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Standards for Web Applications on Mobile: Update on W3C Developments

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15 September 2014

Standards for Web Applications on Mobile: Current State and Roadmap

Back in July 2014 W3C published an overview report on Standards for Web Applications on Mobile which summarised the various technologies developed in W3C which increase the capabilities of Web applications and how they apply to use on mobile devices.

The document describes a variety of features which will enhance use of mobile devices to access Web products which are grouped into the following categories: graphics, multimedia, device adaptation, forms, user interactions, data storage, personal information management, sensors and hardware integration, network, communication and discovery, packaging, payment, performance and optimization and privacy and security.

For each of these categories a table is provided in the report which, for each of the detailed features relevant to the category, summarises the relevant standard (specification) and the W3C working group responsible for the standard. An indication is provided of the maturity of the standard and its stability (draft standards may be liable to significant changes in light of experiences gained during testing). In addition to information about the maturity and stability of the standard information is also  provided on its deployment in existing mainstream browsers together with links for developers to developer resources and test suites.

An example of the table for graphics. covering 2D vector graphics, is shown below.

Extract from chart on W3C mobile standards

Discussion

I feel that the report which summarises the current status and roadmap for future development of standards which aim to ensure that mobile devices are an integral part of the “open web platform” provides a welcomed mature approach to the complexities and obstacles which have been faced in the past in the deployment of open standards in a Web environment.

In the early days of the web there was a belief that open standards simply needed to be proven through implementation of at least two interoperable open source implementations – once that was achieved the benefits of open standards, such as platform independence, would inevitably lead to acceptance in the marketplace. That, at least, was the expectation for the W3C’s SMIL standard, which was felt to provide an open killer alternative to the proprietary Flash format.  Of course, despite the availability of a number of SMIL readers, the format failed to take off. Flash wasn’t killed by an open standard, I would argue, but by Apple decision not to support in on the iOS platform. And the eventual alternative to Flash wasn’t SMIL but a variety of W3C standards which are covered by the term “open web platform“.

I made this point in a post published in November 2008 which asked Why Did SMIL and SVG Fail? The post generated much discussion, primarily about the level of support for SVG. In August 2003 Isaac Shapira made the point that I guess in retrospect this article is very wrong. SVG is a prominent use, and has active development and support today -> in 2013“.

As can be seen from the above image this comment is correct: SVG 1.1 is now widely supported and SVG 2.0 is under development. Although, to paraphrase John Cleese “SMIL is dead. It’s passed on! This standard is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker!“. In contrast, SVG was merely resting!

Implications for the Sector

In retrospect institutional conservatism regarding the adoption of innovative open standards is understandable. Institutions may have legitimate reasons to be reluctant to upgrade the desktop environment due to the resource implications, the need for testing, etc. (There will probably also be less justifiable reasons to wish to avoid updating desktop browser as the use of systems which make use of proprietary features of specific – typically Microsoft’s Internet Explorer – browsers; however let us hope that this concern is no longer relevant!)

However W3C now appear to appreciate the need to be transparent about the take-up of their standards by mainstream browsers. This is to be applauded. The risk now, it would seem, involves the development or procurement of systems for use in a mobile context which are based on platform-specific apps.

I hope that everyone involved in the development or procurement of mobile applications, in managing staff with such responsibilities or with strategic planning for the institution’s IT environment will read the W3C’s report on Standards for Web Applications on Mobile and use the report to inform their planning. My concern would be with the senior manager, perhaps in the marketing department, who comes across information such as the recent (April 2014) infographic on “The rise of mobile technology in higher education” who makes a decision to invest on an institutional mobile app based on this evidence. Another interesting challenge will be faced by institutions which have already purchased a mobile app service, before the mobile web environment had approached its current level of maturity. Will this be the twenty-first century equivalent of the institutional Gopher service or Camus Wide Information Service? And is now the time to move to an infrastructure based on the open web platform?

Infographic on student use of mobiles

Posted in Mobile, standards | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Responding to “I Don’t Have Time!” Comments

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29 January 2014

The #BYOD4L Event

The first day of the BYOD4L short event, which I mentioned earlier this week, included a post containing a brief video clip. As described in a post by one of the participants:

Video 2 is of a tutor showing some frustration with her mobile devices. She views technology as a hindrance to her teaching practice and that an insistence that she uses the new opportunities offered by mobile devices as a waste of time. This “I don’t have time” mantra sounds more like an excuse rather than an explanation and is covering up some apprehension about the use of mobile technologies in learning environments.

I have an interest in the potential of innovative technologies and approaches in supporting a range of academic activities. However I’m particularly interesting in understanding the barriers to sustainable innovative practices and finding ways of addressing such barriers.

Risks and Opportunities: Institutional Concerns

I first addressed such issues in a paper on “Web 2.0: How to Stop Thinking and Start Doing: Addressing Organisational Barriers” which Mike Ellis and I presented at a conference way back in 2007. That was followed by papers on “Library 2.0: Balancing the Risks and Benefits to Maximise the Dividends” and “Empowering Users and Institutions: A Risks and Opportunities Framework for Exploiting the Social Web“, both of which were published in 2009. These papers tended to focus on institutional concerns regarding use of social media services (e.g. the sustainability of the services) and copyright and other legal concerns.

