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Innovation in the Workplace

Innovation in the workplace involves a culture that encourages the creation of new things. This can include an employee voicing a new idea, coming up with a concept, or creating a method to enhance the performance of a process, person, team or organisation.

Innovation in the workplace is something that is extremely important, as it keeps your everyday work feeling fresh and interesting. It is also an opportunity to show leadership by example, meaning that, if there is innovative work happening in the workplace, one is able to demonstrate how to bring new ideas to life, to both potential clients and fellow colleagues.

Following the first article in this series, about how and why the design sprint app came to fruition, it seemed valuable to continue writing about this experience and the lessons learnt along the way, especially those concerning innovation in the workplace.

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Personally, coming from a startup background – both running my own and being part of rapidly growing companies – innovation and running with new ideas are common practice. In my own startups, it was easy to be creative when only answering to myself and the team around me. It was never really necessary to ask permission, or to get approval to run a project. However, when working in the wonderful company of MOBGEN, which is part of Accenture Interactive (a very large organisation indeed) the project rules are a little more defined.

With this in mind, when first coming up with the idea of a design sprint app, it was immediately apparent that to make this work, the idea needed to be fully thought-through. As explained in the previous article, after some thought, it was important to follow with the creation of a prototype and a short pitch presentation to get support from my supervisor, the CEO and Chief Creative Officer at MOBGEN. A fair amount of dedication to this idea proved valuable in the long-run, as it got the approval needed to progress further and involve fellow colleagues.

The first step that needed to be completed, was to put together a strong team. This team could help build an MVP, which would later be released internally in the company, and maybe even publicly thereafter. A clear plan for the MVP was documented, with useful background research and the prototype on the company’s internal wiki. Then, it was important to communicate the progress of this quickly-growing idea internally, using the company-wide Slack channel to introduce the project and to see if anyone would be interested in joining the developing project.

The response to these phases of the project were overwhelmingly positive, colleagues from different disciplines offered to get turn this idea into something solid during their down-time at work. Also, a couple of team leads agreed to assign new joiners, who had the appropriate time needed to spend on developing the MVP. This was a great relief as developing the MVP alone was not something I was confident in doing. It was a great feeling to receive such positive feedback, and to be surrounded by others who supported innovation in the purest sense.

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Success! The team was officially ready to go. The team was comprised of one digital designer, to transform the original designs and two developers, who would help build the MVP. We also welcomed a service designer, who helps with content and representing the project’s core users: people who facilitate workshops, in particular design sprints.

When deciding what to include, and leave out of the MVP we considered the following things:

  • Time: it was our goal to release the MVP internally within 6-8 weeks
  • Team Size: we are a relatively small team
  • Value: what impact can this have?
  • Complexity: is this possible within the allocated time frame and with the resources we have available?

With these key points in mind, we decided the MVP should consist of the following:

  • Static content for a design sprint
  • A timer that can be used to time activities in the day’s agenda
  • A resource section with recommended items and Energizer activity equipment to purchase
  • Basic navigation in the application between the three sections
  • Integration with MOBGEN’s Mobile CMS: HALO

There were a number of features that were considered as important for the application. However, it was eventually decided that, for simplicity’s sake, we would hold off on these features and keep them out of the MVP. This was largely due to the time and effort they would take to develop, and knowing that there would be more flexibility to think about integrating these features at a later stage, once the success of the MVP has been evaluated.

These features included:

  • Account creation & user login
  • Users being able to edit the order of activities in the sprint
  • Users being able to add and remove activities from a sprint

Once all of the foundational decisions were made, it felt right to kick off the project by creating the Epics and User Stories needed for the MVP. This was put together on a Kanban board for the team to work from. It was decided that the team would work in the Kanban style because, as a small team with different work streams and pace, this method allows each team member to simply pick up an item as and when it suits their schedule.

It is a great feeling to look over the past few weeks and see the progression this project had made so far. Original hopes for the project were to be able to demonstrate the value of a design sprint app internally, using the MVP to get official project approval. It is clear that the team has achieved such goals so far and is surpassing any initial ideas from the start. The team also knows the important of illustrating how creating different innovative projects is possible, even when first thinking that you may be working on something alone. There will always be others who are as enthusiastic as you are and creating such projects has a great potential to add value, both to the working environment and the client offering.

The MOBGEN culture continuously encourages creativity and innovation to every degree, and it’s always great to be part of an environment that allows employees to think outside of the box and try something new.

 
 

Just kidding, there are actually 10 lessons 😉

Inspired by the recent post on NN/g, I decided to create a list of my own UX lessons I wished I’d learned in school. I need to admit that my background is in industrial design engineering, where, although human factors play a large part, they’re not the only focus. I had the fortune of attending two excellent universities in the field, learning the fundamentals of design at KAIST and a holistic view of product design engineering at TU Delft. Both schools considered UX to be the default of your designs – it’s like air – you don’t see it or feel it when it’s good, but when it is bad – it can make your life hell. Despite the common saying ‘90% of what you learned at school you never use at your workplace’, this post in no way intends to go against education, but merely suggests that there’s so much more to life than that you learn in your classroom lectures. (In fact, I’ve recently been using geometry to figure out whether my 2m table will fit into a 1.6m x 1.3m moving van – Thanks, Pythagoras).

This list will hopefully prepare recent graduates for the realities of new jobs or even it-might-be-a-long-shot inspire educational programs to include some of the real-world conditions as part of their curriculum. This list goes beyond the obvious ‘time-management’, ‘teamwork’, ‘public speaking’, ‘importance of usability testing’ and other skills (which by the way I had been lucky to have had lots of in my education). It’s purely based on my own experience working as a UX researcher/architect/designer.

1. Be the advocate

At most universities, you’re taking classes and doing projects with similar-minded peers: you all have knowledge of the basic methods and processes and there’s no need to convince anyone of that; for example, conducting a usability testing before submitting your final work.

