Zuckerberg's keynote at MWC on 24 Feb Photo : The Inquirer

Zuckerberg’s keynote at MWC on 24 Feb
Photo : The Inquirer (hyperlink to full article in text)

Yesterday I blogged about Nokia’s launch of new Android handsets – an example of the chaotic business relationships in mobile. But probably the biggest news of the first day of Mobile World Congress (#mwc14) came from the WhatsApp founder – Ukranian-born Jan Koum – who announced that they would be moving into the voice market later this year following their acquisition by Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. And so the latest piece of the puzzle falls into place for Facebook’s mobile strategy, some would say it has been a chequered history so far but who seriously can predict what will happen in mobile? It feels from afar like there is a seismic shift in mobile not seen since the iPhone launch and mobile carriers are set to be hit yet again with loss of customer loyalties. The fact that Zuckerberg’s keynote (less of a presentation, more of a boring interview according to Lee Bell, a journalist at The Inquirer ) has created so much interest shows that the somewhat closeted Mobile World Congress may be trying to embrace Internet at last.

Mobile operators used to compete on pricing plans per minute, per message and then per Megabyte of data. Nowadays the majority of postpay users have unlimited messaging, virtually unlimited voice minutes and a reasonable chunk of data inclusive but there is very little take-up of “added-value” services of the carriers (when I say “unlimited”, it comes with a health warning as some tariffs claim “unlimited” yet some telcos have something in their consumer facing Tc & Cs about “reasonable use” giving themselves a right to apply extra charges that insulates them from abuse and overuse by consumers who insist on taking the mick).

The success of WhatsApp, like all great ideas, is its simplicity – message anyone anywhere using their mobile number as the identifier. No extortionate roaming SMS or data charges if you can get to a free WiFi hotspot then you can use the App. Mobile operators only have themselves and their greed to make money from travelling customers to blame for the rise of competitors like WhatsApp and SnapChat (which Facebook failed to buy). Their own efforts to launch VOIP-type Apps have failed mainly because of a lack of cross-network capabilities and poor execution and App quality. It almost makes you wonder if they are trying!

A few years ago I was talking to a “Product Owner” from a mobile carrier about one of their new data-centric services and he candidly told me “Well actually we don’t want the service to be TOO successful. We want users to be interested enough to buy a data plan but not to use their whole allowance as that would hit our capacity!” so it is no surprise really that operators have missed the boat. Some, like Chua Sock Koong, reckon carriers can avoid becoming bit-pipes for the more Internet-savvy companies but they will have to work together better. The obvious stumbling block is the most popular services need to work transparently across different communities of users just like good old SMS. Apple’s iMessage is fine if all your contacts have iPhone/iPad but that is becoming increasingly unlikely with the rise of Android and Windows-Phone 8 so the use of the MSISDN as identifier is still a key differentiator but with WhatsApp carriers have even lost control of that it seems.

The scene is set now for co-operations or battles between operators and service providers like never before. There is an interesting analogy with fast home broadband – the astronomic success of Netflix – which has led to rows with Verizon about the dominant hogging of bandwidth. The thing is, without innovations and seriously clever technologies behind services, the carriers would not be able to sell their bandwidth and expensive contract plans anyway so it really is a win-win if they can just get along.

In other MWC news, there’s talk of 5G services coming along in the mobile world and with the right services consumers will pay for the bandwidth to recoup the £billions invested I suppose. The other main story is an explosion in wearable devices (as mentioned by Martin Brazill in an earlier blog), with Samsung causing the most excitement in the MWC arena with their Gear, running on the Tizen operating system. The whole area of SmartWatches is one of the most interesting with applications needing to be developed especially the introduction of yet another mobile O/S may not be a barrier to developers wishing to come up with health-monitoring, remote controllers, etc. apps which will lessen the need to carry the phone with us on the early morning jog any more!

So back to Mark Zuckerberg. In his keynote he talked a lot about data compression and making Apps that were more efficient (citing WhatsApp as a prime example of a very efficient data consuming App) and he also talked in altruistic terms about internet.org and supporting Internet connectivity for the next 5 billion. Facebook is seeking partnerships with operators (“we’re looking for 3 or 5 partners” said Mr Z, [by which he meant
mobile telcos] to offer Facebook for free which some operators, such as Vodafone, have not been too sympathetic to support by zero-rating. But that said, where there is a commercial benefit then it could happen.

