Posts Tagged Mobile Collaboration

Orientating around Android devices

 

At the start of May I received a replacement for my broken Blackberry 9300 Curve.  I am very glad to say it wasn’t another Blackberry, instead I received a Sony Xperia M – a reasonably modern Android phone running Android 4.3.

Moving to an Android based phone, has been a boon for me as it will nicely compliment my Nexus 7 tablet.  In fact the commonality of Google and Android is the basis for an almost complete repetition and synchronicity of many of the applications and services I use.  I still use a Windows operating system on my laptop, but is not a conflicting factor, as many applications and services are also accessible via the Google Chrome browser.

While of course the Microsoft Windows desktop operating system is still very dominant in terms of usage in the laptop | desktop space and more so with Windows Surface tablets.  Having such good quality access to applications and services  on two Android form factors (phone and tablet), has made me question the necessity of remaining on Windows as the operating system of choice for the laptop device.

Already core Windows Office suite applications and services (Outlook | MS Word, Excel) etc. are already or being made more tablet or browser compatible.  Think of the Office 365 service, and the Office Web Apps functionality, so further diminishing the requirement to have an actual application installed onto a Windows operating system as a necessity.

While most enterprises can’t consider abandoning Microsoft Windows as a device platform altogether, I think the personal consumer and many SME/ SMBs could strongly consider the possibility of an entirely Android (and here I stretch the term a little to include Google Chromebooks) based device eco-system.   Google Chromebooks are now a maturing and full featured alternative to the Microsoft Windows based device. 

Of course Apple also offer a very compelling set of devices, coupled to a very well integrated operating system and application set.  So both Google and Apple offer opportunities upon which to orientate or consolidate on to bring more common device harmony into a business.  We should not discount the option to consider a more explicit Linux based desktop system, such as Ubuntu or Linux Mint etc.,  though having tried them for a while, I believe they will always remain a more niche player in the desktop | laptop space, especially with such dominant competition from Apple, Google and Microsoft.

This brings in a further opportunity to consider moving away from device centric applications and data,  and how the virtual desktop (VDI) and application virtualisation options also need to be considered along side the choice of device eco-system.  

Other aspects to factor into these considerations include

  • Data and content storage and delivery – will this all be cloud based – e.g. Google Docs or Microsoft O365 – or are there other factors to be considered?
  • Do certain use cases necessitate the use of a local application and data set?  (e.g. Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Project)
  • Device management strategy – patching and updates – how will they be managed and delivered

Having also tried a Google Chromebook, (having used one while on a holiday break),  I can see how it could easily cater for 85% of the work and processes and I engage with as an Information | Knowledge worker.  Only that I need to work with and build fairly complex spreadsheets (using Microsoft Excel) is keeping a Windows based operating system as a necessity.  I do also wonder how well a device such as Google Chromebook caters for multimedia activities consumers need around managing and connecting with peripheral devices like cameras and editing videos etc.

More and more frequently I’ve seen the Apple Macbook Pro (or the Osx UI – via web meetings) appearing, and presume those users are benefitting from a harmonised device experience between the Apple Mac and their iphone device. 

Of course Microsoft also offer their Windows Phone based devices, which also offer a similar integrated operating system and application set.  However, the application ecosystem for Windows Phone devices, doesn’t offer the same breadth of application support and availability that Apple and Android devices users have at their disposal.  Which for me is a detractor for opting to orientate around a complete Microsoft Windows device ecosystem.  Though in terms of UI design and strategy, I think both Apple, Google and Microsoft offer are continuing to recognise the need for distinct and yet harmonious and cohesive UI across all their device form factors.

As both device manufacturers and application developers, build services that accumulate pertinent personal data sets (photos & videos, music collections & playlists, quantitative data (location & travel, health & exercise metrics)), so increasing data transfer inertia or lock-in.  I think consumers will need to seriously consider which particular eco-system and device arrangement makes sense for them, as it look likes it will turn into a long term affair, and with not insignificant hurdles to overcome to move or transfer across manufacturers.

  • Do you share this view?
  • Have you already made a considered choice around a particular device set or eco-system? 
  • What were the determining factors for you?   

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Music Streaming – Time to go with the flow?

Spotify grandly announced (on Dec 11th 2013) that Led Zeppelin’s albums are now available on the popular music streaming service.