However the main areas of concerns now seem to be different. There now seem to be institutional acceptance of the benefits of Cloud services with Janet, for example, providing contractual support for institutional use of services such as Google Apps for Education and Microsoft Office 365.

Risks and opportunities frameworkThe main barriers now seem to be individual: individual lecturer’s or student’s concerns over use of social media services and use of mobile devices. And this is a more difficult area to address.

My initial work led to the development of a risks and opportunities framework which was intended to ensure that institutional concerns regarding the risks of using Cloud services were being considered and addressed. It should be noted that an important aspect of the framework was that the risks of not using the services should also be addressed (i.e. the missed opportunities). In addition it was suggested that the risks associated with continued use of in-house services were also re-evaluated.

In a webinar on “Open Educational Practices (OEP): What They Mean For Me and How I Use Them” I revisited this work and suggested that there was a need to address these new challenges: the concerns of the individual. Note that slides used in the webinar are available on Slideshare.

Risks and Opportunities: Individual Concerns

If institutions are now taking more mature approaches to making use of Cloud service which are often accessed through one’s own mobile device to support their institutional activities, the focus is now moving towards individual attitudes towards use of such devices and use of Cloud services. It would now be timely to view the YouTube video which illustrates the concerns of a tutor who demonstrates her frustration with mobile devices.

How should one respond to such attitudes? Some approaches which occur to me are given below:

Revisiting the past: This is probably nothing new. An one stage computers were used by a minority, mainly scientific researchers, in the mainframe era. Then we saw the growth in mini-computers standalone computers, microcomputers, the standalone PC and Apple Macintosh, networked PCs and Macs, online PCs and Macs and now a flurry of mobile devices. With each new generation of technologies we saw people who were reluctant to embrace the new developments (I recall colleagues in IT Service departments in the 1980s being dismissive of PCs). But as the technologies matured, the winners became ubiquitous and the failures were forgotten (Commodore PETs, Acorns and other microcomputers). So perhaps we don’t need to be too concerned about the late adopters.

Education and training: Clearly there is a need for education (on the potential of mobile devices to enhance learning) and training (how one can make use of mobile devices in one’s specific context). It should be noted that this will need to address some of the subtler aspects of use of tools such as Twitter: treating tweets as a stream of information and conversations which one can dip into when appropriate rather than feeling the need to keep up-to-date with every tweet. This should then be followed by examples of tools and strategies for filtering the information.

Understanding and addressing specific concerns: The #BYOD4L blog posts and Twitter chats (e.g. see the Storify archives of the first and the second #BYOD4Lchat discussions) have covered both use of mobile devices and use of social networking tools. If learners and learning support staff have concerns there will be a need to understand what the specific concerns are. If, for example, the concerns are to do with the privacy implications of social networks, this should not rule out use of a mobile device for activities such as note-taking and keeping up-to-date whilst on the move.

Personal motivation: If mobile devices do enhance learning, we may see this recognised through new opportunities or promotion for those will the relevant expertise.

Mandating use of mobile devices: Rather than a softly softly approach to encouraging use of mobile devices, should they be mandated in particular circumstances? Would, for example, it be acceptable for a learning professional to state that they do not use email?

Acceptance: However rather than adopting hardline approaches it me be acceptable to acknowledge that mot everyone needs to make use of mobile devices and social tools; as long as their learning or learning support activities are not limited significantly by continuing to make use of traditional approaches, then perhaps this is fine. The danger, I would argue, would be if such decisions are made by managers or decision makers who could restrict use of mobile devices and social tools by those who do find them beneficial.

I’d welcome comments on these approaches and suggestions of how you might (or have) responded to colleagues who may be reluctant to embrace use of mobile devices to support learning activities.

Posted in Mobile, Social Networking | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Draft JISC Observatory Report on “Delivering Web to Mobile”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 March 2012

The JISC Observatory is provided by UKOLN and JISC CETIS to “systematise the way in which the JISC anticipates and responds to projected future trends and scenarios in the context of the use of technology in Higher & Further Education, and Research in the UK“.

The JISC Observatory is responsible for commissioning reports which cover areas of IT which are felt to be of significance for the higher and further education sector.  Last year a report on “Augmented Reality for Smartphones” written by Ben Butchart, EDINA was published.  Last year we also commissioned a report on “Delivering Web to Mobile” which is being written by Mark Power, JISC CETIS.  As described on the JISC Observatory blog a preview version of this report is now available (in PDF format).

This report looks at the growth of mobile, the state of the Web and gives an overview of approaches to delivering content and services optimised for the mobile context. This includes approaches to Web design for responsive sites, leveraging access to device functions and capabilities and the use of Web technologies to build mobile applications.

This preview version of the report is being made available for a period of 1 month to allow for public comment and feedback. A final version will be produced shortly after the 23 March 2012, which is the last date for submitting comments which will be addressed in the final updates.

Please use the comments facility on the JISC Observatory web site for providing comments. Comments of any nature are welcomed but particularly those pointing out: significant omissions in your view, technical errors or confusing passages.

