Developing apps for Grandma: Developer, know thy user

If you’ve heard anything about software development in the last five years, you’ve probably heard someone talk about “knowing your user” or “putting the user first”. The massive growth of Apple in the last decade has shone a massive spotlight on relentless user focus and has caused developers at companies large and small to re-think their priorities and put usability first. However, if knowing your user is so important, what do you do when you don’t know or have anything in common with your user?

Recently, we were approached and hired to develop an application for a group of users that fits that description perfectly: non-tech savvy grandmothers and grandfathers. The gist of the app is to make it easier for them to access a specific kind of content that they have on their computers easily and quickly on their smartphones. What makes this task so interesting is that it’s not about facilitating them to do something they can’t already do: a user with any amount of tech savvy could accomplish this task with relative ease. It’s about making it so somebody with almost NO knowledge of the technology they’re using can transfer and easily  access this content with getting overly frustrated.

This task is 100% about knowing your user and catering to their needs by making existing technology more useable. The problem is, I’m a developer, capable of not only using difficult applications, but creating them from scratch. I pride myself on being a mid-adopter who is in touch with his “how I open Word again?” roots, but going into the project I found myself wondering if I really could adequately put myself in the shoes of someone who thinks opening Safari just opens Google and that Firefox opens the Internet.

So I did the only thing I could do: I talked to my own grandmother, creator of the aforementioned “Safari=Google” theory. She told me about using her computer and what she hates about it, and it was eye opening. She hates the updates and the clutter. She only wants to send and receive email, check her bank account, and use Google and that’s it. If there were 3 icons on her screen: Email with just an in and out box, her bank account, and Google that would be perfect. So even though she CAN access those 3 things from any web browser that exists, that’s not really sufficient: it’s not easy enough and browsers are too cluttered with, well, the internet.

My eyes opened, I now undertake the task of making her vision of simplicity and ease of access a reality, at least for one type of content.  Wish me luck (I’m going to need it).

March Mobile News & Trends

We’ve got some hot news: our buddies at Appcelerator won the GSMA Global Mobile 2012 Best Cloud Based Tech Award in Barcelona last week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The judge’s comment on the award announcement: “Quintessential cloud, write once, deploy many times drives speed and cost reductions.”

Titanium is indeed a powerful development platform that allows you to build and deploy mobile apps quickly that will work on any platform. We’re proud of Appcelerator’s win, since we can bask in the glow ourselves as Titanium developers and trainers. Our CEO, Edwin Huertas, just picked up a Master Certification in Titanium last month, and on the way back home to Richmond he stopped by Accenture-Austin to teach mobile development and best practices to their developer team.

So that’s the local mobile news, with a global spin. Here are some other trends we’re watching:

iPad 3 launch

Apple is launching the iPad 3 this week (if they want to take advantage of SXSW crowd hype) or next week. We’ll be watching closely to see what changes are really in the tablet after all the pre-launch speculation is either proven or myth-busted. One big question: will it include LTE? GigaOm’s Kevin Fitchard has a great post on what LTE’s inclusion, or exclusion, would mean for the mobile space. Stay tuned for that answer.

Augmented reality for navigation

Texting while driving is a bad idea. There are, however, a few apps in development that use augmented reality to help drivers navigate traffic by using the camera lens on their smartphone. One in particular got a lot of attention at Mobile World Congress last month: iOnRoad, an Android app developed by an Israeli company who envisions the technology being integrated into existing vehicle navigation systems.

Are you looking to build a mobile business?

That’s one trend that will continue to grow for the foreseeable future, as more people across the globe get connected via mobile devices even when terrestrial connections aren’t available. If you need help exploring the idea of making your business, your idea, or your cause mobile, we’ve got expertise and the tech savvy to make it happen. And the training programs to help you build your own mobile developer team.

Got a trend you’re watching? Let us know!

February Mobile News & Trends

The world gets smaller every time someone uses a mobile device to connect to the web. We celebrate that shrinkage here at Shockoe. In fact, we like to think we help enable it with our mobile web projects! We’re kicking off a new blog series on mobile news and trends that will post the first Tuesday of each month.

We’ll share what we think are the most interesting, or provoking, or challenging, or [insert your favorite adjective here] trends and topics in mobile – our goal is to start a conversation about our core interest: the mobile web.

Here’s our list for February:

400+ gigabyte download gets one lucky Russian a nice vacation

(and the rest of us get some ammo in our battle for mobile bandwidth) For most wireless customers in the US and Europe, “unlimited” data plans mean being able to download about 2 gigabytes of data per month. Russian wireless telecom MegaFon encouraged its customers to see how much they could download in November, December, and January, with the winner downloading 419 gigabytes in one week. This shows that not only are Russian mobile users hungry for content and data; it also shows that MegaFon can handle monster bandwidth demand. This should be an example to wireless providers in the US and elsewhere who put a cap on usage.

What’s in your [mobile] wallet?

It’s surprising to us that the US has lagged behind some Third World countries in mobile payment development. Some of that lag could be due to the highly-regulated banking systems of the US and Europe, but that gap will continue to close this year. As NFC (Near Field Communication) technology is included in more and more mobile devices – think Mobil Speed-Pass in your phone – you’ll see more and more opportunities in 2012 to simply wave your phone at a checkout terminal, get an electronic confirmation, and head home with your purchases. If you can do it in Kenya, why not in Kalamazoo?

One word: HTML5

OK, so it’s not really a word, it’s four letters and a number. However, that alphanumeric string is the future of the web. As Brett McLaughlin put it on O’Reilly Radar, “what’s important is not that HTML5 works on phones. What’s important is that HTML5 ‘just works.’” HTML5 removes much of the heavy lifting required by previous iterations of HTML when it comes to delivering content on multiple device platforms.  Like Brett said, it “just works”.

That’s our short list for February. If you’d like to have a conversation with us about the mobile web, throw us a comment or shoot us an email – and if you’d like to explore the possibilities of putting your ideas on a mobile platform, we’d be happy to have that conversation, too. Give us a call!

Let the games begin.