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MWC14_Logo-blackBGThe annual Mobile World Congress (#mwc14) event is underway in Barcelona. Those lucky enough to travel there will have already been treated to some surprising announcements, none more so than Nokia launching new android-based phones without the normal Google tie-ins associated with Samsung, Sony and other manufacturers.

The move was surprising to me and “perplexing” to other market analysts as I had assumed until fairly recently that Nokia were riding the two horses of Microsoft Windows for high-end Lumia range handsets and the cheap Asha operating system which replaced Symbian in Nokia’s arsenal for the lower end of the market.

It seems to me that the new X, X+ and XL phones will be a bit of a “dog’s breakfast” in that they will come with Android O/S but run Microsoft Outlook as standard and also incorporate BlackBerry Messenger. But at a cost of under a hundred quid they might be worth a look.

For more details see the story on BBC News – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-26320552

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There have been some high profile instances recently of a Mobile App being “Retired”:

  • LinkedIn for iPad (they are retiring versions prior to 7)
  • Flappy Birds (yes, I know this link goes nowhere – it’s been withdrawn!)

Let’s take the second one first as that has even made CNN News and the pages of TIME as incredulous tech and gaming journalists speculate about the real reasons why anyone would voluntarily sacrifice over $50k a DAY in revenues by withdrawing an App from Apple and Google stores. Maybe Dong Nguyen just made enough money, or maybe he really was getting fed up with something that a lot of App Developers forget about – how to support your App in the ever-changing world of mobile. Or maybe he just wanted to create loads of publicity before cheap imitations like this took over.

In the former example of LinkedIn, like many of you probably,  I’ve been getting emails for a few days now encouraging me to change:

We wanted to follow up and remind you that we’ll no longer be supporting LinkedIn iPad app versions older than 7.0 starting February 18. This will help us focus on creating even better mobile products and experiences for you.

You currently have one of these older apps, but you can download the latest app anytime from the iTunes App Store. It’s a brand new app — we think you’ll like it! With the new app you can now search for jobs — plus like, share, and comment on what you’re reading.

Have questions? Visit our Help Center for more info.

Now, this is in spite of my having updated to version 7.1 of the App almost as soon as it came out as I regularly update my Apps. Why don’t they know that and stop spamming me? Oh, I forgot, that’s what LinkedIn does best…

“So what?”  you say…

Well, one common theme is that the “idea” to “retirement” lifecycle of mobile is fast – less than a few months in flappy birds (rather extreme) case and seems like LinkedIn have put some thought and effort into trying to ensure customers did not continue using their unsupported App version. This is accepted and understood by consumers who most likely downloaded the thing for free anyway but what if you’re the CEO of a company that just invested a few hundred thousand in developing some internal Apps for your employees?

Most people accept that the mobile development landscape is complicated and not getting any easier, in spite of cross-platform tools and web development paradigms so one of your pillars of your Mobile Enterprise is managing those Apps, supporting them, providing updates as operating systems update and, before long, retiring them completely. Have you thought through this before you launch your Apps on to your staff or customers?

We are seeing common trends, one very obvious one is that developing successfully for mobile within the Enterprise needs Agile methods to deliver value. So in a mature organisation a good choice for extending development to cover inception and longer term management could be an extended Agile delivery lifecycle such as provided in Disciplined Agile (DAD). The lifecycle extends your standard iterations to provide the initiation and support parts of the lifecycle.

extended-agile-mobile

The important points are not to stifle innovation, nor to slow down responsiveness to your users’ demands but to make sure you don’t waste your innovators’ time supporting out of date code and you also notify your users to get new versions in an intelligent way. Notification of users seems such a simple and common practice it’s amazing that Windows-8 Mobile doesn’t have common notification management yet although it’s rumoured to be coming soon as the Action Centre.

