Category Archives: Emerging Technologies

The Most Important Digital Investment to Make in 2017

digital 2017

Last year, we talked about how the most important web investment for companies to make in 2016 was mobile. Since then, mobile has become the primary device for many people to browse the web and continued to play a bigger and bigger role in eCommerce.

Which naturally got us thinking: if it is not mobile anymore, what is the most important digital investment you can make in 2017?

 

Why 2017 is the year of process automation

Process automation is not necessarily as flashy or sexy as creating a responsive site or building a mobile app, but it is critically important. In 2017, we expect to see the importance of function grow and lead to a renewed focus on how efficiently things work. We see a few of reasons for this:

 

Increased capabilities

Over the last couple of years, the ability for companies of all sizes to automate their processes has grown. There’s been many new SaaS providers focused on translating conventional analog processes into the digital world. One example is in the field service management industry which as been one of the early beneficiaries of process automation, is set to see opportunities for process automation increase to $5.11 billion in 2020.

We know that just within one market, the huge number of possibilities that exist to automate processes. We believe this is also an indicator how many of the tasks people do day-to-day are outdated and ready for automation.

 

Lower cost

Going hand in hand with the growth in the number of providers and interest in process automation is the decrease in cost. Part of this is caused by the increased competition in the market, but also because of the shift from software licensing to cloud-based subscription software service providers.

With cloud-based systems on a monthly fee, smaller companies can more efficiently manage the investment to try these new technologies. Without the traditionally significant upfront investment. This model also saves businesses time and money by shifting the responsibility for updates and maintenance to the service provider.

Cloud-based subscription models have made it easier for companies of all sizes to start optimizing their processes with technology, which we believe will lead to continued growth in 2017.

 

Increased need

Finally, over the last ten years, we’ve seen digitalization accelerate. More and more services are available online, some exclusively so. Libraries, banks, government forms, taxes, immigration – one by one they have all shifted some part of their consumer-facing and internal processes online. With that transition to digital becoming more pervasive, organizations are now looking for more ways to maximize productivity with digital tools, which we believe will inevitably lead to process automation.

 

What this means for you

If you are looking for a way to reduce costs or increase productivity, it can be an easy avenue to pursue. Here are a few ways you can start approaching process automation:

 

Identify processes you can automate

The first step in process automation is (it sounds silly) to identify processes that are ripe for automation. There’s no need to take on the biggest, most cumbersome process first, rather we suggest you focus on something small that:

  • Is repeated regularly
  • Has little or no room for error
  • Is done the same way each time

A common example is a monthly expenses report.

Once you’ve identified your process and successfully automated it, you can apply the same identification methodology to bigger processes, before moving on to solving these problems.

 

Leverage your CMS

advantage cis

Your CMS can do more than just publish content online. You can use it to manage templates, workflows, collaboration, and required approvals. For example, most organizations have one (or several) gatekeepers who need to sign off on things. Instead of using an inelegant email chain, you can use your CMS to quickly solicit approvals and edits from a broad range of stakeholders, in a central location.

 

Use project management or automation software

There are plenty out there – Trello (now Atlassian), Basecamp, Wrike, Agiloft, KiSSFLOW. All these tools do variations on the same thing: provide a clear view of a project, help people know what’s happening (and what they need to do), and when everything needs to be done. It means that there’s a clear understanding by everyone of everything, so fewer things are liable to fall between the cracks.

Other tools like Zapier and IFTTT let you automate and amalgamate your digital tools with a basic ‘if this then that’ type logic, which can achieve quick wins for process automation.

 

Conclusion

Business process automation is going to be an increasingly important topic as business look to do more with less in 2017. And with the advances in AI, in new SaaS providers, and with CMS features and functionality, there’s never been a better time to get started with automating your business process.

If you want to stay competitive, the best thing you can do is get automating.

Ready to get started with your business process automation? Get in touch today to see how we can help you!

Your 2017 Digital Checklist

With 2016 now behind us, it’s a new year with a fresh budget to spend.

Here are 5 areas where we think you should be focusing your digital investment for the coming year.

 

1. Mobile apps – get one


Until recently, companion apps have been the exclusive purview of big chains. Irrespective of the perceived user benefits, smaller companies have seen them as just too much investment:

  • They don’t have the initial capital to build them
  • They don’t want to put up the money to maintain them
  • They don’t have the additional marketing budget needed to effectively drive downloads, making earlier investment less valuable.

Subway, Staples, Home Depot, banks – these are the types of enterprises who were getting apps for their stores – not Dave’s Groceries down the road.

But in 2017, we think this is going to change.

For starters, this trend is already underway – Small Business Trends reported that 50% of small businesses will get an app or be working towards that objective by 2017.

Second, the standard for user experience constantly increases. Pressure on all companies is higher than ever and will only be turned up in 2017. One way to stay competitive on mobile devices is with mobile app development.

Finally, mobile is increasingly the device of choice for people. Whether it’s the superfast processors in the latest smartphone or using a keyboard with your iPad Pro, the traditional computer (let alone the desktop) is becoming less important for work and play.

