Tuesday, 22 April 2014

How to wireframe App concepts like a Pro

We're often asked how we go about taking an initial idea and ultimately making this into an App. In most cases the brief is more around a concept and the required functionality. We believe that no matter how complex an App's functionality is, the App should be simple to use. In the early stages of App development it's not often possible to write a detailed specification together for clients. This is especially true if the App hasn't been fully defined! What we've found is that a good first stage is to think about the different screens an App will contain. We then put together some simple wireframes of all these screens and how these link together. These wireframes are a great way to get across an App's functionality without the actual look and feel becoming a distraction.

Over the past five years we've tried various tools to wireframe App screens and workflow with varying success. This has ranged from off the shelf online tools to designing Photoshop frameworks ourselves. What we've found in this time is that software was either too simple (and not flexible enough) or too complex (took too long to use). We'd just about given up looking until we came across some software called WireframeSketcher. This software fits the bill perfectly for putting together App screens (and website pages too) very very quickly. This can then get across to a client the functionality of an App without days of specialist graphic design work that would often then have to be changed or reworked. Using this software you can sketch out the framework and all screens of an averagely sized App in an hour or so which is fantastic.

So how does it work? When you first create a project you say which type of project it is. This can be mobile or web and there are even some examples to get you started. If you're creating a mobile wireframe then you can choose iOS, Android, or Windows Phone so nobody should feel left out. Whichever you choose you have a full set of standard drag and drop components you can use (e.g. containers, image placeholders, maps etc). You also have a full set of platform specific components so an Android App will have the correct default keyboard, dialog boxes, buttons etc. Building your screens is just a case of using these components and resizing them accordingly and adjusting text etc to suit your App. One thing we've found to be the biggest challenge with putting wireframes together with other software is tabbars. Not with WireframeSketcher! You can very quickly create and adjust a tabbar including text and custom icons with just a few clicks. Once you've got one of your screens built then you'll most likely want to build the other screens of your App based on this (so you don't have to redraw tabbars etc). You can clone existing screens to create a new one and then just modify that to suit. This is especially useful if you're showing screens with slight difference such as one with a dialog box and one without. Once you've got all your screens built then WireframSketcher allows you to export these out as PDF or images. We tend to print these out at A4 to discuss with clients and also use the images within documents to put together workflow and App Map documents.

If you're looking for a wireframing tool yourself then I'd highly recommend you take a look at WireframeSketcher. They even have a free trial too so you've nothing to lose. http://wireframesketcher.com

Friday, 18 April 2014

Up, Up And Away

Amazon and Google are not only trying to pave the way for our future technology when it comes to mobile devices, they are also introducing other technologies of the future.

Drones, which once used to be a figment of our imagination and science fiction, are now getting closer to reality in the public domain. The military have used drones for some time now for high-tech missions and have used them to great success.

There has been a growing debate about robot technology and whether we should feel a bit uneasy at human-less vehicles but they will soon be here, and we’re sure they’ll be here to stay.

Amazon and Google have released news that they have bought out drone makers Titan Aerospace, which means they are looking to invest a lot of time and money into making high-tech drones for the public.

Amazon already has big plans for the drones as they plan to make them fully automated, GPS equipped and unmanned so they can deliver small packages from the warehouse to the home within 30 minutes. This incredible move would mean the ‘human’ would not be needed – clever if it works.

Google also has plans for the drones, only their reasoning is a bit more profound. They have explained that the drones could help bring internet access to millions of people, as well as being able to help solve other problems. Google say these will include things like disaster relief and damage to the environment (e.g.  deforestation), which could be revolutionary.

Unmanned aircraft is an incredible piece of technology and the likes of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky all use them to some degree to help with the filming of their programs and commercials. So, it is clear to see the benefits and versatility of this kind of technology.

Companies, like Google and Amazon, are always looking at new directions for technology and we think, especially in Google’s case, we should be welcoming this kind of technology with open-arms.

But, what do you think? Should we be welcoming unmanned technology or should we reconsider relying on them?

Friday, 11 April 2014

Live An 'Appy Life

Over recent weeks we have taken a look at what’s coming in the future of the tech world but this week we’re going to look at what we can use right now; apps.