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Having such a globally recognised musically brands as Led Zeppelin, in addition to recent additions such as Pink Floyd, Metallica and The Eagles, in the Spotify stable has demonstrated the weight and momentum behind the music streaming service model.

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Though a number of popular artists still hold out such as: AC/DC, and the Beatles though as these articles point out on-line distributions and sales services (such as iTunes) are being patroned.

I think is significant that these bands which initially held out against music streaming services such as Spotify, RhapsodyRdio etc., are now coming on board.  While there may be real concerns and issues in terms of payment arrangements | terms to the artists (see BBC article “Spotify reveals artists earn $0.007 per stream”) – other services from Google Play (All Access) not forgetting Youtube, Apple (iTunes Radio) and Amazon (Cloud Player).  Admittedly that may be a considerable shrink in terms of pay per stream instead of pay per song (9.1 cents (per song) – via wikipedia (don’t believe everything you read!)) – but the comparison of music streams to actual physical albums sales are subject to drastically different economic models and trajectories.  And certainly from these charts, someone is making money from this.

I am a Spotify subscriber, so I’m not out to rip-off artists, in fact my subscription to Spotify is my way of supporting the music industry.  I now pay something every month, rather than occasionally buying a CD.  For me as consumer the model has great benefits, primarily being no longer limited to the physical copies I have to hand (actually purchased and own). So I am able to enjoy and sample a immeasurably wider spectrum of music than I ever had before (even the radio stations play ‘carefully selected’ playlists)… whereas with Spotify I can enjoy the full range | catalogue of an artist as I wish.   Also I can’t lose or break the copy of the music I have, it’s there when I need it.

Certainly with digital stores and streaming services, the model of distribution and marketing for artists has changed irrevocably, and while it may not be as fair or mature enough in the commercials; I think it’s fair enough to say ‘the tide has turned’ – music streaming (and media streaming for that matter) is here to stay.

For example look at the new digital service from the BBCBBC playlister

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The new digital service allows listeners to tag any piece of music they hear on the BBC and listen to it later.

At a launch event, senior executives from YouTube, Spotify and Deezer explained why the music streaming companies have decided to collaborate on the service.

Do you agree? 

Do you use streaming service – or stay away?

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My Portfolio of Mobile Devices – now with Google Nexus 7

I’ve recently added a Google Nexus 7 to the set of devices I use.  As a home based worker, I’m used to many aspects of remote working, and optimising the my use of the laptop and mobile phone (e.g. 2nd monitor, blue tooth headset).  However, this month my working location will be office based but away from home, which I thought was enough of a watershed moment to see how a Smart tablet format device would fit into my device mix.

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Device List:

Interface & UX:

All the devices have an touch enabled capability of some level.

The Blackberry has a touchpad control, but not a touch sensitive screen.  This is an improvement on the physical trackball device, and not an hindrance on the device of this size, and physical keyboard is  a more than adequate input option.  The only occasional inconvenience I experience on the blackberry is that the screen is now pretty small compared to many smart phones in the market, so coupled with many mobile enabled websites having been optimised for touch based navigation, the speed and mobility around some web sites can be a little cumbersome.

The Nexus 7 was a refreshing surprise to how easy and simple a completely touch and screen based device can be.  Also with Android Jelly bean 4.2, the touch screen keyboard is gesture | swipe enabled so that with a little practice I am get fairly adept at completely spelling a word with 1 touch and motion of the finger across the keyboard.  The swipe | gesture feature really is great, and with combination of the well designed device hardware and evolution of the Android OS, I don’t have any regrets about waiting until now before purchasing such a device.

I was also waiting for tablet OS which was able to support multiple user profiles, as my family will also have access to this device, so being able to separate use profiles for different individuals is very useful.  It’s often been said that Google Play doesn’t have app ecosystem or content breadth to compete with Apple or Amazon,  having had the device for a little over a week I don’t find either to hold any substance any longer.  Google Play is a well integrated content and application store and I have not been stuck in finding the applications to access my content  – in fact these 1st few days have been a little mind blowing as the sheer amount of content available through applications like Google Currents, Feedly, Flipboard and Pocket have given me a quandary about which application to use for what content or content category.

You will notice that there is also a Physical Keyboard dock (blue tooth connectivity) for Nexus 7 which also acts a hard case cover, and stand. I thought that this would be a useful addition in case I needed to do a lot content creation on the device.  Combined with the Kingsoft Office suite, I can use the Nexus 7 as a netbook format device as well.