For the “Augmented Reality for Smartphones” report published last year, during the review process science fiction writer Bruce Stirling commented on the report on the Wired online magazine:

This is a fine piece of comprehensive research work. If you’re an AR developer or content guy, you’re gonna want a printout of this lying around, so you can brandish it at people. You’ll look like you know what you’re talking about!

We hope that our latest report is as well-received.  However since this comment related to a preview release, the link provided to the report on the Wired web site was not to the final version.  If you do wish to publish a link to this report, please link to the accompanying blog post, which provides a context for the report, rather than linking directly to the PDF file.

Posted in Mobile | Leave a Comment »

The Mobile-Only App Anti-Pattern: “You Can’t Serve Two Masters”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 January 2012

We don’t even have a website

Will your app be available only from a mobile device?

In the anti-pattern Wikipedia article we learn that “In software engineering, an anti-pattern (or antipattern) is a pattern that may be commonly used but is ineffective and/or counterproductive in practice”. Reading the GigaOM article on “Whip myself–and Path–into fighting shape“, which is the ninth in a series of 12 tech leaders’ resolutions for 2012, I fear that we may be seeing the development of a mobile-only app anti-pattern.

In the article David Morin, co-founder of the Path social media sharing service, describes how:

I think 2012 will truly be the year of mobile Internet” and goes on add that “I mean, it’s so big. I get the GigaOM Pro reports on mobile, and I see these numbers: The amount of mobile display inventory, the fact that Apple’s paid out $2 billion to app developers, there are something like one million Android phones being activated daily. It goes on and on. The industry as a whole hasn’t come around to realizing how big mobile is just yet. But I think this will be the year where we focus on building companies that solely address the post-PC era.

I’d agree with that analysis.  My concern, though, is the author’s vision for Path (and Flipboard): “I think Path and Flipboard and a few others are leading the way. We don’t even have a website.”  He goes on to expand on this:

Products you build for the Web, which people access with a big screen and a keyboard and mouse while sitting at a desk, need to be completely different than what you build for a mobile device. You can’t just hire one mobile developer and take the interface you’ve built on the web and cram it onto a mobile device.

And then concludes:

It makes me think of something that Steve Jobs said: You can’t serve two masters. Well, the Bible said it first, but I think it applies to product design as well. You can’t serve both the Web and mobile with the same product. You have to choose.

It’s actually not quite true that “We don’t even have a website“. There is a Web site about the Path app, as illustrated, which has a handful of pages.  However there isn’t a Web interface for users of the app – so if you want to use the “smart journal … to share life with the one you love” you’ll have to install the app on your iPhone  or Android device (although you can, as I have done, also use an iPod Touch).

Beyond the Mobile Web vs Mobile App Debate

Much of the recent debate has focussed on whether one should develop for the Mobile Web, which through use of appropriate style sheets and other techniques, aims to ensure that the same content can be provided to both desktop computers and mobile devices, or develop Mobile App, which may exploit specific features of particular mobile devices and be more easily marketed and made available through mobile vendor’s apps stores and market places.

Source: Worklight

A Google search for “Mobile Web vs Mobile App Debate” highlights several articles including one which explains how Mobile Web App vs. Native App? It’s Complicated, This article recommends a “must-read article” on The fight gets technical: mobile apps vs. mobile sites which includes the accompanying image which graphically depicts some of the pros and cons of the different approaches to mobile development.

In the JISC CETIS briefing paper on Mobile Web Apps: A Briefing Mark Power makes the case for a universal approach to development which will ensure that access can be provided to both desktop and mobile users: “A viable, alternative approach is developing Mobile Apps using open web technologies and standards; technologies that continue to improve performance and offer more powerful functionality – as is now being talked about quite a bit on the topic of HTML5“.

There is, however, a recognition that mobile app development may provide benefits for users of the supported mobile developments. However the service provider is likely to find such development and subsequent maintenance costly and time-consuming and, at a time in which funding is being cut it would appear sensible to develop a platform- and application-independent approach through making use of W3C’ standards, such as HTML5, CSS and the related Open Web Platform standards.

However the anti-pattern described above take another approach to the issue of minimising development and maintenance costs: develop for the mobile device only and ignore the Web browser and the desktop computer!

I find this a worrying approach. However, as I described above, I have installed the Path app on two of my mobile devices. So rather than writing a post which simply reiterates the benefits of “open standards”, “device independence” and “universal access” I think there’s a need to understand the pros and cons of the approach taken by David Morin and welcome the clear and unambiguous statement he has made on why he feels this approach is best for his company:

The one big lesson I’ve learned from the past year is that every entrepreneur goes through really hard times — periods of time where people don’t believe in what you’re doing, or the numbers don’t look good. Entrepreneurs always have a vision: You wouldn’t have started a company if you didn’t. But the first implementation may not be getting you all the way there.

Find the users who see your vision and talk to them. Find out why they love the product and what they’re trying to do with it. Often, they’re trying to do something that you haven’t designed it for. You need to unlock that potential. Take away the things that don’t matter, and unlock the stuff that does — remove the complexity. That’s what will make it catch on with everyone.

