cox Town to Banashankari. I wanted an estimate of how much it would cost by taxi. I opened up Ola Cabs' website. The site had all the required information but not in the manner I wanted them. They displayed the minimum charges, charges per km beyond the minimum, charges per minutes, and so on. Worse still, I had to go to Google to find out the distance between the locations.
This is what happens in many apps and products. There is no understanding of design thinking. The designers have not put themselves in the shoes of their users. About a year ago I wrote about how ClearTax had failed in their design. The same can be said of Ola Cabs. Has anyone else got it right? Uber has. All I had to do was to enter the locations and I got an estimate of the fare. Cool!