Thursday, September 29, 2011

Publishing and Mobile Devices

I've been interested for a long time in writing applications that will provide some useful service on a mobile phone, and with the advent of smart-phones I get to explore this a little more. This got me to thinking about apps that run on smartphones and that are possibly useful to information customers - apps that a publisher might develop and deploy to their subscribers. And since I have a new Droid phone, I started doing some programming for that. But it begs an interesting question - what phone(s) should a publisher target in developing a new app?

Of course, this is heavily informed by the particular publishing sector and by the kind of information being published. Phones, with a small-ish form factor, will favor small units of data; pads would more readily support larger. In fact, the form factor on a pad (like the iPad) is such that simply using a browser in the pad to access the same publisher web resource that one would access via a computer is usually an acceptable user experience. So, if I were a publisher, trying to decide what phone to develop an app for first, what factors might influence my decision? Here's what's floating around in my head:

  1. Hard to ignore the overwhelming presence of the iPhone. Huge market penetration. But small form-factor. And it just plain pisses me off that I have to go through the iTunes marketplace and pay Apple a pound of flesh. It's my data after all! And I suspect most publishers are not really selling the app; they're selling content.
  2. Hard also to ignore the skyrocketing increase in iPads. Seems like everyone has one these days! Wish I did. And, given that the iPad runs the Safari browser (which is Webkit compliant), I can develop a variation of my website using an HTML5/CSS3 approach, host it on my own servers and not have to go through iTunes/Apple. More on Sencha/jQueryMobile/PhoneGap in another post... But if I need to create something that runs on the iPad, I run into the same iTunes/Apple question.
  3. Some of the stuff I'm reading indicates that the various Droid phones are increasing market share considerably. And I can develop an app for a Droid phone and distribute it myself without going through the Google market or, if I choose, I can go that route. 
  4. It seems that in certain market segments Blackberry is ubiquitous. Especially in the legal and lobbying worlds. As with the Droids, I like the fact that I can deploy an App frmo my own sites and am not forced to go through a marketplace. The small form-factor makes the BB somewhat limited for larger units of data and the differences between versions of BBs and the attendant differences in API support make BB develop somewhat challenging, although a cross-platform approach such as HTML5/CSS3/PhoneGap may limit those difficulties. OTOH, RIM is trying to shift to QNX and allow Droid apps to run on Blackberries. But when? And how long will it take for that upgrade to penetrate the marketplace. And a lot of the stuff I read indicates that RIM is losing market share. 
  5. And then there Microsoft. I sometimes think that if MS creates a phone that integrates seamlessly with their back-office servers (Exchange, Sharepoint, etc.), those would become the darlings of IT departments worldwide. Enough so that they could drive RIM out of that spot. But that hasn't happened and MS phones are distant cousins in terms of market share. 
  6. Kindle Fire? I love the idea and the price, but it means limiting app development to Android 2.2. We'll see!
So, I think I still have more questions than answers. And I know that some of this is a religious argument - I hear fans of the droids espousing their virtues over the iPhones and vice-versa.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Android Thunderbolt and Verizon

So, my ancient cell phone having started death throws, I went to my Verizon store (with whom I've had service for years) and started looking at "smart" phones. I was particularly interested in a droid phone as opposed to an iPhone or a blackberry. I'm suspicious that if RIM can't make a big splash with QNX next year, they're history. And I really want to do some app development but the idea of being forced into the Apple iTunes marketplace just pisses me off. So I went with a Droid phone. It helps that App development for Droids is in Java and although I like to talk about developers being language agnostic, my most extensive and recent experience is in Java.And as I looked at them, I ended up buying the Thunderbolt. Mostly because the screen size is bigger than the other non-pad phones.

So now I have a Thunderbold and a brand-new 2-year contract for voice and data from Verizon. I have some minor gripes about the phone. I think the touchpad is too sensitive for my fat fingers and I'm always mis-dialing. The blue-tooth voice recognition is a continual source of entertainment and not accurate for me at all. And the battery life just plain sucks (though the salesman did warn me about that). But my biggest gripes are a) that the phone comes preloaded with a pile of app that I have no interest in, and b) that connecting the phone to my laptop causes a pile of messages about installing the Verizon media application on my laptop.

The bloated list of installed apps is particularly troublesome. I can't un-install them in any normal way. I'm told by my (many) nerd friends that I need to "root" my phone and then, as super-user, I can remove the apps I don't want. Well, it may come to that. But I don't feel like I should have to hack my phone to make it into the device I want. And the idea that Verizon is intentionally burning my data plan so that all these apps can "phone home" regularly is seriously insulting and may in the end cause me to switch carriers.

The Verizon Media application is also irksome, though a problem that I could solve. After getting warnings and requests to install this every time I plugged my droid into my laptop to charge it, I went ahead and let it install. After that, it inconveniently launches when I log in.  I have enough crap on my laptop that starts when I log in - it already takes too long! So after it installed, I went out on the web and found a Windows (yes, my laptop runs Windows, Vista no less) NO-OP program ( Essentially a program that does nothing. I then copied that into the media center install directory, renamed the media center (verizon.exe) and then renamed the nop.exe to verizon.exe. Voila, it doesn't launch anymore.

Next up - rooting the phone.

Starting Again

It's been a while since I posted anything - I went for a long period without feeling like I had much to say. Then I realized that part of the problem is that I was feeling constrained to write specifically about content management. And about that, I really don't have much to say that other aren't saying more eloquently.

So I'm starting anew, with a more general technology focus. I'm heavily influenced by reading other folks blogs so, in true copy-cat style, I'm plagiarizing their concepts and opening this up to just about anything that hits me as worthy of jotting down. Since almost all of my tech work is in the publishing world and since my interests tend to span not only content harvesting, management and delivery but also technologies in the "active" world (as in personal sports), I'll probably offer up misguided observations across all of those boundaries.

And since I'm doing this more for personal catharsis than for either marketing or networking reasons, I can safely say that I don't really care who reads this or if they like or agree with what I write. But if I'm wrong (often) or if there are better ways (oftener), please comment and let me know.