Category Archives: Mobile

Next phase of Blackberry

A few months after my June 2015 post that BlackBerry should adopt Android as its underlying platform, BlackBerry did just that with the Blackberry Priv in November 2015.   I’ll admit that I am happy to see that John Chen reads my blog and takes my advice. It may not look like the plan worked, but I would argue that had BlackBerry not adopted Android things would be far worse right now.  At least the BlackBerry faithful have a thread to hang onto until the next moves play out.

With the platform issue out of the way, the question became, how to stop the financial bleeding of hardware design, manufacturing, and support costs.   Admittedly, I haven’t been paying attention for a while, but I believe BlackBerry made the only possible move that makes sense. They outsourced their hardware manufacturing and design process. This is superior to dropping or selling the money-losing phone hardware business altogether since BlackBerry still needs a platform they control where they can build their software.

BlackBerry started the outsourcing process with Foxconn but were left having to provide marketing and distribution themselves.  Their latest iteration of a deal is now with TCL who will take over that entire operation.   Outside of the US, TCL is a pretty good size electronics company, so this is a pretty good move for BlackBerry.   BlackBerry can rest assured that their hardware is relatively safe and sound from a design, manufacturing, and marketing perspective.

A key question remains. How does BlackBerry differentiate itself enough to get a core group of buyers that they can eventually grow?”  I think their way back in is through the enterprise. The company I work for allows us to choose either an iPhone or an Android device. I see a relatively even split between iPhones and Android devices (I’m going to pretend this represents a good sampling of corporate America and since this is just a blog post I don’t have to provide any data to support my idea, LOL.)  If BlackBerry can get themselves back in with Verizon and AT&T, I am sure that a large group of users will select them when choosing a phone.

As much as I love my iPhone I might be tempted to a BlackBerry running Android to have my good old Blackberry Hub, and physical keyboard back again…

iOS 10, a boon for the color blind

iOS 10 public beta 1 was released a few days ago.  Within the release is a new section called “Display Accommodations.”  Within there is a section called “Color Filters”

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Display accommodations screenshot

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Color Filters Screenshot

 

to help users that are color blind. As someone who suffers from Deuteranopia, I was extremely interested to test drive this feature.

 

I decided to test drive by taking an online color blindness test, first with no filters activated, then again with the Green/Red Filter applied.

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Enchroma Color Test

 

After taking my first test, results confirm what I already knew, that I am a Deutan.

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Strong Deutan result screenshot

I repeated the test using the green/red color filter in iOS 10.  Results show normal color vision.  Did this fix my vision?  Obviously not, but it does make sure that I  am not missing information on the screen by shifting the colors to the spectrum I can see.

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Normal Color vision result Screen shot

Thanks Apple.  Great add!

Blackberry platform future

One question in many people’s mind is where does Blackberry go from here.  They have already stated that they are pivoting to become a software and services company. This leads me to ponder several possibilities for where they go with the Blackberry OS story in the future.

One possibility is that the rumors are all false and Blackberry will stay with their current QNX underpinnings.  This would probably be the final nail in their coffin, if this was the decision.  Time has proven that Blackberry missed the boat on getting an OS developed that would get traction with application developers.  In fact, today a majority of apps on the Blackberry are ported applications running on the built-in Android runtime environment (albeit poorly and slowly, with many compatibility issues).

Also, since Blackberry is a smallish company whose workforce has already been shrinking, future development of the QNX part of the Blackberry OS will take valuable resources from future development of the top portion of the stack, which is the only portion of the Blackberry experience that adds value to the user.  In other words the QNX portion of the Blackberry stack is muda.

Another possibility is that Blackberry will adopt the Android platform as its core OS environment.  This would offload their organization from having to provide the valuable resources for fully developing the plumbing of the OS, while at the same time allowing them to contribute bug fixes, and targeted improvements (through the open source mechanism). It also gives them clear visibility into the entire software stack so they can continue to control the security of their offerings.