If you don’t have a mobile app yet, we think it is a worthwhile time to start thinking about one.

 

2. Start delving into location-based communication


Beacons and GPS, geo-fencing, and NFC are all examples of ways companies can use physical location to link the user to a digital experience. While these innovations have been on the books since around 2014 (especially for retail stores), the cost continues to drop, and they get easier to implement.

Currently, location-based signals are one of the best ways to provide a cross-channel experience, taking users from your brick-and-mortar locations to your online properties and back offline again.

For example, you might use geofencing technology to identify customers in your physical stores, and then be able to retarget them with email broadcasts or push notifications with new offers or messages, seamlessly blending your different marketing channels and identifying your highest value targets.

 

3. Optimise for AI

For the past year, there have been countless conversations about the role AI will play in our lives in the next 5-10 years. And in 2017, some brands are already rolling out ambitious AI projects. But for most companies, what we can expect is greater chatbot integration across a broad range of industries. Basically, people have become accustomed to using Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant as an interface to engage with products and services online.

Now, it’s up to companies to meet that expectation.

To do that, there’s going to have to be a twofold investment. First, in building out back-end systems to literally talk to Siri and her friends, making your service easier for your customers to use automatically.

Second, there will have to be increased investment in content that can be optimized to pull an answer when users ask a question into Google. For example, a robust FAQ about your industry with common questions and answers, all tagged as structured data, will help users find what they want faster than ever.

 

4. Security

2016 saw extremely high profile hacking incidents – including for both political camps during the US election, as well as Yahoo’s massive data breach. Collectively, these events have raised consumer awareness of IT risk to new heights. We’ve reached a point now where security is a zero-sum game for online producers.

Even one hacking incident could have significant repercussions on a business, to both its economics and reputation. The new normal will have companies balancing the security of their digital properties with an effective user experience.

 

5. Augmented and virtual reality


Finally, augmented and virtual reality. So far, we’ve focused on things that are actionable tomorrow – most companies can turn around and start building an app or conducting a security audit right away, should they want to.

Augmented reality and VR are a bit different. Yes, the hardware appears to be mainstream enough now with multiple providers on the market. And yes, the lesson learned from Pokemon Go was that augmented reality is a whole new platform for brands to reach consumers with. We wanted to mention it because, frankly, everyone else is predicting that 2017 is the year of mass deployment for an industry that is projected to be worth $120 billion in 2020.

But there are a few things to consider before you invest a portion of your budget into VR headsets.

First, most of the early applications focus on gaming. Yes, there are some token efforts outside of gaming and digital optimists are all screeching about the various other applications, but for now the focus remains on gaming.

As for augmented reality, yes it is a new channel to reach customers. But Pokemon Go is perhaps an inaccurate predictor of future success. After all, Pokemon Go had the distinct advantage of being first to market. Plus, it was a game.

So for 2017, we think that VR and AR will see big strides. But unless you’re a gaming company, you can probably hold off investing in 2017, and instead focus on honing existing channels of communication. It will also give you time to truly think about how your business can properly leverage AR/VR in a year or two, when the technology is more commonplace and can demonstrate true value, as opposed to simply appearing as a gimmick for early adopters.

 

Conclusion

2017 is looking to be a great year for companies to refine their digital products and services, helping consumers by forging stronger cross-channel experiences, improving mobile experiences, and interacting with customers with AI in a simple, customized way.

We’re pretty excited about it.

Do you think we missed something that should be on the radar for 2017? Let us know in the comments!

Top Mobile Trends of 2016

smartphone

In a recent article, we covered the rise and fall of web trends over the past year.

In this article, we’re taking a look at the various trends in mobile that we saw come into their own throughout 2016.

 

1. Voice-driven search

Siri, Cortana, and Google Voice search have all become a bigger part of our lives over the past year. Plus, other companies like Amazon Echo’s Alexa are showing the world that it’s not just the big search companies who can get in on the action. Voice activation has become a leader in how we choose to engage with our technology.

So it’s only natural this has begun to spill over into how people are searching for stuff online.

The shift over the past year has been away from finding the right source of information and towards the right information.

For example, in the past you might have typed into your search “best pho Toronto”, gone to a BlogTO article, read about what the top 10 best pho places were, and picked the one that was close enough and high enough up the list to satisfy your demand for good pho and your desire to avoid schlepping.

Sooo 2014.

Today, that same search would start with “OK Google! Where’s the best Pho?”

To which Google would reply…

“… the best pho place nearest you and open now is blah blah blah.” And give you directions to get there.

Do you see the difference? We’re no longer looking for where WE can get the info we want, but rather expecting that Google itself knows the answer. This fundamentally changes how we’re looking for information online, and we think this change is going to stick around for a while.

 

2. Superapps

WeChat features

Yes – Superapps.  Back in August, the New York Times released a video all about China’s tech world that exists within the Great Firewall, specifically focusing on WeChat, a so-called Superapp.