One thing you’re not warned about at school is that, in the real world, you face a lot of situations where you need to defend the user’s point of view for the sake of more desirable user experience. You’re the representative for the whole cast of UX designers (you know, just like the goodwill ambassadors?) and whatever you say or do will be attributed to UX designers from now on – no pressure! On your tiny (or big, as you wish) shoulders come the tasks of educating clients and colleagues about user experience, about the benefits of usability testing and good UX in terms of ROI, number of active users, increased customer satisfaction and other things we call success metrics. You need to equip yourself with results from previously-conducted research, product usage data and all kinds of guidelines whilst being prepared to use these as weapons to promote the advantageous design in any given situation.

“As an individual, you need the confidence to back up your ideas or to push back on ones you think don’t fit the product thesis. You need to learn how to listen to great ideas from all sides, build the talent of persuasive communication, and, ultimately, understand when you’re wrong and why. Experience design is, at its crux, an experiment in collaboration.”

Dan Maccarone and Sarah Doody

That being said, there is more to the profession of a UXer than just being the advocate, which brings me to the next lesson that served me well in the workplace.

2. Learn to Compromise

You’ll be the advocate. But you’ll be advocating one part of the composite – the product management triangle. To achieve the right design for the right product at the right time, you need to account for the other two pillars: business and technology.

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 09.50.27

The Product Management Triangle. 

Sometimes you’ll need to make UX sacrifices too – cut back on technology costs, having to work to an early launch, making a more secure solution, etc. You need to be able to compromise. Find the tradeoff, but always be sure of the sacrifices you’re making – don’t hesitate to pull out your yellow pad a-la-Ted-Mosby style and create a list of pros and cons.

3. Be wise about client communication

Nobody ever warned me of the diplomacy skills I’d need when working in a client environment. Don’t get me wrong, we had great client projects at TU Delft (it’s actually known for its ‘professional master’ programme where almost all briefs come from real life client problems). However, at school you’re still in a client-student relationship, where the client has substantially more experience in the topic or rather, this is considered an exercise rather than a client-consultant situation where a lot is at stake.

‘Playing politics’ is what’s missing in job descriptions and lectures at university, as it sure is something you’ll encounter every day at work (at least in UX consultancy jobs). When you thought you were defending good UX for your client’s own sake, as they wouldn’t want to be shipping a bad-quality product, you need to be careful not to come across as impertinent.

Over the years, I’ve learned that better communication skills come with experience. What helped me (and still helps) was observing how other, more experienced colleagues talk to clients, receive feedback and defend their designs. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula when it comes to client communication, but adjusting to their way of communication and culture is key. At times, the daring, self-confident approach might be respected but other times the results of such could be misinterpreted.

4. Define the problems to be solved

At school, we’re often provided briefs that state a problem for us to solve. It usually specifies the scope, the exact deliverables and sometimes even the expected amount of hours to work on it. It’s not as obvious in the industry. More often than not, working only with what’s provided to you isn’t enough; sometimes as a UXer you might be responsible for identifying the problem from the get-go. Some might argue that the role of the product owner (the person who defines the priorities) might coincide with the role of the teacher. But in a design-driven process us UXers need to proactively propose issues that have to be fixed or areas that require (re)design.

A modified version of the famous Eisenhower method for time management can actually be used for issue prioritisation to help identify important tasks/issues to work on.

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 09.54.29A modified version of Eisenhower’s matrix.

Part of a UXer’s job is to help define which tasks or functionalities bring higher gain and question the stated problem; this also concerns processes. Leading to the next lesson I wish I’d learned in school…

5. Get your process in order

In the ever-changing environment of product design and development cycles, it’s easy to get caught in a stream of never-ending requests or ever-changing priorities. People might argue that this is the way to stay agile, however, to get work done and for the sake of sustainable pace (I don’t need to remind you of the harm of context switching), you need to get your process in order.

In my experience of working in Scrum or Kanban methodologies, to shield the designers from interruptions, the PO is encouraged to put the interruption on the product backlog and defer until the start of the next sprint. The way Scrum fights ‘interruptions’ or additions to the active sprint is by canceling the current sprint and planning for the new sprint; where the unfinished tasks of the active sprint goes back in the backlog. Seek for alternative options: you can also plan ‘unplanned time’ in sprints. Other teams have adopted splitting their designers into two streams: one working on new features uninterrupted, while others are working on bug fixes, business-as-usual requests and so on. What we’ve not learned at school is that we can question their processes. Bottom line is, don’t just take the given process, suggest ways to improve and innovate. As always in the role of a UX advocate, proactively suggest including UX in the right phase. Protect yourself and your work but also your processes.

6. Question every decision

As said above, you can question the problem, the process or even the decision. The client, the business analyst, or even the user might come to you and say “you know what, I’ve got this great idea!” and despite the temptation of the amazing-ness of the idea or the genius-ness of the bearer, be sure to question it. Question what the problem the idea is trying to solve, what the user need is, and if there’s a better way to solve it or even if that’s the right problem to solve.

7. Make friends with the data analytics department

As mentioned earlier, your users’ data is your number one go-to tool for making decisions. Whether you need to persuade your clients to have or not have a certain functionality, or to understand which parts of your product need more effort – use the available analytics to fuel your arguments. Depending on the company or project at hand, you may have a team or individual responsible for collecting data analytics. Be sure to know who they are and maybe suggest a coffee to get to know them better. The truth is, you’re going to need their help. Once you’re on friendly terms, you might even be able to steer them towards defining which interactions to track or where to create funnels, in order to get the data you want about user behaviour in a product.

8. The importance of work-life balance

I’ve previously worked in a conglomerate in one of the high-paced Asian countries and know that sometimes the work-life balance can get tough. While it’s a much better situation in Europe, even if you’re physically at home or doing other things, it can always feel like your mind is still at work. If you’ve got a chance, learn some breathing exercises, do some meditation or be sure to have a hobby outside of work to let out any tension before problems at work start affecting your health. As a UX designer, our profession includes a lot of interaction with people, a lot of consideration when speaking with people of different backgrounds, a lot of requests coming from different sides and much more – so it’s important to stay balanced. Believe me, if you got one grey hair for every time prioritization changed – you’d have greyer hair than Santa Claus by now.

