Best Apps for College Students

Busy College CampusThe last few weekends of August and the first few weeks of September are filled with a whirlwind of college activity. Students are moving in, setting up their rooms, making new friends, battling homesickness, starting classes and acclimating to a looser schedule and different learning style than they’ve experienced for the first 12 years of their formal education. Luckily, there are a slew of apps to help with almost every aspect of a student’s new life at university. Check out these apps highlighted by CNet:

If you don’t know what it is, it’s a cloud-based note-taking app that automatically syncs from device to another. Transcribe your English notes on your laptop, and they’ll show up on your smartphone whenever you need them.

The app allows you to save websites, news articles, or online research documents for offline reading later on. This is perfect for that long subway ride when there’s no Internet connection. It’s even more useful if you have a tablet with no Wi-Fi or cellular connection.

For Android users, why not wake up in style? Doubletwist offers a more attractive alarm clock than the typical stock version. The two versions — an analog clock and retro flip clock — can be tied to your favorite tunes, giving you a wake-up call of your choosing.

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10 Worst Mobile Reception Cities in the US

No Mobile ReceptionTime recently partnered with OpenSignalMaps to figure out which cities in the U.S. experience the worst dropped calls, slow download speeds and generally horrible mobile reception. Here are the top 10 worst places to try and use your mobile:

10. Detroit, Michigan
Worst Carrier: AT&T
Best Carrier: Sprint

9. Lexington, Kentucky
Worst Carrier: T-Mobile
Best Carrier: Sprint

8. Jacksonville, Florida
Worst Carrier: T-Mobile
Best Carrier: Sprint

7. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Worst Carrier: T-Mobile
Best Carrier: Sprint

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Facebook Defriends HTML5

For quite some time users have moaned and groaned about Facebook’s iOS app, and its poor speed and performance. While Facebook has put the bulk of their focus on desktop and web apps, the new native iOS update shows a switch in priorities.

Facebook 5.0 was released to users yesterday, and aims to be faster and easier to use. While Facebook has been a major backer of HTML5 web technology – Thomas Claburn in InformationWeek says the company has made some major modifications (to Objective-C, in fact!):

“Facebook remains under pressure to prove that its social network will thrive as much on mobile devices as it has on desktop computers. Lack of a coherent mobile strategy has contributed to the company’s stock woes and to its decision to acquire mobile photo sharing service Instagram. An enthusiastic reception for Facebook 5.0 for iOS could help the company regain its stride.

Johnson says that Facebook engineers ‘rebuilt the app from the ground up’ to make it launch and load content faster. Much of the app is now written in native iOS code, Objective-C, primarily for the sake of speed.

This is being seen as a rejection of HTML5, a Web technology that was hyped too soon and has since seen early adopters moderate their initial enthusiasm. Facebook itself has been one of the more vocal boosters of HTML5.”

The update certainly helped. When I downloaded Facebook 5.0 myself, I found the app to be much easier to use. Scrolling speeds improved, and notifications seemed to load much faster.

While the majority of users are pleased with the app’s improved speeds, some feel the UI is still lacking intuitiveness. The major takeaway here is that having a quality native app is tremendously important. With native as a new company focus, and hopefully some usability testing on the horizon, Facebook’s application can only improve.

What do you think of Facebook 5.0? Let us know in the comments section.


Are 4G Apps a Waste of Time?

Don't CareApps labeled 4G or LTE are all over the app markets these days. But is developing an app for the new network, or including the buzzword in your app’s title going to attract more users? According to a new study measuring public opinion on 4G it’s about a 50-50 chance. From CNet:

Nearly 47 percent of those surveyed by market analyst Piper Jaffray don’t feel they need access to a 4G LTE network, while another 26 percent said they thought all 4G LTE networks were largely the same.

Piper Jaffray Senior Analyst Christopher Larsen wrote in a research note, “We think this shows that despite all the 4G advertising, consumers aren’t really focused on it.”

Another interesting take away is that people don’t seem to know or care who has the best 4G network. But just because the public doesn’t care doesn’t mean you don’t have to test on each network you’re planning on offering your 4G app on. If your app has trouble loading or is sluggish users aren’t going to blame the network, they’re going to blame you.

So while having 4G or LTE in the name of an app isn’t a bad thing, it’s not exactly the road to gauraunteed riches either. 4G simply isn’t on the radar for almost 50% of users. Food for thought before you dive into your next project.

An Inside Look at the Application Performance Mindset

Success or FailureShunra, a company that specializes in network visualization and application performance engineering, recently conducted a survey of 246 IT specialists, managers, architects, developers and engineers from around the world to get their take on the importance of application performance. Here are some of the findings:

How focused on application performance is your company culture?

39% Half-way there
26% So close
18% Partially
14% Performance zen
3% Not at all

What are the top efforts used to develop a performance-minded culture?

  • Facilitating open channels of communication between operations, support and development
  • Measuring the financial impact of post-production failures
  • Providing incentives to motivate employees to consistently meet or achieve service-level objectives
  • Adding performance testing very early in the software development life cycle (SDLC)
  • Proactively plan for continual performance monitoring, testing and validation

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Windows Phone Revving Up in the Mobile Market Race

Rooting for your favorite mobile maker is like rooting for a favorite sports team. The score is constantly changing, and researchers continue to make speculations on the ultimate winner. Right now, iOS and Android hold the mobile market battle, constantly pushing ahead of each other for the lead. But now it seems a collective group of research firms are putting their bets on a different mobile OS.