Essentially, WeChat has the functionalities of many different apps all rolled into one – it fills the role of:

  • PayPal
  • Amazon
  • Social networks (Facebook/Instagram)
  • Messaging apps
  • Uber
  • UberEats

And others. Naturally, this allows the collection of a tremendous amount of user information on a scale that Google and Facebook can only dream of – which is why in the back half of 2016 we’ve started to see that ‘Swiss Army knife’ approach to app design jump the Pacific and start to crop up here.

Our prediction?

This concept of superapps is too tantalizing to let go. Companies, who have been veering towards single-function will start to flow back towards complex, multiple functionalities in the hope of becoming the West’s version of WeChat.

 

3. Hardware is stagnating

iPhone hardware

Remember when each year brought a huge breakthrough in technical innovation? Well, 2016 has sort of bucked that trend.  The pace of innovation appears to be going through a more incremental phase right now.

Better battery life (with larger batteries), better low light cameras, a baby step towards better VR and AR, tougher screens – these are all positive innovations. But a breakthrough? We don’t think so.

One new product that we do like is the new Moto Z and it’s Moto Mods, which as you can see through it’s commercial, is taking a direct shot at the stagnant innovation in hardware. Moto Mods are similar to Google’s project Ara and might be a glimpse into the next breakthrough coming to smartphones. Who know where we ill go in 2017, but for now we’re happy that our phones can go all day and all night.

 

4. Mobile is transitioning off phones

Our understanding of what mobile means has changed significantly over the past year. Back when wearables were being introduced, there was an inkling that ‘mobile’ might mean more than phones.

But over the last year, that message has been drilled into us as the internet of things becomes an ever-increasing reality.

For example, earlier this year, Ford began calling itself a mobility company, focused on how its hardware (a car) integrated with various apps.

ford smart mobility

Which again, represents a fundamental change in how we think about mobile products. It’s not that Ford is making cars that integrate with apps – it’s that the language being used is the language of the app and mobile worlds. Basically, Ford is saying it is interested in how its customers use its technology first, only dealing with the hardware second.

What does this mean for companies?

The potential for mobile development is huge. Apps and devices are experiencing explosive growth and while apps on phones might be old news, the potential to leverage technology in other devices (e.g. cars) with software and hardware integrations is huge.

 

Wrap up for the year

2016’s been a good time for mobile trends. Our relationship with our mobile technology is better than it’s ever been, and companies are growing increasingly adept at identifying and solving sticking points with their mobile products.

Mobile’s been on point, and we are excited about what it’s going to bring in 2017.

5 Tips for Designing for the Internet of Things

internet of things

If you’re interested in anything tech-related, you’ve likely caught wind of the hype surrounding the Internet of Things.

If not, here’s what you need to know: the Internet of Things (or IoT) is (according to dictionary.com) a “network of everyday devices, appliances, and other objects equipped with computer chips and sensors that can collect and transmit data through the Internet.”

We’ve already seen the first applications of this idea with things like smart homes, smart security systems, smart kitchen appliances, and even smart scales. But the world of IoT is set to expand – and that has some big implications for the work that designers and developers do.

With the growth of the IoT, the scope of work that developers and designers undertake is set to explode: in addition to developing and designing apps and devices for traditional devices we’re used to connecting online with, like tablets, mobile devices, and computers , we’ll start to see more work open up in developing for everyday objects.

With big things ahead for the IoT, we’re rounding up some top tips and things to keep in mind when designing for the Internet of Things.

 

1) Make security a top priority

security

Users are becoming more savvy and aware of security in every area of their increasingly connected lives. This awareness is going to extend to the Internet of Things in a big way, and security will likely become a bigger issue than it is now.

Why’s that? Imagine having an in-home device that was transmitting tons of data about you and your home. Now imagine you weren’t confident in that device’s security. Not at all reassuring, right?

So when it comes to designing for the IoT, new apps and devices need to address these security concerns from the get go, and ideally have top notch authentication, encryption, and other security features built in. IoT apps and devices are going to have huge reach into their users’ lives, and it’s important to make sure that reach is secure.

 

2) Think big picture for app design

internet of things network

IoT apps are a different kettle of fish than the ones we’ve grown used to over the years, and they’re going to provide users with a very different service.

Think of a traditional mobile app: it’s designed for a niche market, to fulfill a very specific functionality. That’s great for mobile devices, but it’s not what we’re after for the IoT. IoT apps and devices, by nature, require communication and connectivity between devices and functionality, and therefore should aim to work with a whole ecosystem rather than serve one niche function.

The end goal of the IoT is complete connectivity, and IoT apps are going to need to reflect this goal.

 

3) Reimagine device aesthetics

LG Smart Refrigerator

LG Smart Refrigerator, via Wikimedia Commons

The IoT is going to introduce us to a broad new range of internet-connected devices. It’s no longer just about tablets, phones, or computers. The IoT will extent connectivity to wearables like watches, bracelets and other jewelry; washing machines and other appliances; and a huge range of other everyday objects.