The Lenovo Thinkpad has a resistive touch screen which responds to a stylus and has a flip and rotate function on the screen.  But I have never found that much more than a novel feature,  though the flip and rotate screen feature is useful in small face to face group meetings. 

It is my workhorse content input and creation device, and I need both a physical keyboard and mouse, as well as a large additional monitor to optimise my productivity on this device.  My activities in content creation and communication often requires the need for multiple applications and windows to be in operation.   The main laptop screen of 12.1 inches is too small to make multi window navigation and application use convenient. I frequently find the text size or content needs to be reduced in dimension to make that application window fit correctly to fit into the screen.

Integration of Content and Services:

Cloud  and Mobile enabled applications are so well established that this has been fairly straight forward.  Obviously the Blackberry has full enterprise service integration, and can also support a multitude of consumer email services etc.  In terms of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) Evernote has been my application of choice for a long time, and that is always been a leading light in multi-platform support so it was simple to extend Evernote from the Laptop and Blackberry onto the Nexus 7.

I’ve also been a reasonably long time user of Synology NAS devices at home for home digital content (photos, movies, music etc.) The Audio and Photo playback application work without hitch, and I think it won’t be long until the video playback application is out of beta.  Certainly the download | file moving application made it easier to move content (music and movies) onto the Google Nexus.  I was also able to populate Google Play with my music library too.  So that means with Google Play Music, Synology Audio App, Spotify and Tunein Radio there is no shortage of music content on my mobile devices.  The Nexus 7 will come into its own as a content device when I purchase a good blue tooth speaker and use it to entertain the children when the family travels together.  Though, I must add as an aside – well done to United Airlines, who I flew with recently, for having a great on-demand music library – listened to Alison Strauss, Bon Iver, Robert Plant  and The Black Keys – many more were available too.

Conclusion:

I will be giving this combination of devices a good run in while working away so I will probably posting a lot more to the blog in the coming weeks.

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Gist – going off in a nearly new direction

I previously wrote about Rich Contact Management Services which mentioned services such as Gist (now part of RIM|Blackberry).

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They recently released the news that they’ve “decided to shutdown the stand-alone Gist service.

This makes a lot sense, from looking at the need to further integrate the myriad of social and contact based services we all rely upon and then really embed those services into the underlying platform.

While Blackberry continues to have well publicised issues the Gist team have got a strong remit and goal to deliver:

    • Since our acquisition we built the BlackBerry Playbook Contacts app and more recently, our team has been tasked with creating the native address book/contact manager for the next generation platform, BlackBerry 10.
    • In addition to our core focus on the Contacts app, we have been given expanded responsibility for everything social at RIM including BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook and Twitter apps and instant messaging as well as much of the identity platform, location services and user analytics features.

It’s good to see them acknowledge other players in this space – see their support page

I’ve tried Nimble, and will take a look at some of the others on list.

I wish the Gist team luck in delivering this goal of pulling much more together and integrating services the across the SOLOMO (SOcial-LOcal-MObile) |rich contact management space.

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Other sources of SOLOMO material:

Do you think SOLOMO (SOcial-LOcal-MObile) is a growing space for application services? 

Do you think this is a sensible move for Blackberry and Gist?

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Rich Contact Management Services

I’ve been interested in the services developed by providers such as Gist (now part of RIM|Blackberry), Rapportive (now part of Linkedin) and Xobni.

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These work across multiple PIM (email | phone | contacts) and social networking services to bring together a rich and comprehensive profile of your contacts.

Typical service features include:

  • Rich contact profiles
    • Picture | Avatar
    • PIM contact details
    • Latest updates on connected networks
    • Latest relationship history
    • Shared networks and frequent contacts
    • Autosuggest of contacts in mail creation
  • Contact sync services across devices and between contact management stores (address books)
  • Gadget | Extension services to incorporate further services

Since I’ve been using a Blackberry 9300 Curve I’ve been able to use both the Gist and Xobni applications for Blackberry, in addition to the integration I already have with Gmail. (the images above give some idea of the Blackberry mobile UI to these services).

I particularly like the integration with Gmail as this screen shot and youtube shows.

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Xobni Smartr

There is also very strong integration with Outlook from both Gist and Xobni. (Gist – did also have a Lotus Notes plugin too – see here – but it is now withdrawn)

As these systems bring together a single cloud store of contacts, available through multiple form factors and mobile devices.  I see stronger pull for these services in an Enterprise or business context.   For example in sales, where finding that contact, understanding the relationship history, recent updates etc. could create better lead generation or decision making in pursuing an opportunity.   Which is probably why Rapportive are now part of Linkedin.