I do wonder whether we will see institutions developing their own apps across a range of areas and whether we will find that the apps will not provide functionality for those without the appropriate mobile device. It would be useful to monitor such developments, particularly if the anti-pattern I have described turns out to be a successful pattern for mobile development.

As a footnote to this post I should mention the The State of the Mobile Web in Higher Education (2012) survey is currently open. The results of last year’s survey are available on the collegewebeditor.com blog. It will be interesting to see how institutional approaches to the mobile web have developed over the past year – and if institutions are considering developing mobile-only applications.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to James Burke (@deburca) for his tweet which alerted me to this article.

Posted in jiscobs, Mobile | 1 Comment »

Facebook and Twitter as Infrastructure for Dissemination of Research Papers (and More)

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4 January 2012

 

A tweet from @Wowter (blogger, information specialist and bibliometrician at the Wageningen UR Library) alerted me to the news of the “Free new #SpringerLink mobile app: Access 2,000+ peer-rev. journals, 49,000 books,127,000 #OA articles.http://ow.ly/8gv9W“.

I installed the app on my iPod Touch and was interested to note that there were just three ways of sending information about the 2,000+ peer-reviewed journals, 49,000 books and 127,000 open access articles: as illustrated the three dissemination tools are email, Facebook and Twitter.

Via @Wowter’s Twitter timeline I also found the news, initially announced by @MFenner, of the “New blog post: CrowdoMeter goes Mobile http://blogs.plos.org/mfenner/2012/01/04/crowdometer-goes-mobile/“.

The blog post describes how “Two weeks ago Euan Adie from altmetric.com and myself launched the website CrowdoMeter, a crowdsourcing project that tries to classify tweets about scholarly articles using the Citation Typing Ontology (CiTO) … This project is far from over, ideally we want 3-5 classifications per tweet or an additional 1,000 classifications“. In order to “make the classifications as simple as possible, and to help further with this we today [4 January 2012] launched a mobile version of CrowdoMeter. Simply browse to http://crowdometer.org with your iPhone or Android phone [and] sign in via your Twitter account“.

I did this and captured the following screenshots:


Initially in this post I intended to highlight how the Springlink app suggests that Facebook and Twitter may be becoming part of the dissemination infrastructure for research papers, especially on mobile devices. However when I read Martin Fenner’s blog post I realised that Twitter, in particular, may have a role to play in the curation of information about research papers and scientific data.

Hmm, I wonder if Twitter will catch on outside this niche area?


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Facebook, Mobile, Twitter | 15 Comments »

Google Street View Arrives on University Campuses

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 November 2011

Google Street View

A few days ago Martin Hamilton, Head of Internet Services at Loughborough University, tweeted:

Google StreetView of @lborouniversity now available – http://goo.gl/vcpds /cc @LufbraPresident

and followed this with:

My favourite StreetView image of Loughborough campus http://goo.gl/Ex7gf (yes, you can cross the bridge :-)

I read this tweet on my Android phone and followed the link – and was impressed. Whilst many of us will probably have explored Google Street View on a desktop PC, I suspect I’m not alone in not having used it on a mobile phone. I found that rather than having to move the mouse to orientate myself I simply positioned that phone in the direction I was interested in.

Using Google Street View on an Android Phone

On the same day that Martin Hamilton was tweeting the news, Mike Nolan, head of Web Services at Edge Hill University published a post which also announced the news that Street View Live!, in his case at Edge Hill University. As illustrated, Mike’s blog post included an embedded live Street View (although note that I can’t embed the Street View in this WordPress.com blog).

As Mike described in a post he published a year ago in 2010 Edge Hill University was “visited by the Google Street View trike to take imagery of the Ormskirk campus. Unlike roads which are photographed using a car, private property like university campuses and Disneyland Paris are photographed using a trike allowing them to get along footpaths”.

Since I used to work at Loughborough University I decided to explore the Street View for the Loughborough University campus. I found that the experience on my HTC Sensation Android phone was far superior to use of my iPod Touch. I’ll therefore describe my experiences of using my Android phone – and make the observation that when comparing experiences with others there will be a need to understand how different devices will provide different functionality.

As Martin said in his tweet, you can cross the footbridge. I therefore turned around so that I was facing the bridge and dragged the icon so that I walked across the bridge into the car park. I then turned back so that I could see the bridge I had walked across. I have to admit it seems slightly strange doing this while in somebody’s house! But having walked across the bridge I wanted to explore areas of the campus I was familiar with.

I recognised various buildings but I became distracted from visiting the Hazelgrave Building where I worked for six years. Instead I was intrigued by the people I saw and wondered if I would recognise anyone.

Google do obscure facial views on Street Views but I suspect that it would probably be possible to sometimes recognise people from a side view. In addition, as can be seen, it is probably possible to recognise people from their clothing and appearance even if the face is blurred.

Discussion

How many other universities have Google Street Views available for their campuses, I wonder? I also wonder how institutions will be addressing the privacy implications. The Google Maps Street Views Privacy page states that “Street View contains imagery from public roads, which is no different from what you might see driving or walking down the street. Imagery of this kind is available in a wide variety of formats for cities all around the world” and goes on to add that “Google will partner with an organisation such as Disneyland Paris to schedule imagery collection of their property“. I imagine that such partnership arrangements will also cover the digitisation of University campuses.