This presents a huge opportunity to think about new ways to do design. The devices we’re used to today have a particular look (think chrome brushed aluminum, black molded plastic, glass screens). But IoT devices mean we can get away from this aesthetic, if we want to, by bringing traditional materials into technology design, for example.

 

4) Go beyond buttons and touchscreens

Elon Musk using Leap Motion

On smartphones, tablets, and computers, buttons and touchscreens are the user controls of choice. But IoT applications present an opportunity to reimagine these interfaces, and give users new ways to control their experience.

There’s Leap Motion, for example, which uses an infrared camera to detect hand and finger gestures, eliminating the need for interfaces like buttons and touchscreens. This is an idea that could be extended to a huge variety of devices, taking us back to a world where we use our hands to interact with the world through everyday, network-integrated objects.

On the flip side, some people advocate for moving away from physical objects altogether, and focusing more on the service layer. You can read up on that idea here.

 

5) Think about the data

iOS 10 Home app

iOS 10 Home app for IoT devices

One consequence of the development of the IoT is that it will transmit a ton of data – maybe too much. If everything from light bulbs to public transit networks are connected to a network and are constantly transmitting data (and most of it useless), we could end up with a data overload.

Gadi Amit, the president of New Deal Designs offers up some good insight into this problem. Amit has called out many IoT ‘smart devices’ for not truly being smart, criticizing the fact that they just collect all the data they can and stream it into the cloud.

Amit wants to see these devices shift the way they handle data, and he advocates that smart IoT devices instead become ‘Wise Devices.’ What would this look like? ‘Wise Devices’ would be able to sort through all the noise of all that data and deliver only what users want (i.e. contextual data).

There aren’t many examples of so-called ‘Wise Devices’ yet, but the idea of filtering data is definitely something to keep in mind when designing for the Internet of Things.

 

Wrap Up

The Internet of Things has been getting hype for years, but we’re starting to see it take off in a real way.

For designers and developers, that means a whole new set of design problems to tackle and an even wider scope of work. Time will tell how the development of the IoT shakes up the world of design, but for now, these five tips are worth keeping in mind.

Augmented Reality and the Future of App Development

pokemon go

When we’re talking about computer-altered realities, we tend to focus on virtual reality and brush off the closely related world of augmented reality (“AR”).

But with the recent release of the incredibly popular Pokémon Go app, AR has now earned its time in the spotlight.

We’re sure you’ve heard enough about Pokémon Go from your coworkers and friends to last you a lifetime, but bear with us: the app has some important things to teach us about the future of augmented reality and app development in general.

While it may have been hard to guess ahead of time, Pokémon Go (and its approach to augmented reality) might just be the app that fundamentally shakes up how we use technology to interact with the world.

 

What is Augmented Reality?

Digital Trends defines augmented reality as ‘the interaction of superimposed graphics, audio and other sense enhancements over a real-world environment that’s displayed in real time.’

Examples of augmented are surprisingly easy to find, they are as simple as the graphics you often see superimposed onto TV footage, or a Snapchat filter. But we’re entering a new phase of augmented reality that’s more interactive, user-driven, and app-based.

 

Augmented Reality Progress Report

Different incarnations of AR tech have been around for a while, but it has been slow to take the mass market by storm. Om Malik has referred to AR as ‘the boy who cried wolf of the post-Internet world – it’s long been promised but has rarely been delivered in a satisfying way.’

We’ve seen AR-supporting products like Google Glass flop, and various companies like Lego and IKEA try to get AR apps off the ground to limited success. Microsoft has promised a future with rich AR experiences with its forthcoming Hololens, but so far It hasn’t been clear how AR technology will be used effectively.

Until now, that is. With the release of the Pokémon Go app, we’ve got one of the first successful examples of how augmented reality might start to change the way we use phones to interact with our environments.

So what does Pokémon Go have that previous AR attempts were missing? Hint: it’s not just that people love Pokémon.

 

Pokémon Go’s Augmented Reality

By now, you’ve probably seen packs of Pokémon-hunters running around your city trying to bag a Pikachu or Charizard. The app’s popularity has reached incredible heights: two days after its release, it had been downloaded on 5.16% of Android phones, and within a week, it was the most downloaded app in the Apple App Store. Plus, people are spending more time daily on Pokémon Go than Facebook or Snapchat (43 minutes, to be exact).

Some part of the Pokémon Go success story can be attributed to a nostalgia for the classic franchise, but its success across gender, age and ethnicity shows that there is more too it than just that.

The Pokémon Go app combines AR tech with the GPS and camera features of smartphones to create an interactive experience, where players explore the Pokemon world through their phone, with their feet still firmly planted in the real world.

The players’ real environments are overlaid with computer-generated game features, like ‘Pokestops’ and ‘Pokegyms’. The game’s AR tech lets players spot and catch Pokémon in the wild, so to speak: they can be found almost anywhere, from parks to streets, to shops and cafes.

 

Lessons for the Future of Augmented Reality Apps

So what does this new step in AR implementation mean for the rest of the app world? Here are the main lessons we can draw from Pokémon Go’s successful use of AR, and what they’ll mean for the future of app development.