I am a little surprised there isn’t more integration and support in the enterprise, these type of products could definitely help overcome some of disconnect and lack contact to enterprise expertise and resources that remote workers experience.

Does a unified and integrated view of your key contacts appeal to you?

Are you using these products?

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More thoughts on the user experience in G+

Having been in G+ for a short while now, and joined in with a lot of folks on the G+ field trial, kicking the tyres and joining in on some of the various discussions about it.  I wanted to put down some more of mine own thoughts about this interesting platform.

For the uninitiated & curious this is a quick introductory video:

credits: Google

 

The obvious thing that most people notice is there space and cleanliness of the Google UX, which has sprung from this initiative of Google (Evolving the Google design and experience).  Of which I am a fan, as I mentioned in a previous blog post about G+.

Many observers have pointed out that the G+ UI is very similar in layout to Facebook, by using a central column of activity with adjacent switches and controls to help navigate the UI. I presume research on user interface design, indicates that best practise for an information flow format would be a central column feature with blank margins or edges to the browser window to draw in the eye to the core content.  Though in my mind it does leave a lot of unused space available in the browser, which could be exploited – perhaps for not for primary content but as supplementary content or additional control features.

However, in spite of this good stuff, I see the following limitations with the current (mid – July 2011) UX of G+ which inhibit my full participation in this platform.

You can only view one stream of activity at a time (a particular circle or the whole stream):

 

  • Compare that to most Twitter clients (Tweetdeck, Seesmic etc.) where there is a lot of flexibility in the number of columns on view combined with the Twitter list feature is a very powerful mechanism for tracking multiple activity streams simultaneously.
  • I am not sure the web UX of G+ will develop a multi-stream UX soon (I may be wrong).  Though I expect on the release of the API – 3rd party clients will provide this feature pretty rapidly.
  • Perhaps Google will allow users to create additional tabs|spots for favourite streams here would be a possible solution?

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(For example, I already use the Google+Tweet integrated extension – so it can be done)

Circles are missing activity notification features:

 

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  • Currently UI indicates the displayed stream by highlighting it in a red font.  But it provides no information about the status of activity in other circles|streams you may be interested in, therefore your decisions on where to view next are more pot-luck than driven by useful information.  This could be fixed by providing..
    • An unread count for each circle (though will that make it feel like email all over again?)
    • Give new post indicators (e.g. change of font colour of updated circles, or place updated circles at the top of circles list, blinking circle icon etc.)
    • Indication of new posts in a stream by a different background fill colour, like unread marks, but that fade on scroll or mouse hover.
  • Obviously, this is more applicable when viewing a particular circle stream, rather than your whole activity stream, but knowing what circles are active or dormant should be indicated visibly to assist your management of the G+  service.
G+ needs more than just Circles (in their current form):

 

  • Circles are great, they help out a lot.  They help channel, tailor and focus the conversation to an audience that grasps the tacit context and content around the information shared.  Also these are the early days of G+ – so we need to give Google a fair crack of the whip and respond to feedback etc.
  • However, my gripe is this. Circles provide a method to categorise or filter people and how you share with them, but not necessarily where content should be shared.  Or actually where to find that content again…
    • I can’t search for posts or comments from inside G+ (I know there’s Chrome browser search work around), but it’s not brilliant.
    • Utilisation of topic (hash) tags are missing.
    • All circles are private, there are no public equivalents.
  • I feel this leads to a random spray (scatter gun) of information and knowledge across G+ which users find hard to grasp and navigate.  Which is why I think we’re all mostly talking about G+, rather than other things. see this example
  • I’m sure Google will be working on this, but I feel there needs to be either an implementation of public circles or topic specific pages|groups.
  • Then not only does the individual user have the ability to post content in context or to the right audience, but community|shared knowledge actually has a conceptual container & residency.  Therefore if you’re interested in “X” you join the page|group about X, and as a consequence find the associated experts, latest information, debate etc. Then you can create your own related circle to be your receiving filter for that information stream.
  • To me it just seems to be something missing in G+.  Each one of us is creating our own circles of content consumers and creators, with very little reference apart from our own social graph.  Which seems fine for private or intimate level of social kinship. But at a community sharing level I think there needs to be a higher level of visibility on the nature of content shared or purpose for sharing. To build and cement connections in that community, as well to motivate, inspire and drive it forward.  Do you disagree?  Do you think G+ can seed such strong communities without that conceptual framework?

