Intel’s smartphone testing robots

Businessweek’s latest issue has an interesting sidebar about Intel’s use of robots to test smartphones. Lenovo’s K900 smartphone is one device that has undergone Intel’s robotic user experience testing.

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MIT Technology Review had an article on this recently and features a great video of these robots in action.

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Why BlackBerry 10 is Exciting

I have written a lot about BlackBerry smartphones and the PlayBook tablet on this blog. Without a doubt I became a fan since leaving the iPhone/iPad world for a BlackBerry in early 2011. My time with BlackBerry has been full of great events including the BlackBerry 7 launch party #BB7FanNight in Toronto and the #BBMUglySweater Party in New York.

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So why is the BlackBerry 10 launch so exciting?

BlackBerry 10 is a new start for RIM. The significance of this can be summed up by RIM’s current BlackBerry 10 tagline: “The BlackBerry Experience: Re-designed. Re-engineered. Re-invented.” This is not to say that the current BlackBerry 7 smartphone is not a fantastic platform, just that BlackBerry 10 will be taking what BlackBerry 7 started to the next level.

BlackBerry’s Specialty

BlackBerry has always been a communication device. BlackBerry 7′s standout features are the Unified Inbox and Notifications, integration of Social Media apps (Twitter, Facebook, BBM), and the BBM social network. Being able to pound out a long email, reply to a few BBM conversations, check your Twitter feed, and post a new picture to Facebook without missing a beat is a hallmark of the traditional BlackBerry experience. BlackBerry 10 will not lose this capability, in fact, it is taking this approach and applying it to everything you will do on the device.

Looking at a few core concepts that BlackBerry 10 is based on, it is easy to see why I am excited about the upcoming release:

  1. BlackBerry Flow: Applications will integrate in such a way that you will not need to constantly launch and close applications to get things done. Instead, as you go through a “flow” the applications will present you with the Actions and Content that you need to complete the tasks that you are working on.
  2. BlackBerry Hub: The BlackBerry Hub will take the traditional Unified Inbox concept to the next level. The Hub on BlackBerry 10 will be a BlackBerry user’s place of action. All incoming Messages and Notifications will enter the Hub and be easy to act on with context-sensitive actions presented.
  3. Optimization and Usability: The first BlackBerry 10 smartphone will be a full-touch screen device. BlackBerry 10 has shifted to a touch-interaction model from the traditional BlackBerry focus-interaction model (trackpad to highlight things and select them). This new BlackBerry 10 operating system has been optimized for touch, but not only that: it has been optimized to be used primarily with a single thumb. One handed operation was a hallmark of the traditional BlackBerry, and RIM has brought this specialty to touch-centric devices. The user interface has been designed to keep key interactions on the bottom 2/3rds of the screen so that your thumb can reach the buttons without having to adjust hand position. The BlackBerry 10 virtual keyboard has intelligent predictive word suggestions that can be easily flicked up from the keyboard with your one thumb.
  4. Intelligent Apps and Personalization: With BlackBerry 10, RIM has taken the opportunity to re-invent the apps that BlackBerry People depend on every day. This means that apps like Calendar and Contacts will likely become even more critical in your day-to-day workflow.BlackBerry 10 will take personalization to the next level, building in features that customize to how you use them.It will be “an intuitive experience that constantly adapts to your needs”

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This has been a long post and what makes BlackBerry 10 even more exciting is that what I have mentioned is just the tip of the iceberg. BlackBerry 10 will feature way more than this and is going to change the way you use your phone, again.

I expect BlackBerry 10 to be a huge success for RIM. They have taken the time to break down what made the traditional BlackBerry experience so productive, and applied these concepts to everything a user will do. I like to think of BlackBerry 10 as having matched the general features of Android or iOS, but then taken it to the next-level with BlackBerry style productivity and connectedness.

When I left my iPhone for a BlackBerry back in 2011, what drew me in was the integration of apps and the efficiency of communication. I am excited that RIM has continued along this path with BlackBerry 10. Expect some exciting news when BlackBerry 10 is launched on January 30th, 2013.

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Knowledge is Power

Many people set New Years Resolutions with great intentions but typically poor follow through. We have all done it. January 1st we are determined to make big changes. January 2nd we are back on the couch eating the chocolate we got for Christmas.

This year I am using two great services to get on track with my goals.

