Thursday, June 21, 2012

Windows Phone 8 - Whats on the horizon?

Earlier in the month we saw Apple announcing iOS version 6 and now we hear Microsoft announcing Windows Phone 8 for the phone. Earlier this week, microsoft showcased the windows tablet "surface". A cool video i must say. Earlier I thought of writing a detailed post on what is the enterprise readiness for the mobile platform and then compare all platforms head on head. But i think with Windows and iOS new version announcement, i would first cover what I learn from these versions. 

My colleague Ram covered the iOS 6 in his recent blog post here, so let me constrain here with Windows Phone :)

The Windows phone 8 update will not be a full update to the existing windows phone devices. Thats the sad news. They will only get 7.8 update with just a minor set of features like start screen. This is mainly due to the new base on which the Windows Phone OS is designed. Microsoft claims that WP 8 is a convergence of age old windows OS with latest Metro design and newness in mobile world. It looks like, the new windows phone OS shall support higher resolutions and multi-core processors. It means better games and faster apps. The discontinued support actually means only limited features from WP8 will be enabled on the existing WP7.5 phones. This is i think obvious as a lot of features are dependent on the hardware.

NFC, Digital Wallet and More...
Microsoft has built NFC, external SD card and digital wallet into the new WP version. NFC and SD cards were expected but digital wallet surprises as it just comes after Apple's passbook announcement from iOS 6. Apple constrained their passbook offering to boarding passes, coupons but Microsoft took it to combine features from google wallet and apple passbook. Windows Phone 8’s new digital Wallet feature offers better experience than google and apple. It can keep debit and credit cards, coupons, boarding passes, and other important info in the digital wallet. And when paired with a secure SIM from supporting carrier, spot payments can be made at compatible checkout counters.

New Pure OS features
In the new Windows Phone version, the IE 10 will be bundled. The start screen is smartly refreshed. The notable innovation on the start screen is ability to resize the tiles into 1/4th of curent screen size. This means, once can keep the tiles they like with the sizes they want! If i like reading SMS on the tile itself, just stretch it to full width tile or if i dont use the phone app much, squeeze it to 1/4 of the screen! Pretty cool. I personally use the Windows Phone for past 6-8 months and i love the tiles! This would be one feature i would certainly vote high! With new windows phone version, the maps are getting revised too. Microsoft and Nokia are merging their maps to build beter one. Not really sure hw much will this score against industry giant google maps and new kid on the block - apple maps. The windows phone among other features now supports multi-lingual interfaces and languages for around 50 countries. The OS updates will be delivered over the air similar to close rivals iOS and Android.

Windows Phone 8 SDK enhancements
Support for native C and C++ code would lead to older C++ apps and device interface apps to run smoother and with lesser efforts. DirectX based games and screen rendering would be a breeze provided now phone hardware is keeping up with this pace. this may mean some of the old C/ C++ games start popping up on the app store! I can now bring some of my proprietary hardware interface code to work for enterprise apps easily on the phone. Another welcome addition is in-app purchases and VOIP app integration into people hub. Not just Skype but apps like tango, IM etc can now build the interfaces right into the people hub with calling facility. This creates the hope for apps like gTalk to be able to use for calling from the phone directly from the app hub. The question would be if google would do that app someday :D)

Enterprise Support
A big leap from the earlier version, Windows Phone now supports the enterprise use of devices. The device management, security and policy enforcement, app deployments and custom app stores would be a possibility with new windows phone version. The entire device encryption has been enabled wherein one can set the device OS, contents and all data to be securely encrypted. Windows phone will now support UEFI (United Extensible Firmware Interface) boot protocol to enhance security. Microsoft claims that the same tools used for windows desktop devices management can be used to remotely manage the windows phone devices too. The remote wipe, install, uninstall would be a possibility. The biggest yet enhancement targeted for enterprises is Company Hub and apps. This will enable the custom application to be distributed in secure an private manner to limited audience in the enterprise.

Although we havent got chance to play with any physical phone that runs windows phone 8 yet, it looks like microsoft is slowly catching up with apple and google. The Gartner, IDC, CommScore etc have some or the other way hinted at windows phone being a string contender for enterprise grade OS. [Refer this link] Blackberry is fast fading but Microsoft is not. The future of Nokia can be still doubted but windows phone sure looks promising. I just hope that apple keeps the pace with its iPhone 6 for hardware innovation and pushes the limits further. The mobile OS war is now seems to be getting focused around Microsoft, Google and Apple in the ascending order of leadership of course. Will this change in near future? I guess so but as they say, to test the reality, you can to live in reality. Lets just wait and watch. Oh i should say, develop apps and watch :)

Quick Note: For those who are interested in a detailed view of earlier WP version view, visit this blog by Basavraj.

