Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

New horizons

2012 was a really busy year, and I embarked on some fantastic projects. I was really pleased with the work I was able to produce with two of our biggest clients of the year — Whitewood & Fleming and Shannon Trust — both invested a lot of trust in allowing us to do some really innovative work, which helped to drive their organisations forward. There was a lot of hard work involved, but it was worth it.

I also got the chance to work with the very talented people at Pearson’s Future Technology team. Their focus is on working with emerging technologies, and looking at what’s going to be big in the twelve months ahead. I got the chance to really flex my coding muscles and to research and experiment with some pretty cool technology and techniques. I was really pleased when the code for that project was open-sourced, which was a first for the team at Pearson.

In 2013 I knew there was going to be a change to the focus of my work. Although I thoroughly enjoy the diversity of the work we do at We Make Media, there was just no way I could embark on another year at the same intensive pace. Instead, I’ve been focused on finding projects which allow me to invest more of my time and for which I can take more ownership. 2012 was very much about servicing clients and making great individual projects for them. 2013 is more about finding projects which allow me to develop as a person, which give me more of a challenge, and most importantly of all: give me more ownership of the work I’m doing.

At the start of the year, Jo and I set about developing a new e-commerce idea which she’d started to develop. Over the past few months we’ve been carefully planning and developing, and in the coming weeks we’ll be getting ready to launch the first phase. It’s been exciting to work on because it’s allowed me to invest everything I’ve learned about online commerce and audience engagement, and create a design and build which looks stunning, and  works beautifully.

It’s going to be a long haul to get it to where we want it to be — getting it live is just the beginning — but we have a lot of confidence in the idea, and it’s going to be thoroughly rewarding to see it grow and take on a life of it’s own. Following the launch, I’ll be taking more of a back-seat on the project though, which brings me to some more exciting news.

From June, I’ll be joining the team at Alertacall, and taking up the role of Chief Technology Officer. Alertacall are innovators in technology which helps elderly and vulnerable people live safely and independently in their own homes, and I’ve been working with them on and off over recent years to help with the marketing of their business.

They’re at a very exciting time in the development of their business, and the technology behind their services is an important part of that. I’ll be jumping on board as CTO to take over responsibility for the technical infrastructure, development strategy for their products and looking at future innovation. It’s going to be an exciting and challenging role with a company which is at the forefront of it’s sector, full of enthusiasm, and which is improving people’s lives through the use of technology — something I’ve become increasingly passionate about.

Although most of my time will be taken up with this new role, I’ll still be splitting my time with other little projects and servicing our existing client base, providing consultancy and generally keeping one toe in the water. For the next several months at least though, this will be my main focus.

So, new horizons all round. 2013 is shaping up to be an exciting year!

Osito

Osito looks like an interesting iPhone app, which pulls together important information about your day-to-day life so you have easy access to things like calendar events, traffic, weather, etc, tied together so that it’s relevant to what your doing.

They call it “predictive intelligence”:

Unlike other applications, services or even personal assistants, Osito learns what you need to know based on the information you provide it — including your location, updates from your calendar, email and your daily routine. This means that Osito can provide you useful, personalized insights like a heads up there’s a traffic jam 20 minutes before your usual departure time or a weather alert before you leave for a lunch meeting.

I love this kind of move towards providing intelligent, relevant information in order to assist you, rather than having to dig into individual apps and resources to find relevant information. There are massive accessibility gains to be had from this kind of approach, as anything which acts as an assistant can be so, so helpful. As a low vision mobile user, I find it really frustrating to have to dig around and find information while on the go. Standing in a busy street hunting for information on my phone is a horrible experience.

Shame I don’t have an iPhone at the moment, else I’d be all over this. And Google Now promised a similar productivity gain, but that’s not supported on my particular Android brick at the moment. It’s a shame that this kind of stuff is only available on high-end devices — a web service which does the same thing would be brilliant.

RNIB guide to Apple accessibility

The RNIB have put together a really useful guide to accessibility on Apple devices, aimed at blind and low-vision users. There’s lots of detail in there for Mac and iOS devices, with overviews of features like VoiceOver, zooming and type-ahead, as well as tips on things like how to alter contrast and invert screen colours.

You can download the guide by following this link. Only disappointing thing about this document is that it’s only available in RTF and Word formats. Would be nice if RNIB would put it online as an HTML guide.

Google Glass is a clear winner for the blind

Robin Christopherson, AbilityNet‘s Head of Digital Inclusion, on the accessibility angle of Google Glass:

I myself as a blind person, for example, could really do with a pair of eyes that are always looking where I’m looking and, at the same time, applying some significant smarts to what’s in front of me. OK, so Google Glass only has one eye – but one eye’s better than none believe me!

The blind shooting the blind

If you were ever in doubt about how empowering technology can be for people with disabilities:

I simply gawped when one blind woman pulled out an iPhone then snapped a perfect shot, guided by the built-in Camera app.

Eventually a common theme became apparent: Apple’s applications — Calendar, Messages, Mail, iPhoto, even Maps and most surprisingly Camera — are completely usable by blind people. These applications aren’t using any kind of secret API sauce. They’re using the same UIAccessibility framework you and I have access to.