9. Pass on knowledge

The teachers at school never taught me how to teach. At a workplace, especially one where specialists of different designer profiles have gathered, you need to be able to pass on your knowledge or skills. That doesn’t come easy. Mentoring is a skill and it’s a skill to be learned. Being really good at something doesn’t mean you can also teach others to be good at it. There are many important things to consider, such as encouraging your colleagues/mentees to seek solutions themselves instead of instantly providing the answer, which might be more useful for them in the long run. That’s how you nurture sustainable professionals and future leaders, rather than command-executors.

10. Stay curious

Most importantly, stay curious. Although some might argue that curiosity is a skill someone is born with, I believe that it’s definitely something that can be acquired and practiced. As designers, we need to always be searching for new and better ways of interacting with a product or solving an issue. Stay on top of what is happening in the world, which new trends and technologies are being developed and how you can utilize these advancements in your current line of work. Be aware of the new tools that are out there that can make your work easier, faster or smoother. Staying curious will help you not only follow the current but also run ahead of it.

To conclude, in the words of Alby Einstein:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”

 

 
 

Answer all the right questions – Part II

The path to creating engaging digital products and services is rich with different perspectives and constant change. In this series we explore how to manage inputs from users, market research, business goals, technical planning and much more in order to create a solid product vision with good chances of success. While we must always keep track of many different factors, our road becomes smoother when we focus on the right questions for each phase.

Last week, we discussed what we concentrate on when generating new ideas and getting ready to realise them, with a special focus on the market context and relating broad business goals to the smallest details of implementation. Today, we’ll look at how best to guide our attention when our projects are released into the wild.

Are we on track?

During development, and especially when the first versions of our products go live, it is time to shift focus again. Now, we combine the business objectives with the specific functionalities we’ve built, and meticulously investigate how well they match up! We use the groundwork laid during development to gather up quantitative data and combine that with additional input from users and other stakeholders.

This phase requires fast learning and adaptation. We come in with a clear idea of what to look for (including a structured measurement plan), but we must be ready for any insight or issue that might come up. Are we seeing the indicators we expected? Are the users satisfied? What can we do to improve that? Of course, with the right research, planning and validation, we should not encounter many unexpected issues here, but it’s naturally the most exciting phase of the project for us!

What’s next?

Our work doesn’t end when the final product is delivered. In fact, the most productive projects often arise after the first version hits the market and reactions start flowing in from a wide audience.

Equipped with our analysis of performance in relation to the goals we set out at the beginning, we often return to the start of the project cycle and come up with original ideas to improve the experience. This time around, though, we have very specific information on the real-world performance among our actual target audience. Building on this information, we adjust priorities and begin a new cycle of iterative development.

Conclusion

As we discussed last week, juggling the myriad factors that go into the creation of a digital product requires that we focus on different things at different points in the development cycle. It’s crucial to make sure all the right questions are answered as the project iterates and evolves.

With this framework we see not only how to ensure that these key questions are answered, but also how answering the right question at the right time sets us up for success in subsequent phases of the project. Following a clearly defined vision helps make decisions about design and specific functionalities; when the time comes to measure our progress, we already know what to look for.

 
 

Answer all the right questions

What is most important in a successful digital product? Smooth UX? Validating market needs? Scalability? Virality?

Of course, there is no single factor that will ensure your product achieves its goals. We must take all of these into account, alongside many other issues. But how do we cover them all? Facing this challenge requires that we focus on the right questions at the right time during the development cycle.

What to build?

Some of our most interesting work is done before a project even starts. Many clients come to us with a specific challenge they are facing, or perhaps just open questions. Our challenge is to combine expertise from diverse fields in both our technological domain as well as the world of our client to define a future vision.

Therefore, our focus during the ideation phase is on understanding the business context, customers, and competitors of our partners. Tools such as Design Thinking workshops help us come up with original, valuable ideas for products and services together with the people who know most about the business. This is augmented by extensive research and data-gathering. Concerns relating to technical feasibility are usually deferred – we want nothing to limit the reach of our ideas, and our Solution Architects can handle almost anything!

How to build it?

The role common to Business Analysts across most organisations is that of capturing the essence and particulars of the product or service that is to be created. This requires shifting the focus from the broader research and ideation into the smallest details of the proposed solution. While designers, architects, and testers begin their work, the BA’s input is key to keeping the team aligned and to enabling the vision of each team member to integrate with the other components.
While our BAs can get directly involved in technical and visual design (depending on the various fields of expertise), our main focus for this phase is to consolidate knowledge from all team members. With so much planning around the design, implementation, testing and analysis of each interaction, we must maintain a clear view of the big picture and how each element relates to the project goal. In this phase our focus is internal, but our actions are guided by the context and business goals from the previous phase.

What’s next?

There is plenty of information to process before, during, and after creating digital products. We can ensure the highest chances of success by focusing our attention on the most important factors at each stage of the project. Business Analysts are responsible for maintaining that focus, while never losing sight of the bigger picture.
Nobody has the winning formula for this process, but this structure helps us answer the most important questions and make the right decisions on the way to delivering truly valuable results. In the next article, we’ll discuss what happens before and after a product goes live and why it’s crucial to have answered the questions we’ve discussed here.

 
 

To illustrate innovation and leadership we need to find new ways to demonstrate our expertise to potential clients.

I wrote an article on design sprints in the past and many design sprints have been completed at MOBGEN since then, but how can we show someone who hasn’t attended our design sprints, what we do, and how our services create value?

One way of showing our expertise is by writing about it on our blog and creating posts on social media.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 15.45.54

However, these methods don’t seem enough to create a truly engaging way to demonstrate the company’s collective knowledge on design sprints and service design.