Having only just bitten the bullet and dumped my Android phone for a shiny new Nokia Windows-8 handset I’m finding first hand now a lot of these subtle differences in maturity between Android, iOS and Windows-Mobile, but Microsoft/Nokia are catching up fast and needs to be part of your mobile first strategy.

News in the last couple of days of two massively significant developments in mobile just confirms yet again how important it is to businesses now.

First, the $130bn Vodafone US sale to Verizon dwarfs the ~18 billion pounds that Telefonica spent on O2 a few years ago whilst I was working there and that was considered a “Big Deal” at the time. The deal is the third largest in history and once again cements the profile of mobile and its profitability.

The other deal is, if anything, even more earth-shattering as Microsoft have bought out Nokia from the handset market – now this really does make me nostalgic for the days when Nokia ruled and made the best handsets in the world. A couple of us old techies talked about the excitement of that first Nokia 7110 and the MMS-enabled 7650 handsets at MobDevCon a few weeks ago. The $7.2bn takeover by Microsoft is seen as a sad day for the biggest company in Finland, being described as “peanuts” by Juha Varis, Danske Capital’s senior portfolio manager, whose fund owns Nokia shares but for Microsoft this is “a bold step into the future” to quote Steve Ballmer.

For quite a while now I have been saying “don’t write off Microsoft” when we have been talking about a Mobile Strategy for Enterprises who have rushed into the iOS space or stuck with BlackBerry. Windows-8 undoubtedly provides a much better eco-system for Apps than any previous MS offering and the will and backing is now there to push on and try to make inroads into Google Android and Apple market shares.

The Register view on the Microsoft move makes very interesting reading and echoes a point made elsewhere that Microsoft will own Nokia patents which will make the patent wars mentioned in a previous post even more fascinating. The other observation that has been made is that Stephen Elop could be the man in line to take over from Ballmer as Microsoft CEO. What is quite clear is that the SmartPhone market in emerging markets is going to be very competitive for a long time to come.

I have just got round to catching up with some blog posts after holiday season and this one from my KCom colleague Rob Wells caught my eye. I particularly liked the word “phablet” to cover phones and tablets but I’m not sure it will catch on.

Rob makes a compelling case against a proliferation of Apps and for building ‘mobile optimised HTML’ which relies on an initial web server detection mechanism that checks the user agent (Rob says Operating System but I don’t think that’s what he really meant) and then directs the request to the right pages. This is absolutely the right approach given that more and more users are now finding your company websites on mobile than on full-scale laptop screens so immediately directing from “www.acme.co” to “m.acme.co” that is optimised for mobile should be a no-brainer.

I like the KCom portal approach of assuming controls are ‘touch-first’ as well. I overheard a conversation the other day where someone was wondering how long it would be until putting something on a web page like “CLICK” (PC or mouse-oriented) would die out in favour of “TOUCH” here. Perhaps somebody needs to invent a new word that covers both options. I tried out an online thesaurus for touch which offered “tap” or “hit” (and a few other slightly dodgy ones) but synonyms for click were even less helpful.

Anyway, I digress. Rob has made a very good argument for HTML(5) on browser being the target of choice but I would argue it is not always the best option.

Here’s just two reasons why:

1. You’re NOT always online. The Apps I use the most are the ones where I can use them offline (and occasionally synchronise data when the Interweb is available) for example EverNote, Strava or good old faithful email clients. I actually hate Apps that rely on Internet connection to function and avoid them wherever possible.

2. There isn’t very consistent or reliable support for HTML5 in many browsers yet and it’s just as hard to ensure your application works on web browsers as it is with native or “hybrid” Apps with lots of browser-specific catches that you need to work with. For the foreseeable future I can’t see pure web applications having enough functionality to compete with Apps which run natively on the popular handsets.

The nice thing about Hybrid platforms like IBM Worklight or Appcelerator is that you can still use a lot of the common HTML, CSS and JavaScript skills but write them to use APIs into the native features such as encrypted cache through JSONStore for offline storage and benefit from a little bit the best of both worlds. Worklight, which is now a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant of Mobile Application development Platforms has the option to generate a mobile web version as well as version for iOS, Android, Windows 8 and BlackBerry so you can have your cake and eat it. It also addresses the problems highlighted in Rob’s blog of fragmentation of the different mobile platforms plus controlling versions and ensuring security.

