Saturday, 11 February 2012

The iPad... just a content consumption device?

So, recently I bought myself an iPad. And I love it.

Seriously, the iPad (contrary to my girlfriend's scathing belief) is a serious tool that any techy should own. Vital, in fact. I can read my daily tech news sites (in some really cool ways actually... enter, Flipboard), I can listen to my favourite tech-podcasts and watch my favourite review videos. If I'm on a train, I can catch that movie I keep trying to find time to watch or catch up on my favourite TV show. I can also read my email, read a book, check my Twitter, Facebook, GooglePlus, check the Snooker results... honestly the possibilities are endless.

Actually, I say all of the above with utter sincerity. The iPad, to me, is one of the best ways to consume content. All of the daily content I would usually look at on my laptop, I actually choose to view on my iPad. It's nice, luxurious, and - most of all - has an element of fun about it.

Just the other day, however, (when I was out, killing time, with only my pad) I began to think... when, exactly, will I be persuaded to do things that are not just about consuming content on my iPad.

Could I do any serious work, using nothing else, only my tablet? I'm not just talking about updating my social networking status, or writing a little blog post, I'm not even talking about the odd time when I've taken lecture notes using nothing but the shiny little device (Evernote, by the way - I cannot recommend enough!) I'm talking real work. Could I actually do the same kind of work I could do on my computer, and more importantly - could I still be as productive?

Alongside being a student, I also work in software development. A lot of this development takes place online. At this time (when I was stuck with no laptop) I wanted to make some additions to a PHP script I had been working on... but how? Was it even practically possible?

Enter, Gusto.

Gusto, so I found out, is a fantastic tool for any web developer looking to do some work on the iPad. It's still work in progress of course, but it's really very stable. Packed with loads of great features, it actually allowed me to do what I wanted. It allows the browsing and editing of files. It highlights all code for easier development. Once the code is finished it has a nice "upload" feature, storing all of the connection details for all of servers on which I manage content. One click, choose the server and destination for my script - and I'm done.

So was it as easy? Well, in a lot of ways - yes. Of course, there is always the issue of it not being as easy to type, or as easy to edit script in general (as I cannot see as much of the code as I would be able to on an average sized laptop/monitor). However, the features built into this app meant that it was absolutely possibly to make small edits, and be productive.

This concept makes me very excited for the future of apps for devices such as my iPad. Developers are beginning to get applications out there on which you can actually do work. They are also packing apps such as Gusto with features that somewhat compensate for the harder typing and the limited viewing space. As long as these apps always remember the limitations of the device they are being developed for in terms logistical terms, I can really see people beginning to use them for real work.

So after all that, would I ditch my trusty Macbook? No, definitely not. However I do think that this year is going to be the 'year of productivity' when it comes to tablets. What is stopping, for example, a company developing an app that is completely specific to roles of work that they have? Nothing - and I'm sure there are a lot of them out there already that take advantage of this idea. Maybe, just maybe, the day will come when it is easier to be productive in certain things on an iPad. Exciting stuff.

'Tis the season...

Post migrated from previous blog. Written December 27th, 2011.

Well I don't know about you, but this year, for me, has gone super fast.

It seems only miniscule amounts of time ago that I was enjoying the last Christmas holiday. Sitting by the fire, watching old (and always over-played) Christmas films and generally over-indulging in all things that are bad for you. It might seem very little time ago, yet here I am again!

I think my favourite time of year is possibly that between Christmas and New Year. For me (being a student and working for myself around that) this is the time that to me where there are no time constraints, no pressure, and everyone is chilled out having had a nice Christmas break (of course the one year I write this would be the one year I actually have a work deadline for very early January, but the relaxing time between Christms and New Year definitely aids this, of course!)

In tech, I feel that 2011 has been an amazing year. Not only for the industry as a whole, but also for me personally. I have been able to watch the predicted "mobile boom" as well as so many stories develop about my favourite companies (I guess you could argue the particularly lawsuit-tactic year we've had has got old, but it's kit me entertained and my Twitter-feed stocked).

It has also seen the feet-finding of my new company. As we enter into 2012 I am beginning to really feel good about how far we've come, all the experiences I've had along the way and everything I am learning. Most importantly, I'm feeling good about where we're going.

I am hoping to get an 'end of the year' blog up, going into a little more detail about my techs thoughts of the year (this was, believe it or not, just supposed to be a quick 'Merry Christmas' rambling...)

I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas holiday and has a great last week of 2011!

Oh, my New Year's Resolution is sorted, by the way. Much more blogging.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Will the 'Age of the Text Message' ever end?

Post migrated from previous blog. Written September 13th, 2011.


To be honest, I'm probably being too harsh. The SMS service has served me (and pretty much everyone else with a mobile phone since the early 90s) very well. It revolutionised the way we communicate remotely, and was so brilliantly simple that people everywhere were able to catch on pretty quickly.

That said, we're now 20 years on and the technology beneath this service has changed, improved, vastly. With smartphone owner statistics growing by the day, more and more people have a computer many times more powerful than a PC was when SMS was created, sitting in their pocket.

It's not just the hardware, either.

In recent years we've seen a boom in social media application usage - and, indeed, understanding. With most of the globe now connecting with each other via services such as Facebook and Twitter, people are truly beginning to understand what communication can be like on the web. Given the fact all these services are also available on our smartphones, will the SMS become redundant to a service such as one of these? Probably not... yet.

Reliability is king.

