December 2013 Archives

Are THUMBS the real secret to mobile applications?

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The holiday season is upon us and we are in that strange transcendental state between Christmas and New Year when you need to re-load and manage your Kindle library, take a few long walks and download as many video games as possible.

This leads us to an important question... could the secret to great mobile apps be out there?

Predictably addictive

Tetris Blitz is free and is "optimised" for tablets and phones -- but, aside from being predictably addictive, could it provide us with some clues as to what the real secret to mobile application development is?

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A. The industry answer

The industry answer to the secret of great mobile apps is generally testing.

On-demand crowd-based testing practices that can be centrally managed by a single mobile app testing platform such as Ubertesters.com to combine the solutions of TestFlight, HockeyApp, Appsee, uTest and others are being lauded as an 'exciting new approach' to making mobile apps work better and work faster first time around.

A. The human answer

Can you use the app with single thumb control?

If you care to download Tetris Blitz on your smartphone and tablet, you might be surprised to find that it ACTUALLY WORKS BETTER ON A PHONE THAN A TABLET.

Yes sorry, please excuse the CAPS, this was quite exciting news.

The usability factor here comes about because the player is able to move his/her thumb across both sides of the screen without using another hand -- a Windows 8 Nokia smartphone was used in this test.

On an iPad mini, gorgeous though they are, you need two thumbs (or two digits in any combination) or you need to move FURTHER across the screen and hence the player scores less.

As to whether Tetris Blitz thumb revelations could provide any pointers for serious developers of enterprise-level forms-based mobile applications may be pushing it too far, but it does at least highlight the point i.e. the input method is THAT important and we need to consider this high up the list of mobile usability factors and keep it at front of mind.

Oh and yes, my high scores?

On iPad mini 350,640, but on smartphone 411,120 -- can I rest my case?

What do developers want for Christmas?

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Software application developers the world over want something very basic for Christmas this year, they want recognition as a global community.

OK that's not strictly true, they do have a list:

1. Beer and soda chilled for the festive celebrations. Wine if you must.
2. Turkey is fine, has turkey pizza not been invented yet though?turkey_with_pizza.jpg
3. The new socks are great, a new "more cowbell" T-shirt would have been better.
4. Yes, melted processed cheese is a suitable Christmas dinner condiment.
5. OK that's the basics, you can get on with world peace and developer recognition as a global community now.

It's the end of the year and it's the holiday season, so why not hug a (freshly washed) developer and remember how many of them there actually are now around the planet?

Yes absolutely this is an unashamed yuletide excuse to mention IDC's 2014 worldwide software developer and ICT-skilled worker estimates.

18.5 million software developers

The analyst house believes not only in Santa Claus this year, it also has faith in its prediction that there are now 18.5 million software developers in the world, of which 11 million are professional software developers and 7.5 million are hobbyist developers.

As a wider and deeper prediction, IDC also believes that there are 29 million ICT-skilled workers in the world, including professional software developers and 18 million operations and management skilled workers.

"IDC's country-by-country analysis of 90 of the most developed countries in the world, representing 97% of the world's GDP, is unique in the industry as it provides the only bottom-up model of the world's developer and ICT-skilled workers," said IDC's Al Hilwa, program director for application development software.

Editorial note: We caution the reader over the use of the word "unique" in any statement as in the above -- so far only John Lennon and snowflakes have proved to be genuinely unique and we don't see IDC joining that list this week despite the pedigree of the firm's analysts.

This is a country-by-country (for 90 of what IDC thinks are the "most important" countries in the world) build-out of population estimates based on analysing granular occupation surveys and census data where available, education enrollment and graduation data where available -- and other materials and correlations where they are not.

So there you go, point number #5 in the above list addressed, that's 18.5 developer Santa lists to fulfill... we omitted points #6 and #7 which are shown below.

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6. Umm that's about it, a Sandberg Bluetooth Stereo Headset would be nice if there's room in the stocking.
7. The Queen's speech will be dutifully observed, after that it's Battlefield 4 and no interruptions please OK?

Application development 'inside' the cloud just got real

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Could the cloud computing model of service-based compute processing and data storage delivery be about to jolt at what we could call a strategic inflection point?

Are software application development tools, components, libraries and wider/higher Integrated Development Environments now moving to the point where these elements themselves are "located" in the cloud itself?

Is it the case that cloud as a delivery mechanism in and of itself now becomes "commoditised" such that we simply thing of 'computing = cloud' without any significant distinction?

If you look at what Microsoft is doing with Visual Studio 2013 and the .NET 4.5.1 software framework then the answer is yes.

Developers develop in the cloud

Speaking to the Computer Weekly Developer Network last week in London, Microsoft's Azure lead and ASP.NET guru Scott Guthrie said that the "tools are up there" in the cloud and that we are now seeing the start of a time when "developers develop in the cloud" for real.

Guthrie has subsequently spoken on his own ScottGu blog to detail the kinds of automation tools that are now being rolled out to make the "cloud development environment in the cloud" all the more real...