I gave myself the challenge of trying to find a more effective way to show expertise and leadership in these subjects. After some consideration and playing with some options of what to do as a next step; I decided that my challenge would be to design and build a simple application which guides a user through a design sprint, with tools and resources to help. This would be a far more interactive way to show our expertise and would be a great tool to attract new opportunities.

The business values for this application include:

  • It can be a sales tool to expose MOBGEN’s knowledge to potential clients
  • It can be an internal training tool which collects all of MOBGEN’s resources to help MOBGEN employees run design sprints
  • By having user profiles, the application can show expertise in different fields that are needed for a design sprint, for example, facilitator or designer. This can help MOBGEN sell a design sprint team.

When initiating this project my first aim was to see how far I could get with this app idea as a personal project, before making it a real company project with more people involved. This meant I would need to use design and prototyping skills that I had not used before, and that, for me, made the challenge more exciting.

I began by doing what I do best, and what I do often in my work, I ran a short discovery. Looking at what is available on the market for people who want to learn about design sprints, especially in the form of apps, as well as researching the design of content heavy applications.

I wanted the application to be a collection of resources, not just a timetable for running a design sprint, so I used work we have done for a client’s home feed for different services as my inspiration.

Next, I went about creating the design sprint guide, which includes a sprint time table and the exercises that are part of a design sprint. These are some of the original designs I created, that I used for my prototype. However, they are definitely not the final version and are still a work in progress.

Once I completed the designs to the best of my ability, the next thing I needed to do was to create a prototype, one which shows off the key features I want to have in the final application. I used a prototyping tool to create a click through app. I did this as an app demo can better explain my idea, and runs for under a minute. This helped me articulate the vision I had for the app, and the features I wanted to include and made it easier to show it to my colleagues for constructive feedback.

After a few weeks of evening work, this project is still a work in progress. I have been sharing the project with my colleagues and will use their expertise to improve the design of the app so that it will be a useful tool for MOBGEN team members and others who want to run design sprints with ease.

A few weeks in, I posted the work I have done so far on our company’s internal chat channel and since then several talented colleagues of mine have joined the project to help make it a reality!



What’s next? As a newly formed team, we are currently working on our first release. We are following the lean startup methodology of building only the necessary features to create a strong MVP, that will quickly gather valuable user feedback.

If you are interested in being involved in this app, seeing how it evolves, and having exclusive early bird access to the application, join our Beta-users-list by adding your email below, or going to our Beta User List page.


Join our Beta List

 
 

CES Asia 2017

Over three days in June, the amazing CES Asia took place once again, in Shanghai. It is hard to believe it was only the third year of this great tech show, which attracted more than 450 dynamic companies including Microsoft, Huawei, Philips, Samsung, and BMW. Even though the main focus was on how tech trends improve daily life for people in China, there were more than 30,000 attendees from the rest of the world, all wanting to get their hands on this massive potential market.

Why are we so curious about China? Once famous for mass replication and trend capitalisation, this market has truly embraced innovation and now leads the world in many aspects of technology. Take a quick glance at these numbers:

“More than 95% of China’s 731 million online population access the internet via smartphone, and more than half made an offline, in-store mobile payment in 2016.” According to a report released by the China Internet Network Information Centre, the Chinese mobile payment market is estimated to be worth over 1.83 trillion US dollars in 2016, mostly realised via NFC and QR codes. No wonder Apple eventually decided to implement the QR reader directly ‘in camera’, since the trends in China are extremely powerful!

Figure 1 - Mobile payment via QR - www.cfp.cn

Figure 1 – Mobile payment via QR – www.cfp.cn

So, in comparison to other global events such as Mobile World Congress, that happened earlier this year, what are the key trends we saw at CES Asia?

IoT coming with big data and cloud computing. Similarly to MWC, IoT stands occupy almost half of the whole CES Asia halls. The variety in the products was impressive, ranging from beds, glasses, food, post, doors, clothes and even dog collars.

The three Giant companies in the Chinese IT industry, or BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent), are all gradually building the foundations for IoT, with their own data collection and cloud tech. The stickiness about IoT in China is that people do witness its rapid growth in real life. JD.com (a leading e-retailer in China) exhibited it’s drone delivery robots, and a week later on June 18, their first trial delivery was launched (which was even sooner than Amazon). More details here.

Figure 2 - JingDong drone delivery on June 18th - JD.com

Figure 2 – JingDong drone delivery on June 18th – JD.com

Vehicles with new ways of interaction and more holistic thoughts. As expected, the automobile hall was in the spotlight. One of the big hypes was of course BMW’s i Inside future. First shown at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, this concept car was brought again to CES Asia, delivering the future HoloActive Touch. With the help of a high-sensitivity camera and a discreet ultrasonic source, drivers can experience a haptic interaction on a “touchscreen” without any physical touching. Considering that the gesture control published in last year’s CES came to production in the 5 and 7 series already, we can’t wait to see HoloActive come out as a production feature in the near future.

Figure 3 - BMW i Inside Future in CES Asia - photo by Hui Lin

Figure 3 – BMW i Inside Future in CES Asia – photo by Hui Lin

Other brands, like Mercedes-Benz and Honda, focused more on in-car sensors which detect the driver’s body and emotion data, to provide a more customised service while driving. Besides the enhancement experience for individual customers, many companies are also thinking on a massive urban scale. The topic discussions around autonomous cars and car/ride sharing were extremely heated. Baidu showcased its autonomous tech with its map collecting car, and thanks to its road hackers deployed to capture street view images, all CES Asia attendees were able to experience a test autonomous ride. The “Apollo Plan”, announced by Baidu as its grand vision in autonomous car industry, will provide a completely open-resource developing/testing platform for any car-makers, sharing Baidu’s knowledge in cloud computing, software, hardware and data collection network. It is undoubtedly a milestone for China’s autonomous car industry, expected to accelerate the rapid growth of autonomous vehicles throughout Asia. More details here.