The meat of this article si less inspiring though, as it discusses the failure of so many app developers to pu the powerful APIs at their fingertips, to good use for creating accessible apps.

This seems to be a common theme, and something which desperately needs to change. I love this little snippet from this post:

Here, then, lies the answer to how to tell whether some developer you’ve just met (or are interviewing) is serious about their craft in five seconds flat: borrow their device, and triple-click the home button. If you don’t hear “VoiceOver on”, or get prompted about VoiceOver, consider that −3 points on the Steve Test.

Inspiring videos edited by kid with cerebral palsy

A lovely little article from the Verge about the videos created by a young boy who has cerebral palsy:

This is Christopher Hills. He’s an Apple fan. He also has cerebral palsy, and as you’ll see in the first video below, he can’t control his muscles easily. The incredible thing about Christopher, though, is despite that, he edited these three videos himself. Not unlike Stephen Hawking, he uses a single button to manipulate his computer, which he presses with his head, connected to a device called a Discover Switch.

As well as being very inspiring and life-affirming, these videos also highlight the fact that with the appropriate assistive technology and software which is accessible, wonderful things can be created by people who are severely disabled. Remember, this is a kid who uses a single switch to work with a video editing application: technology proving to be truly empowering.

Biting the hand that feeds

Chris Hofstader writes about the seemingly mis-guided politics of the National Federation of the Blind — an advocacy group which is throwing it’s weight around with lawsuits in an effort to persuade large organisations to improve accessibility. One of their more recent targets has been Apple who, ironically, do more than any of their competitors:

Last July, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB)at its summer convention proposed a resolution “condemning and deploring” Apple for the sin of not requiring that everything sold in its app store be fully accessible. The NFB proposed a second resolution that said it was “frustrated” and “disappointed” with Apple’s not including accessibility requirements for its app store. The second resolution passed. While I agree that having such a requirement would be nice, Apple has done vastly more than its operating system rivals Google, Microsoft and all flavors of GNU/Linux to promote accessibility. Also, Google and Microsoft have their own app stores with no requirements for accessibility either.

Before I launch into the politics that seem to have led to the NFB resolution, I will provide a few examples that demonstrate Apple’s overwhelming lead in providing systems accessible to people with vision impairment. Since introducing VoiceOver, the utility people with print impairments use to hear the contents of the screen spoken or sent to a refreshable braille display, Apple has sold 100 million devices that are accessible to this community. Additionally, every product in an Apple retail store that has a user interface includes VoiceOver. A blind person can go to an Apple store and try out everything they sell except the iPod Classic which hasn’t had a software revision in a really long time. I can use any Macintosh, iPhone, iPod Nano, iPod Shuffle, iPod Touch and more sold in the past few years without installing any extra software. Meanwhile, I would need to spend nearly $1000 extra to use Windows on a “standard” computer if I want to use the most popular screen access utility for that platform. Android from Google includes a screen access tool called “TalkBack” which is, in my educated opinion, years behind the out-of-the-box experience provided by Apple and the costly add-ons required by Windows.

This is one of the things which many people overlook with Apple’s operating system: the built-in accessibility features are years ahead of any other OS vendor, and are available out of the box. It’s a perfect example of the adaptive accessibility model I keep banging on about: a rich set of features, which are available to use by anybody, regardless of their ability. So I get quite disheartened when I read about Apple being slammed for poor accessibility.

The crux of the situation is best summed up by Chris’ comment:

While slamming Apple at their annual convention, they celebrated Google with lots of presentation slots for their Android system. As I wrote above, Android accessibility is poor at best but NFB probably got a fat contribution from Google and, as any advocate knows, money talks, accessibility walks.

Are sub-$100 smartphones a scam?

Apurva Chaudhary has posted about the sub $100 smartphone market which is set to boom in India. She quotes Deloitte who say that consumers are willing to make a trade-off on speed, quality, performance and connectivity. Apurva’s take though, is that these devices are a scam:

Sure, for someone who is jumping from a Nokia 2600 to a low cost smartphone, these doesn’t matter. But these are the same people who later get frustrated cause the phone is slow or doesn’t respond. Camera quality is so low that it’s embarrasing to click photos. These are the people, who after using a low end smartphone switch to high performing Smartphone. These phones are just a scam by manufacturers who promise to be a smartphone but aren’t really.

Not entirely sure I agree with this premise. Much of the consumer technology people buy is marketed as being desirable, and with a focus on making people aspire to own a new, better, faster, shinier model. These phones might be low-spec, but I certainly don’t think they’re pretending to be anything they’re not.

Fragmentation Is Not The End of Android

Really insightful post from Charlie Kindel about how he sees the fragmentation of Android in the context of the current mobile ecosystem:

The fragmentation of Android is very real and very problematic for end users, developers, mobile operators, device manufacturers, and Google. However fragmentation does not mean Android is going to “die” or “fail” as some seem to think.

On the contrary I think we can count on Android playing a significant role in our world for a long, long time. I also am confident that Google has already lost control of Android and has zero chance of regaining control. This post explains why I’m so confident about this.

He goes on to explain his thinking in quite some detail. I found myself agreeing with pretty much everything he has to say.