1 – Fitbit

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Back in September I picked up a Fitbit – a tiny electronic gadget that you carry around with you to track your every move. Sounds creepy? It kind of is, but it is also very interesting. It can be very eye opening when you see how in-active you really are some days.

2 – Wave Personal

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Last week I setup an account on Wave Personal – free financial software for individuals and small business. When you connect it to your financial accounts (bank accounts, credit cards, investments, and even PayPal) it automatically pulls the data from each source and aggregates it in an easy to track interface. Wave automatically categorizes each transaction and sets preliminary budgets for you based on your past spending. The key that makes it really useful is that it pulls everything together into a central place to help you better analyze it. The Dashboard gives you a quick snapshot of your financial situation, including a Net Worth figure and calcuating by how much it has increased (or decreased) over the past 30 days.

Once I have a good idea of where I stand on these sort of things, I can then determine how to make changes for the better. And finally be able to say I’ve stuck to my resolutions. This sort automated tracking and data aggregration is extremely helpful and something that is going to become even more useful as it gets easier.

Definitely an interesting area in technology these days.

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Blog Hiatus

I am going to temporarily put my blogging on pause for a while. Stay tuned for more in the future!

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What do people want to do with PlayBook? Watch TV

Looking at the Top Paid apps on BlackBerry App World makes it quite obvious what PlayBook owners want to do with their tablet: watch TV. There is not just one, not two, but three apps in the Top 25 Paid apps on App World for watching TV shows. These apps aren’t even very useful, they just aggregate links to the websites of TV networks that offer on-demand programming online.

I am not sure why people are buying these apps – but it certainly shows there is a lot of demand for TV on the PlayBook. Which makes a lot of sense given how great the PlayBook is for watching video:

  • Widescreen
  • High quality stereo speakers
  • HDMI connections for sending video/audio to an HDTV
  • Flash in the web browser for online streaming from Television Network’s websites and online-TV services
  • Light enough to be comfortable when holding it for the duration of a TV show or movie

Yet despite everything about the PlayBook being great for watching videos, we have yet to get apps from the broadcasters such as GlobalTV and CTV, or any streaming services such as Netflix.

I suspect the launch of a 3G/4G PlayBook tablet would be good incentive for Bell and Rogers to bring their Tablet TV offerings to the BlackBerry 10 platform. Hopefully once BlackBerry 10 arrives and a greater volume of users adopt the platform, it will persuade content providers to open up more to the PlayBook.

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When is a Smartphone OS not a Smartphone OS? For RIM, now.

I just read a great post by Steven Troughton-Smith on it being short-sighted to see the current smartphone operating systems as just that:

“If you’re thinking purely in terms of ‘smartphones’ whenever you think of iOS, Android and Windows Phone, you’ve blown it. It’s so incredibly short sighted to think of these OSes as a smartphone play – they are all so much more than that.

These are the three OSes going to power consumer devices (phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, TVs, etc) for the next 20-30 years, or be the template for such.”

But I respectfully disagree with his ending in which he states:

“It’s a completely different game being played now. And this, more than anything else, is why companies who think they’re just making smartphones (RIM, for example) will have no place in the world of tomorrow.”

BlackBerry 10 is designed to power smartphones, tablets, laptops, and more (QNX’s automotive partnerships, rumours of a BB10 powered AppleTV-like device). Hopefully the BlackBerry 10 Jam Conference on May 1 will show Steven more of RIM’s plans for a mobile computing platform, and not just a smartphone platform.

In an interview from January, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins stated:

“Critics aren’t seeing the bigger picture, as PlayBook was never meant to be simply a tablet. PlayBook has been designed as a mobile computing platform that will be offered to QNX’s global list of clients in various industries.

PlayBook shows as a tablet, but it really is a mobile computing platform that you can run on various hardwares and integrate into various systems.”

Here is a leaked internal video from RIM showing their vision of the future matches up quite nicely with Steven’s. Notice around the 50s mark, a guy puts his BlackBerry down on his desk and it is instantly powering his desktop monitor. The same OS from the smartphone expands to the desktop.

It is a mistake to assume RIM’s current BBOS and devices dictate what they will continue doing with BlackBerry 10. BlackBerry 10 is a new beginning for RIM and the start of their new computing platform. I can not speculate on how successfully RIM will execute on this vision, but it would be short-sighted to say RIM does not see past the smartphone.