Disclaimer: All the information here about windows phone 8 are based on Windows Phone team blog by Microsoft. And of course "IMO, I feel, I guess" are my omments :)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A month later about windows phone app - Photo Editor+

It has been a month now since we uploaded the Windows Phone app to the AppHub worldwide. The application PhotoEditor+ was done by our TCG team just for fun. The ideas was to spend a week getting hands dirty in the code! Without the help of UX team, the developers decided to build an app for photo editing. Dwarak and Basavraj lead them from front and came up with the idea of application - Photo Editor+. The application that basically does following - 

This application allows user to edit images and add different effects to it. This app supports different effects like Ridge, Negative, B/W, Invert etc. User can decorate image by adding different stylish frames around it. It also change zoom level, opacity and rotation angel of image and text objects. That is not all; one can insert custom texts, clip arts, timestamps and images on your existing image. Finally, it can save your decorated image in Gallery so that you can share your creativity with your friends and family. 

Key Features: 

  1. Select image from Gallery or take picture directly from camera 
  2. Apply stylish frame 
  3. Insert (Image from gallery, Text, Time stamp with different formats, Clip Arts 
  4. Apply different effects on image such as Negative, Black and white, Invert, Ridge, Custom (Win Effect) 
  5. Change opacity of image/text 
  6. Inserted image/text can be zoomed, rotated 
  7. Apply different fonts, font styles (Italic/Bold) and font color to inserted text 
  8. Edit inserted text 
  9. Delete inserted objects (image/text/clip arts etc.) 
  10. Save edited image in gallery
The application can be downloaded by clicking here

Within the month, the application has reached in top 50 apps in photo category for USA and India. Its a great achievement that something created with fun in mind has done well on the user expectations as well! Kudos to the team for doing this. There are around 100 downloads taking place for this application globally. 

Here is the snapshot of current download stats in the month of May 2012.

Photo Editor+ Download Stats for May 2012
This actually now means a lot more responsibility for the team to update the application with more features and better UX. As i am writing this, team is preparing the UX revamp of the application. They will only need another crazy week to sit together and do "hobby code" to finish this app!

I hope, soon team will post the brief writeup on their experience of developing the app :) I have been using the windows phone for around 6 months now. I think it just does what one can ask from a smartphone. I never missed my earlier Android and iPhones except few distant needs. In a nutshell when i look at the OS and device availability, i feel it has got the good/ comparable UX and that X-factor in the phone. I use Samsung Omnia W with Mango. I love the skydrive and office app support and feel that would be the most appealing feature to the enterprises/ enterprise users for driving adoption!

Also, its worth noting that the windows phone is not yet enterprise ready. A lot of features you would need as an enterprise developer including platform support for security/ data exchange/ MEAP extensibility/ MDM support are not fully available as compared to two big-brothers: Android and iOS. I intend to write a quick-stats and platform readiness to take on enterprises. Another promise, that i must keep in the interest of my followers and readers :)

UPDATE 21-Jun-2012:
The application has now crossed more than 5000 downloads in around 36 days. It has gone up on the rank in India and USA app stores. Today is also a day when microsoft total app count on Microsoft App hub has cross 100,000 mark! Not a serious achievement compared to iOS and Android but a milestone in itself. The hobby developers have now increased in the numbers and a new UI with some small feature tweaks is in the revision phase. Meaning, expect the update to te app soon!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Experience at SAP Innovation & Technology Event @ Singapore

I am continued to be amazed by SAP labs on how they innovate and build the next generation products, strategy and help grow their customers. I recently happend to to be at SAP's Innovation and Technology Forum at Singapore. It was on June 1, 2012. I had the opportunity to deliver a 10 minute quick thoughts on mobility in a HCM track along with our partner RollingArray's CEO Manu Khetan. Thanks Manu for the opportunity.

The event was organized by SAP for all its customers in APAC region. As an event Sponsor Rolling Arrays had secured booth to which me and my colleagues joined. Rolling Arrays and Endeavour - The Mobility Company have recently joined hands to support enterprise customers extend their LOB apps to Mobility. Manu specializes in HCM and was also talking at this event. Being the strategic mobility partner, i joined him to share the stage to give my thoughts on Mobility. It was an amazing crowd, everyone nodding their heads to the needs and challenges of Mobility i briefly touched upon. There is no doubt that enterprises have realized the potential of Mobility and willing to explore actively.

