A brief look at Windows 8

I just took a look at the Windows 8 developer preview on Daniel’s PC. It looks like a touch-screen system running a tablet oriented version of Microsoft’s “Metro” interface, which you might have seen on Windows Phone 7. At first glance, it looks really nice and the tiles on the home screen look very striking.

Just as I was looking forward to seeing what else I could find, Daniel tapped the start menu, revealing that the UI is running on top of the existing Windows user interface.  This made me think of Windows Media Centre; a glossy front end that runs on top of the Windows UI.

There’s definitely something not quite right about having two different UIs running on the same machine. Don’t get me wrong, I think both UIs look great, espeically Metro but I can’t help thinking it feels a little graceless! I guess that from a business point of view, they’ve taken into account the exploding tablet market and “old school” users wishing to run traditional Windows apps. Makes sense I suppose!
Not wishing to be negative, but I don’t believe it’s possible to combine a tablet OS into a desktop PC OS in a single product.

I hope Microsoft prove me wrong.

3 Tech Predictions for 2012

Although nobody knows what will happen in the industry over the next few years, I’ve been thinking about how online services, particularly mobile, will evolve. We are probably still some time away from another tech revolution, so I believe that the next few years will be defined by the following three areas:

1. Developers creating for mobile devices before desktop

While PC shipments slow, mobile has been exploding for some time now and growth shows no signs of stopping.  I believe it is important for any development team to focus on mobile first, because development for devices with smaller screen sizes  forces teams to focus on only the most important data and actions. Unlike the web, there’s no room on a 320x480px screen to include unnecessary elements. Prioritisation is very important and what differentiates a good web site or app from a cluttered mess.

Additionally, and from a development perspective, mobile extends your toolbox. Whether you’re developing for iOS or Android or leveraging valuable GPS or orientation information from the device to utilise in your apps, developers can utilise new technologies and functions that traditional “desktop based browsers” aren’t well equipped to perform.

Going “mobile first” allows us to use all of the capabilities of mobile devices to create context-aware applications instead of limiting themselves to the constraints of the traditional web browser.

2. Addressing the current infrastructure issues

For the past 6 months, getting a stable data connection on Vodafone in Glasgow has been hit or miss, mostly miss.

I logged a fault with Vodafone in April, as did many friends and neighbours, however upon investigation, engineers found no fault with cell sites in the area; just ‘congestion’ issues at the data centre.  I then found a thread on Vodafone’s eForum and noticed there are hundreds upon hundreds of posts about issues in this area.

When asking about a bill credit, one user on the Vodafone forum was told:

“I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to give you any credits at this point as you are still able to use 2G. Calls on 2G seem to be unaffected by this issue so you can still use your phone for its purpose (making calls).”

This was met with the following response by a user:

That response would have been suitable if it was perhaps at the start of 2005 but not today. Consumers come to vodafone with smart phones take contracts out for multiple purposes, not just to make calls as you suggest above. I entered into the agreement with Vodafone to provide both circuit switched services (calls and SMS) and packet switched services (data). As you’ll see from my usage, I’m very much a heavy data user and don’t tend to use too many SMS or use much of my allowance. You even advertise data as part of your PR for your network (see “deep pan” and other silly marketing terms you use).

It is widely thought that something needs to be done at network level to accommodate the growing number of smart phone users and their bandwidth rich applications. I’ve used a local example to explain this point, however these issues have been reported nationwide. 

3. App discoverability improvements at operator level

App stores are still exploding, making quality content harder and harder to find.  There are several ways operators can address this:

Quality over quantity. Perhaps the mobile networks should play the role of app gatekeepers and let the app stores store the rest in their “warehouses”.

More well-known names. Brands like Zynga (Farmville, Poker), Newtoy (Words with Friends) and Electronic Arts have got this just right. People tend to embrace brands they know and trust. We need more brands in the app stores.

Build a better recommendation engine. Enable users to set preferences with the app store, allowing the operator to display only apps which are relevant to them.

Keep it clean out of the box – Operators, don’t pre-load apps people don’t’ want. Keep it clean and provide a platform to populate the phone with apps based on the users preferences.