Feb 11

The Apps Era Has Arrived

A Clear Trend – The Apps Era

I’m going to be rather bold and declare that we’re now entering an App based model for business computing. Apple recently achieved 10 billion downloads from the App Store, a key milestone in my view.

There are thousands of Apple Apps available that help you to do just about anything these days. From entertaining you, making it easier to shop, monitoring your health, finding your flight or train to showing you how to tie a tie, yes there is an App even for that!

The key factor driving the Apple Apps trend is the iPhone and iPad. The defining characteristics being ease of use, automatic software distribution and updates and a solid foundation for 3rd parties to develop compelling Apps.

The rapid adoption of Apps by consumers has resulted in many organisations reacting tactically and has shown the need for a cohesive Apps strategy for business.

The Foundations for Success

What is meant by “App” or “Apps”? How did all this talk of Apps start?

An App is a piece of software that resides on a device. It combines the quick response and immersive functionality that is possible with a non-web based program with the manageability and ease of distribution provided by web applications.

It was really the ability for developing Apps on the iPhone and the creation of the App store concept that set the foundation for the incredible success of Apple Apps to date.

On July 10, 2008, Apple announced the App Store and Steve Jobs explained the concept during the keynote presentation. “This is the biggest launch of my career,” said Jobs.

Then a year later, Jobs said: “The App Store is like nothing the industry has ever seen before in both scale and quality. With 1.5 billion apps downloaded, it is going to be very hard for others to catch up.”

Building further on the success of Apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, Apple announced on October 20, 2010 that an App store will be launched for Mac applications. This brought the Apps capability full circle. The ease of use, managed Apps distribution, multi-touch and similar features of the iOS will be made available on the next release of Max OS X, called Lion.

This certainly marks the beginning of the Apps era.

The Impact of Apps on your Business

The demand for Apps has been driven by users themselves. After experiencing the benefits and ease of use of Apps on the iPhone, checking the weather, flight times or using maps, customers and internal users are increasingly demanding Apps.  IT departments in businesses of all sizes are having to respond to this demand.

The real impact of Apps has been to bring specific functionality to the Apple devices that allows for a truly useful mobile experience. A great example is the software from a company called Incentient (www.incentient.com) that have an application called SmartCellar. This iPad solution allows restaurants and hotels to convert the often dull paper based wine lists into a more pleasant, interactive form, that provides a much better wine selection experience for the customer resulting in increased wine orders.

Apple has a great site that provides some inspiring examples from companies large and small that are reaping the benefits of Apps. Check out www.apple.com/iphone/business/profiles/archive.html for iPhone related examples and www.apple.com/ipad/business/profiles/ for iPad examples.

You may already have a few Apps for your business or want to develop your first App, defining a clear Apps strategy is worth the time upfront. Where do you start?

Key elements of an Apps Strategy

The key success factor for any technology led initiative is business alignment. Ensuring that the capabilities of the App is aligned to a specific business objective is essential. An externally focused business outcome could be an increase in orders from new customers through better brand awareness. Reducing the cost of order processing by removing duplicate data entry, is an example of an internally focused business outcome.

Branding, graphic design and human experience interaction are all elements of the creative aspect of Apple Apps. These elements are not to be ignored. Apple sets the bar high with regards to the end user experience. The seamless merging of creative design with software engineering is a key distinguishing feature of the Apple platform. The focus on creative design is an important foundation stone for any worthwhile App strategy.

This leads to a related success factor. That of ‘process’. Defining a clear process that will allow for the creative team to work closely with the software development team is also important. A common process or at the least a shared understanding of how the different teams will work and interact will ensure you get the best from your investment in Apple technology.

Deciding to develop Apps using an internal team or to partner with an external specialist company also forms part an Apps strategy. Many Apps development companies come from either a creative background or a pure software development one. Choosing one with a combination of both skills can accelerate and compliment internal teams.

Apps are now maturing quickly with customers, internal and external, demanding more functionality. This often means that the next stage of an Apps evolution is to access legacy systems. For example, allowing customers to place orders directly or see the status of their orders requires the App to connect to the order management system. An Apps strategy, therefore also needs to address the following:

  • How are legacy systems to be accessed?
  • Which functions (API’s) are to be made available as reusable services?
  • What are the common standards for security, logging and auditing to be followed?