According to Jordan Crook of TechCrunch:

At least three major research firms believe that Windows Phone will overtake iOS by 2015, but peering that far into the mobile ecosystem’s future is damn near impossible. We can, however, get an idea of what will be happening in the next few months, and StatCounter predicts that Windows Phone will overtake BlackBerry very soon.

According to WMPowerUser, Microsoft’s mobile platform will surpass BlackBerry in the United States by November of this year.”

Windows Phone overtaking iOS doesn’t seem like something that could happen soon, but it seems plausible that it could quickly hit the third spot in the coming months.

Are these researchers on target and will Windows Phone overtake iOS? Share your thoughts in the comments section.


Major in Mobile Computing

Mobile Computing DegreeWebster University (based outside St. Louis, MO) is introducing a new major this year: Mobile Computing. The bachelor of science degree will teach students how to conceptualize, design, code and test mobile applications.

According to a report by the St. Louis Business Journal, the major was created in response to booming job demand.

“These students are at the center of mobile development,” said Walker School Dean Benjamin Ola. Akande. “They will be qualified to analyze, design, implement and test mobile applications as well as develop the required skills to maintain and update existing mobile applications. Their computing knowledge and technical understanding will allow them to move an organization into the mobile computing arena.”

Webster University Computer Science Professor Martha Smith helped create the program’s curriculum. She says a high demand exists for workers skilled in programming for mobile devices. “A simple search on job recruiting websites showed a dramatic increased demand in employment in mobile app development, mobile architecture, mobile design and other mobile technology-related fields,” Smith said.

The degree will require a combination of traditional computer science classes and newly created classes on mobile computing and development.

A quick round of research turned up quite a few community colleges that offer mobile development focused degrees, but this is the first instance of a full blown university offering a B.S. in mobile that I could find. Just more proof that the mobile revolution isn’t ending any time soon.

Will Your App Make it Into the iOS App Store?

App StoreYou spent a lot of time and sleepless nights designing, coding and testing your new app. But if you missed just one little thing it could be rejected by the App gods and denied entrance into the iOS App Store. Even the smallest correction means you need to restart the somewhat long app review and approval process. But what if your app is seasonal? Or a competitor pops onto the market in the mean time? Having to start over again could be ruinous.

Instead of just submitting your app and hoping for the best, take a look at TestPad’s iOS App Store Submission Checklist. The list is divided into eight fields: Your App; Conforms to Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines; iPad Specific; Submission Package Details; App IP Configured Correctly (and Signed) For; When Updating; Miscellaneous; Copyright, Trademark, Ownership. To give you an idea of the types of things highlighted, here are the first three check points for each field:

Your App
Does not simulate a failure (e.g. crash or cracked screen)
Remains responsive after long/excessive usage
Does not hardcode any price information inside the app

Conforms to Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines
App looks well designed and of high quality
Native button icons are consistent with their native actions
Activity spinners must not spin indefinitely

iPad Specific
You app should work in all four orientations, but if only portrait or landscape, must support both ways up
Your app doesn’t nest popovers, i.e. selecting something on a popover should not display another popover
Your app doesn’t show more than one popover at a time

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Bob Binder on Mobile App Testing

I just posted a great interview with mobile app testing expert Bob Binder on the uTest Blog. Here’s an excerpt where he discusses the unique problems of  – you guessed it – mobile app testing:

The mobile app space is an unprecedented phenomena in many ways. I just finished a study of mobile apps for a certain aspect of driving (cars) — I found about 250 on iOS and Android. In the two weeks it took to complete the study, four simply vanished from their portals and many others were updated. Churn is very high and release cycles are on the order of weeks to months.

Most of these apps were the work of a single person – let’s call them app artisans. The remainder were authored by a big business or as part of a startup product or service. However, some artisan apps had millions of downloads and four or five star ratings.

The course is an attempt to provide something useful to this community. Having worked on mobile app testing since 2002, when I heard that millionth mobile app had been released in December 2012, I wondered “what kind of testing has been done on these apps?” My guess was, very little.

It seemed to me that artisans could benefit the most from good testing, but would probably have little inclination and time to do it. So, the challenge was to produce a course that assumed no prior knowledge of software engineering or testing and that did not require any tool support.

Instead of superficial hints to “explore” an app or platform-specific coding tricks, I provide very specific step-by-step guidance to develop a complete and reusable mobile app test plan. This approach is all manual and can be easily repeated for apps supported on multiple platforms (Android, iOS, etc.)

Read the entire interview >>> 

10 of the Worst Mobile Phone Commercials, Ever

Despite the ever-growing popularity of mobile devices, smartphone-makers have generated their fair share of bad commercials. A recent USwitch article pulled the top 10 lamest smartphone commercials to-date. Here are some of the highlights:

iOS 6 Ads Starring Samuel L Jackson and Zooey Deschanel:

“Much criticized for over-selling Siri, the ads, which marked the first time that Apple employed Hollywood stars to tout their products, feel like nothing but a pretty cheap attempt to use celebrity as a smokescreen for the app’s shortcomings.”

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