Cross Platform Development Just Got Easier

J2ObjC bridges platformsThe biggest difficulty behind developing and testing a native app is that essentially a brand new app needs to be created for each operating system. Google is looking to ease that difficulty. The Android mothership has created a tool that will allow developers to use some of the same code for both Android and iOS native apps. The tool works by converting Java code (for Android) into Objective-C code (for iOS).

Developers still have to create custom UI coding for each platform, but Google’s J2ObjC tool will take care of the backend. From The Register:

Using J2ObjC, however, developers can code their core non-UI functionality in Java, then compile versions of those portions of their apps for both Android and iOS from a single code base, rather than maintaining a separate code tree for each platform.

In fact, [Tom] Ball says, they can even use the same Java code to build web-based versions of their apps using the Google Web Toolkit (GWT), which can translate Java code into JavaScript to run in the browser. All three versions would have identical core functionality, because they would be based on the same source code.

Read the full article at The Register >>>

The tool converts 29 Java features into Objective-C. See how everything translates in this comprehensive list.

J2ObjC isn’t an end-all-be-all magic porting tool, but it will definitely ease the workload significantly. It’ll be interesting to see if it works as well as Google hopes or runs into some in-the-wild testing problems.

Functional Bugs Prove Costly for eBay

While overlooking app testing can cost companies their reputation – for large enterprises it can cost large sums of money, as well. eBay’s mobile app aims at selling items, but to do so you need to log-in. Sounds easy enough, but not when a functional bug within your native app goes unnoticed making it impossible for users to log into their accounts.

This is exactly what occurred last week when several eBay glitches occurred. In fact, the glitches were so bad that eBay had to recall the new version of their application. According to Ina Steiner of EcommerceBytes:

“…when you’re eBay and you’re predicting shoppers to purchase $10 billion in goods from your site via mobile devices this year, glitches can be costly, and that’s a lesson eBay learned [last] week.

eBay had to recall a new version of its mobile app that it released on [last] Wednesday and replace it with version 1.8. Over on Google Play, the ‘iTunes’ for Android phones, users were complaining that the mobile app would not let them log in to their accounts and they were leaving 1-star reviews for the eBay app.”

When an app is recalled like that, many customers often drop off in fear of other bugs looming within the application. However, eBay responded quickly and issued an apology on Thursday stating that any problems were resolved.

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Mobile Payments Might Fail, But Mobile Commerce Will Thrive

Yesterday I blogged about a Wired writer who’s decided to use nothing but her smartphone for purchases over the next month. I think she’s hoping to illustrate that mobile-only payments aren’t quite there yet, but that it’s somewhat feasible with current technology. Or maybe she’s just looking for pageviews (it worked).

Either way, I think it’s important to point out that mobile has a major role to play in the world of commerce even if people aren’t making payments through their phones. Apparently, that is also the view of many prominent retailers. Here’s TechCrunch breaking down the results of a recent retailer survey:

A study from Deloitte, notes that today in the UK only 1% of mobile consumers have ever used a handset to pay for something in a retail location. However, it also provides some convincing evidence that we are at least well on our way to linking mobiles — specifically smartphones — to retail purchases anyway.

In the U.S. Deloitte says that using apps and mobile web sites while shopping accounted for a 5% bump in retail sales, equating to $159 billion in in-store sales. In the UK the proportion was slightly higher, but that the actual value was lower: mobile usage gave a 6% bump, or £15.2 billion ($24.7 billion) in sales. Deloitte notes that this puts the value of mobile influence at twice that of how much money is being processed through mobile payments at the moment in the UK.

That influence is set to grow. Fuelled by the rise in apps and mobile websites catering to shoppers, as well as smartphone ubiquity, Deloitte forecasts that in the U.S. the impact of smartphones on retail in the U.S. will rise to 17%-21% — working out to $628 million – $782 million in sales by 2016.

The bottom line: Smartphone payments might never take off, but that doesn’t mean mobile won’t play a huge role in the future of retail.