Figure 5 - Autonomous car from Baidu  - photo by Hui Lin

Figure 4 – Autonomous car from Baidu – photo by Hui Lin

VR/AR/MR meets concrete using context. Last year was a cool down for the VR industry. However, in CES Asia 2017, we still saw people lining up in front of VR/AR stands. Compared to last year, these products no longer showcased just games, but were being applied into more practical user context. JD.com brought its new VR shopping platform where customers were able to do online shopping in a virtual environment. As for AR, we see a even brighter future – considering the newly announced iOS 11 ARKit, we can imagine the next AR trend is coming soon. Looking forward to seeing the next era of mixed reality!

Anything else? There were absolutely many other eye catchers during the show. Examples of AR HUD (Head-Up Display) were almost everywhere. Once mainly used in aircrafts but now introduced to the car environment, HUDs enables drivers to view information without looking away from the driving viewpoints, which truly makes you feel that you are in a sci-fi movie. We also saw a plethora of drones, with more and more diverse use-cases, exploring not only the sky, but also underwater. FiFish, as the first underwater drone for consumer market, opened a new field for photographers as well as water-sportspeople. And of course we are seeing a vast array of all kinds of life-enhancing assistant robots.

Figure 5 - HUD stands in CES Asia  - photo by Hui Lin

Figure 5 – HUD stands in CES Asia – photo by Hui Lin

Apart from the big names, it was a great pleasure to see local Chinese tech companies and start-ups becoming competitive in such a short period of time. MOBGEN will certainly keep an eye on what’s happening in China, and share learnings from this rapidly growing hotbed of innovation.

CES ASIA 7

 
 

The End of Roaming: Expectations vs. Reality

Almost two years ago, we looked at the opportunities created by the elimination of roaming charges in the EU. As of June 2017, roaming charges have been phased out. Have our hopes for better travel and business come true?

 

The Smart Traveller

In 2015 we imagined an enhanced travel experience within Europe. Staying connected lets sightseers find their way around smoothly and discover the best of each destination with location-based services.

Notably, TripAdvisor and Google Maps have been building these services for a couple of years already. Today, the connected traveller fully enjoys the fruits of this work, having a digital guide walking her through the most attractive experiences at just the right time and place.

Having my smartphone has also helped me (and several colleagues) out of a jam on certain occasions. Changing your travel arrangements, transport or accommodation can now be done anywhere at any time.

 

The International Businessperson

Business in Europe, and indeed around the world, relies on timely communication even when we travel more and more. We predicted costs could drop up to 1000€ a year for frequent business travellers, and that this would enable a boost in business communication apps.

While the jury is still out on precise savings, we feel the products that keep us in touch still have a way to go to meet our expectations. The mobile versions of Slack, Trello, and other leading office tools have advanced, but we still see significant opportunities for taking advantage of huge data packages available almost anywhere. We’re still waiting for screen sharing on mobile and quality video conferences with multiple colleagues, among others.

 

The Unexpected

One concern about the EU’s plan to reduce roaming charges was resistance from carriers. Indeed, there were several attempts to delay or water down the plan. However, over the past two years, we have been pleasantly surprised at carriers such as Vodafone who proactively reduced and then dropped their roaming charges up to a year ahead of the EU plan. Other carriers quickly (or not so quickly) followed suit to remain competitive, prompting yet others to expand their free roaming to the US and other countries outside Europe.

In parallel, the trend to offer larger data bundles at higher speeds continued. In Europe, it’s quite likely that the preemptive roaming competition actually accelerated this trend, leaving us all more connected.

 

Roam like at home

The actual changes brought about by free roaming may not seem revolutionary, but that is precisely one of the things I appreciate most. When you are visiting or working abroad, it’s very convenient to do the same things you do at home – order food, hail an Uber and keep in touch with friends and colleagues.

For all its talk of a Digital Single Market, the EU’s measure is long overdue. Now we have the mobile regulations that match the bloc’s economic and political integration. We can feel at home with our smartphones abroad, but the full benefits are still to come.

 
 

Negotiating the Value of Company Culture

We’ve all read articles around the importance of workplace harmony but how idealistic is that for an agency that gets bought out by a global organisation?

In 2015 I got a new job, joining a relatively big team of 160, working across 3 offices. In 2016, we were bought out by a large organisation with nearly 400,000 employees, working across 120 countries.

For existing employees this surely meant only one thing; The death of company culture… #RIP


When deciding to move to Amsterdam, one of the key factors for me when looking for a new position (besides finding an exciting design offering) was the work/life balance. I was leaving a job and team that I loved in the UK, to live in a place where I would have no immediate friends or social life; some of my closest friends are people I’ve met through work, so naturally I was hoping for the same here. Equally, I was moving to a new environment that I wanted to enjoy and explore; I didn’t want a job that was going to take over my life and interfere with my inevitable new hobby of ‘Jenever tasting’.

Now cut to two days into the new job. I’m sat on a 13hr coach trip to Andorra for a weekend of skiing with my new team. As terrifying as being in the middle of nowhere with 160 people I’d only just met was, I instantly knew I’d made a good decision.


workhard

Poster by Anthony Burrill. It’s not just a hipster poster, it’s a mantra all workplaces should live by.

For many companies ‘culture’ is simply a buzzword or a tick list that has to be met in order to look ‘current’ on the face of things; Friday beers [check], FIFA tournaments [check], ice cream on hot days [check]. But the culture of a workplace is much more than that. It’s about the people that run the company, that genuinely want their workers to be happy. It’s those people that create the personality and set the tone for the rest of us. They’re the thing that employees invest in.