Google go on to describe how they “have developed cutting-edge face and licence plate blurring technology that is applied to all Street View images. This means that if one of our images contains an identifiable face (for example, that of a passer-by on the pavement) or an identifiable licence plate, our technology will blur it automatically, meaning that the individual or the vehicle cannot be identified.” Google also “provide easily accessible tools allowing users to request further blurring of any image that features the user, their family, their car or their home. In addition to the automatic blurring of faces and licence plates, we will blur the entire car, house or person when a user makes this request for additional blurring.

Rather than seeking permission before publishing such images Google are relying on a technical solution for blurring images and allowing users to choose to opt-out. This has some parallel with the “seek forgiveness, not permission” meme from a few years ago, which encouraging early adopters to deploy social media services such as blog even if they hadn’t received official sanction.

In previous discussions about privacy issues and social media services we, in the higher education sector, have been responding to issues which are relevant to society in general. This has previously been the case for Google Street Views but now when Google is partnering with organisations such as universities in order to be given permission to take photographs on private property, the situation is different.

I personally welcome developments such as Google Street Views and am pleased to see that it is becoming available across university campuses. as we know from the Wikipedia entry on Google Street View privacy concerns there have been examples of a man leaving a sex shop, a man vomiting and another man being arrested. But I feel that such concerns can be addressed by policy decisions (such as not taking photos late at night when students might be leaving the Union bar) and management of the content, including automated blurring of content and the provision of a “Complain about this image” facility. It also seems to me that it would be useful to seek to engage students in this process, as part of an institution’s digital literacy work.

But I am aware that these are the views of a white middle class and technically literate member of the higher education sector. We will have people on campus from a diverse range of backgrounds and cultural norms. How should we widen the debate on use of tools such as Google Street Views across our campuses?


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Mobile | 3 Comments »

Was I Wrong About Android?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 August 2011

Problems With Android Phones

Over two years ago I wrote a post entitled This Year’s Technology That Has Blown Me Away. In the post I described how Bathcamp participants were invited to … identify “the one technology that has blown you away more than any other in the last year, and [describe] why“. The challenge was in three minutes or less to “tell us about your chosen technology: why it has changed your life, the way you work or ways in which it has improved the world“.

I took an ironical approach and described my frustrations with my HTC Magic Android phone. Although I was excited when I first purchased the phone in June 2009 I quickly became disillusioned with its poor usability, as also did Tony Hirst who commented “A few weeks ago, I got my first “real” mobile phone, an HTC Magic (don’t ask; suffice to say, I wish I’d got an iPhone:-(

A few months later, in November 2009, I wrote a post on Signals from CETIS09 and was rather sceptical about Bill Thompson’s enthusiasm for the Android operating system:

I have (fairly rapidly) gone through a period of excitement over my open source (Android) mobile phone (the camera application kept crashing on me a few days before the CETIS conference) and so felt Bill’s belief that the benefits of an open source environment would inevitably (within about 2 years, Bill suggested to me) deliver a better tool that the closed environment of today’s market leader, the iPhone.

I found myself agreeing with Mike Ellis’s post on Quality, functionality and openness which he wrote in May 2010 in which he told his readers:

I wanted to love Android. I wanted to embrace openness, turn my back on Apple’s rejection of free markets, join the crowd of developers shouting about this new paradigm.

I can’t.

Mike’s post generated an interesting discussion including comments from developers who felt they should prefer using an open source platform on their mobile phone but acknowledged Android’s limitation. As Richard Osbaldeston put it:

A long winded way of saying the Android phone felt like it’d been designed by a search engine company rather than one that’d spent the better part of 30 years making desirable, innovative consumer electronics and software?

This reflected my experiences of having used two Android phones and an iPod Touch. On occasions I ended up using the tethering capability on my Android phone to create a WiFi hot spot so that I could use my iPod Touch to access online resources rather than access them directly from my Android device!

Have Things Changed?

Having a blog can be valuable in providing a record of one’s views in the past and, potentially, in being able to demonstrate one’s foresightedness.  On the other hand old blog posts can also be embarrassing if your prediction for the future proves to be wrong!  So having acquired my third Android phone a few weeks ago  am I still in agreement with Mike Ellis regarding the undeniable ease-of-use of the iPhone or should I tell Bill Thompson that he was right and, two years after his predication, the Android phone has caught up with – and perhaps even surpassed, the iPhone?

The HTC Sensation

imageI recently intended to change my mobile contract from my current £20/month to a £10/month deal which provided the same amount of data but with less free minutes and text messages as I tend not to use much of my existing monthly allowance. However I found myself being offered a deal on the  HTC Sensation which meant I continued on my existing contract and , as I signed up for an additional deal, I didn’t have to pay anything for the phone :-)

The phone itself is a delight.  As described on the HTC Web site the phone is large (4.96″ x 2.57″) with a 4.3″ touch screen display. It is also powerful with a 1.2 GHz dual core CPU and 768 MB of RAM and 1Gb of phone memory.  I’ve added a 32 Gb microSD card and have been taking photos and videos of the recent Sidmouth and Bath Folk Festivals and of a recent evening visit to the Roman Baths.