 

1) Good AR is interactive

The fact that Pokémon Go lets users interact with the world around them (in augmented form) is a major draw card for the game.

AR of yesteryear didn’t focus much on interaction, but we can expect that to change going forward, partly thanks to the power of smartphones. We’re living in a world where smartphones have cameras, GPS, barometers and an array of other features that can turn AR into a more immersive and interactive experience.

What we are excited about is that this interaction in AR doesn’t have to be catching Pokémon – it could be as simple as using an AR application to pull up product information in a store, check into a bar, or learn more about a piece of art in a museum. Whatever it is, we’re expecting the future of AR to harness interactivity in a big way.

 

2) Good AR is social

Pokémon Go is a really social AR experience. Sure, you play the game alone on a personal screen, but users create teams to play with, and the nature of the game requires that players go into the real world and engage with their environment. Given the size of the audience, playing is also a bonding experience – fellow Pokémon Go players are easy to spot and chat strategy with on the street.

The fact that Pokémon Go is so social should tell us something interesting about the future of AR applications. Whereas past attempts at AR (such as Google Glass’s AR features), have focused on users as individuals, successful AR of the future might rely more on creating community and providing opportunities for users to engage with each other in their augmented reality worlds.

 

3) Good AR doesn’t require special equipment

Anyone with a smartphone can play Pokémon Go, which is a far cry from the Google Glass vision of augmented reality that was dominant a few years ago. This more approachable and accessible version of augmented reality has definitely played a role in the app’s popularity.

Here’s the thing: smartphones today have the processing power, camera, and GPS capabilities to do some impressive things. And while Facebook and Microsoft are both developing their own VR and AR wearables, it’s now clear that you can create an engaging AR experience without any special bells and whistles.

This realisation is a big step towards more widespread AR use on the user end, and we can expect to see more companies and app developers embracing AR on the smartphone as a result.

 

Wrap Up

With the release of Pokémon Go, we’ve taken a big leap forward into the world of mainstream augmented reality. And it’s not just Pokémon Go that’s propelling us into the future. Facebook is rumoured to be developing new augmented reality glasses, Microsoft has been playing around with their HoloLens AR glasses, and it’s becoming clear that even a basic smartphone can now give users a seamless AR experience on just about any app.

There are big things ahead for augmented reality – and app developers would be wise to take note.

Mobile Beacon Technology and Its Best Use Cases

via GIPHY

When we first covered beacon technology way back in 2013, we called it the next big thing in mobile connectedness. The hype around beacon technology when Apple released its iBeacon technology was so strong that it seemed inevitable that beacon tech would take over the world.

Flash forward a few years, and beacon technology has taken longer to catch on than anyone anticipated. But recently, it’s been gaining momentum. In 2016, beacons are expected to drive $44 billion in retail sales (up from $4 billion in 2016), and more and more companies are jumping on the beacon bandwagon, from the traditional retail setting, to airlines, hotels, and banks.

Now that beacons are well on their way, how are companies and organizations using them to successfully improve the real-world mobile experience? In this post, we’ll cover some of the best use cases for beacons. But first, let’s review what beacon technology really is.

 

What is Beacon Technology?

According to Apple, the functionality of beacon tech is to:

alert apps when you approach or leave a location. In addition to monitoring your location, an app knows when you’re close to an iBeacon, like a checkout counter in a retail store.

What does that mean in practice? Let’s say you’re visiting one of your favourite stores, armed with the retailer’s mobile app. When you pass by a beacon (a small device placed at strategic points throughout the store), the retailer can use beacon messages to make personalised offers, alert you to products you might like, or tell you about sales.

beacon technology

via Estimote

The retailer can then also use data collected from the beacons to make business decisions based on store traffic flows, product popularity, and buyer trends.

Although Apple kicked off the beacon hype with iBeacon, it’s not the only player in the game. Google has its own beacon standard, called Eddystone, and there are a large number of manufacturers – most notably, Estimote – who make the physical beacons.

Best Beacon Use Cases

When beacons first came out, they were most strongly associated with retail settings. Over the years, though, other types of organizations have adopted beacons and extended their functionality for real-world context to events, dating apps, museums, and banks. Here are some of the best:

 

SXSW

SXSW beacon technology

via SXSW

SXSW was one of the first organizations to bring beacons to the world of events. Beginning with their 2014 conference, SXSW partnered with Eventbase to build an official event app that incorporated iBeacon to give users a smoother event experience.

For the 2015 event, the Austin Convention Centre was decked out with more than 1,000 beacons that pinged attendees with useful notifications throughout the conference. Anyone with an iPhone was able to take advantage of the iBeacon tech to pick up their badges, complete their registration, and find their way around the location.

The beacons also welcomed users to sessions with information and an invitation to join a group discussion within the app.

 

Danske Bank

Danske Bank

via EssentialRetail

Payment technology has always been an area with room for improvement, and Danske Bank is using beacons to lead the way.