Apps have revolutionised the way we go about our day-to-day lives and those mentioned below are no different. The term ‘I’ve got an app for that’ was coined by iPhone users but now there are quality apps for all sorts of mobile devices, so we can all enjoy the ‘appy life.

In fact, we will start with an app for the Windows Phone 8. The app is called Divvy Up and makes light work of deciding who owes what to the waiter. The mathematician at the end of the table no longer has to start drawing notes on a napkin and can simply tap some digits into this clever bill-splitting app and everyone can see how much they owe, to the penny.

Any.Do is the next app, and this one is useful for those trying to plan their life. This smart little app can sync with the cloud, has text prediction and comes with sharing capabilities making it top of the tree when it comes to organisation. The best thing? It’s available on iOS and Android.

If you’re not quite as organised as you’d like to be, then Hassle Me could be well worth a look. This app does exactly what it says on the tin; it hassles you until you get the task done. With handy notifications, it can send you a pop up telling you that you have an outstanding to-do on your list. Clever and annoying; it’s brilliant!

If it’s quick conversation you’re after and you own a Blackberry then BBM is a must. This app has been around for years and the newest version still consists of the older concepts that made it great; like the PIN system when you want to add someone and ease of use for when you need to talk to someone quickly. It’s packed with loads of other features this time and has a very noticeable BB10 influence too, so it looks and feels very sharp.

Regardless of your phone, you can have an app for that!

Friday, 4 April 2014

What Can We Expect From iOS 8

Apple’s iOS 7 software has only recently been launched but like every good technology geek, we’re itching to know what’s in store for iOS 8. 

Well, we have some good news, some rumours have surfaced about what might be included in Apple’s newest software.  Enough information has been dropped over recent weeks for us to get some sort of idea what we can expect. 

There is no definitive release date for iOS 8 but like most new versions of the iOS software, Apple could announce the launch at their Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). The date for this is June 2, so we will have to see if Apple are going to break a trend here or not. 

Although it is likely that the release date will be announced here, we will have to wait a little longer to have it on our iPhones and tablets. 

One of the features Apple look to be working on is health and fitness capabilities, following in the footsteps of their rivals, Samsung.  A number of sources suggest we could see a ‘Healthbook’, similar to Passbook, but instead it will monitor steps walked, distanced travelled, calories burned and overall weight loss. 

Another thing Apple will no doubt look at is their maps. Apple Maps have had some criticism for a while now and Apple could pick the game up this time around to keep up at least with Google’s offering. 

According to more rumour-led sources, we can expect to see directions for trains, subways and buses to be incorporated into the Maps. 

Siri could be something else Apple turn their attention to. An iOS update is not the same without an update to Siri and the software could be able to interface with third party apps once iOS 8 is released. This means some of our apps could be compatible with Siri without Apple’s help. 

We could also see something similar to what can be found on OS X; Preview and TextEdit. On Mac versions, these two help to edit PDF’s, images and text files, whereas we expect these to help you open documents that you have stored in your iCloud. 

Some possible new features in store that could make the iOS 8 and the iPhone 6 a very interesting prospect indeed. 

Friday, 28 March 2014

Apple & Microsoft collide - And it's Brilliant!!!

We’re often found blogging about all sorts here at Appware, from the latest in technology through to the continual battles involving the big names in the gadget world, and this news covers both bases.

Microsoft have taken a step that many gadget-lovers have been waiting for, arguably since the first release of Apple’s iPad in 2010 – the introduction of their Office suite onto the iPad. This is pretty big news and a move that could benefit both parties.

This means that all of those hard-working professionals that tend to opt for a tablet that is a bit better for work productivity, can now enjoy an Apple product for work and play. But, why has the move taken this long to happen we wonder?

Well, after the release of the iPad, the iPad 2 followed with what felt like indecent haste and soon after that the generation of tablets just exploded. This also bought along with it the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) revolution within businesses.

So, Microsoft being Microsoft tried to compete with Apple every stretch of the way to challenge their iOS software and they came up with the Surface.  Although the Surface has been fairly successful and is extremely good at being a work-savvy tablet, it hasn’t been anywhere near as popular as Microsoft had expected it to be – hence this new move.