These services are not built as an "SMS replacement". With this in mind, I really feel that reliability is an issue. They can be slow in notification, and generally do not have the features allowing me to feel comfortable using them instead of a text (for one, I have no idea if the person I am messaging even has mobile access to the service).

Instead, I believe a service such as the newly released PingMe would stand a much better chance.

PingMe offers a lot that SMS doesn't. Whether we've just become blinded in what is lacking from the "service that has just always been there" or whether we truly find nothing wrong with SMS, I don't know. But what I do know is, when a service like PingMe crops up with media attachment capabilities, instant delivery and read reports, status updates and group chat - the weaknesses of SMS really glare.

This service was built to be a direct alternative to the text message. It runs in the background, uses your mobile number (automatically connecting you with other in your phonebook using it) and it alerts you when you have a message. Everything else on top of this is a bonus. If everyone else in my phonebook had it, would I have a use for SMS any longer? No.

So what exactly am I getting at?

Despite the fact that I would love it if everyone did subscribe to a service such as PingMe - it just won't happen. There is the obvious reason of "no smartphone" and the competition of services such as the likes of BBM and iMessage (both of which are native to their platforms and therefore obviously exclusive). There is also the fact that these services (excluding BBM) all use data transfer standards NOT in the form of GSM (mobile signal) - of which people have limited amounts, and problems receiving in some areas.

These reasons, though, are not why I think SMS will continue to live on, working further into what should be it's well-earned retirement. All of those problems will begin to see fixes long before the demise of SMS. The true reason is much more frustrating; that people simply will not want to change. SMS delivers the service they are used to. One that is very tried and very tested, one that works for them - however simplistic and featureless it may appear when lined up against the technology of today.

To Bing, or not to Bing?

Post migrated from previous blog. Written August 1st, 2011.

Bing. If you've not heard of it (you must be living under a rather large anti-tech rock), it is the latest attempt of Microsoft to pierce the search engine market. Launching in June, 2009, it included a lot of features not present in previous versions of Microsoft search tools and looked to be a more sharply defined and advertised tool.

Simply a vast, money sink-hole

If you're like me, you're probably thinking "why would Microsoft possibly be trying to play catch up, in this already advanced market, saturated by the biggest search-giant of them all. Google has grown from a small company, with an awesome product, into a massive one - with an even better product. When looking at the amounts that are being spent on Bing by Microsoft, I at first agreed with one writer's opinion. That Bing was simply a vast "money sink-hole", eating into profits. When you hear that last year it lost the company $2.56 billion, how could you not agree?

After reading this statistic, this got me thinking. Are Microsoft just being this dumb with money, or are they actually learning from other's successes and really being quite smart.

Too late for a makeover?

Microsoft, it seems to me, have been seen as this uncool, money-grabbing, company that doesn't mind delivering sub-par tools (I'm not bringing another IE6 rant into this, but you get my point). However, with the recent launch of Windows Phone 7 software, looks at the Windows 8 OS and, of course, the shiny new Microsoft stores that are opening, I think Microsoft are really beginning to be getting their image together (and hopefully their product-quality, too). Sure, they're late to the party - but come on... it's Microsoft, what else would we expect?

Despite the huge loss last year, Bing is actually gaining market-share. In the US, at least, is has moved to 27% (this is including Microsoft's latest deal, seeing Bing power the Yahoo portal). This is up from only 7% last year. Although I do not use it myself, nor can I honestly say I know people who do, clearly some people are.

One reason Google has done as well as it has is due to it knowing that a search engine that works well, can be the back-bone to many other products and integrate into devices seamlessly, producing powerful results. You only need look at the Android platform to see this theory in action. Allowing search features to integrate into navigation, news and weather updates, sports results and even voice analysis and search. Integrating this kind of tool on small, generally power-lacking devices such as mobile phones works well. Very well.

A limp extra tool, or a sturdy software backbone?

With this in mind, it strikes me that Microsoft might be aiming for something similar. Just selling Bing, and saving them that loss of money, has been the solution many have said Microsoft should be pursuing. But I think Microsoft might be smart in not heeding this advice, and trundling on - improving upon it's search quality and Bing user base. If the Windows Phone 7 continues to gain popularity, and the move into tablet territory that looks obvious after seeing the first look at Windows 8 happens, Bing really could come into it's own and be the backbone of Microsoft software on PCs and mobile devices alike.

Although many seem to think Microsoft have lost it, I think this is one small sign that they are actually very much serious about getting back as a forefront contender in the game. Despite my still-lingering scepticism about how they will do, I think this might be a little more exciting than I first thought.

My Return

Post migrated from previous blog. Written July, 31st 2011.

Well, it has been quite some time.

I decided to embark on the mission to get something up here, as stupid as it sounds, nearly a year ago now. After sitting through lectures explaining just how important getting yourself a nice web-profile was I dove right in, attempting to create one. While I continued a blog for a little while, I quickly lapsed back into my old, non-content-giving ways... and soon completely forgot all about it.

That is, until now.

I have decided enough is enough. No longer will I make do with hoping my opinions get heard through the 140 character medium of the micro-blogging superstar that is Twitter. I have decided to create myself a simplistic site, one where I can post a little about me, the work I have been creating and, of course, where I can blog - and continue to this time.

Over my first year of study, I have developed many opinions on the latest technology and where we are headed. I love to share these opinions and hear those of others - doing so on most of the social media applications I frequent. I hope that people can enjoy reading my insight and hopefully add their own, too.

If you happen to find my techno-drivel in the slightest bit interesting, please do check back - and any feedback is much appreciated!

Until next time (I promise!)