The phone is running the Android 2.3.3 operating system and the HTC Sense 3.0 GUI. This has provided various tweaks (including support for Flash) which, in conjunction with the increase in processing power and storage capacity over my previous HTC phones, makes the phone a delight to use. I’ve also noticed that the increased size of the screen makes my iPod Touch screen look tiny.

I’ve had the phone for about a month now and I’m now embedded it in my daily working practices. I’ve subscribed to the Guardian and the Observer on the Kindle app which I now read on the bus travelling to work.  I’ve also purchased a couple of additional chargers which I use in the office and when travelling as the battery life of the phone is one if its weak points.  I also bought a portable battery pack so that I’ll be able to recharge the device if no power supply is available.

The phone does have some weaknesses, however.  I’ve not yet found an RSS reader which is as good as the Netnewswire app I’ve used on the iPod Touch and the lack of consistency in the user interface of the applications I’ve used compared with the iPod Touch can be irritating.  In addition the phone has crashed on me: after installing an application launcher which appeared to have conflicts with the HTC Sense GUI I was forced to open up the phone and remove the battery before the phone would reboot.  This reminded me of the days when the MS Windows operating system would crash. But, just as that no longer happens, I suspect that once I’ve installed  a stable set of applications on the phone this problem will disappear.

Conclusions

Was Bill Thomson right, has the Android phone surpassed the iPhone?  I think he may be right, but not because of the superiority of the Android operating system.  Rather, for me the improvements in the phone are due to the speed of the CPU, the increased size of the phone’s memory and the size of the screen.  The availability of the Android operating systems on multiple devices will have driven the competition, as can be seen by the comparisons between the HTC Sensation and the Galaxy S2.  In addition to the improvements in the hardware I also like the phone since it was free, unlike the hundreds of pounds I would have to pay if I wanted an iPhone on a similar contract.

In many respects it seems that Android’s battles with the iPhone have parallels with Microsoft’s battles with Apple in the desktop market  over the past 20 years or so: while Apple have continued with a policy of lock-in to their hardware, the Android operating system can be used on multiple platforms – subject, sadly, to ongoing patent disputes).

But will I look in envy when colleagues get the iPhone 5 later this year, I wonder?


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

Posted in Gadgets, Mobile | 4 Comments »

Beyond Policies For The Mobile Web

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 July 2011

Over 50% Web Traffic to Mobile Devices Predicted

The UKOLN/CETIS survey on Institutional Use of the Mobile Web aims to provide the sector with a better understanding of institutional plans for exploiting the potential of the Mobile Web.  The importance of such institutional planning can be gauged from as Pew Internet report on Smartphone Adoption and Usage released on Monday which found that 35% of US adults own smartphones with 87% of the smartphone owners accessing the Internet or email on their handheld, including two-thirds (68%) who do so on a typical day.

Image from Pew Internet report

As mentioned in the full report  in response to a request to provide a single word that best describes how they feel about their phones 72% of smartphone owners used a positive word (such as “good”, “great”, “excellent” or “convenient”) to describe their phones.

Unlike the PC environment (dominated by MS Windows thought with a significant monitory of Apple Macintosh users) there is more diversity in smartphone platforms, with 35% of smartphone owners having an Android device, 24% owning an iPhone,  a Blackberry, 2% a Windows phone and 2% a Palm device.

In addition, as described in an article published in the Washington Post, it also seems that according to figures provided by Cisco, the Internet network equipment maker, 63% of all Web traffic is currently  from computers and 37% from mobile devices but by 2015 the figures are estimated to be 46% computers and 54% mobile.

Quite clearly institutions will need to do some careful thinking and planning on how they will engage with an environment in which the majority of usage with be from a mobile device (and it may be that usage in the University sector, with the large number of young people who will own mobile devices, could be even greater than these figures taken from a cross-section of the US population.

We therefore encourage those working in the higher education sector (in the UK and beyond) to complete the survey on Institutional Use of the Mobile Web in order to help provide a batter picture of how the sector is responding to this rapidly-changing environment.

Training for Developers

Whilst institutions will be developing their strategies for engaging with the Mobile Web there will also be a need for developers to gain expertise in technical approaches for implementing strategic decisions. If decisions are made to support open standards for mobile applications in order to minimise development costs across a variety of mobile (and desktop) platforms then developing skills in HTML5, CSS and related aspects under the W3C’s Open Web Platform will be desirable.  Yesterday the W3C announced that Registration Opens for W3C Training on Mobile Web and Application Best Practices (starts September).

This online course will last 8 week, from 5 September to 28 October 2011. The course has been developed and taught by the W3C/MobiWebApp team and is based entirely on W3C standards, particularly the Mobile Web Best Practices and Mobile Web Application Best Practices, which aim to ensure that Web content available to as wide an audience as possible. The full price of the course is €195 but we have a limited number of places available at the early bird rate of €145. See the W3C Web site for further details.

Posted in Mobile | 2 Comments »

How Twitter Expertise Helps Your Writing and Dissemination

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 July 2011

The 31st issue of #JISC Inform has just been published.  The editorial describes how the issue features article which “look at how students are taking an active part in their course design and delivery which in turn is increasing their satisfaction levels” and goes on to add that “if you’re reading this edition through your mobile you’ll see that this and JISC Inform issue 30 are now available as mobile versions too“.