As for the developer story, if they chose the Android stack, Blackberry could easily shift their users to use Android apps provided by Blackberry World, which would become their curated version of the Google play store.  They could provide the current blackberry runtime on top of the Android kernel to provide backwards compatibility with the current BB10 apps.

Doing the same thing as the Android prediction, only using the Windows 10 stack is another interesting possibility.  The Windows Phone share is also not large, but the future is very promising for Windows Phone.  The new Universal Application story which will allow write once, run anywhere is very interesting indeed.  All that would seem to need to happen for this to work is for Blackberry to convince Microsoft its worth their while to create a version of the .Net core runtime that will run on their current platform.  Then they can have the Windows store on their phones.

Out of these three options I think the Android version makes the most sense.  They get to offload a lot of the grunt work of an OS to Google and the open source community, they get access to an already huge application pool.  This is compatible with their Enterprise server MDM story as well since they can manage Android devices and applications already with BES 12.  Finally, it allows them to focus their limited resources on the things that differentiate them from their competition, their security and integration with enterprise workflow.

Please post a comment below to let me know what you think…

Codecademy Review

About

Codecademy is a computer programming teaching platform “Made in NYC” by a group of about 20 young entrepreneurs whose mission is to “… rethinking education from the ground up.”  The company was founded in 2011 and has since had about “24 million users who had completed over 100 million exercises.”  This is an impressive impact they are having.  I was watching Jessica McKellar’s talk  “A hands-on introduction to Python for beginning programmers” where she taught a 3 hour class to introduce people to Python programming.  During the class she supplemented her talk by having people do exercises on the Codecademy  platform.  I liked what I saw on the Pycon 2014 talk so I decided to run through the Python Track.  Here are some thoughts.

Coding platform

I really like the coding platform.  You get stepped through a programming “track” from the beginning which starts with the basics, progressively getting deeper into the subject and all along the way you are doing something you can relate to in the real world.  An example of this is that when you are learning how to make functions in Python, its done by creating functions to compute the cost of a Vacation.  By the end of that section you have created separate functions to calculate the cost of a rental car, hotel, and airfare.  The lesson shows you how to pass parameters to the function and even call multiple functions within the function.  It’s a very effective way to keep someone interested and grounded in reality, and not just teaching the syntax in an abstract way.

On the left side of the page you get  stepped through a section 1 lesson at a time.  The site tells you what you are about to learn, there is a code example similar to what you are expected to generate, and some step by step instructions on how to do it.  Then in the main body of the page is your code file.  There are strategically places code comments telling you what the existing code is doing and sometimes providing hints like “don’t forget to have a colon after your if statement.  Finally on the upper right side there is a window showing the output of your program.

Website

One of the really cool things is that as you go along through your efforts you earn badges similar to Khan academy. This is a fun addition and I always like getting surprised by a badge popping up after a certain point.  I think there is more that can be done on badges.  This seems to be a pretty nascent feature on Codecademy and should be further developed into something as robust as on Khan Academy.

Codecademy has recently done a complete website overhaul. I didn’t use it before, but the look and feel of the site is modern and fresh.  It is fast and I haven’t really run into any issues.  The site is written in Ruby on Rails and seems to run flawlessly.  As for the look and feel, I don’t think I would change a think.  Kudos.

Missing important languages and frameworks

There is only so much a small team can bite off and chew, but I think there are a couple glaring holes in the curricula at Codecademy.  Missing is anything related to mobile application development.  As this development represents half or more of the current computing worldwide it seems to be a big leave out.  I would like to see a Java track, which is arguably the most popular language and an Android development track which ,again, is one of the most popular mobile platforms.  In the same vein, I would suggest they add Swift programming and iOS framework development.

