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.
Takeaways from Alexa Dev Day, Bangalore
Voice-based interfaces are all in rage right now. On one side tech is being driven by Machine Learning. On the other side, speech-to-text, text-to-speech and Natural Language Understanding are complementing it from the perspective of user interfaces. This is not to say that keyboards and touchscreens are going to go away. It does suggest that there are many applications where sight and touch can be freed for parallel tasks while you converse with your apps using voice.
Some of the speech agents that power voice-based interfaces are Siri, Alexa and Cortana, just to name the well-known ones. Today I had the chance to attend Alexa Dev Day organized by Amazon Alexa team. Similar events are scheduled to happen all across the world in the coming weeks. The event hall was packed, mostly with developers, and mostly with those who already owned Echo devices. I found this to be the key differentiator with Alexa. Amazon has managed to get Echo devices into a number of homes and offices. Early adopters perhaps bought them for the novelty factor but thanks to them, basic uses cases have been shown to work. Now there's sufficient interest from developers to reach this bunch of Echo owners and beyond to interest them with innovative apps. Novelty therefore is moving from Echo hardware to apps powered by Alexa. I met someone trying to do railway ticket bookings with Alexa. A couple of guys from Sulekha are exploring voice-based hyperlocal searches. Another person is looking to give first-aid advice and emergency care.
Authors: Lea Verou
Publisher: O'Reilly, 2015
Front-end web designers have to know CSS very well in order to create styling that's effective and maintainable. This is easier said than done because CSS is a complex language. To be good at it, one must learn from the masters and Lea Verou is one of them. The author presents those parts of CSS that are not obvious. She uses CSS in very creative ways to overcome limitations in the standards. Readers should already have some grasp of the basics. When they are ready to take their knowledge to the next level, this is a book that they cannot miss.
The book itself has been designed using CSS. The secrets are presented as solutions to well-stated problems. There are 47 secrets in all but readers will learn a lot more than these. All examples can be tried interactively online and the links to these examples are conveniently placed at the end of each section. Readers are of course at liberty to use their own tools (such as http://jsfiddle.net/) to try out the examples. This implies that we can learn the secrets by practice, which makes the book all the more enjoyable.
Insights from a user experience testing
Developers are developers, programmers and engineers. When they are in such a role they often don't think like users because that requires wearing a different hat. To be a user is not an easy job. The developer has to forego assumptions and foreknowledge. He should really know nothing about the system and derive every bit of information from the interface alone. This is an impossible task when you are wearing a developer's hat.
User experience (UX) has been around for decades but only in recent times it has come to popular acceptance. Apple revolutionized it with the iPod in 2001. More recently, we have made the transition from moving the mouse to using our fingers on touchscreens. Today, gaming consoles, mobile phones or tablets are being integrated into IP-enabled smart TVs to bring UX to a whole new level.