But how should one go about developing Web resources which can be used on both desktop PCs and mobile phones?  Answers to that questions have been described in a Mobile Web Apps briefing paper (PDF format) written by Mark Power of CETIS and described in a post on Mark’s blog. But although the 6-page briefing paper has been widely promoted for the developer community (and the comments on the blog post are from developers) there is also a need to be able to communicate best practices to policy makers and managers too.  This audience is likely to require a well-focussed summary rather than the in-depth implementation details.

In order to help ensure that best practices for innovation can become embedded within institutions UKOLN and CETIS, the two JISC Innovation Support Centres, have been exploring opportunities for collaboration, and yesterday we had a meeting in London in order to agree on appropriate areas for further work after the 1 August.

I was pleased that at the meeting I was able to mention that an article published in JISC Inform was the result of joint effort between Mark and myself.  And when I viewed how the article we had submitted had been published I was very pleased with the visual impact with, as shown, the top tips for providing mobile web service being depicted as iPhone apps.

On further reflection I realised that the tips we had provided (which  were summaries of advice provided in the briefing paper) could –  almost – be provided as tweets. For example:

There is no such thing as the Mobile Web 

leaves a further 100 characters to be used.  And whilst

Design for the usual internet and then make your site adaptable for mobile devices for example decreasing the screen size using CSS media queries and then scaling up for larger devices like tablets and PCs by progressively enhancing access for larger audiences.

is the equivalent of two tweets the final tip:

Use the W3C’s Mobile Web checking service: Compare the findings for your service with your peers as illustrated in a UK Web Focus blog post.

comes to exactly 140 characters! You may argue that additional characters will be need to include the link but a slight rewording provides a tweetable summary with the link:

Use the W3C’s Mobile Web checking service. Compare the findings for your service with your peers as illustrated at http://bit.ly/eZ47Tv

This example has made me realise that for those who feel that it is important to disseminate their work and to be able to reach out to policy makers and senior managers who may not be inclined to ready wordy and detailed reports, having skills in being able to communicate succinctly will be value.  Twitter, clearly, can help to hone such skills, so that when presented with an opportunity to write 500 words you should be in a better position to know how to best present your ideas or arguments.

Unfortunately the JISC Inform editor had to omit our final contribution to the article, possibly because it was too wordy.  I’ll therefore conclude with a tweet:

Survey on institutional plans & policies for mobile web still open – see http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ukoln-cetis-mobile-web-2011

and remind people, in 135 characters, that: Twitter can be full of trivia, just like the Web. But also like the Web it can be a valuable tool to support institutional activities!

Posted in Mobile, Twitter | 2 Comments »

Institutional Strategies for the Mobile Web

Posted by Brian Kelly on 22 June 2011

Time Spent On Mobile Apps Has Surpassed Web Browsing

An article in the Guardian technology blog informs readers that “App usage outstripping desktop and mobile web says Flurry” which contains the summary:  “Mobile analytics firm claims its data shows people are spending 81 minutes a day using apps“.

An article published in TechCrunch headlined “Flurry: Time Spent On Mobile Apps Has Surpassed Web Browsing” provides further commentary on this story which is based on a report published in the US on Monday 20 June:

Mobile app analytics firm Flurry is releasing a new report today comparing the daily engagement of smartphone users on mobile apps vs. web browsing on the PC. For web analytics, Flurry used data from comScore and Alexa and for mobile application usage, the startup used its own analytics, which now counts 500 million aggregated, anonymous use sessions per day across more than 85,000 applications. Flurry says that this accounts for approximately one third of all mobile application activity. While this is an imperfect methodology, it does point to the rise of mobile apps in our lives.

Although this story is based on evidence gathered in the US, and the report highlights the growth in usage in areas such as gaming and social networking there is, I feel, a need to reflect on the implications on growth of mobile usage on the approaches taken to the provision of online services within the higher education sector.

Implications for Institutions

Mark Power recently published a Mobile Web Apps briefing paper (PDF format) which he described on the CETIS blog. Some of the top tips taken from the paper will be published shortly in the JISC inform publication (issue 31), including the advice that:

  • There is no such thing as the Mobile Web. Design for the usual Internet and then make your site adaptable for mobile devices for example decreasing the screen size  using CSS media queries and then scaling up for larger devices like tablets and PCs by progressively enhancing access for larger audiences.
  • Start using HTML5.  No more pondering on whether it’s ready or not – it is and is already supported by modern mobile browsers. If incorporating media, you can be looking to use the <video> & <audio> elements supported by native browser instead of Flash.

Such advice on the importance of open native Web standards reflects the position being taken by the W3C who are promoting the Open Web Platform as a collection of Web standards which can be used to implement Web-based services which should run on all platforms.

But despite the rhetoric based around the benefits of developing a service or an application once using open standards so that it can run across multiple platforms without the expense of having to port to other platforms, as discussed above, the evidence suggests that end users seem to prefer dedicated apps on mobile platforms.