Also the most popular Python web framework has no track on Codecademy.  Django, which is powering sites like Pinterest, Instagram,

Another major part of programming is data storage and access.  SQL is a “coding language” that would be great to have on the site.  If a lesson track was put up on MySQL (or MariaDB preferably) the knowledge would be usable for pretty much any database backend someone ends up using, whether its MySQL, MSSQL, Oracle, IBMDB2, etc.  With these additions I am sure Codecademy would more than double the user base.

Missing social elements

Something that I find lacking is any social element on the website.  This seems to be missing everywhere on the site.  There are badges, so I would expect that some level of social interaction is in the cards, but even the most basic social interaction is missing.  Blog posts with no comments, no feedback area to suggest new features, no real place to post a bug, and the forums to have discussions with fellow students are hard to find. These items are all a big part of sites like Khan Academy and are a gaping hole in Codecademy right now.

Conclusion

This is a site with a huge potential to help countless millions of people to learn how to program.  The site and company are only a couple of years old at this point so I’m sure there is still a lot to do.   Computer programming and Web represent a huge opportunity for people.  The barrier to entry to creating your own web business is so low.  Codecademy helps to lower the barrier further by reducing the slope of the learning curve.  Programming gives us the language to speak to computers and use our imagination to create anything.  Codecademy is a good example of this as the founders, both from Columbia University, pretty much dropped everything and build a site that went from 0 users to millions in just a couple of years.

I will certainly be taking advantage of the resources, and hope to see Swift/iOS and Java/Android show up on the site sooner than later.

Windows Phone: Series 7 – aka Zune Phone

Today Microsoft announced Windows Phone: Series 7 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

They claim that the user experience they designed focuses on the end users and their unique needs. Integrates the Zune PC client software, so in essence this is essentially the long rumored Zune Phone. The UI uses a concept of “Tiles” that seems to be similar to the tiles on the Zune HD. They took the tiles to the next level by making them “Live Tiles”, which allow the tiles to dynamically change to bubble up new fresh info. Zune has a concept of integrated experiences they call hubs (just named by MS today with the new WM Series 7 phone).

Existing Hubs in the ZuneHD are music, video, pictures, radio, marketplace, social, podcasts, audiobooks, internet, apps, and settings.

They added a new hub called the people hub. People adds a bunch of social aspects like Facebook integration. This is supposed to be the main focus of the Windows Phone experience going forward.

There is also a games hub which integrates XBox Live complete with achievements, which is something I have been asking for on the Zune HD for a while. Nonetheless this is an awesome new feature.

The new office hub gives you OneNote, Documents, and Sharepoint integration with Office 2010 including syncing to your PC applications.

Here are some photos of the UI.

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Stuff we know:

  • All phones will be capacitive touch with 4 point multi touch
  • GPS is required in the hardware
  • MS is setting the minimum bar with phone partners on hardware.
  • Phones have 3 hardware buttons , Start, back, and search.
  • New approach to hardware partners. They want to have a higher level of consistency across the Windows Phone platform. Hardware makers will no longer be able to roll their own UI layer.
  • Software will focus on people and social contexts.
  • Task oriented interfaces – hubs – Organizes web, applications, and
  • UI uses a concept of live tiles.
  • Uses Internet Explorer
  • Next level of Cleartype integrated – sub pixel positioning.
  • New Office Hub integrates with Office 2010, including OneNote, Sharepoint, Excel, and Word. Has MS exchange support with onboard MS Outlook.
  • No flash support – no flash in internet browser day 1, but Steve Ballmer says he has no objection to flash in the future.
  • Really tight bing integration (as we would expect).
  • Zune section of phone integrates video and music together in one experience.
  • Supports Pandora internet radio.
  • Using Zune PC software – fantastic software that will likely replace Windows Media Player going forward. This seems to be the death knell for Windows Media Player.
  • Developer story will be announced at Mix 2010
  • Availability by holiday season of 2010

Hardware partners announced:

  • Qualcomm
  • LG
  • Samsung
  • Garmin
  • Asus
  • HTC
  • HP
  • Dell
  • Sony Ericsson
  • Toshiba
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