Danske Bank partnered with GoAppified and Netclearance systems to use beacons to create better payment experiences by integrating beacon tech with their MobilePay app, a platform that already had three million users.

Here’s how it worked: the bank set up beacons at the checkout counters of hundreds of retails stores across Denmark. After passing their phones over the beacons, customers received a notification asking them to approve the purchase by swiping right. It’s a simple, intuitive, and quick payment system, and it’s setting the standard for beacon use in mobile pay settings.

Other banks are getting into the beacon game as well, by using beacon tech to push personalized notifications out to customers when they enter a branch. But Danske Bank’s use of beacons to improve the mobile payment experience is a huge step forward. It’s a well-timed one as well – the total amount of proximity mobile payments is expected to grow 210% in 2016, according to eMarketer.

 

Blinq

Blinq beacon deployment

via Estimote

Blinq is a Swiss dating app that says it’s ‘like meeting in a bar – just easier.’ What does that mean? Blinq is using beacons to connect users who are in the same place at the same time.

Blinq installed beacons at bars and clubs around Zurich that send out notifications to app-users when another single user who matches their interests is at the same location as them. Users can then chose to say ‘Hi’ or ‘Bye’, meet up, and hang out. Putting the potential for creepiness aside, the use of beacon technology in this case is unique and interesting.

Blinq also has a ‘Hotspot’ feature that gives users a list of the top 5 clubs and bars that suit their interests best (and have the most eligible singles at them), based on real-time trends that are monitored using the beacons.

The app has been successful, and it’s also given us a look at how beacons might be used in social networking platforms and dating tools going forward.

 

Australian Museum

Australian Museum Trailblazer App

via Australian Museum

Australian Museum is using beacons to take on a question plaguing museums everywhere: how do you attract young visitors? Their answer: gamify the museum experience using beacons.

Australian Museum developed an app called Trailblazer, which uses a scavenger hunt to encourage users to travel around the museum collecting items (which are marked by a beacon). Beacons are also used to give users a ‘radar’ feature, which tells them how close they are to particular objects in the exhibition.

The app is geared towards the pre-teen crowd, but gamification for all age groups is a major trend in beacon tech. In the next five years, retail adoption of beacon-enabled gamification is expected to increase by 181%.

 

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic Beacon Deployment

via Virgin Atlantic

In 2015, Virgin Atlantic launched an extensive beacon campaign at Heathrow Airport, in an attempt to improve their passengers’ airport experience and offer better customer service.

Premium passengers who downloaded the app would receive personalized notifications and offers during their time at Heathrow. Virgin also used iBeacon to notify passengers when they were getting close to a security check, reminding them to have their boarding passes ready, or sending them offers on currency exchange deals.

Airline staff were also outfitted with Google Glass or a Sony Smartwatch with an app that managed task allocation and delivered customer information directly to staff to help them personally welcome each passenger.

American Airlines, easyJet, and Japan Airlines are also embracing iBeacon tech to improve their passengers’ airport experiences, and to help staff deliver better service.

 

Wrap Up

Beacon technology has come a long way since its early days. After a slow start, it’s certainly picking up steam. The traditional retail applications of beacon tech are growing, and other organizations from transport to dating apps are also embracing beacons.

Three years later, the future is starting to look bright for beacons.

The 2016 Google I/O Highlights for Designers and Developers

Google I/O 2016

Last week, we wrote about the big news and major announcements coming out of Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). But Apple is not the only major player in the tech world hosting developer conferences these days.

In late May, Google hosted its annual Google I/O event, where it announced its major product launches and updates. There were a few surprises and a lot of big changes. Here are the highlights that developers and designers should be taking note of.

 

Android N is kicking things up a notch

Android N

Google previewed its new Android OS (which is set to be released later this summer), and it comes with a ton of new features. Split-screen multitasking, new emojis, improved software updating and virtual reality platforms are just some of the new elements of the software that users can expect to see on their devices when they upgrade to ’N’. Google is also promising better security and faster performance.

Developers are getting some new features with Android N as well, like Vulkan, a new API that gives developers direct control of a phone’s GPU for higher-performance 3D graphics.

 

Virtual reality is coming to Android

Google unveiled its plans for Daydream, a VR platform for Android. It’s still in the dream phase for users, but when it is publicly released, it will allow users access to a suite of VR apps that they can access in a ‘viewer’ (like Google Cardboard). You can see a walkthrough of the platform in the video below:

Developers can get their hands on Daydream now, and for good reason: while Google is building the framework for Daydream, it needs developers to build the apps, games, and VR experiences that will draw users in.

Google has already started to build VR versions of its apps (like Street View, YouTube, and Google Photos), but other companies are also getting in on Daydream. Word has it that the New York Times, HBO, and Netflix are among companies that have started developing their Daydream apps.

 

Google Assistant is taking on Siri

Google Assistant

Gearing up to take on Apple’s Siri, Google officially launched ‘Google Assistant’, which is essentially a smarter, more sophisticated version of its existing ‘OK, Google’ feature. Google Assistant has sophisticated tech that gets to know its users’ preferences and habits, and help them make better, more refined searches.

