Are Smartphones Becoming Stale? The Rise of Wearable Technology

Many folks will say that smartphones are in their prime however, 2007, when Apple first introduced the iPhone that changed the smartphone world, seems like ages ago. Certainly, the battle to be the best in the smartphone industry is still going strong, but with new technologies like wearable electronics, the smartphone might be on its last legs as the “thing to have.”

It seems as if the innovation in the smartphone industry has nearly disappeared and with companies like Samsung and Apple fighting for basics like screen size and resolution, there really isn’t much left that excites consumers. Enter the wearable gear.

Samsung’s Galaxy Gear uses their Galaxy line of smartphones to interact with the user on an entirely different level. Samsung claims that it’s easier than ever to answer a hands-free phone call, take a quick snapshot, or even find your favorite local coffee shop – all without ever reaching for your phone.

Google has their own piece of wearable gear with Google Glass. Google says Glass helps integrate its technology into everyday life, switching the user’s focus back up to eye level, by removing the need to constantly look down at a hand-held phone.

Google Glass

Apple has plans to introduce their own wearable technology sometime this summer and I’m sure many others will follow suit.

android refrigeratorAndroid is also working its way into household appliances like refrigerators, coffee makers, dishwashers, and the latest breakthrough of having “Android in your Audi,” showing us that there are many areas of our lives that have yet to be infiltrated with technology, but I can guarantee you all of the major players in the industry will be trying to change that soon enough. Android Refrigerator Screen

I certainly consider myself an early adopter of new technology, mostly due to all of the testing I perform in my every day job here at Algonquin Studios. However, I can’t see myself being an early adopter to these new wearable technologies. I’ve never owned a watch, simply because I’m not comfortable wearing one, so I don’t see myself wearing a “Smart Watch” anytime soon.

samsung smart watch

And, while I know my wife would tell you I have too many tablets and smartphones lying around at any given time, I think I’ll also be hard-pressed to purchase an Android-powered refrigerator due to price point. This doesn’t, however, stop me from spending hours every day researching what’s next in the industry.

All of these new technologies might seem pretty silly now, but how many of us thought that having a small super computer in our back pockets would ever be a great idea? What do you think will be the next viral technology? I would love to hear everyone’s feedback!

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Learning on the Job

I’ve been the receptionist here at Algonquin Studios for more than six months now and I have to say, working at a technology company when you don’t have the same level of technical knowledge and understanding as your co-workers can prove to be pretty challenging.  Fortunately, it can easily be informative and rewarding as well!

If you’re at all like me, you’ve experienced the complete confusion of overhearing a conversation and not understanding a single aspect of it. Obviously, at a company that develops custom software and web sites many of my fellow employees discuss their code and designs frequently, and although I sometimes get lucky with lunchtime discussions that revolve around the most recent Bills game, fantasy football, or the NHL lockout, I often feel lost just listening to them when the topics veer back to HTML, database design, or requirements analysis. And, of course, technologies are always changing, so as soon as I think I might  have a good grasp on something, it changes, or gets “improved,” and I feel like I’m back at square one.

But, the flip side of this coin is that for all of my confusion there’s an opportunity to learn.

One of the best things about Algonquin Studios is that it’s a company of technology consultants. While I’m certainly a competent computer user – I can download music, install new hardware and software, and surf the internet with confidence, knowing I’m not going to get a virus – working with developers and designers who spend their days, not just staring at a screen, but actually interacting with our clients, having real conversations with them, asking the questions that get to the root of their problems, and then buckling down to develop the right solution for that problem, means that I’m in the enviable position to pick the brains of people who can really break things down for me and explain them clearly and simply. I can ask questions about things I don’t understand and gain better understanding of constantly evolving technologies. And, since I’m a pretty fast learner and I like being able to share new things with others, I enjoy being able to take the knowledge I gain here and pass on to my family and friends.

I think it’s important to remember to keep an open mind, not just about new technologies but also about your own ability to understand them and use them in your daily life. And it’s equally important to find people who are willing teachers. Fortunately, at Algonquin Studios, my inquisitive spirit is complemented by a group of really helpful technology experts!