The event began with keynotes by Steve Lucas - SAP EVP and SAP Database Evangelist. He discussed about the various challenges and noises that a business has to go through and how SAP is helping the customers all around. His focus of the keynote was SAP Hana. The latest technological inovation SAP has brought in to do in-memory database computations. There was this great demo on the iPad that Steve's fellow teammate shown about performance of the Hana backend through iPad application. The sales analytics being drilled down on more than 4 dimensions was great. The UI could have been better :D) but i think for a demo it was good!

Hana is a good concept as it brings all the database in memory that is required more frequently. I am not a great db expert but to me it looks like caching done smartly, the kind of old wine in new bottle ;) But having said this, what SAP Hana could do was bring a large result set in less than few seconds on the user's screen! The equivalent SQL queries on the oracle database took 700-800 times more effort than SAP. I am sure it was the difference in data being available in memory than making a round trip to DB for every fetch. A bit logical. But then why Oracle has not done this in the past? The questions in unanswered for now. I will dig deeper someday and get you the answer :) But in a way this is similar paradigm shift from the mainframe based computing to Internet computing two decades old. We are now shifting from the disk based storage retrieval to smarted in memory computations. A good move, indeed.

Later in the day when the conference had shifted the focus from innovation to Technology. A lot of speakers emphasized on various services offerings and their value to the customers as SAP channel partners. People seemed to be very much focused and asking smart questions to the booth representatives around us. A lot of them asking about the challenges in implementing mobility in an enterprise. A subject dearer to me :) I had a great time explaining them about the challenges we have been facing in mobilizing some of the largest enterprise applications for our customers. The role played by Middleware and Device Management softwares.

Mobility is not just the application being developed and deployed on the device - a phone or a tablet. For some people its like accessing your email and calendars. I agree that this is the beginning but thats is not where the mobility ends. Unless you turn those smartphones and tablet in real data churning devices that help you take decisions on the go, you have not unleashed their potential. By letting people use their smartphones for accessing their emails, you essentially did encourage - "bring your own brick!" and "bring your own device". In my opinion, unless the devices are integral part of network and allow you to access the business critical information for your role seamlessly, they are just the bricks. More so if you are an executive or field staff who is on the go most of the times.

The enterprise line of business (LOB) applications must be enabled to be access on the tablet. The MEAP platforms like Sybase Unwired Platform plays an important role in such instances. For the audience who was attending this conference, they had some or the other kind of SAP application running in their network. And it was making more sense to implement SUP based middleware to extend their enterprise applications to the tablets. There was this case study by Patrick Hoo, CIO of NongFu Springs who implemented the SAP Hana and demonstrated greater productivity and enhance,ent in their business processes.

I included Endeavour's SUP experience working with our largest sales force implementation and people were amazed to see such a large scale iPad roll out. Our customer had decided to shift from the laptop based system to the iPad based data access to all their sales force - more than 5600 worldwide. The challenges we faced were many starting with the stability of SUP itself to the bandwidth challenges, data persistence, VPN tunnels, discovery of new requirement as you understand more of the expectations and so on. My team's lessons learned on designing a really scalable and reliable solution with high performing Mobile Business Objects (MBOs), even SUP had hard time to cope up with! But thanks to the patience shown by major stakeholders and extraordinary performance by the team, we pulled it off right!

Here is the copy of the presentation i used for the event. It has more details on Endeavour's offerings and case study, solution and nuances of SUP/ MEAP implementation. It also briefly touches to importance of UX and touch points of Mobile Opportunity Assessment to build a mobility roadmap for an enterprise. Endeavour has been serving fortune 500 enterprise organizations since a decade. Our mobility expertise coupled with SAP expertise enhances our capability & credibility to build right mobility strategy and implement it for our customers.

It was really an amazing event with people really doing things with mobility! At this occasion Rolling Arrays and Endeavour jointly decided to launch the RDS initiative - Rapid Deployment Solution. This will help our customers and prospects who have been seriously thinking about Mobility to extend their LOB apps to mobile devices through our custom built and SAP standard Mobility Apps. Endeavour and RA also jointly decided to offer the pre-MOA sessions to customers who would like to explore more on the mobility.

Stay tuned for the announcement - my technology competency team (center of excellence) will be shortly holding the webinar on "How to utilize SUP in the enterprise to extend LOB Apps". the registration links will be published on our website in due course of time.

And here are some photographs of the event we captured during at our booth in the event and while i was on stage.
The Rolling Arrays team and Endeavour leadership at the booth
And this is me talking mobility without a pause :D)
Please post your comments, questions and feedback and as always i will respond to you ASAP. I know i am lazy in posting on blog, but faster to respond to your comments :)