Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Mobile Technology: From Bricks to Angry Birds!


I think we have to look back at the original mobile phones to realise just how far things have come. One of the first mainstream phones was the Motorola 4800x Transportable which as you can see wasn't really what you'd call pocket friendly!

Text Messaging

The next progression was from voice calls to text messaging. This method of communication was an unforeseen success and over time became more popular than voice calls! It even spawned it's own shorthand some of which has amazingly made it into the Oxford English dictionary.


This was the first stab at trying to deliver a "mobile internet" experience. Unfortunately it didn't quite catch on and the user experience wasn't great. Imagine an really limited text only website with incredibly slow and expensive data transfer and you're not far off.


This is where things started to get interesting... I used to carry about my mobile phone, PDA, SatNav, plus all the associated cables and chargers - as well as a diary and notepad! Although the first smartphones were pretty clunky they still managed to get everything into one device which was a real breakthrough.

Mobile Websites

Now smartphones have become more powerful, data is quick, and charges are low then users obviously want to use the internet just as they do on a PC or Mac. This is all well and good and most mobile browsers actually render pages pretty well. The problem is that a website optimised for a large 17" monitor isn't quite so readable on a 3.5"screen! We are now seeing a shift to mobile optimised websites that display content in a more readable way. At Appware we use technology that auto-detects the device you're browsing on and serves the appropriate content.


As there is now so much power in a smartphone with all it's integrated technology (3G, wireless, GPS, compass, camera, etc) then users didn't just want to use the inbuilt software. The operating systems now have dedicated software development systems so that independant developers can create their own Apps and publish/distribute these to the phones. This has given rise to a whole marketplace that simply didn't exist even a couple of years ago. I think the numbers above show just how huge this has become!


Users are no longer interested in just using their phones for browsing product catalogues but they actually want to purchase. This is now becoming possible and at Appware we've already got PayPal integration working within Apps to allow this.

Near Field Communication (NFC)

The next step for mobile commerce is physically using your phone to pay for things in the same way as you currently use a credit card. The first systems are already planned to hit the UK this summer (A collaboration between Samsung, Orange, and Barclaycard) and in a couple of years are set to become as standard as chip and pin machines. Also keep an eye on Google with their Google Wallet system.

Mobile Vouchers

Currently a few forward thinking organisations have realised that by using location based services and special offers they can build customer loyalty. Some are doing this with quite manual, clunky systems using services like Foursquare but are already seeing the benefits. Watch this space for dedicated Apps...

QR Codes

You may have seen these strange looking 3D barcodes and wondered what they are - they're called QR (Quick Response) Codes. All you do is use your phone's camera to scan these and they'll either redirect you to a website or add a contact to your phone's address book, amongst other things. Alot of modern smartphones are now building QR readers in (if not then search for the "Red Laser" App) and the technology is especially popular in the USA and Japan. For example; in Bestbuy retail stores products have a QR code on their label which when scanned shows you technical specs as well as reviews and stores them off for later!

Smart Notifications

Push notifications is where data is pushed to your phone rather than you requesting it manually. This is already used in Apps like Facebook to let you know when you've received message or on the Ebay App to warn you that an auction is about to end. Currently these messages are like simple text messages but they are about to get much smarter and become location aware and the like.

Augmented Reality

This is another really cool technology that will only improve with time as smartphones get even more powerful. The basic idea is that content is layered over the real world using your phone's camera as a viewfinder. Appware have already developed an App using this technology which can be seen at www.festfind.co.uk In this instance you can use the App at music festivals to not only find out who is playing on what stage and when, but guide you back to your tent or the nearest bar, toilet, exit etc. Simply fire up the App and use your phone to "look around" and it shows you which direction to walk and for how long!


The last year or so has seen the rise of the tablet initially driven by Apple's iPad. There are more and more of these devices appearing (Shortly to be joined the HP Touchpad and Blackberry Playbook) which are aimed mainly at the consumer market to replace a home laptop. The big advantages over laptops are typically battery life, they're simple to use, and you just pick them up and they're on and working rather than waiting 5 minutes for a laptop to boot up! This is another interesting space to watch over the coming year.

Platform Wars!

As more and more smartphones appear on the market so do more and more different operating systems. Apple have iOS, Google have Android, and there are many many more around and emerging. As these are all totally different with different development tools, languages, and skillsets then developers tend to have to specialise in one platform. This isn't great if you'd like an App creating as you effectively have to build it from scratch for all the various platforms. Expect some consolidation across devices as the lesser known operating systems become obselete.


One way to address the operating system platform is to try and reuse your code across the various platforms/devices. At Appware we use a system that allows us to reuse around 80-90% of an App's original development by using HTML5 which is standard across the different platforms. In real terms this means that rather than each development taking 6 weeks to develop (so 18 across just 3 platforms!) we would typically create all 3 versions in 7 weeks. As you can imagine this has considerable timescale and cost savings for our clients!

Angry Birds

So finally we get to Angry Birds which is an App that everyone must have heard of by now. It is one of the biggest Apps to date with over 200 million downloads. It has also turned some traditional channels on their head. It used to be that a film came out and then there was associated merchandising afterwards which is where companies really made their money. With Angry Birds it started life as a smarphone game and now there's a feature film based on the game. The film cost $90 million to make and so far grossed over half a billion dollars!

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