Plus, like the newest version of Siri, the Google Assistant is integrated with a ton of other apps – it can facilitate many different actions, from recommending movies, to buying you the tickets and even hailing you the Uber to get you there.  This opens up a plethora of new integration opportunities for app developers.

 

Android Instant Apps is shaking up mobile

In an interesting twist, Google introduced a concept it’s calling ‘Android Instant Apps’, which will let you use an app without downloading the whole thing. Check out the quick explainer video from The Verge below:

It’s a cool idea for users, and it’s positioned as an improvement for the mobile browsing experience. Let’s say you’re browsing a news web site, and you click a video link. If the site has an app that could stream that video better, Google Play will get you the parts of that app that will enhance your experience, without making you download the whole thing.

What does this mean for developers? Google says it should take ‘less than a day of work’ for developers to set up their apps for the feature. Beyond that, the links between apps and websites could also help developers monetize their apps successfully and get buy-in from users.

If you’re interested in more of the details of Instant Apps, check out Google’s developer documentation.

 

Google Home arrives on the scene

Google Home

via google.com

Google is taking on another major competitor with Google Home – but this time it’s the Amazon Echo. Google Home is a sleek little device with an integrated speaker that connects your devices and lets you wander around your house asking Google questions and getting help from the new Google Assistant. It doesn’t have a confirmed release date yet, but is expected later this year.

But there’s sad news for developers: Google hasn’t opened up the Homes API – yet. According to Google, integration with a huge range of apps and devices is inevitable, and developers will get the opportunity to work with Google Home in the near future.

 

 Firebase 2.0 is getting a major expansion

firebase

This is the big news for developers: the Firebase development platform is getting a slew of updates and new features for building and testing apps. Firebase has always had a good reputation for developers, but this is a major step up.

Here’s the highlight reel of the new-and-improved features coming to Firebase 2.0:

  • A new Analytics module that will allow developers to define custom user groups, called Audiences, and follow user-centric metrics
  • Firebase Cloud Messaging (FCM), an integration with Google Cloud Messaging that promises a better cloud-to-device push messaging service for developers
  • Firebase Storage, which will give developers Google Cloud-powered storage for images, videos and other large files
  • Firebase Remote Config, a feature that lets you instantly update and fine tune various app variables on the go, without releasing a whole new version
  • An improved Firebase Test Lab for Android and Firebase Crash Reporting
  • Admob, a feature that will help developers monetize their apps
  • A bunch of features for growing and engaging your app’s audience, including Firebase Notifications, Firebase Dynamic Links, Firebase app indexing (formerly Google App indexing), and integration with Google’s AdWords

You can check out all of the Firebase updates here.

 

Android Studio 2.2 is getting an upgrade

Android Studio 2.2 is also getting a few updates that developers will no doubt appreciate. The upgrades largely focus on speed, promising faster development turnaround, faster builds, and faster layouts, with more automation and quality checks.

 

Odds and Ends

allo duo

There were plenty of other announcements from Google at this year’s conference, including new messaging and video apps (called Allo and Duo, respectively), an overhaul for Android Wear (which is available exclusively for developers now) that’s focused on making wearables more autonomous, and new updates on the Google Car project.

It was a dense conference, so if you want a full run down of the announcements, we recommend checking out the full keynote here.

 

Wrap Up

The 2016 Google I/O highlighted the fact that Google sees the future of technology as a more interactive one. Most of the updates and new products focused on letting consumers interact more with their technology. From the Google Assistant, to Home, to Virtual Reality, it was all about drawing users in to a more connected tech ecosystem.

Google also made it clear that the developer experience matters. Firebase and Android studio both received major upgrades that aim to improve how developers and designers work with Google. There were also announcements of early release developer editions for much of Google’s new tech.

Google knows what a key role developers play in the success of its tech, and the 2016 I/O made it clear that it’s cultivating that relationship.

The 2016 Apple WWDC Highlights for Designers and Developers

iOS 10 preview WWDC

Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference – where the company introduces the world to its latest software and product developments – is one of the most hotly anticipated events on the tech world’s calendar each year, and this year’s event held on June 13 didn’t disappoint.

The news coming out of the 2016 WWDC keynote speech is big: all of Apple’s operating systems are getting major upgrades that are set to overhaul the way that Apple devices interact with each other. More compatibility and better integration between devices were the major themes at this year’s conference, with Apple aiming to take on its competitors’ online services and software offerings.

If you had your fingers crossed for new hardware announcements, you might have walked away disappointed. But don’t worry – there’s still plenty to dig in to, and a lot to look forward to in app development. Here are the highlights:

 

OS X is getting a re-brand – and an upgrade

macOS sierra

One of the big announcements in the WWDC keynote was that the Mac operating system is being re-named. Gone are the days of OS X – the operating system will now be known as macOS, and the new name is ushering in a few key changes.