There are advocates of both approaches and neither is really right or wrong – as always you need to take a decision based on your requirements, strategy and budget.

Today myself and four other Smarties attended Norfolk’s first Mobile Development Conference at the Hethel Engineering Centre, which is right next to where they make Lotus Cars.

Conference Room

There is an obvious tie-up between Hethel and Lotus given that the main presentations were held in the Colin Chapman room (founder of Lotus cars) where one of Ayrton Senna’s “99T” F1 cars was stuck to the wall!

Mobile Development is one of the most exciting and diverse areas in IT at the moment and this conference did very well to have a wide coverage from games developers like MonoGame to Tim Ferguson, Head of Digital at one of our customers AVIVA and their mobile app lessons learnt from their various innovations and experiments.

The keynote by Neil Garner of @Proxama resonated with me very much, both in his memories of tech from past years (Nokia 7110 first Wap phone) to his honest assessment of NFC and rebuttal of the doubters who don’t see NFC taking off now. The ARM Trustzone was highlighted by Neil as a key element in providing security for NFC applications. There are Contactless terminals everywhere now and 9 of the top 10 device manufacturers are signed up to support NFC – Apple is the odd one out but aren’t they always?

Our own @JamesElsey1986 later showed that NFC is more flexible and powerful than you think using Android. James later tweeted:

Source code/slides from my #NFC workshop http://ow.ly/mDz7A  Feel free to ask questions / give feedback. Thanks for attending! #MobDevCon

Matt Lacey presented two sessions, his first on tips for developing for Windows 8 included some real gems which will help us with our tailoring of our cross-platform Apps to work well on the new Windows platforms. I agree with Matt, who worked on PhoneGap’s Windows integration code that you have to be knowledgeable and experienced in developing native Apps to be able to build successful cross-platform Apps. Luckily Smart421 have a whole Microsoft practice to help us Java-oriented types out with that. Read Matt’s blog for more info and his slides from his second presentation on monetising Apps.

I was first on to present after lunch and talked about our work delivering cross-platform mobile experiences with Worklight – my slides are now up on slideshare. There was a general theme at the conference that cross-platform tools are coming of age and the compromise of user experience and performance when compared to native development is far outweighed by the much faster and cheaper overall costs of App development and maintenance. I just about managed to demo the new Worklight 6 Studio IDE and Console. I am really liking the improved jQueryMobile integration and want to find time to check out the new App Centre tools and automated testing when I get the chance.

Ruth John (@rumyra) of O2’s “The Lab” gave a kitty and puppy-tastic presentation on FireFoxOS and why Telefonica have taken it up especially in the emerging South American markets – it’s free, works well on low-end handsets with the FireFox operating system built on top of the Gecko layer as is Android. It will be really interesting to see if this will catch on in the UK and European markets in these times of austerity where people are perhaps not quite ready to splash a few hundred every year on the latest iOS gadgets.

There was also a really enlightening “sponsor presentation” by Basho on the subject of reclaiming the terms web scale, big data, dev ops and how the NHS is using Riak’s open source technology.

Massive thanks to Naked Element (Paul and Marie) and everyone involved in setting up the event, thanks to Hethel for such a great venue, the sponsors for the delicious lunch and the attendees for their support and kind comments.

P.S. Welcome to twitter @CharlesBSimms :-)

Tickets please

Tickets please.
Photo: Rail Technology Magazine / Progressive Media Group

The pain you have to go through to travel abroad has always bugged me. I went on a Swiss walking holiday last year and had to buy our rail passes months in advance and there were so many options and routes from various airports that my wife and I burned many an hour discussing alternatives. How much easier would it be if there was an easy way to just buy a ticket from Ipswich to Wengen, Switzerland via any of those routes with your selected airline? Then choose the trains to fit your needs.

That was the dream of the OSPT Alliance and their ticketing interoperability initiatives. The UK transport industry, Department of Transport and the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) instead went for the ITSO standard as national public transport Smart ticketing technology started to come into reality.

Now it appears the two organisations are beginning to work together to avoid the need for travellers to use two different formats and move towards common ticketing on Smart card and eventually Mobile phones, e.g. using NFC.

The International Transport Smartcard Organisation (ITSO) are a limited company who manage that standard from Milton Keynes. ITSO ticketing is one of four broad groups of fulfilment used by national rail. The others are paper tickets, primarily Credit Card Size Tickets (CCST), barcode (used for self printing) and Oyster which is the proprietary format card that has been so hugely successful in London. The ITSO members who supply ticketing and the terminals for validation at stations (so-called POSTs) and by handheld terminals on trains sign up to a code of practice for interoperability and security.

The OSPT Alliance defines the CIPURSE open standard, based on a number of contactless and Near Field Communications (NFC) specifications and it appears to be firmly aiming at the mobile App market. The V2 CIPURSE Mobile spec is published and available to members for evaluation.

We’re not sure exactly how closely these organisations will be working together. The press release today (reproduced below) mentions becoming members of each others’ committees and leveraging complementary aspects. It probably means there will be some kind of integration abstraction layer in the card or network back to the various back-end systems. It probably also means more complexity and work for apportionment and settlement systems run by people like our customer who spoke at the recent AWS Summit “ATOC Rail Settlement Plan“. In some ways it makes apportionment easier as they should soon be able to track exactly where a customer using mobile ticketing travelled rather than apportion according to estimated volumes who take certain routes as they do today.

Whichever way you look at it, the future world of ticketing is likely to be mobile so what do rail customers think? The quote below comes from the excellent Passenger Focus report on ticketing – available on their website on the subject of buying tickets on their Mobile Phone.

Some respondents had experience of this being a helpful information source that was trusted to identify best tickets or fares for unfamiliar journeys, thereby allaying validity concerns. However all acknowledged that they were unlikely to buy tickets on the phone so these would still need to be purchased elsewhere, meaning that the choice/complexity paradox can only be partially overcome through this channel.

The full emailed press release from the OSPT Alliance is reproduced below:

The Open Standard for Public Transport™ (OSPT) Alliance and ITSO Ltd., the organization responsible for the UK national specification for smart ticketing, today announced they have agreed to participate as members in each other’s organizations and to explore ways they can work together to promote the use of open security standards in public transit for smart ticketing and electronic fare collection systems.

Through their shared commitment to the use of open standards, these two leading public transit standards bodies intend to leverage the complementary aspects of their standards and ecosystems and discuss how they could be combined to create solutions that would be mutually beneficial to their respective members.

“We are pleased to have ITSO join the OSPT Alliance as an associate member, and look forward to exploring how our shared vision for the future of open standards in public transit can result in a mutually beneficial relationship,” said Laurent Cremer, executive director for the OSPT Alliance. “ITSO is an established, recognized player in smart ticketing, and has developed some key technology we believe would be of great interest to OSPT Alliance members as they deploy fare collection systems based on the CIPURSE security standard.”

The CIPURSE open security standard addresses the need by local and regional transit authorities for future-proof fare collection systems with more advanced security than currently in use. Because it is an open standard, CIPURSE promotes vendor neutrality, cross-vendor system interoperability, lower technology adoption risks, higher quality and improved market responsiveness, all of which result in lower operating costs and greater flexibility for transport system operators.

“We welcome the OSPT Alliance as an affiliate member of ITSO, and look forward to their contribution in helping to ensure that public transport operators throughout the UK can continue to maintain the highest level of security in the smart ticketing systems they deploy,” said Lindsay Robertson, chief executive officer of ITSO. “We believe that by working with the OSPT Alliance, ITSO will be better able to supply its members with a more diverse set of card products, including AES-based products, which is a solution the OSPT Alliance can deliver off the shelf in the form of CIPURSE.”

About ITSO

ITSO Ltd. is the non-profit distributing organization that oversees the ITSO Specification for smart ticketing in the UK. ITSO helps its members to set up and run ITSO-compliant smart ticketing schemes, tests and certifies smart ticketing equipment to ensure it meets the ITSO standards and ensures the ITSO Specification is up to date and fit for purpose. ITSO operates the ITSO Security Management System (ISMS), a secure key management and distribution system specifically developed to enable ITSO-compliant smart ticketing systems to be set up.