From a personal perspective I am aware that on my iPod Touch I am using a number of dedicated apps which will may only be available for Apple’s iOS operating system.  run  For example I have recently discussed the Smartr personalised Twitter content aggregation tool which I now use on a daily basis and I also use Blipfoto to publish photographs from my iPod Touch which, again, seems to be only available for Apple mobile devices.

Institutional Plans For Mobile Access

Are institutions seeking to develop services based on use of Open Web Platform standards or are dedicated apps felt to provide more immediate benefits?  Are particular Mobile Web development environments being used or are CMSes, VLEs, etc. being used which provide mobile-friendly outputs? And is their a demand for an event which will enable policy issues and/or technical issues related to the provision of Mobile Web services across the sector?

In order to provide answers to these questions a survey on “Institutional Use of the Mobile Web” has been set up by staff at UKOLN and CETIS, the JISC-funded Innovation Support Centres> The survey aims to identify institutional plans for exploiting the Mobile Web to deliver institutional services. The findings will be published at the end of July so we would encourage those involved in the planning or provision of mobile services to complete the survey with details or your plans – or, indeed, the mobile services you may be currently providing.

Posted in Evidence, Mobile | 4 Comments »

Are Russell Group Universities Ready for the Mobile Web?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 April 2011

Yesterday I attended Nominet’s launch event for the W3C UK and Ireland Office (and note that tweets containing the #w3cuki hashtag are available on TwapperKeeper). A number of talks covered the Mobile Web including “Mobile web: where diversity is opportunity” by Dr. Rotan Hanrahan, the Chief Innovations Architect of MobileAware.  Dr. Hahrahan informed the audience about that many assumptions about Web sites are based on desktop browser experiences and many of the assumptions are wrong in a mobile context.

This made me wonder whether the assumptions we have regarding the design and structure of institutional Web sites will be valid for mobile access.  The W3C have developed mobileOk which isa free service by W3C that helps check the level of mobile-friendliness of Web documents, and in particular assert whether a Web document is mobileOK“.

Are the home pages of Russell Group Universities ‘mobileOK’, I wondered, or have they been designed and tested for desktop access only? Yesterday I used the mobileOK checker service to check the home page of the 20 Russell group Universities.  The results are given below.

Ref.
No.
Institution Check Critical severity Severe severity Medium severity Low severity
1 University of Birmingham Check 2 3 0 4
2 University of Bristol Check 1 0 1 3
3 University of Cambridge Check 2 0 1 8
4 Cardiff University Check 1 1 3 3
5 University of Edinburgh Check 0 2 0 3
6 University of Glasgow Check 1 1 2 5
7 Imperial College Check 4 5 0 7
8 King’s College London Check 1 1 1 2
9 University of Leeds Check 1 0 0 5
10 University of Liverpool Check 0 2 1 3
11 LSE Check 2 2 2 4
12 University of Manchester Check 1 3 1 6
13 Newcastle University Check 1 1 2 5
14 University of Nottingham Check 3 2 0 4
15 University of Oxford Check 4 2 1 6
16 Queen’s University Belfast Check 0 3 4 4
17 University of Sheffield Check 1 0 0 5
18 University of Southampton Check 2 2 1 4
19 University College London Check 1 0 2 5
20 University of Warwick Check 2 2 0 7
TOTAL 30 32 22 93
AVERAGE 1.5 1.6 1.1 4.65
BEST FINDINGS 0 0 0 2
WORST FINDINGS 4 5 5 8

Discussion

About The Findings

How do these findings compare with other Web sites?  A survey of the W3C home page gives a score of 0 critical, 0 severe, 1 medium and 2 low severity errors which suggests that it is possible to avoid critical and severe errors. However the findings for the Vodafone.com home page were 4, 2, 3 and 5 which suggests that a mobile phone company is not doing as well as typical University home page.

But how relevant are the tests which are being tested?  Looking at the critical severity problem for the University of Sheffield home page we find:

The total size of the page (192KB) exceeds 20 kilobytes (Primary document: 8.9KB, Images: 180.2KB, Style sheets: 2.9KB)

It seems that pages should be less than 20 Kb in order to avoid this error.  Is this an realistic goal, I wonder?

Other critical errors which were found for other institutional home pages include:

  • There are more than 20 embedded external resources
  • The image does not match its supposed format
  • An input element with type attribute set to “image” is present

Severe error include:

  • The size of the document’s markup (78.1KB) exceeds 10 kilobytes
  • The CSS style sheet is not syntactically valid CSS
  • A pop-up was detected
  • There are nested tables

A document listing the Mobile Best Practices 1.0 guidelines is available which provides further information about the tests.

Next Steps

The summer vacation may provide an opportunity for institutions to revisit the design of the institutional home page. The mobileOK tool should be a useful tool for those working in institutional Web teams in helping to identify whether the home page (and, indeed, templates used across the Web site) are mobile-friendly. However there will be a need to recognise that mobileOK is a tool and should not be regarded as providing an infallible means of identifying whether appropriate best practices are being deployed.  But at least we now have a benchmark which will allow comparisons to be made with other institutional home pages and we will also be able to see how these findings change over time.

Posted in Evidence, Mobile | 2 Comments »