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OAuth with Cascades for BlackBerry 10 connected apps; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare

Continuing my posts on sessions at the BlackBerry 10 Jam Conference, here is one I am looking forward to: COM114 – “Building Connected Apps with Cascades”. This session goes over how to build BlackBerry 10 apps in Cascades that connect to your favorite social networking services APIs using OAuth. Whether you are trying to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Foursquare, you will probably need to use OAuth to log users in to these services.

COM114 – Building Connected Apps with Cascades Many developers want to connect their apps to a popular API or build a client for their favorite public APIs, whether its Twitter®, Facebook® or foursquare®. This session looks at using Cascades, a rich UI framework which is part of the BlackBerry® Native SDK, to make these connections. We’ll look at technical issues such as authorizing an app with your preferred API, making authenticated requests and processing the data and binding remote data to UI components.

This session is presented by Kyle Fowler, a developer at Foursquare, who has recently been working on the Foursquare for BlackBerry App. In the past he has built Blaq, a Twitter app for BlackBerry, and Fourplay, a Foursquare app for PlayBook. Needless to say, it sounds like he knows what he is talking about when it comes to connected apps. Hopefully he is putting that early access to the Cascades framework to good use and working on a shiny new Foursquare app for BlackBerry 10 devices!

Many of the app ideas I have rely on these social platforms, so I imagine this will be a very helpful session to jumpstart my Cascades development. By getting the OAuth login part out of the way – something that has slowed me down on previous BlackBerry PlayBook apps – I will be able to focus on the actual functionality of the app.

To make building connected apps even easier with Cascades, Kyle has went ahead and modified a OAuth library for Qt written in C++, adding BlackBerry 10 and Cascades specific functionality. Kyle said he would be making this library available during #BB10Jam, so keep an eye on his Github.com page.

There are now over 70 sessions lined up for BB10Jam, sadly I can’t make it to all of them, but stay tuned for some more posts on some of those sessions I will be able to make it to.

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Automotive Market opportunities for Apps


A major part of the BlackBerry 10 Jam Conference is the breakout sessions and labs presented by RIM and other developers on a wide range of BlackBerry development topics. The big focus is of course BlackBerry 10 and the Cascades UI framework (I’m sure I will be blogging about that soon). But there are some other interesting sessions lined up, one of them being:

“The Automotive Market for BlackBerry 10 Developers” presented by QNX’s Andy Gryc

The QNX operating system is already deployed in more than 30 million vehicles worldwide, and BlackBerry®10-based systems will be the foundation for many next generation in-car infotainment systems. A merger of mobile and automotive platforms represents new market potential for BlackBerry® app developers using BlackBerry® 10. Learn how a car infotainment system is structured, and the differences between car and device platforms. This is an ideal introduction to the automotive market for the app developer looking to move into this space.

With BlackBerry 10 powered by the QNX operating system, BlackBerry 10 developers will have the opportunity to build apps that span smartphone and tablet devices, but also the embedded automotive infotainment systems that QNX and their partners are putting into cars. These infotainment systems typically come loaded up with GPS navigation, media and voice controls, bluetooth, internet connectivity, and deep integration into the car’s systems and controls.

Obviously not all apps will translate well to in-car use cases, given the very different environment and accessibility. These systems are also used while driving the car, so alternative voice and steering wheel controls often are used. Apps on these screens must also be easy to use and designed to reduce driver distraction.

To get a good idea of where RIM and QNX are taking the BlackBerry 10 platform for automobiles in the future, check out this video from Mobile World Congress 2012 of the QNX Porsche – decked out with a PlayBook integrated into the dashboard, NFC connectivity, and two PlayBooks in the headrests for back-seat passengers, controllable by the front seat PlayBook.


 

After signing up for Andy’s session, I got thinking about what sort of apps would make sense to bring to the automotive market. I am sure his session will give me some good inspiration.

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Going to the BlackBerry 10 Jam Conference!

My last blog post mentioned a contest I entered to win a trip to the BlackBerry 10 Jam Conference in Orlando this May. This weekend I got an interesting email, the subject line read:

“Attending BlackBerry Jam? You will if you reply to this email”

Thanks to BerryReview.com and RIM, I won the trip to the conference! In just two weeks I will be heading down to Orlando to get my BlackBerry 10 smartphone prototype, sit in the audience for Thorsten Heins keynote at BlackBerry World, attend sessions on BlackBerry 10 app development, and meet a ton of developers, bloggers, and RIM folks at the parties.