Apple Working to Improve Usability of iOS 6 Maps

iOS 6 will be available this Wednesday for download, and the new OS brings features that will greatly improve the iPhone user experience. However, iOS 6 has taken a step back with Apple’s own maps application.

Google worked long and hard to make Google Maps a quality app. Apple is late to the game, so it makes sense that the maps application isn’t up to speed yet.

As Darrell Etherington explains in TechCrunch:

Maps will be something Apple users aren’t used to: a significant backslide in a core element of a product that people have come to understand how to use naturally and without much thought. It’s not insignificant – it changes fundamentally the process of getting directions, especially for those who use public transit, and not for the better. Using Yelp for points of interest is good, but still doesn’t feel quite up to the level of searching for places in Google Maps.

Ultimately making the move to its own maps solution will probably end up as a win for consumers. Competition between the two products will drive innovation on both sides, so Android users should also benefit, and Apple will ultimately build a product that feels at home on a device where it currently comes across as a bit of a stranger. Turn-by-turn navigation is a hugely welcome addition, and one that Android users have had for a while now. There have also already been a whole lot of improvements made to the product since Apple’s first iOS 6 beta release, so the company is clearly working hard to raise the bar.”

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Get Your App Ready for iPhone 5

iPhone 5 vs iPhone 4SYou have a pretty, functional, successful iPhone app already in the App Store. Then out comes the iPhone 5 with its new dimensions and retina display. What kind of changes will you need to make to accommodate these new features? Darrell Etherington over at TechCrunch asked two “developers of varying technical expertise and experience” that question. Here’s a sneak peek at what he came up with.

Milen Dzhumerov, developer of Clear:

The amount of work depends solely on whether the interface in question is inherently stretchable. For example, a lot of applications are size-constrained thus they employ scrollviews. For those types of applications, supporting the new screen should be a matter of removing assumptions in any layout code about the screen height.

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The Ultimate Test for Mobile Payments

Mobile payments seem to be where we’re headed, but I don’t know anyone who makes more than 5% of their purchases through their phone. I don’t know Wired writer Christina Bonnington personally, but I do know that she’s prepared to use nothing but her smartphone to make purchases over the next month. How do I know this? She told me so on Wired.com. Take a look:

Here are The Rules I’ll be playing by. They’re pretty simple

  • Cash, check, credit cards, or debit cards are not allowed for monetary transactions. Period.
  • That means I will make purchases only through NFC (Google Wallet), PayPal, or other purely electronic or mobile payments. Apps and websites that store and use my credit card number for transactions are OK; anything that requires the swiping of a credit card is not. Apps and services that let you store a particular dollar amount that purchases are deducted from are OK.
  • I will not ask friends, family, or coworkers to buy things for me because my payment modes aren’t accepted.
  • Paper or plastic coupons and passes are not allowed for transactions. This includes things like printed coupons at the grocery store, paper movie tickets, and my plastic Muni bus pass.
  • Paper or plastic ID is not allowed. I will be taking a photo of my ID to carry on my smartphone. If I get carded, this will have to suffice.
  • I will live my life just as I normally would. I will not unnecessarily adjust my social or purchasing behaviors, other than what’s required by the change in payment mode, and will not “prep” for the month, such as going out of my way to stock the pantry or fill up on gas. (Honestly, I’m far too lazy to do that anyway.)
  • I will generally still be carrying at least one card and my physical ID on me as normal, just in case of some sort of crazy emergency. And by “emergency,” I mean hospitalization, a car accident, etc., not “I got carded and now I can’t go to this bar.”
  • I will not be ditching my house keys.

Think she’ll make it?

Examples of Successful Mobile App Usability

Best Mobile App UIsYesterday I highlighted 10 features of highly usable mobile apps. Now that you have an idea of what’s included in a highly usable app, let’s take a look at some companies who are already doing it right. These apps in particular were highlighted by Kinvey for their “brilliant mobile UX.” Kinvey looked specifically for content, user input, information architecture, design and usability (all factors included in the Smashing Magazine list!).