Our leadership team share the floor with us and work side-by-side with the people they employ. They see day-to-day where people’s individual talents lie and hone their positions to ferment that; giving people the opportunity to work to their fullest potential. Flexible working hours (not unusual these days) also help to build trust between teams, whilst letting people live by their own personal schedules, however demanding. This alone disintegrates any type of hierarchy and makes people feel valued; as well as allowing them to witness the workplace dynamics firsthand and make improvements where necessary.

With this being said, the large org takeover meant that as employees, we were all left wondering how this might affect things. We’d been so used to this relationship between us and the owners that we couldn’t see how a transition of this scale could manage to maintain this mentality?

“If we were motivated by money, we would have sold the company a long time ago and ended up on a beach.” – Larry Page, Co-Founder of Google

With an existing internal ‘company culture team’ in place to keep morale alive (made up from existing employees from all departments — myself included), coupled with the minimal fear from the founders that the takeover might affect the culture in some way, I had good faith that it definitely wouldn’t.

From this point on, the cultivation of culture and the motivation to push it increased hugely; both from the founders and employees. All this without any real knowledge as to whether the takeover was ever going to affect it in the first place. This alone, demonstrates the importance of working relationships and how it can affect the direction your company goes in; as well as the attitude of the people you work with.

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” – Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group

Maintaining the culture of a rapidly growing company will obviously prove difficult, especially with the expansion of individual teams and offices but if that company is controlled by people who care, they’ll keep accommodating whenever necessary. Being taken over on such a large scale may have increased admin and formalities but it’s changed little else so far due to the strong foundations that were already in place.

Here’s a few more reasons why working for a place with this mindset will improve your life — yes, LIFE.

1. It’ll make you work harder.

2. You’ll be working with the best talent (great culture attracts great people).

3. You’ll build friendships; making your job easier as there’ll be less conflicts.

4. Less of these friends you’ve made will leave because they’ll be invested in the company.

5. You’ll be prouder of your work and the workplace itself.

6. Knowledge sharing will increase due to increased enthusiasm.

7. You won’t be working for someone you hate. [insert :smiley:]

No matter what size company you work for or hope to work for, remember that culture is a huge aspect that you should pay close attention to. When interviewing, don’t forget to ask questions that can help you gauge the environment you might be working in and the people you might be working for. An interview is as much to see if the job fits you, as it is for the employer to workout if you fit their role.


Written by Leanne Pickering – designer at MOBGEN.

 
 

Needing some catharsis in my life, in the spirit of spring (or, more like summer) cleaning, I have recently started sorting out the “social” and “promotions” folders in my Inbox.

A long overdue update of folders, labels, and other mail management systems that are supposed to make your life easier – it seemed like I once knew how to manage my mail, until I ended up with an inbox with one thousand three hundred seventy one unread e-mails. Oeps! To be honest, the Inbox Zero has never been my thing. Usually, from just a glance at the sender and the title of the email, I can already filter in my brain whether it is worthy of my attention, and if yes, whether it is worth my attention right now or can wait until the weekend (or, whatever the next available catch-up-on-email time is). Neither have I really cracked this art of mail management that allows me to ninja through all this inflow of information. Good thing these e-mails have that magical “e-” in front, or else, I cannot imagine what my apartment would have looked like in those ages where communication mainly happened in physical form.

Clearly, I have not been reading most of these e-mails, which never got deleted (probably for the reason of “but, I will read it later when I get some time”) nor archived (probably for the reasons of “I will forget to read them if they are out of my sight”). The style and nutrition advices from goop? Oh yea, I remember the week of hype around my nutritionist’s advice to change my diet, and over-obsessing by collecting healthy recipes and conscious apparel online. The Amsterdam’s weekend-hotspot-digest? Are you going to make me feel guilty for choosing Netflix on my couch over that next over-crowded bar requiring to have to yell through your glands to have a conversation (who said that 30s were the next 20s, more like next 40s I would say)? Or continuous Yelp recommendations about Asian places in LA from that one time that I looked for a restaurant there?

It is true that for someone to enjoy or appreciate something, they need to first see what it is like at rock bottom – and oh boy, how alleviating was to see those numbers go down by batches at every service being unsubscribed and unread e-mails deleted.

While getting all that satisfaction from a potential goal of reaching a manageable amount of unread emails (who knows how many hours, days, months it might take), I couldn’t help to notice differences in the UX of breakup emails – in the experience each service provided to the user throughout the un-subscription process.

So, ladies and gentlemen, if you ever plan to break up with your user online, here are some tips and tricks from the humble UX designer on what not to do or what to do when doing so.

WHAT NOT TO DO:

First of all, DO NOT hide the option to bid adieu from your user

As first step, just to mention the obvious: it is always good in any relationship to have the option to say “I’ve had enough! I am leaving”. Some newsletters have been caught using dark patterns and making it very hard to notice the Unsubscribe button. You have to understand: you cannot be forced to love. If a user wants to leave, s/he wants to leave. A good example of having a clear option to part ways from the MIT senseable lab newsletter:

mit sensible labMIT Senseable City Lab’s newsletter

 

Whatever you do, DO NOT be mean by making it difficult to let go

We know breakups are difficult, and some may leave you hating the one on the other end, but if they said they want to part ways with you, there’s no need to make it hard for them. The “unsubscribe” button on the newsletter sent from HEMA lands on the “sign up for the newsletter” option. Did you hear it wrong, HEMA?

hema_english

Hema’s unsubscription page.

 

So, the user should not only tap on the “Opt out” tab, but also manually type in their email address. Why are good-byes so difficult? Come on, HEMA, no need to get so clingy.