 

Don’t Get Obsessed with the Gizmos

As a part of my initial sale consultant training here at Algonquin Studios, one of the lessons that took the longest to sink in for me had to do with the issue of technology.

Technology, as a whole, can be very intimidating to a lot of us. We’re talking about things that not only perform tasks that seem magical, but it’s also changing faster than Clark Kent in a phone booth. You’re bound to fall behind on the “latest and greatest” advancements and catching up always seems so daunting. But, the truth that took so long for me to grasp is that to help people solve business problems technology is often the least important part of the equation.

I remember the first time I looked at the guts of a toilet. Wait… there’s a rubber ball, a few plastic things, a plug, and some water. Where’s the magic? Where are the computer chips and sensors and wires? There aren’t any and you know what? It doesn’t matter! That toilet still works great, because it does what we need it to do!

What do you need? Why do you need it? How will it help you or your company? What will life be like once the problem is solved?

It doesn’t matter if the client is a marketer, administrator, or IT guru; the questions are still the same and the answers are what’s important. It won’t really matter if the solution is a state of the art, super-duper fancy gizmo or a hamster running around in a wheel; if the solution solves the problem, fits your budget, and is reliable and sustainable then you have a winner – fancy technology or not.

We just finished bringing on a new client that had been badly burned by their previous web vendor. The old vendor was not upfront about their capabilities and offered the client all kinds of high tech “gizmos” that they promised would make their site stand out from the competition. It took a while, but our client eventually figured out that the vendor couldn’t deliver on the goods. Most of the awesome bells and whistles they were promised either didn’t work or didn’t follow best practices, usability standards, or accessibility requirements. When the client came to us, our main goal was listening, so we could really learn what the client’s vision and direction for their web site was; we explained what we would do to address each problem they’d had with their previous vendor, and then we moved forward and got to work on building their new web site. Honestly, talking about the technology we’ll use to complete the site was almost an afterthought. When we’re done, their web site will obviously be functional but, more importantly, it will meet the goals the client outlined and identified as important to them and their business. And they’ll be able to get back to running that business instead of stressing about the site. Our approach when we took the “getting to know you” meeting may not have been about showing off our state-of-the-art technology, but it was the right one.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that Algonquin Studios lacks technically intelligent and savvy people, products, or solutions. On the contrary, we have incredibly smart people working here, doing some amazingly complex things. But when you sit down with us to see if we’re the right fit for your company and your problem, let’s not worry so much about the technology. When you do, you may end up asking us to build you a space shuttle when what you really need is a bike to get you to and from the corner store. Let’s focus on the problem(s) you’re looking to solve instead. Tell us about why you need what you need – we’ll apply the right technology to the problem and get you where you want to be. And I promise, just like the toilet, it’ll be magic!

Directly Engage Your Tech Partner To Avoid “Used Car Sales” Experience

Originally posted by Algonquin Studios CEO, Steven Raines, on January 29, 2012, on his blog.

The Internet has brought the worlds of marketing and technology together and customers expect their advertising agencies to be able to provide full service solutions on the web and social media. These solutions often include integration with internal systems and data that fall outside the core competences of the agency, who aren’t able to support the technology staff to provide these services on-demand and seek external partners to provide software solutions. Unfortunately, many companies feel that having an outside vendor provide technology solutions puts them at a disadvantage in the eyes of clients (and prospects) and try to funnel all communication through the agency and prevent the technology partner from directly interacting with the client.

I have written previously about the fundamental differences between solving technical and creative problems and this kind of collaborative solution demands both. Advertising and marketing firms are oriented to solve creative problems, but account executives often lack the training to perform the critical analysis necessary to define the requirements necessary for software development. When the agency buffers the tech provider from the end client, AEs aren’t able to provide feedback on how (and if) an objective can be accomplished or give “ballpark” pricing on items that come up during brainstorming. This means that every discussion requires the agency to go back to the software provider. I liken this to the “I have to ask my manager…” experience of buying a car. Is there any sales experience more frustrating as a consumer? This breeds distrust between the client and the AE – exactly the experience the agency was trying to avoid by keeping the solution provider away from the client. We have a saying at Algonquin Studios: “You will do what you fear most” and this is a perfect example. The things you fear drive your actions and inevitably it back fires. Like getting caught in a lie, the best way to avoid it is to tell the truth from the start. Face your fears honestly… problems delayed are problems expanded.