... and developments here include the Windows Azure: new scheduler service, read-access geo-redundant storage functionality and monitoring updates too.

Can we find more evidence to substantiate the "real move to cloud development" then?

Cloud DevOps comes of age

Open hybrid cloud hosting Rackspace has just released a new managed support service for DevOps tools.

So not DevOps as such, this is Cloud DevOps

The new DevOps Automation Service is intended to help developers automate the process of deploying and scaling hybrid cloud infrastructure for "fast-growing" applications, while advancing the adoption of the DevOps methodology among software and IT teams.

This service works by allowing cloud-focused programmers and their Cloud DevOps counterparts to deploy, scale, and test new configurations in hours.

More frequent software releases should, in theory (if we believe Rackspace's claims), help improve the quality of software deployments.

Also -- the fact that we are automating processes in this way could help Cloud DevOps teams to provision servers consistently and free of mistakes typically caused by manual installation and configuration.

Cloud DevOps acceleration

"Rather than sacrificing quality or uptime because of avoidable human errors, DevOps methodology and practices of agility and automation can reduce human interaction with code and infrastructure, allowing development and other teams to focus on their primary objectives and business," said 451 Research senior analyst Jay Lyman.

"This continuous deployment approach to infrastructure can accelerate release time and time-to-market for applications and features by reducing errors and test time and supporting DevOps processes."

Rackspace product director Jonathan Siegel says that this DevOps Automation Service is comprised of the same tools that enabled Rackspace to launch 18 new cloud products, push code into production more than 2,500 times, and run over 15,000 automated tests last year.

"Benefits of the new DevOps Automation Service include Enhanced Infrastructure Automation to synchronise development and staging environments with production environment using configuration management tools such as Chef; collect application performance metrics (APM) to view code impact changes with application monitoring tools such as New Relic, stats, Graphite, or Cloud Monitoring," said Rackspace, in a press statement.

We're all singing from the same (good) hymn sheet

It appears that vendors all agreed on the benefits of cloud DevOps, we are (to some extent) hearing similar messages elsewhere...

Chris Rowett, senior director of technical sales at CA Technologies UK has said that real cloud development can happen, but with certain caveats.

"The problem is that many applications depend on infrastructure that is not possible and/or cost-effective to replicate in the cloud like a mainframe, third-party fee-based services or full databases. Without these crucial pieces of the puzzle, the development project can't move forward. If it takes three weeks to get access to a mainframe that means it still takes three weeks to wait and provision a cloud lab. We call this the "wires hanging out" issue," he said.

But says Rowett, service virtualisation makes cloud real for on-demand development and test environments.

He continues, "Organisations can use virtual services alongside virtual machines to capture and simulate the "wires hanging out" scenario and manage them in a complete DevTest cloud environment. Pre-production teams can now get complete labs that include stable versions of all the mainframes, data scenarios and services they need to truly realise elastic capacity."

So we have real cloud development now burgeoning with DevOps and DevTest (and automation) being very much at the forefront of the enabling technologies.

Could 2014 be the year of real cloud developer development? We think the forecast is positive.

Why predictive analytics has changed forever

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There's an old saying in public relations: ... if there's no news, do a survey.

Curmudgeonly naysaying aside, SAP's latest "ground-breaking & insightful" survey suggests that the first touchpoint for predictive data analytics will not be technicians and/or software application developers.

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While a claimed "90 percent" of organisations agree that employing predictive analytic software has given them a competitive advantage, this "independent and perceptive" survey suggests that increasingly, businesses are looking for a way to bring predictive analytics to the masses and move its use beyond the realm of data scientists to business users.

In other words, this is the age of predictive analytics for everyone.

There will be "skills and resource challenges" says James Fisher, vice president, marketing analytics at SAP.

"If businesses can put the right investment into developing a data-driven workforce, alongside data-driven decisions, processes and applications, they can accelerate their performance, reduce decision latency, unlock new global markets and uncover new revenue opportunities," said Fisher.

Did SAP carry out this "independent but valuable" survey just for the good of its health?

Well possibly not, the firm has recently acquired KXEN -- a provider of predictive analytics technology for line-of-business users and analysts.

NOTE: The market for predictive analytics software is estimated to be worth US$2 billion today and is expected to exceed US$3 billion in 2017.

How does KXEN work?

KXEN technology extends predictive analytics tools beyond data scientists to line-of-business users and analysts in the workplace by automating key modeling and analytical tasks and enabling faster deployment and adoption.

IDC analyst Henry Morris suggest that KXEN moves predictive analytics into the cloud and inside of the enterprise applications most popular with end users.

What does this mean for developers?

While we are indeed saying that predictive analytics has changed and come out of the hands of data scientists and developers as it moves into the hands of "line of business" workers -- there is a corollary and consequence for programmers...