The nicest thing you can do for your user when they are breaking up (unsubscribing), is to let them go without having to bring back all those memories and having to ask them to login again. For the service that you might be bidding adieu, Emirates expects you to also login to the service to make your decision official. No matter how much of a fan of ‘dark patterns’ your design team might be, just don’t do it. The end.

emirates

Emirates’ unsubscribe page

 

DO NOT be hypocrite

In the world of user experience, consistency is a very important feature. Hence, even at your not-so-cool moments, it is important to stay true to your values. Strikingly, the “no-code-needed website to build gorgeous websites” is a bit lacking on that ‘’gorgeous” side for their break-up emails.

strikingly

Strikingly’s unsubscribe page

 

WHAT TO DO:

DO keep the bridges

Some nice goodbye letter with a promise to stay friends? I know, you might argue that ‘ain’t nobody got time for this’, but it is nice to be recognised for all the great time you had together while using this service. Who knows, maybe one day we will bump into each other and resurrect those feelings?

bodyshop_enThe Body Shop’s unsubscribe page

 

DO give an option to change my mind

And for the future possibility that I do so, an option for me to get back together?

paypal_en2Paypal’s unsubscribe page

Do use your last chance to woo

And do please explain me on all the great goodies I am going to miss out on!

paypal_en

Paypal’s unsubscribe page

 

And most importantly, keep it cool :)

A pitch of humour, when done appropriately, can lighten up any situation, including break ups. The only thing to be aware of is not to sound as if you are making fun of the other party, or taking the situation too lightly, but to reduce the tension and leave with a pleasant lasting impression:

appsumoAppsumo: A selfie wave from the (topless) chief sumo

Or, product hunt – you can’t go wrong with catz gifs.

producthunt

Product Hunt’s unsubscribe page

Similarly, with most e-mail unsubscriptions it goes fast and simple. So simple, that my first thought as a normal user was, “if only all goodbye’s were this easy”. But then, on a second thought, are you telling me that it was that easy for you to just leave? Just like that? After all these years of our, although one-way, communication relationship? Can’t you show some emotions?! Don’t be so cold-hearted.

Just when I was having that thought, an e-mail came into my almost zero inbox, that made me think: “enough is enough!” If somebody said goodbye, that means goodbye! Some services just did not get the message. To my surprise, after hours of unsubscribing meditation, I woke up to some more e-mails from all those past subscription relationships. And this time, they sent the best friend (or, the mother) for some retaliation work: yet another email from just a different alias. If it was the info@name-your-service.com that I have unsubscribed from, apparently there are still customerservice@name-your-service.com and offers@name-your-service.com that I still have to bid adieu. Oh, you just don’t want to let me go, do you? 😃

anigif_enhanced-11821-1433967712-4
 

Wish you a great week ahead, and let your breakups be no-hard-feelings, and your UX – full of customer engagement points.

 
 

Product discovery at different product stages

Describing what product discovery looks like at different stages of a company’s development is a challenging task. This is because product discovery and agile development processes differ from company to company, as well as between different stages of a company’s growth.

However, I will attempt to describe some of the processes utilised at MOBGEN, to give a general overall idea of some of the elements of the discovery process, by using case studies we have worked on.

The term ‘product discovery’ encompasses all the research and decisions on the product that you and your team are working on, whether you’re planning your next deliverable, or testing your latest prototype. The term ‘product delivery’ describes the activities needed to build and ship your product. You can’t build a product without deciding what that product is in the first place. You can only make good decisions about what you should be building if you first dedicate some time and effort to ‘product discovery’.

 

Early-stage product

In the early stages of a product, the team will work with interchangeable roles, with many people involved in discovery and research around the new product. Activities will include things such as Market Research, Benchmarking, User Journey maps, and User Persona development.

Market Research and benchmarking are used to identify what is available on the market for potential users of your product, as these could be things you would like to emulate with your product.

  • What can be learnt from competitors’ products and market leading products in related industries?
  • What are the key trends in design or functionality that are shared by the market leading apps and products in your sector?

Use your market research and benchmarking activities to create aspirational goals that your team can work towards. An example of this at MOBGEN was when one of our clients was looking to create in-app challenges and competitions, to increase user engagement by gamifying the application. For this, I was looking into a leading sports app that, though from a different market sector, has gamified running and cycling through challenges. In addition, I looked at how MMO games use challenges to engage players online, and recommend lessons for our client from this research.

Personas are a way to model typical target users, based on observation and research. A persona depicts a specific individual but is not a real person; it is a summary of your observations about many people.

The persona exercise enables the team to focus on a manageable and memorable group of target users, instead of trying to focus on thousands of individuals.

User Journey mapping is a way to understand a customer’s journey to achieve a goal by interacting with a product. For example, when they’re buying an item on an ecommerce website. The user journey map should detail the steps which customers follow to achieve their goals, and should highlight any potential obstacles they may find.

Often, these planning activities are taking place inside the company’s offices, but if it’s at all possible, you should go out and meet directly with your potential customers to get a real understanding of your target group. You can conduct interviews and observations or invite them into your working environment. Your customers are the best experts about your customers, and their input is vital as part of a good product discovery phase.

Furthermore, spending time meeting your potential customers or undertaking user research will increase the chance of your product being a success. It’s possible to condense a lot of these ‘product discovery’ and customer research activities into an intense workshop known as a design sprint.

 

Post launch product

As a product matures, the division of work will be clearer and you will start to have individuals with roles dedicated to product discovery, with job titles such as Business Analyst, or User Experience Specialist.

The ideal way to treat discovery at this stage of a product’s development is through continuous discovery. This means not only continuing all the product discovery activities you undertook before product launch, but also additional activities such as A/B Testing and data analysis.

Continuous product discovery gives you multiple data points for making product decisions along the way, during the development and delivery process.

Continuous data analysis, once your product is in the marketplace, is a way of tracking activity and usage trends. This is done through regular data analysis using whichever event monitoring and traffic tracking tools you have available. At MOBGEN, there is a team dedicated to data analysis, which I work with regularly as a BA. Together, we look for trends in activity on MOBGEN’s client application, to spot trends and recommend updates.

A/B Testing involves comparing two versions of a feature in your product, to find out which performs better. This is a way to test the impact of a new feature or changes to a feature on a live product. An example of a simple A/B test would be, Does a red button perform better than a green one? Conducting regular A/B tests will help you optimise the product and could improve a product’s UX.