Advertising and marketing agencies need to educate their clients that technology providers are like the other traditional vendors (printers and media companies) they outsource to because they offer specialized services better suited to an organization designed around those competencies. Similarly, software vendors need to educate their agency customers about the added value they can bring when they are at the table with the customer.

Finally, if you are an agency that is afraid you will be cut out of business by your technology partner, get a new partner.

Design Great Tablet Apps By Making Users Forget They’re On A Tablet

Originally posted by Algonquin Studios CEO, Steven Raines, on January 25, 2012 on his blog.

According to Pew Internet, tablet ownership doubled over the 2011 holiday season, with nearly 20% of adult Americans now owning tablet computers. In combination with widespread high-speed wireless Internet service, the market for business-to-business applications for these tablets is set for explosive growth. Targeted sales applications represent a signficant area for innovation since videos, schematics, product specifications, and other documents can be easily transported and presented – either directly on the tablet or to on-site monitors or projectors via optional cables. In essence, it’s a sales manager’s dream come true… especially for organizations that have highly structured sales processes backed by well researched tools.

In a recent brainstorming session with a client, I was asked what features of tablets should be incorporated in the design of this kind of application to really make it stand above other apps or a traditional web site displayed on the tablet (when I say “tablet” I mean the iPad style device with “Apps” not simply a computer without a keyboard.) The client’s question got me thinking about where the real value in tablets lies and how that translates to design. To evaluate this, we have to think first about what it is that makes a tablet special. More often than not, tablets are marketed as being light, easy to use computers. But they aren’t the same as the computers we use for business.

The core value of the tablet is only its form-factor, portability, and battery life. Thanks to solid state memory tablets are light-weight. The limited scope of applications and single-tasking (or more appropriately “serial-tasking”) allow much longer run-times than a laptop. Tablets allow us to have a “book” with a whole library of information stored in something that you can hold in one hand. But to achieve this we give up a lot of great things from the world of PCs and laptops. On tablets:

  • peripherals are limited;
  • virtual keyboards require as many as three clicks to get to essential characters like the equal sign;
  • meta-applications (like plug-ins for the OS’s file manager) aren’t applied to every app that could take advantage of them;
  • devices have small screen sizes;
  • precision control either does not exist (on capacitive touch devices like the iPad) or requires a stylus that is easy to lose and hard to use.

These factors combine with the nature of the applications we’ve come to expect on these devices to create an experience that is wholly unlike the things that make PCs great, such as:

  • True multitasking;
  • dragging and dropping between applications;
  • fine control over drawing / selection (for photo manipulation, CAD, or design work;)
  • context-sensitive menuing;
  • comparing documents side-by-side and referencing the Internet while working on documents.

Since most netbooks and the new “ultrabooks” similarly address portability and battery life nearly as well as tablets but have all the features of PCs, form factor / user interface are all that remain (outside of some hardware that most tablets now have standard like the accelerometer, GPS, camera, and compass.) to differentiate tablets from other computers. Tablet interfaces are significantly less feature rich than even the most basic Mac or Windows netbook. But of course, it IS the form factor and interface that is the whole point of the tablet and that is where the way we think about application design really changes.

Good design for tablets isn’t about taking advantage of some special features only tablets have – it is about providing users with a way to achieve the workflows they have become accustomed to on their PCs while using the tablet. It isn’t about something new, but reinventing something old and something lost in the translation to the new platform. Take Apple’s email interface built into iOS: I can’t count the number of new iPad owners who have complained to me that they could not simply multi-select messages to be moved or deleted. Of course you CAN… but not how you’d expect (instead of dragging to select messages or holding SHIFT and selecting, users click a button and get radio buttons to select multiple messages and instead of dragging to move messages to a folder, users select the action to move and pick the folder.) Apple has been forced to provide an alternate way to achieve something that the interface doesn’t accommodate in the expected fashion.

