Room for improving usability and reliability
Let me start by saying that I'm a regular user of public transport. Sometime last year, BMTC released a mobile app that's meant to give users accurate and timely information about bus routes and arrival times. I've been using this app for a few months now. It's particularly useful on routes where buses are few and far between. An accurate foreknowledge of arrivals can save commuters from long waits. How does this work?
Each bus is fitted with a GPS transceiver. The location of each bus is conveyed in real time to a central system. Actually, the update happens every 10 seconds. Once the system is updated, users can query the system from their mobile apps to know when a particular bus is arriving at their bus stop. A more detailed narrative was published recently on Factor Daily. They also published a basic review of the app itself.
The app has its problems, mainly from the perspective of usability. The system itself has reliability issues. Let's look at these one at a time.
Learnings from Mobile Growth Bangalore Meetup
If you're a beginner to the world of mobile apps, you may be looking for someone to guide you. Developing an app and getting it out on the app store is only the start of a long journey. Many questions will hound you from the start. Why are so few users downloading my app? Why do many users stop using the app within a few days? Why are users not making purchases via the app? Why are users not using the app as often as expected?
Obviously, all these questions cannot be investigated at the same time. Where exactly should you focus your efforts and budget? How should the issues be prioritized? Is it a matter for developers, digital marketeers, product managers or customer support staff? Wouldn't it be nice if there's a community of mobile developers to share and exchange best practices? That's exactly what Mobile Growth provides.
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.