Another reason behind the move is PC sales are nose diving, especially with such high performing tablets available on the market today. Microsoft even created Windows 8 in order to help revive PC’s, but unfortunately that hasn’t helped the situation either.

With these things in mind, the move by Microsoft may not have come at a bad time at all, in fact, it could be perfect timing. Microsoft showed that it didn’t really have the skill to create the tablets to compete with Apple, but like the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them!” and that is exactly what they have done.

Office for iPad seems like a clever move and a move that will ensure Microsoft still have a leg in the race for the best tablet on the market. But, what do you think? Good move for Microsoft or not?

Friday, 21 March 2014

More Wearable Tech Than You Can Shake A Stick At

We’re fans of all types of technology, as we’re sure many of you know, so when we saw this array of technology, we couldn’t help ourselves but write about it.

We have featured wearable technology on more than one occasion but it’s always good to check in with the latest crazy ideas companies come up with. vrAse is one of these crazy ideas and is a 3D experience on your head. Crazy as it may sound, you simply slide your smartphone into the front of this ‘goggle-like’ headset and watch your favourite movies, music videos and games all hands-free. You might not look like the coolest kid on the block but you’ll feel like it.

Another interesting wearable is one for businesses and professionals who tend to scan a lot of barcodes - the BarcodEye. Very similar in appearance to Google glass, this clever piece of kit is looking to replace the standard scanners found in many supermarkets with a pair of specs that do the work for you. Although, apparently this is still in the early stages of development so we could be waiting a while until we see the finished product.

You’ve heard of Dre Beats headphones and other extremely expensive headgear but The Intelligent Headset looks to live up to its name by claiming to be the first headset with 3D audio. We’re not entirely sure how this will work but apparently we will be able to hear sounds differently dependent on how we are positioned. It sounds strange but thanks to the headset’s location-aware technology it picks up on sounds around you and gets louder when it hears louder noises. What’s more, you can even use the headphones for movement during a game too, so when you move left so does the character or object, and vice versa.

With the first day of spring just a couple of days ago, we thought it’d be quite apt to feature the Sunfriend. We probably shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves by saying that it could be a sunny year here in the UK, but we hope it is so we can wear this piece of Intel that lets us know how much sun we’re getting and when we have had enough. Toasty!

A lot of stuff to get excited about this year and not just in the smartphone or tablet world either. Wearables are on the up and we’re all for it!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Going Beyond 3D

Technology has come a long way in a short space of time and we can never be sure what lies around the corner. This last 12 months alone we have seen the rise of the 4K TV, the smart watch and a whole host of impressive smartphones and tablets.

Technology just never seizes to amaze us and The Immersive Technology Alliance aim to do it again. They have plans to rebrand the former Stereoscopic 3D Gaming Alliance, which will form a new virtual reality technology.

The Immersive Technology Alliance (ITA) is a new supergroup created by the biggest and smallest companies around the globe that specialise in gaming, who have all come together to improve ‘augmented reality, virtual reality, stereoscopic 3D and everything in between’, according to their official website.

This group is made up of companies likes Electronic Arts (EA) who are known for their influence in the gaming industry, so it is a real forward-thinking group that want to continue improving the industry and the technology on offer.

ITA plan to meet at the annual Game Developers Conference next week (March 18th) in San Francisco. Although it seems like it is all about gaming, it’s not. In fact, the ITA is a not-for-profit and it also aims to be a ‘non-proprietary representative’ for the whole VR industry, which also includes a number of film makers as well as game studios.

With such a vast blend of big names and interesting skills, we could be looking forward to an interesting future for gaming. Gaming, similar to other forms of technology, has grown tremendously over the last couple of years, with the likes of Sony and Microsoft creating high-spec consoles. But, the ITA aim to go beyond playing games with a hand-held controller, they want gamers to experience their gaming as if it were real life.

Exciting stuff, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, the Game Developers Conference next Tuesday is only the launch of this supergroup, so we will have to wait some time before we can enjoy playing real-life simulator-type technology in our living rooms. Still, the future of gaming looks bright!