So the obvious challenge faced by designers of tablet applications is that the expectations left over from the PC experience are many. But a more daunting challenge is that very few new conventions have been set in the tablet world. Without a standard way of replicating the workflows of the desktop, designers are forced to try different things and until a particular way of interacting with apps to resolve a workflow issue becomes dominant, users will be unable to simply “pick up” an application based on prior experience. This prevents designers from relying on user expectations the way they do on a desktop and, to a lesser degree, the web and extends the design process. It also means that application developers will be forced to eventually modify applications to accommodate the dominant convention once it emerges and this refactoring means fewer resources will be available to develop new features for these applications.

The Holy Grail of tablet design is, of course, to develop a way of working that is so intuitive and easy that it makes the transition back to the world of the PC… assuming we still have PCs by then.

The Myth of Open-Source vs. Proprietary

Open-source

Author: Steve Kiernan II  9/15/11

Stop fearing technology and solutions that are not open-source!  There, I’ve said it.  Why? Read on.

Far too many companies, savvy marketers and salespeople continue to evangelize open-source as the alternative to being taken to the cleaners with a proprietary solution.  Enough already!

There is no doubt that open-source solutions continue to provide more and more commercially viable options, and for some, genuinely present the best solution for a given need.  What I can’t stomach is stretching the truth about a technology solely for the purpose of scaring potential customers into using your product.  Unfortunately, I hear it all the time in my consulting practice when clients tell me “we won’t use a proprietary solution, because we don’t have control over [insert many things here].”

My follow-up question is usually about their use of MS Word, (for example) but the list can go on and on.  For all you MS Word users out there who actually paid money for the software, are you aware that you don’t own it? You own a license to use a specific version, or versions, in perpetuity. However, you have no right whatsoever to change, revise, use in manners other than intended, re-purpose or resell that software, because you don’t own it.  How many of you, now that you know that, are going to stop using it?  I suspect somewhere between none and zero. Why?  Because it’s not really about open-source or propriety at all.

Those who mislead about the virtues of open-source vs. proprietary aren’t always addressing the right issues. Typically, customers are reticent about a solution because of the service or lack thereof that they have received in the past from a service provider. It’s rarely a true technology issue so much as it is a service and expectation management issue. Unfortunately, for companies that use more mainstream corporate technologies (Microsoft .NET, MS Visual Studio and MS SQL Server as examples), there are so many examples of poor service and poor execution of technology that it’s easy to fall victim to the broad brush-stroke that is anti-proprietary.

Recently, I was browsing a web site and read the following:

“We develop sites with code that is universal on an open-source platform. That means when your project is complete, you’ll own every element of your site. We don’t use proprietary code…”

If you’re the average consumer, that may look and sound great.  It may resonate with you because the solution above is “universal” and “you’ll own every element” of what’s produced.  Here’s the problem, from someone who is in the business – it’s marketing speak and full of holes.  Beyond the fact that it’s entirely void of details in terms of process and real technology, it’s as much a policy issue as it is a technology issue.  I know of many web site platforms that are not open-source, but where you own your site 100% no questions asked.  Good service companies stand behind policies that like because they provide good service.  They don’t need to own your intellectual property – that’s nuts!  It’s not a technology issue – it’s a policy and service issue.  By the way, companies who use open-source tools can provide bad service just as easily as companies who don’t use open-source tools.

There are many other myths to address in another post.  The myth of “free” is a favorite of mine, but one that I’ll save for another day.

How not to get burned

Ask questions.  Make sure that a service provider is willing to educate you and your team, work with transparency in terms of process, address your concerns and always answers your questions.  Unless you have a real business need that dictates the use of an open-source technology, be open to other solutions.  In the end, proprietary is not bad or evil, and neither is open-source.  It’s almost never the technology that’s at issue, but the service behind the technology.