... as the need for predictive analytics INSIDE enterprise applications now grows, developers will need to start to engineer this functionality into the apps they build and not just use it

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Image credit: http://www.ironsidegroup.com/

STORY ADDENDUM: comments from Matt Smith, CTO for UK & Nordics at Software AG.

"I think it really goes further than this. I believe that the future of data is cross stream analytics and pattern trending to spot new rules that humans haven't even thought of in the data sets. These streams will include all sorts of new data channels in the next 10 years. I would not be surprised to see drones at major road junctions or accidents - I wonder how long it will be before we hear about speed camera drones?"

"However, I learned back when I was into optimisation and rules programming that the trick is coming up with the algorithms - the IP so to speak. That is likely where the next big thing will come from - software that helps mine the algorithms and finds trends that you couldn't even imagine... what comes after that?"

Intel: how to streamline apps with HTML5

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This is a guest post for the Computer Weekly Developer Network by Kevin J. Smith of Intel Corporation.

How many apps does Intel manage?

At Intel, our IT organisation owns and manages 1,400 applications and has procured an additional 3,000 applications for use within the company.

a intellw.jpg

These range from essential business applications - such as customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain solutions - to "helper apps" that assist employees searching for an available conference room.

For us and any other company with a significant number of apps to manage, the age of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and device diversification has been a challenge. It's no longer acceptable for these apps to work only on desktop or laptop PCs, many of these apps must now work on various operating systems and on a range of devices that include tablets and smartphones. This is a particularly large challenge for legacy applications created long ago that now must adopt a new look and feel for mobile devices.

How HTML5 will build "apps everywhere"

IT organizations can assign a team to work on an Android version of an app, another to work on a Windows phone-optimized version, and so forth. Alternatively, they can use a combination of HTML5, JavaScript, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and a set of application programming interfaces (API) - frequently referred to together as HTML5 - to write the applications once and run them on every operating system and device type.

NOTE: Collectively, HTML5 can be easier for developers to learn than a native language, particularly for those with experience in HTML web page creation.

How do to HTML5 wrong, (before you do it right)

While HTML5 apps are more cost-effective and require much less time than re-creating the wheel over and over again for every operating system and device type, they can often look like a glorified webpage and may display differently based on the screen size.

How CSS will work here

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To remedy that predicament, the currently accepted route to best practice is to use CSS in conjunction with HTML5 in applications.

CSS can control the layout by adapting to phone, tablet or PC screen sizes; an approach known as responsive design.

Additionally, responsive design can give HTML5 applications a native-like look and feel. The last-mile work to achieve a responsive design can be done by a designer independently, thus freeing up the IT professional or developer to work on another project.

What HTML5 does not do

As promising as HTML5 is, however, there are some applications that HTML5 is not a good fit for at this time. For example, JavaScript does not deliver the speed necessary to run applications that rely heavily on graphics and intensive processing, such as high-performance games as well as video and music creation apps.

However, this barrier may be reduced in the future due to the ongoing work to help improve the speed of JavaScript engines and integration of newer HTML5 technologies such as WebGL. For most IT professionals, however, server communication latency is the biggest issue they face on apps today, affecting native and HTML5 apps alike. It's an issue that IT teams everywhere are working around.

Since HTML5 is a developing standard, some people are under the impression the technology is not yet fully baked. In actuality, existing technologies such as touch or geo-location have already been standardised for HTML5. For applications looking to create a new set of capabilities, some of those are currently being prototyped by the World Wide Consortium (W3C), the standardising body for web technologies, including HTML5.

Image credits: Intel

Kevin J. Smith is the general manager of mobile computing and compilers at the Developer Products Division at Intel where he oversees HTML5 developer tools and compilers for C++ and Fortran programs.

Why developers should care about keyboards

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It goes without saying that keyboards are, of course, hardware.

But could keyboards also be more of a software application development consideration than previously thought?

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It also of course goes without saying that keyboards are the central Human-Computer-Interaction interface through which programmers will construct and build code -- but there is a point of debate to be made.

Touch-based computing has grown increasingly popular thanks to tablets, laptops and even some desktop machines, but so-called "productivity workers" still value the use of the keyboard.

Devices like the Kensington KeyFolio and KeyCover range or the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad have come about in what could perhaps be called the second wave of tablet development.

The arrival of these keyboards has implications: users are now really capable of leaving the house all day without their laptop and relying on a tablet (and perhaps a smartphone too).

The implication for developers is the interesting part.

Surely now, given the popularity of these keyboards, programmers need to think more directly about the opportunity for key-based input rather than the slightly less convenient on-screen keyboards that tablet devices offer.

The Kensington product is (arguably) capable of actually transforming an iPad mini into a small computer, rather than what could be a large smartphone.

The Logitech product is almost ubiquitous at any technology conference these days, at least among the vendor community attendees if not the users themselves -- and that should say something for its usefulness.

So excuse us for focusing on hardware in what is essentially a software analysis column, but we need to bring these thoughts forward and pose the question: isn't it time that the software industry was more keyboard conscious?

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

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