I hope Google does address some of these issues soon, as I feel a little reticent to fully engage in the platform, as at some level I’m not quite comfortable with this scatter gun approach to content sharing. I think this is partly because of the richness of the conversation factor within G+, it seems  that as a platform more deserving of quality discourse and sharing, so it feels important to do that in the place of most social value – and I can’t tell where that is in G+.

I feel it is more deserving than Twitter, because of fully developed conversation model (chronicled comments and stream),  and the removal of the character limit on the individual post or share.  And also more deserving than Facebook, because at the moment it remains free of commercial interference … whether that will continue?  That is probably unlikely as Google will need to monetise the platform at some point, and that’s bound to mean more than just Adsense links.

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My first thoughts on Google+

So I go where many of the leading technorati (an example list) have already gone…  played about Google +, drawn their conclusions & evaluations, then posted and shared their thoughts with many peers and watchers (at least the vocal ones).

So I won’t past comment on Google +’s evolutionary history or how it compares against the usual suspects.  If you need that information please visit your preferred search engine.

What excites and interests me about Google +   is the slickness of integration with basic and existing services that Google has delivered with this primary iteration of the service through general UI revisionGmail, Google Chat, Photos etc. are all plumbed in well (perhaps not exactly as people wish, but that’s why the feedback button is there).

They’ve combined these key services and nicely presented them in the revised Google UI – which provides sensible toolbar menu and workspace with simple clean lines and uncluttered space in the browser.  The top right-hand side being particularly useful with the constant presence of the notifications and share menu, along with the context|service sensitive help and setting options.  All this I’ve easily get used and start taking for granted immediately.

So I’ve realised that Google + is almost the sort of connected set of services and social connections where I could use and work everyday.   Until now, I’ve not had a visualisation of a connected web worker interface and services that flow and connect together so well as Google +.  Perhaps that means I’ve missed something somewhere, or only had fleeting interactions with such a platform available elsewhere?

So why do I think it’s particularly suited for supporting the workplace?

These are my call-out features that make it a potentially great Enterprise collaboration platform:-

  • Google chat conversations that remain active and sync’d no matter which Google service tab you have have active, keeping continuity of contact and context.
  • Google +’s Hangouts (video conferencing) present a step change for multi participant video chat services, with intuitive launch and privacy controls.  This will be an excellent service for remote teams.
  • Google +’s profiles are well done, with key controls and updates, to help viewers choose how they wish to interact with that person.  It’s certainly made me think Google account profiles, are an important digital business card as well as sign post to the rest of your digital identity.
  • Google +’s sharing and circles, are there to help drive adhoc collaboration and project activities forward. Helping people target conversations and activities to relevant individuals and groups. Combined with the notification & filter features, your attention handling overhead is reduced. So you can focus on updates when they come in, but otherwise dedicate your focus elsewhere and let things move on in the background.
  • Google has done a good job of the activity stream implementation so far, delivering different filters/views on your stream via the circles categorisation.  Activity streams are more effective than an email inbox in helping an individual track a large flow of data in a loosely coupled manner, as well providing a more flexible engagement and participation model.
  • Gmail and Mobile integration (Huddles – group texts) (primarily Android currently), are already well done and obviously be subject to further improvements in future iterations. It’s also all browser based so the form factor, OS or the resources of the end-point device are not so much a limitation of the service but help to extend it’s reach and serve mobile users better.

It’s not complete by any means so there’s a couple of key things to come that Enterprise will be interested in:-

  • Google Apps, the current Google Enterprise services, look a great prospect for integration with Google +.  It will interesting to watch how that implementation takes shape, and the security and identity features they put into manage privacy, identity and content publication needs.  They’re already done some implementation of dual accounts in the Google+ toolbar, and you can switch IDs see here: account switching
  • Google +  API, another great prospect to integrate both consumer services and enterprise grade application services.

So I’m going to be interested to see how Google + evolves, there’s certainly being no lack of expertise and feedback for Google to exploit to help it change Google +  in the right manner.  It’s certainly good to have a strong disruptive influence in the social networking market place.

For reference this GigaOM post is also a great summary of the potential of Google + as enterprise workplace.

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