The above questions need to be clearly defined as part of the technical strategy related to Apps.

Looking Ahead

The above elements are the key areas to address as part of any Apps strategy. While the Apps concept has certainly gone mainstream and has wide spread adoption with consumers, they are still in the first phases of the adoption cycle for businesses.

There are already many inspiring examples of innovative App usage and with the advent of the Mac App store, the benefits of the Apple Apps platform will only be multiplied. There is clear evidence that Apps are here to stay and will form an important part of any business strategy.

Ensuring success will depend on the ability of organisations to successfully merge the creative design that Apps allow together with the require software engineering needed to create truly ground breaking Apps that contribute to the bottom line.

Nov 10

iPad Blogging using WordPress, Writer and PadPress

Why Blog using the iPad? A combination of factors make blogging using the iPad very appealing. Building and maintaining a loyal audience, be they existing customers, partners or people simply enjoying reading your Blog, is a key element for a successful business blog.

First, let’s look at what some of the main requirements are, for blogging while on the go.

Mobility is top of the list. Having a way to capture your thoughts, quickly and easily whenever you have time is essential. You want to be ready when you’re inspired to write!

Next is ease of use. Being able to write a series of paragraphs quickly, with a focus on high quality content, makes for a more attractive Blog.  You don’t want the App you’re using to be featured laden and get in the way of you capturing your thoughts and ideas.

Thirdly, quick and easy access to your Blog is also important. Writing a great Blog entry and not being able quickly update your Blog loses the appeal of being able to communicate with your audience while on the move.

How well does the iPad match the above mobile Blogging requirements?

The size,weight, instant-on capability and touch keyboard together with long battery life, certainly easily meet the mobility requirement. Excellent Wi-Fi and 3G support means you can update your Blog whenever you have internet access.

Experience with iPad Apps for Blogging

For ease of use, I found the following Apps more than capable of providing the necessary tools to capture my thoughts and update my Blog.

An App called IA Writer from Information Architects together with WordPress for the iPad  and the Padpressed Plugin were the apps I used to create and manage my blog.

IA Writer (from informationarchitects.jp)

The description is in the name of the App. The key design theme permeating the App is on removing clutter so that you can focus on just writing.

IA Writer for the iPad

By removing all extraneous features and allowing the user to easily concentrate on the words needed for the Blog, I found the clean design very effective.

Especially useful features are the auto save and clear crisp fonts, ideal for the iPad display. I managed to type 500 words over a 4 hour train journey when writing parts of this article.

Information Architects, the creators of this App took a very minimalist approach to creating this App. The results in my view are very impressive. The clean design works very well for the iPad.

WordPress (wordpress.org) for iPad

The WordPress (wordpress.org) App for the iPad is version 2.6.1. The Remote Writing (XML-RPC) setting on your WordPress Blog needs to be switched on in order to use the App. The App itself is well designed and allows for easy creation and updating of Blog entries.

Writing large amounts of text is not ideal using the WordPress App. A straight copy and paste of text into the WordPress App, proved more effective.  The ability to use the Writer App to publish straight to WordPress would be a useful feature.

PadPressed (padpressed.com) Plugin for WordPress

This plugin resides on your WordPress server. It costs $49 for a single user license. The plugin allows your WordPress Blog to look and feel like a native iPad App.

A similar effect to using the FlipBoard App (flipboard.com) is achieved when the PadPressed plugin is activated on a WordPress Blog.  I found the installation and setup straightforward and was up and running in a matter of minutes.

An Immersive Blogging Experience

The  immersive experience that you get when using the iPad is unlike any other device. The ability to block out distractions and quickly and easily just focus on getting your thoughts on paper, so to speak, is refreshing.

Especially these days, when it’s far too easy to get distracted by quick access to your various social and work related information feeds. The combination of IA Writer (informationarchitects.jp) and the WordPress (wordpress.org) iPad App is winning combination for Blogging on the move.

This more immersive and interactive experience can also be extended to your audience by using the PadPressed plugin (padpressed.com). The plugin easily allows you to target iPad owners and enables you to create a Blog that is much more visual and interactive. This immersive magazine like experience together with great content will continue to ensure your readers keep coming back to your Blog, which is what you strive for at the end of the day.

What do you use for writing using the iPad? Let me know what Apps best works for you.