The latest iteration of the Mac operating system, macOS Sierra, will focus squarely on improving integration with other Apple devices. Sierra will introduce users to a host of new features that will allow them to move between devices easily, including:

  • A ‘Universal Clipboard’ that allows users to copy and paste across devices (think of it as Apple’s take on Evernote)
  • An Apple Watch function that unlocks a user’s computer from their watch
  • A new iCloud function that lets users save their computer’s desktop to the cloud and access it from another computer

And for those of you who love Siri, there’s exciting news: macOS Sierra will introduce Siri to desktop for the first time (more on Siri below).

 

Big changes are in store for iOS


In his presentation, Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi billed the iOS 10 updates as the “biggest iOS release ever for our users”, and he’s not exaggerating.

One of the biggest updates is to the Messages app. New features like animations, custom emojis, an invisible ink feature, and handwritten notes are seen by analysts as an attempt to compete with Facebook Messenger. The Messages app will also have the ability to install third-party apps, giving developers a new platform within iOS to develop for. Some of the examples given by Apple of features this will enable are sharing content and sending money.

messages apps

Here are some of the other major upgrades coming to iOS:

  • The Maps app is being redesigned to make navigation easier
  • Apple News is being redesigned
  • The Photos app will get an upgrade to compete with Google Photos on features like automatic organization
  • A new voicemail transcription feature is being introduced

And arguably most importantly, huge changes are also in store for Siri, as the voice assistant will be opening up to developers for the first time. Apple unveiled SiriKit for iOS 10, which lets developers design their apps with Siri compatibility in mind.

Until now, Siri has only been able to interact with default iOS services (e.g. Make a phone call using the default Phone app, create a reminder in the default Reminders app, schedule an event in the Calendar app, etc.). Now, app developers will be able to integrate Siri into their own apps, so users will be able to use voice commands for requests to third-party apps. Siri will now be able to do things like call a car on Uber, or send money through a payment app.

This clearly presents a great opportunity for app owners and developers to take their service to the next level and integrate Apple’s voice commands to improve their user experience.

 

The Apple Watch is speeding up

watchOS 3 preview

The Apple Watch operating system is also getting a shiny new update (are you sensing a theme here?). watchOS 3 is set to make a slew of improvements to the functionality of the Apple Watch, most notably a huge boost in speed.

Most complaints about the Apple Watch to date have been about the overall slowness of third-party apps on the device, illustrated by this joke from noted Apple analyst John Gruber:

The speed issue discouraged app developers from continuing development on the platform, feeling that there was a limit to the device’s performance. At this year’s WWDC, Apple announced that speed improvements will be coming to all apps, and can lead to third-party apps loading seven times faster than they currently do on watchOS 2. This should entice third-party app developers to give the platform another shot.

In other watch news, Apple put a heavy emphasis on the fitness and activity tracking features of the watch, and introduced some nice new features like an SOS system for emergencies, and a new keyboard feature called ‘scribble’ that lets users handwrite letters directly on the watch instead of typing. Developers will also be able to better leverage the device’s onboard sensors, like heart rate.

 

Improvements are coming to tvOS

tvOS

The fourth and final of Apple’s operating systems isn’t being left out of the software updates. Apple announced a few improvements to the Apple TV operating system, tvOS, but they’re modest.

Some of the most interesting updates from a development perspective are improved live streaming capabilities, four game controller support and multiplayer game sessions, HomeKit support (which lets users control enabled home appliances via their Apple TV), and improved search functionality.

A single sign-on feature will let users log into all of their individual TV apps linked to their cable provider (like NBC, ABC, AMC, for example) with one login – enter your credentials once, and they’re applied system-wide, rather than on a per-app basis. Since Apple TV now has more than 6,000 apps, this feature is definitely a welcome addition.

Continuing the theme of connectivity, users will also be able to use their iPhone as a remote, and use Siri to search Apple TV.

 

Wrap Up

So what are the big takeaways from this year’s WWDC keynote?

First off, Apple put a big emphasis on software this year and didn’t unveil any new hardware. This might be because its hardware sales are slowing, and because Apple is finally recognizing that it needs to play catch up with its competitors’ software and online services – for instance, a lot of the software updates for iOS are introducing features that Google already has.

Secondly, the theme of all of the major software updates was connectivity between Apple devices and operating systems. If the individual software updates don’t seem like such a big deal on their own, it’s because Apple is focusing more on the big picture – namely making all of its devices work seamlessly together.

Recently, there’s been a shift in how we think about the future of tech – we’re moving away from isolated devices and platforms, and towards more connectivity and integration across devices. At this year’s WWDC, Apple made it clear that it’s ready to take the plunge into that future. And if you’re an app owner, you should be thinking the same way.

Mary Meeker: 2016 Internet Trends

Every year, Mary Meeker, an analyst at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, releases a comprehensive report on global internet trends. This year’s report was just released last week, as Meeker presented at the annual Code Conference.

In addition to the usual stats on mobile usage, Mary Meeker on her 2016 Internet Trends report covers emerging trends in areas such as voice recognition, artificial intelligence, and the convergence of software and automobiles.

If you’re interested in where digital trends are heading in the coming years, it’s definitely worth checking out below: