Category Archives: Business

Android-based Smartphones – Google’s Nexus One and Motorola’s Droid

Will Motorola’s Droid or Google’s Nexus One trump Apple’s iPhone?

The latest entries into the mobile computing market are the Motorola’s Droid and Google’s Nexus One, both based on Google’s powerful new Android 2.0 Operating System. Some reviewers have called these smartphones “iPhone killers.” Are they really? What does Android represent to mobile computing?

The Droid and Nexus One are both very capable devices, and they outperform the iPhone in several ways. Some if not most of their specifications indeed surpass those of the iPhone 3GS, Apple’s most recent offering, which, by the way, isn’t terribly surprising for two-year newer smartphone designs.

The Android devices tout a larger screen size, the ability to replace batteries, better voice control, application multitasking, turn-by-turn navigation like a standalone GPS device, and a less restrictive app marketplace. The iPhone has much more and better managed memory, seamless integration with its iTunes and app stores, a more protective app marketplace, a more fluid gesture-based interface, and a greater variety of more polished apps.

At DataPlex, we think of Android 2.o devices as different animals, less as direct competition for the iPhone and more as a gap-filler, particular for Verizon, the cellphone carrier that desperately needed a smartphone facelift. Many people will select Verizon smartphones because of their high-quality 3G network which is arguable better than that of AT&T, the iPhone’s exclusive carrier. Others will cite the lack of availability of add-on apps for the Android devices as compared to the enormous quantity and variety of apps available for the iPhone.

We see the Droid and Nexus One dropping into the space between the uber-business-focused Blackberry and the sleek, arty iPhone, and some new apps will just make more sense for the Android platform than they will on those for other smartphones. Android will help make more accessible business and enterprise applications.

Don’t feel bad for Apple. Apple has never sought purely to dominate a market. Rather, it looks to make its offerings attractive and easy-to-use, particularly with the overall intent of integrating them seamlessly with the rest of its product line. Alternately, the Droid and Nexus One come across as capable, feature rich devices, but ones with some rough edges and some complexity in the veins of the longstanding PC vs. Mac debate. Apple has its followers and the attraction of its more polished market. Rumor has it that Apple will releasing its next iPhone version mid-2010, that is, after it releases its also-rumored tablet. Don’t be surprised if it incorporates some of Android’s new features.

To learn more about the differences between the Droid, Nexus One and the iPhone, read the following posts. As you mull over what they say, you’ll identify with what is important to you.

The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg on his first impressions of Google’s Nexus One as compared to the iPhone:

http://ptech.allthingsd.com/20100105/googles-nexus-one-is-bold-new-face-in-super-smartphones/

GoGrid’s Technology Evangelist Michael Sheenan reports on a week he spent with the Droid:

http://www.hightechdad.com/2009/11/20/a-week-with-the-verizonmotorola-droid-by-an-iphone-addict/

Here, Technologist and TV Journalist Shelly Palmer provides a clear report card comparison of the iPhone, Droid and RIM Blackberry:

http://www.shellypalmermedia.com/2009/11/29/my-new-verizon-droid-plus-the-iphone-blackberry-droid-report-card-and-review/

Ars Technica has posted a very complete and technical analysis of the Droid sprinkled with comparisons to the iPhone:

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/reviews/2009/12/review-of-the-motorola-droid.ars/

A bunch of pictures of the Nexus One:

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2010/01/photo-gallery-googles-nexus-one.ars

Also, don’t forget that the Droid and Nexus One are only the first swath of Android 2.0 devices rolling out over the next several months, so be sure to watch for the latest in smartphone offerings. A good site to do that is:

 http://www.phonedog.com

Should you like any advice on your smartphone selection, feel free to drop me a note. Also, if you’d like to stay on top of things electronic from my perspective, you are invited to follow me on Twitter @DataPlexCEO.

Website Design and Smartphones: To Flash or Not to Flash (Part I)

One of our clients noticed that his website wasn’t showing up on smartphones and other mobile devices. The problem was that his website used Adobe’s Flash which doesn’t render properly or at all on some mobile devices. We describe a solution in this first of a two-part series.

The Problem

Adobe Flash (formerly from MacroMedia) is a mature and dominate technology platform for showing animation on and providing high-end user interfaces for websites. Before smartphones, Flash could claim upwards of 99% browser penetration.

Flash’s penetration has been poor with smartphones. Up until recently, no smartphone supported Flash, and even today, only a limited number of smartphones support all the core features of Flash.

With the growing dominance of mobile smartphones, some companies whose websites rely on Flash are realizing that they cannot adequately reach their customer base. Companies that invested tidy sums in making their website into state-of-the-art user experiences are finding that a growing number of their customers are unable to interact with their sites from Flash-incompatible smartphones.

This is a problem that will eventually get corrected. While there seems to be some political posturing between Adobe and Apple with regards to bringing Flash to the iPhone, Adobe and ARM, the processor company behind most smartphones, are wrapping up a technology collaboration announced in November 2008 to bring Flash to most other ARM-powered devices by late 2009 or early 2010, and we are already seeing the results of that collaboration. We think it is clear that Apple will be forced to tag along at the end of the day.

Which smartphones support Flash? Basically, the iPhone browser does not while some of its apps do, the Palm Pre is about to, and all the Android 2.0 devices such as Motorola’s Droid and Google’s Nexus One do and will. Unfortunately, there are more iPhones than anything else, so this presents serious problems for existing websites that utilize Flash.

The Solution

If a website has just one or a few small Flash elements for effect but most of the site including the home page is non-Flash, e.g. HTML, then it would show the occasional blank space where the Flash animation would go. If a website’s home page or other web pages are completely Flash, or if the website relies solely on Flash for site navigation, then it may be mostly unusable.

In either case, the website would benefit from having some non-Flash-based alternatives dropped in and activated when a Flash player is not available. While the alternatives make not be as “flashy” (sorry), this quick solution will make a website more smartphone compatible.

DataPlex engineers know how to install alternatives to Flash into a website. Contact us for more information.

There is another, more clever technical solution which keeps some if not all of the “flashiness.”  You can read about here in Part II (coming February 2010).

Doctor Tracking System

DataPlex engineers designed several generations of “doctor tracking systems,” systems that consist of sensors and keypads around a medical facility that are used to keep track of the location of doctors, nurses and other staff members.  Doctor tracking systems are also called “personnel tracking systems” when they are used in non-medical facilities.

The first generation system, designed for Dr. Bosley of Bosley Medical of Beverly Hills, California, used room telephones, light bars and specially designed keypads.  As doctors, nurses and staff members moved about, they would press a button to inform the system about their location so that they could be located at a moments notice.  Dr. Bosley reported an astounding simultaneous increase in staff efficiency and patient satisfactions as doctors were able to more quickly get to them and answer their calls.

Display panels in the rooms would inform a doctor as to the queue of rooms for him or her to visit so the he or she would not have to take the extra time to return to a clerical station.  Also, the display panels would beep to alert doctors to emergency, highly urgent or expiring timer situations.

Doctor Tracking System panel

The second and third generation systems leveraged infrared technology and relieved the users from having to press any keys.  Badges that the doctors wear broadcast infrared signals that are picked up by infrared receivers that had been installed in the facility’s drop ceiling.

The fourth and latest generation of the Doctor Tracking Systems uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags.  While originally eschewed because of their signals’ ability to penetrate walls and be picked up by sensors in other rooms, technology evolved so that this “overage” actually became an advantage and that a doctor’s location could be even more closely pinpointed.  (This proved to be lifesaving in one case when a doctor collapsed out of people’s view but by way of the tracking system was found in enough time to get medical attention.) This generation system also supports voice intercom.

These systems have IT features that allow facilities to make better and faster decisions, such as when a patient should be revisited or when to clean up a room, and have tracking integrated with their enterprise systems so that doctors’ room visits can be correlated with patient billing.  We see other potential uses of this technology to track medicine dispensing and to better improve the workflow around a medical facility.

Checklist for Website Design Considerations for Today’s Companies

Volume 3, Number 1, Appendix A

This checklist accompanies a DataPlex, Inc. article entitled Things to Consider When Building or Redesigning a Website.

Before any Design Work Begins:

  • What is the purpose of the website?
  • What are the goals of the firm for its website?
  • Who is the primary target audience?
  • What other types of visitors to be expected?
  • How will the firm present its message to its visitors?
  • Can aspects of the firm’s business be represented graphically?
  • How will the site’s content be organized?
  • Does the firm have trademarks or brands to promote?
  • Are there graphic images available that relate to the text?

Additional questions from the design team based on the characteristics of the firm, its industry, and its business procedures and the number of products or types of services, the size of its customer base, covenants, government regulations, etc.:

Graphical Interface

  • Is the overall graphical interface inviting?
  • Are some elements elaborate and distract?
  • Does the site look old or new?
  • Is there a balance between form and function?
  • Completely review with design team

Usability

  • Are the navigation controls appropriate for the site?
  • Review the placement of and margins for major site components
  • Check Colors, color depths backgrounds and graphical effects
  • Check Text and overlay brightness, contrast and transparency
  • Consider common screen resolution being used by visitors
  • Works well with desired browser and operating system types
  • Support Mobile devices with small screens such as cell phones
  • Support for visitors with special needs
  • Review with design team

Content

  • Is the content easy to read?
  • Is it consistent and focused?
  • Does it make clear points?
  • Will it keep reader’s interest?
  • Are there places of too much detail?
  • Is it structured and positions well for easy scanning?
  • Are there time-saving connections to other areas?
  • Is there content posted that does not meet with the site’s philosophy?
  • Reviewed by design team?

Coding

  • Are the coders experienced?
  • Has the code been well tested?
  • Do the pages render properly in all major browsers?
  • Is there any missing content or web pages?
  • Is the usability impaired in any way?
  • Is there any functionality that does not work?
  • Are there any gross web page errors?
  • Are there any broken navigational controls and links?
  • Are the pages being indexed well in Search Engines?
  • Are there any long download times?
  • Are there any incompatible or distorted graphics?
  • Does the design team ensure an ongoing, well-formed website operation?

Website Engineering

  • Obvious web site considerations:
    • graphics design
    • style sheets
    • content: text, pictures, music, video
    • interactive components (e.g. Flash)
    • easy to understand site navigation (e.g. menus)
    • request forms, guestbook or discussion forums, as appropriate
  • Non-obvious considerations:
    • low-level graphic and special effect issues
    • behind the scenes website organization & structure
    • compatibility with different browsers and computing devices
    • web server configuration and ongoing maintenance
    • backup and disaster recovery (e.g. mirrored sites)
    • database engine (e.q. SQL) and scripting languages (e.g. ASP, PHP)
    • sourcing, including and accounting of third-party advertisements
    • referring sites and Search Engine positioning
    • easy way for firm personnel to update content
    • transactional processing (e.g. handling payments and downloads)
    • Virtual Private Networks (VPN’s) for employees
    • email, ftp and other web-related services

Beyond the Website Design

  • Will the website need to be expanded soon for additional functionality?
  • Does the firm have custom programming requirements?
  • Are there software applications that could be integrated with the web?
  • Is there hardware that needs to or could interface with the applications?
  • Are there any other technical issues that could be addressed at this time?

Things to Consider When Building or Redesigning a Website

Volume 3, Number 1

Designing, implementing and managing a commercial website suitable for a modern-day company, firm or business enterprise has become both a software technology minefield and somewhat of an art form. While almost anyone with some basic web design experience can create a nice-looking website using off-the-shelf tools and some training, having a website perform precisely along certain desired lines to help grow a business is another matter indeed.

This article presents a case for a disciplined engineering approach to a website design, what we call “Website Engineering,” and includes a checklist of considerations, useful at various stages of the design and implementation phases.

The management of a firm might think that an in-house website development effort could both be cost-effective and yield high-quality results. Sadly, this is rarely the case. Most of these efforts are not successful because they are not provided enough time, planning or staff members with the necessary specialized training.

One reason why in-house efforts yield sub-par results is that the “minimal effort” to pull-off a successful website now involves several dissimilar technologies.

Every year, the bar moves up slightly where site visitors expect better performance and previously advanced features are now considered standard. A demonstration of the latter can be had by simply visiting a site that was designed ten years ago (example from ibm.com), before the advent of HTML 4 and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that “upped the bar” by allowing web sites to look like printed brochures. (For comparison, here is a modern-day IBM web page.)

Having a network technician or programmer on staff doesn’t necessarily mean that he (or she) knows which intricacies of website design and implementation would be required to best support the firm’s branding, promotional, sales and marketing activities. Conversely, having in-house graphic artists put together a site does not mean that they have the technical skills to develop the respective critical server-side elements such as databases, templates, scripts, security and access control for different types of site visitors nor able to effectively utilize such elements should they even already exist.

…a firm would benefit from having experienced developers approach their website’s design from more of a systems and software engineering perspective.

We submit that a firm would benefit from having experienced developers approach their website’s design from more of a systems and software engineering perspective. Inherently, engineer are trained to handle implementation pathways littered with technically advanced requirements and to resolve issues and solve problems that occur along the way. Also, such engineers can be conveniently called upon to address other technical issues beyond the scope of the website implementation.

Whether updating an existing site or starting from scratch, a firm should consider the following factors as they will influence the degree to which the resulting website is successful.

Research and Planning

A first step for a firm is conducting an adequate amount of research in order to help define the role, expectations and metrics for the website. Here are a few questions to ask before any design work begins:

  • What is the purpose of the website?
  • What are the goals of the firm for its website?
  • Who is the primary target audience?
  • What other types of visitors to be expected?
  • How will the firm present its message to its visitors?
  • Can aspects of the firm’s business be represented graphically?
  • How will the site’s content be organized?
  • Does the firm have trademarks or brands to promote?
  • Are there graphic images available that relate to the text?

These are just a few preliminary questions that could be answered. Additional questions will arise depending on the characteristics of the firm, its industry, and its business procedures and the number of products or types of services, the size of its customer base, covenants, government regulations, and so on. A good design team will interview a firm’s management to determine the proper requirements for the site. Once the requirements are set, an implementation plan to create the site can be easily developed and then adopted.

Graphical Interface

The overall graphical interface of a firm’s website needs to be attention-grabbing enough to invite people in, but not so elaborate that it take the focus off the main reason they came in the first place. If the design elements overshadow content, viewers could tire of it quickly.

On the other hand, if the site is lacking in presentation or looks like it was developed in the 1990′s, some viewers may extrapolate this deficiency to mean that the firm generally is in need of updating and that the rest of its technology (in whatever industry it is in) may also be out of date.

The firm may have the best, most advanced products in the world, but without a properly produced website, visitor will never know. A good design team will help a firm achieve a balanced design that combines both form and function without either becoming overbearing.

Usability

Usability determines how well visitors to the firm’s site are able to find their way around. The following elements all need to be considered when addressing usability:

  • Navigation appropriate to the site
  • Placement of and margins for major site components
  • Colors, color depths backgrounds and graphical effects
  • Text and overlay brightness, contrast and transparency
  • Common screen resolution being used by visitors
  • Browser and operating system types
  • Mobile devices with small screens such as cell phones
  • Support for visitors with special needs

If visitors are impeded from being able to easily comprehend the firm’s site, they may quickly decide to move on, quite possibly to the sites of the firm’s competitors. A good design team will ensure that usability issues are properly addressed.

Content

Sometimes too much detail in a large section of text, although accurate, can make readers grow tired.

The firm needs good content, but what does “good” mean? Whether it is repurposed marketing material or newly created web-specific content, it should be consistent and focused. Ideally, it should make clear points and be of enough quality to keep readers’ interest. Sometimes too much detail in a large section of text, although accurate, can make readers grow tired.

The content should be an easy read, easy to print and be structured and positioned well for easy scanning with time-saving connections to other areas of the site.A good design team will help a firm examine and constructively criticize its content, point out places where additional content could be advantageous, and ensure that only the content that meets the site’s philosophy is posted to the website.

Coding

HTML and XML serve as the most common base formats for web pages, and are responsible for representing the “look and feel” of content across the Internet. The raw “code” of HTML and XML looks very different from what you see in a browser, cryptic to the uninitiated, and when coupled with scripting languages, it becomes the domain of systems analysts and computer programmers. Improper coding and “bugs” will lead to internal and external website problems that degrade the visitors experience and the delivery of the firm’s message, no matter how otherwise great the presentation of the content.

Website problems can result in:

  • Impaired usability
  • Functionality not working properly
  • Gross web page errors
  • Broken navigational controls and links
  • Not being indexed well (or at all) in Search Engines
  • Website pages not rendering properly in different browsers
  • Missing content (e.g. content not being displayed) and web pages
  • Long download times from poor code or site structure
  • Incompatible or distorted graphics

If a firm’s site is hamstrung even for just a short while, a firm could lose its audience’s trust in its site, or worse, itself. Depending on the agreed-upon services to be provided, the members of an experienced design team can ensure ongoing, well-formed website operation.

Website Engineering

When world-class products are being designed, their producers are smart enough to solicit the right types of engineering so that the best possible product is made right out of the gate. Because of the short lifetimes of today’s products, there may not be a second chance.

Creating a website is an engineering effort, requiring an optimized balance between attractive design components and computer technology that has to strike a positive nerve when it is finally unveiled. As is often true in other engineering disciplines, the right approach requires some thinking, recognizing the requirements, and choosing the right tools, much of which may not be obvious.

  • Obvious web site considerations:
    • graphics design
    • style sheets
    • content: text, pictures, music, video
    • interactive components (e.g. Flash)
    • easy to understand site navigation (e.g. menus)
    • request forms, guestbook or discussion forums, as appropriate
  • Non-obvious considerations:
    • low-level graphic and special effect issues
    • behind the scenes website organization & structure
    • compatibility with different browsers and computing devices
    • web server configuration and ongoing maintenance
    • backup and disaster recovery (e.g. mirrored sites)
    • database engine (e.q. SQL) and scripting languages (e.g. ASP, PHP)
    • sourcing, including and accounting of third-party advertisements
    • referring sites and Search Engine positioning
    • easy way for firm personnel to update content
    • transactional processing (e.g. handling payments and downloads)
    • Virtual Private Networks (VPN’s) for employees
    • email, ftp and other web-related services

As you can see, a website is much more than just the graphics and the content; it involves the hardware platform on which the site exists plus all of the software and hardware components required to provide the desired functionality — in other words, an engineering effort.

That “engineering” is required to produce an effective website should not be considered a disadvantage or a turn off. Instead, wrapping a website’s development around an engineering banner actually begins an expedient and cost effective process. For example, DataPlex engineers took over a website, unfinished for years, and completed it in less than four weeks with additional functionality along with significantly better usability.

In another case where a high level of software engineering was applied, DataPlex developed custom applications too advanced for implementation through traditional Internet markup languages and then seamlessly integrated them with the client’s website.

A Checklist

We include the points made above in a convenient checklist that a firm can use as a starting point or modify for its own website design purposes.

Let Experts Help

For the reasons presented in this article, a firm thinking of building a new website or redesigning an existing website should rely on “website engineers,” a qualified team of experts such as the designers and engineers at DataPlex to develop its site. In so doing, a firm will have the non-obvious considerations properly addressed. It will realize a high-quality site in a quick and professional manner, with the best possible usability, resulting in a high percentage of impressed website visitors, with corresponding benefits that match up to its goals.

For more information, please visit:

DataPlex Complete Feasibility Studies

DataPlex completed two technical feasibility studies for digital entertainment media clients centered around the current landscape of digital media streaming services. DataPlex has a finely-tuned process for conducting comprehensive research and delivering exceptionally accurate reports to clients considering new businesses or products.