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BlackBerry 10 Jam Unconference session ideas

A number of BlackBerry-centric blogs are running contests for a pass to the BlackBerry 10 Jam Conference. To enter, you submit ideas for additional sessions to be held during the 3rd day of the Jam. I’ve been thinking about ideas over the last week and have entered a number of session ideas. Thanks for RIM, BerryReview, N4BB, and CrackBerry for running these contests.

BerryReview: http://www.berryreview.com/2012/04/04/devs-share-your-unconference-ideas-win-a-free-pass-to-blackberry-10-jam-hotel/

Idea 1:

Idea: “Transitioning from WebWorks to Native C++/Cascades development”

An overview of how best to make the leap from Web development with WebWorks/JS/HTML/CSS to using C++ and Cascades with the native SDK. How to adapt your web development skills to native. What are the main differences and how best to start learning. What are the major differences conceptually.

Why: RIM is pushing these multiple development routes to attract developers of all areas, but there is limited information on jumping from one platform to another. I am currently doing WebWorks apps (see “Many Notes” on AppWorld) because I have previous experience with web but I want to hop over to native once Cascades is released. Knowing how best to make this transition will make it faster to get started and will encourage WebWorks developers like myself to consider taking advantage of the speed/performance of Native.

Idea 2:

Idea: How to integrate “Social” into your app

Detail: BlackBerry 10 Flow is all about smooth integration of apps and data, and BlackBerry users by nature are very social (BBM, Twitter, etc). A session detailing how we can integrate Facebook, Twitter, BBM, LinkedIn, and other social networks into our apps in a way that is as slick as the multitasking on BlackBerry 10. Go over how to integrate each network, how social can benefit apps (chat, sharing, information, collaboration, etc), and how BlackBerry 10 enables social integration.

Why? I planned to integrate Twitter sharing into a PlayBook application that I made but had trouble implementing the user authentication that Twitter requires. This session would provide direction on the right way to integrate these social services and make it easy for us to get our apps out there and to empower our users to get more out of our apps and their social networks.

N4BB: http://n4bb.com/calling-developers-win-free-pass-blackberry-10-jam-3-night-stay-submitting-ideas-unconference

Idea 3:

I would love to see a session on “User Interface guidelines for the BlackBerry PlayBook/BB10″.

We need to be given guidelines on how to design apps that fit the design patterns of the core apps. Too many designers/developers make apps that don’t fit the PlayBook style. The session could cover the main aspects of a PlayBook app’s design – hidden menu’s with swipe down, multi-tasking within the app, fluid UIs, and anything else to make apps fit better on the platform alongside RIM’s own apps.

Also going over the right way to implement these swipe-down menus would be good – even some of the best apps like Files & Folders don’t get it exactly right.

Idea 4:

Session: “How to monetize your apps with Freemium/IAPs”

Detail: go over how to use In App Purchases to monetize your apps with a freemium business model rather than traditional Paid or Ad-Supported monetization. Go over how to design apps to convert better and how to use RIM’s App World In App Purchase APIs. How to market freemium apps and how to track conversion rates/conversion funnels.

Why: this is a tricky way to build, design, and monetize apps, requiring some changes to how you think about your app as you design it. RIM’s experts and/or developers who have had success with this model can provide tips on how best to implement this type of business model on BlackBerry 10.

CrackBerry: http://crackberry.com/developers-want-attend-blackberry-10-jam-submit-your-%E2%80%9Cunconference%E2%80%9D-ideas-win-free-pass-and-hotel-ac

Idea 5:

Idea: “How to build a flexible User Interface for BlackBerry 10 – smartphone, tablets, and more!”

Detail: BlackBerry 10 will be on tablets (PlayBook, etc), Smartphones, and other devices (automotive, embedded, etc), meaning there will be many screen sizes, pixel densities, and screen shapes. For apps to work across all of these different devices, the user interface will need to be optimized for each one. Developers need to know the best way to do this, and how to dynamically have their apps customize to the difference screens.

Why: My current BlackBerry PlayBook app “Many Notes” will work fine on the BB10 Smartphone, but obviously the user interface elements (buttons, text size, etc) will be too small on the higher density screen of the BB10 smartphones. I’d love to get instruction on how to update my app so that it will dynamically resize elements of the UI by detecting the device it is running on and optimize for that screen size. This would be a useful sessions in helping PlayBook developers transition from tablet to smartphone with the release of BB10.

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