Living Social
Content: Living Social’s content is a nice balance of quality photos, text, buttons and icons, all with the purpose of informing users of deals happening in their location.
User Input: Tapping and scrolling one-handedly is all the user needs to do here.
Informational Architecture: Tthe list of deal categories makes it simple for the user to get right to the deals they’re after.
Design: The main page has a sleek dark background with nice bright contrasting colors, and I love how the background changes to an image specific to your city.
Usability: The simplicity and clear descriptions in the design drives users to explore their options and quickly and easily purchase deals.

Soundhound
Content: A mix of text, buttons and images that aid in music search and discovery. ts scrolling banner of album art invites the user to explore different sections of the app.
User Input: User input in Soundhound is very minimal, as it should be. You just have to press one big button. Very simple and intuitive.
Informational Architecture: Everything is arranged in a pretty straight-forward manner
Design: Pretty simple, but nothing to write home about.
Usability: The overall usability is simple, straightforward and fast. Such minimal effort is required to achieve the main goal of the app it almost seems magical.

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Guest Post: Technology In Your Hospital Physician’s Hands

If you live close to a very large hospital in a large city, and if you have recently spent time in that hospital either as a patient or as a visitor, you’ve probably seen something new. Hospitals and their IT departments are beginning to use portable technology like iPads and other tablets to aid in their diagnostic and patient record keeping services. Furthermore, photos of the injuries, breakdown analysis of x-rays and CAT scans and other bio tests, and a host of other apps aid doctors and nurses in these hospitals offer a higher level of immediate and timely care.

The Benefits For Doctors And Nurses

Doctors and nurses can communicate with each other through texts, emails, IMs, and even live chats when the situation warrants it. But live chat software has to be secure enough to avoid revealing too much about a patient’s information. Patients, in or out of the hospital, can communicate live with their doctor’s site, or with the hospital or clinic’s site. Often patients can find links to helpful videos on subjects they want to know more about, led by the doctors they see or would prefer to see.

Doctors, nurses and patients all benefit from these connections and the ability to be able to schedule a live chat. Sometimes one on one, sometimes an entire group with one or two doctors, patients can get their questions answered.

Patient Care

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Texting, Testing and Driving

Try reading that headline three times fast! Better yet, try texting it while you’re driving. If you’ve installed OneProtect on your smartphone, you’ll find that task to be impossible. Hopefully.

Mashable just profiled the latest app to help make the roads safer. Here’s a summary of OneProtect’s unique feature set:

A new software suite called OneProtect, which includes a mobile app and web browser, is here to curb the destructive impact our attention to our mobile phones and texting can have on our driving.

Once installed, the OneProtect technology blocks drivers from using their phones while in motion. Once your phone’s GPS indicates your car is moving above a speed of your choosing — the default is 15 miles per hour –  it will lock up.

What sets OneProtect apart from other distracted driving apps is its Attention Verification Test (AVT), a patent-pending technology that differentiates between drivers and passengers.

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10 Key Components of Successful Mobile App Usability

Mobile UsabilityDesigning to mobile presents a whole new world of challenges. Smaller screens, multiple screen sizes, connectivity issues, touch screen capability, varying screen resolutions – these are all issues mobile developers have had to contend with when designing a usable, likable mobile application. Add the fact that users are finicky and sometimes like or dislike something for no reason and designing a successful mobile app seems a Mt. Everest sized challenge.

But as developers figure out what does and doesn’t keep end users happy, they often share the information to help others. So here’s a look at a few key components to mobile usability and a highlight of some apps that are doing it right.

Smashing Magazine says successful mobile usability is tied to several important factors:

Functionality
Focus on tools and features that help users complete their tasks. Guidelines to functionality include:

  • Prioritize and present core features
  • Offer relevant mobile-only functionality (like bar code scanning and image recognition)
  • Ensure that fundamental features and content are optimized for mobile

Information Architecture
Make sure the functionality and content appear in a logical way. Guidelines include:

  • Present links to the main features and content on the landing page, prioritized according to the user’s needs
  • Enable mobile users to navigate the the most important content and functionality in as few taps or key presses as possible
  • Address the navigation needs of both touchscreen and non-touchscreen users

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