About the OSPT Alliance

The OSPT Alliance is an international association chartered to define a new open standard for secure transit fare collection solutions. It provides industry education, creates workgroup opportunities and catalyzes the development and adoption of innovative fare collection technologies, applications and services. The OSPT Alliance was founded by leading technology companies, and membership is open to technology providers, transit operators, consultants, solution vendors, government agencies and other stakeholders in the transit ecosystem. For additional information, please visit www.osptalliance.org.

Wow! SyncIpswich’s second meetup and around 80 people crammed into the Eastern Enterprise Hub in the James Hehir Building at University Campus Suffolk. Many of the attendees were working for local behemoths like BT but there were also a good mix of bootstrappers, Start Ups and tech entrepreneurs with all kinds of backgrounds (even spotted a Chartered Accountant).

Organisers Carl Farmer (@CarlFarmer), supported by Anders Fisher (@atleastimtrying) and others have done a great job with SyncIpswich, which we are proud to sponsor. The focus of this meetup was on building software quickly with good practices as well as a nice introduction to the Windows Azure Cloud.

Talk no 1. Continuous Delivery

The first presentation by Chris O’Dell from 7digital (@ChrisAnnOdell) described how Agile practices (CI, Kanban, etc) combined with their architectural evolution to SOA have reduced code to deploy times to half a day  at 7digital.  And, by the sound of it, makes their developers more productive by getting away from “DLL Hell” that used to be the bane of any Microsoft Windows developer’s life towards a loosely-coupled set of services and a public API.

7Digital Logo

Chris raised some really interesting points around developing small fine-grained service components – not being that familiar with .Net myself this seemed to be similar to what we are doing in the Java world with OSGi and Service Component Architecture. I do like the policy of developing new features on the trunk (no feature branches) but making good use of feature flags rather than old-fashioned branch & merge.

They are also using Git for the code version control and Chris showed the inversion of the classic Unit Test, Acceptance Test, QA triangle. Some in our own organisation are raising question marks about the usefulness of very granular unit tests so the approach taken by 7digital of increasing the number of Unit tests is interesting.

There were a lot of questions from the floor, I was particularly interested in how the small kanban teams (about 6 or 7 members in 5 or 6 teams I think) interact when there are common services. This is a key problem that us SOA architects need to get right to get the best value on services. Feature Flags is something that we’ve also thought about in the context of simplifying application testing by, for example, switching off authentication for functional testing.

It’s great to see a company like 7digital competing successfully with iTunes and Amazon in the digital music space. I’ll be checking out their API (and their JLS back catalogue !) in more detail this weekend.

Richard Astbury AzureTalk no 2. Starting out in Azure

The second talk of the night was by Richard Astbury (@richorama) of Two10 Degrees ( @two10degrees). Richard gave a nice introduction to Cloud computing and in particular using Microsoft Windows Azure, showing a picture of a MS data centre under construction, which was something I haven’t ever seen before. I think it really brought home the sheer scale and commodity nature of the Cloud and these facilities being full of containers of kit that is just thrown away or recycled when it stops working.

Building a website on Windows Azure from scratch can use a few main pre-canned routes like the obvious “Website”, “Virtual Machine” and “Cloud Service”.

And it now includes a “Mobile Service” which is of particular interest to me. Sadly, I didn’t have time to chat to Richard about this but it’s on my “To Do” list to get a Hello Smartie mobile service up and running. In fairness, Richard did do two masterful demos for Website, including a node.js based site which he even launched from his home computer (a Raspberry Pi no less). As Carl tweeted:

Deploying to Azure from a remote RaspberryPi at home… Impressive stuff from @richorama !

— SyncIpswich (@SyncIpswich) April 25, 2013

Well done to the people of Ipswich for turning out and drinking all the sponsored free beer!
SyncIpswich will run and run.

