Friday, 25 April 2014

Apps You'll Install And Never Use Again!

It’s no secret that we love apps! We live and breathe them. But we’re not alone; you love them too.

If you have a tablet or smartphone you will have a whole host of apps that you rely on for even the most basic of functions, including an alarm for the morning or for your favourite social media platform so you can keep up with what your friends are eating for breakfast.

We also all enjoy downloading apps, using them once and never using them again and we will feature a few of those apps on the market that fit that bill.

Clear is a clever idea on the face of it – a list-making app – but once you create your shopping list or your times for dinner, the likeliness you will click back onto the app to use it again is fairly slim. A biro and a post-it note is much more convenient.

Word Lens is another app that has a clever and original idea, but will only get used the once. The app allows you to translate words on a sign from one language to another, impressive! But, unless you’re Christopher Columbus and can afford to travel more than once a year, then this app will be forgotten about by the time you book you’re next flight.

TV Show apps, like the X Factor where you decide whether you would put the contest through to the next round or not are high in popularity when the show is on, but, as soon as the program ends until next year, the app will just rot in the background.

People are mainly attracted to apps by their usefulness however, apps like the X Factor one are not overly useful to the user.  Clear, as previously mentioned, could be handy if you remembered to use it regularly, but having to find your app every time you want to add a new grocery to your shopping list can get a bit tedious. If you have to pay for the app and use it just the once, it will be a waste of money too.

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.

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.