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Alloys

Which Essex boy doesn’t want Titanium Alloys?
Photo © Maxpro Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Introduction to Appcelerator

I’ve had my eye on Appcelerator and their Titanium mobile development platform product for some time. So I grabbed the opportunity to venture north of the [Suffolk] border to the “SyncFocus” a SyncNorwich spin-off event that was held in the Garden House Pub, upstairs room, in Norwich last night (20th March).  So, reflecting on my rough notes, I’m posting this blog with a few random thoughts thrown in and some links to further information for those interested in javascript-based mobile developments.

This SyncFocus featured as guest speaker non other than Boydlee.  For those who haven’t heard of Boydlee, he is a mobile application development guru and specialises in the Titanium platform who, like Beyoncé, is now so famous he doesn’t need to use his surname :-) .

My “executive summary” is that Titanium is a serious productivity tool for people who can write “well written” javascript code. It is in competition with the HTML5-based approach of PhoneGap, and does not (yet) have as many surrounding services as IBM Worklight which is squarely aimed at the big Enterprise market and is not as broad in its coverage of operating systems and devices (yet). It does however, have a thriving developer community and a very attractively priced (i.e. “FREE” cloud service). It does appear to be very easy for a moderately skilled javascript developer to create apps but it’s probably just as easy to create a horrendous mess so the newest approach is to supply a framework as the well-known MVC pattern through “Alloys” – which Essex boy doesn’t want Titanium Alloys on their racer?

Main points:

  • Titanium is purely JavaScript library coding against the Titanium api, the platform compiles the source to native Objective-C or Java code for the iOS and Android Apps and can easily be linked with the Xcode or Android SDK to complete the builds.
  • Links with emulators for iPhone, iPad and Android
  • Appcelerator has over 400,000 registered developers worldwide (a counter on their home page tells me it is just under 430,000 today)
  • The libraries themselves are “Free and open source”, available on GitHub
  • However, the Titanium studio is not free, and you can take the Appcelerator Paid support
  • An estimated one third of cross- platform apps are built on titanium
  • Claims to also support BlackBerry 10, but Windows 8 is not available until later this year

One really nice feature is a very large “Module marketplace” which is mostly compiled binary code aimed at one native operating system or the other that can be downloaded and incorporated into the build – for example something to integrate to native libraries, plugins, e.g. Barcode scanning

A lot of those modules also have their source code on GitHub, building the community even more and improving the eco-system. This appears to be thriving and also includes some javascript extensions as well as the compiled native iOS and Android libs.

Appcelerator Mobile Service (ACS)

ACS is an interesting move to give a free level of Mobile (application) Back-end as a Service (MBaaS) to developers of services, running on AWS.

This includes 20GB storage, 5m push, 5m api and 20 pre built common services, including key-value pairs (similar to AWS Simple DB), Ratings, Geo services, media, including thumbnails, Social integration (Facebook) and storage of custom objects, which I think was based on Mongo DB as a service. There is certainly capability to link directly with Node and Mongo backends and simple stuff like SMTP integration (again similar to AWS’s Simple Email Service “SES”).

Coding practices

Boydlee recommended looking into Common.js best practice for relative newbies to Javascript. Other frameworks are available, like backbone, require.js and one of his blog posts has recommended the javascript patterns book by Stoyan Stefanov.

There are also free books online available on styling, including best practices to cascade for tablets so you don’t just get an enlarged phone experience that sucks.

The CSS approach also over-rides for different devices, so it’s not always best to stick with pure javascript for everything, however, for those who really are blinkered by javascript there is a CSS to JSON converter library.

Boydlee’s books are on PACKT or there are kindle versions. Boydlee’s best practices book is one I will be getting for sure.

Finally, the newest developments in Appcelerator will probably be using Alloy which includes full Model View Controller (MVC) frameworks (again, all built on well-known javascript frameworks) that claims to speed up App development by another order of magnitude.

Comparing it with the IBM Mobile First offering the coverage of mobile O/S is much wider in Worklight (Windows 8 and BB 10 were available very soon after launch), the adaptor environment, the upgrade management and enterprise app centre seem more developed and you have the whole extra wrappers of security, analytics and so on within IBM’s Mobile offering. The customer list on Appcelerator’s website is mighty impressive for consumer-oriented Apps but the ability to integrate with Enterprise back-ends is less of a focus, which is why in our case we’re focusing on IBM for Enterprise mobility but Appcelerator is certainly worth considering.

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Mobile phones are strictly banned in all grades of prison in England and Wales, apart maybe from the odd experiment. But are the authorities missing something?

The recent debates about the jailing of Huhne and Pryce  (BBC News, 11 March 2013) have called into question again the purpose of jail as a suitable “punishment” for offenders with some people suggesting they should instead be forced to do something for society (as a community sentence, perhaps Pryce could drive Huhne around to clean up litter in London parks for the next 6 months?).

Image from http://gizmodo.com/Cell-Lock_Up/

Hardly Bonnie and Clyde. But it got me thinking about a conversation with my brother-in-law who works in HM Prison Service and he mentioned about a new initiative to give all prisoners a phone (or more generally speaking “terminal device”) in their cells to be able to access “limited” Internet services and make personal phone calls to family – that sort of thing. He was saying about the positive rehabilitation effect it should have that would far outweigh the negative.

The point is that combined with today’s mobile technologies (such as provided by MeshDETECT) you could also use relatively cheap touch-screens to have in-cell personal devices that can deliver personalised training or educational games and keep track of prisoners. Alright that last one is a bit “Big Brother” but it should be possible to help monitor someone who might be a suicide risk for example through inbuilt motion-detection.

There are apparently plenty of problems today with smuggled mobiles and fights to get to the communal telephone on the landing in the prison which this would obviously alleviate.

There have been news stories about this in the past (BBC News, 11 September 2011)  and one last weekend (The Telegraph, 01 March 2013).

There have also been objectors, most recently some quite ill-informed (technologically-wise) comments such as this, which comes from a short article in the Daily Record (Daily Record, 31 January 2013):

“It is a crazy idea as it would give prisoners the opportunity to plan and control their business on the outside.”

That depends. What is their business? If it’s illegal then why’s it not shut down?

And if it is legal, why is this such a bad thing to keep a business running that presumably employs people? It’s only when a previously eminent person like Chris Huhne goes to jail that this seems a nonsense. Of course he should be encouraged to continue any of the good things he does, just never get behind the wheel of a car again as some think he is apparently incapable of driving responsibly (The Independent, 11 March 2013). What possible good does it do society to just lock away an intelligent, capable person to make no contribution

 “These guys are in there to serve time, not to be in a position to potentially plan other crimes.”

Oh dear… I thought the aim of prison was rehabilitation and showing an alternative lifestyle, through education and communication with the right people not just to “serve time”

 “My big fear would be the monitoring of it.

It’s fairly cheap and simple to automate monitoring of the IP telephony through speech-recognition these days – admittedly this would be a bit difficult in Scotland perhaps but if communication is going on anyway using illegally smuggled-in mobile phones wouldn’t it be better to offer a more official method of communication that was monitored? The technology is there and storage (especially in Cloud systems) is so cheap you could record everything.

“If you put phones into every cell, it would be a nightmare. Where would the staff come from for this? You couldn’t possibly monitor it.” He added: “It seems ridiculous.”

Well, maybe it does seem ridiculous and to some people yet another example of the state giving “luxuries” to prisoners (along with their Sky TV packages and fussball tables no doubt) but why can’t we harness the power of cheap, modern tablet technologies to educate and help to prepare prisoners, especially long-term prisoners serving time a long way from home, with human contact? Or even with non-human contact in the case of educational programs that could be installed for prisoners who want to learn. The central server technology can carefully control the access, reward prisoners for achievements and generally I can see a lot of good to come out of this initiative.

The prisonercellphones.com view

If you really want to “punish” prisoners why on earth is smoking still allowed in HM Prisons?

Banning smoking as this story  (The Mirror, 02 march 2013) suggests would (a) help health education and (b) be of benefit to the whole of society if those prisoners continued to stop smoking after they are released and don’t then get smoking-related diseases. Perhaps the 80% of prisoners who now smoke may be encouraged to give up and invest money in that equally addictive pastime of our generation – the mobile phone.

But that’s another story.

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