A simple example of how we carry testing into everything we do at MOBGEN is by using A/B tests on our marketing emails. This was something I set up with the marketing team: to run an A/B test to see which type of email title, long or short, resulted in a higher open rate. We then used the results of these test to make a recommendation of how marketing should write email subject titles. Subsequently, after performing these tests we increased our email open rate from 16% to 24%.

 

Mature products

As the product grows and reaches maturity, there will be dedicated teams for user research and data insights. At this stage, it is vitally important to make sure that the knowledge that is gained in those teams is shared across the whole product, not just between your research experts.

By sharing the understanding across the company, everyone can learn from your customers and can contribute to a shared understanding. At MOBGEN, we hold knowledge transfer meetings, and work in cross functional teams, to make sure our learnings and observations are shared, but we can and aim to do more.

You can also make use of these product discovery activities to look for innovation beyond what is currently available in the market. For example, looking at future trends in retail technology you might consider the usefulness of developing virtual shop assistants.

 
 

The Future of Travel is Awesome (no, really!)

Razor-thin margins, constant disruption, and plenty of twists and turns – do these omens bode well for the travel industry? At MOBGEN, we believe that new technologies, and the business innovations they enable, are about to make travel great for all of us.

Exciting advances in fields such as AI, robotics, autonomous vehicles, VR, conversational interfaces and many others are already being used across the travel sector to offer new and improved services. More importantly, clever use of these technologies is crucial to businesses that wish to remain competitive – whether by reducing costs or by offering the excellent experience modern travellers expect.

Let’s have a look at a selection of travel innovations enabled by new technologies:

At the airport

With passenger traffic growing as much as 5% a year, the process of getting yourself and your suitcase through check-in, security and boarding can be daunting. Nevertheless, there are plenty of ways airports can make the journey smoother and help ever more people on their way to a happy holiday. Some examples include:

  • Universal service counters and mobile platforms allow passengers to get all the help and information they need anywhere in the terminal. Smart kiosks and mobile-empowered ground staff can significantly reduce queues and confusion.
  • A combination of RFID tags, robotics and clever service design means baggage can be processed and tracked faster and more accurately than it is today. Calgary international is a great example of how these tools improve efficiency while avoiding unhappy baggage excursions, even for short connections and other disruptions.
  • Location-enabled services, such as Beacons (see Miami), can smooth out the stressful path through a crowded concourse. Find your flight fast, or enjoy the small things that can make your journey that much more pleasant.

On the way

We began with airports, but many of our trips in the not-too-distant future will find us on new forms of transport: high-speed trains, Hyperloop, and autonomous Ubers that can bring you to your destination’s doorstep. Fortunately, there are plenty of options to help us enjoy our time inside these fancy tubes:

  • In-flight entertainment is evolving quickly, with the advent of huge touchscreens, fast connectivity in planes and trains, and systems that connect to your own device for an ultra-personalised offering.
  • Qantas has led the rollout of VR experiences for their passengers. A slew of startups has arisen to offer a new level of information and entertainment in an environment which is perfect for tuning into an alternate reality. And while we’re waiting for Elon Musk to get us there, you can already have a taste of Google’s Hello Mars.
  • While not based purely on technology, companies like Icelandair have found a novel way to add a pleasing, unexpected experience on your journey: multi-day stopovers at no extra cost. Why not have a taste of Reykjavik on your way to that New York holiday?

At your destination

A significant trend in recent years is the broadening of services in travel platforms. Now you can not only reserve your flight, but sites will also let you book a hotel, rent a car, check the weather and find recommended places to visit. This is no small feat, considering the mind-boggling amount of data and context-specific conditions for each trip. Nevertheless, many companies are leveraging new technologies to create complete experiences for anyone, anywhere:

  • In smart hotels you can personalise every aspect of your room’s lighting, comfort, and entertainment. Clever technology-enabled design helps you get by with less space, meaning hotels offer more rooms at affordable prices, without compromising on quality of service.
    Mobile platforms like Wikitude (using AR) and apps like Detour (automated, location-based audio guides) let you travel like a pro, finding hidden gems at your own pace, in the way that suits you most.
  • Conversational and search interfaces, most notably Facebook Messenger and Google, are creating new touchpoints through which diverse travel services can be offered. Google Trips and Google Destinations are great examples of how you can book and plan a trip without having to download an app or visit many websites. This builds on the broader trend to meet users where they are, using tools such as chatbots.

As we can see here, it’s an exciting time for the whole travel and transportation sector. New technologies, guided by solid service orientation, offer countless opportunities to improve our travel and even create entirely new experiences.

At this time of extreme competition, new technologies are essential for airlines, hotels, and other businesses in the travel sector to increase efficiency and remain competitive. Perhaps the most exciting thing is that these opportunities will not only improve bottom lines, but also let us have frictionless, enriching travel experiences – and more of them.

 
 

Millennial 20/20, London

Millennial 20/20 Europe Summit focuses on a combination of innovation, disruption and technology, making it an event that appeals directly to the heart of MOBGEN. The summit hones in on the reasons why consumer needs are becoming intensely more complex and evolving at a faster pace than we have ever seen before. Millennial 20/20 aims to address these topics ‘through a curated experience of multiple conference stages, immersive and experiential showcases and organised networking experiences’.

The impressive lineup of key speakers at the event includes the likes of Facebook, H&M and Birchbox, and attracts a multitude of large and small businesses to come with the aim to learn more about how consumers want to shop and interact with brands in the modern industry. This years Europe edition of the Summit is on May 3 – 4 and is located in London, meaning that we will be packing our bags and heading over to the event in only a week’s time!

Why Millennial 20/20?

We are looking forward to experiencing the future of commerce from the perspective of a digitally sharp consumer, and delving into some of the key focus points that meet our very own key verticals at MOBGEN. This includes, but is not limited to, Retail, Mobile Payments, Travel and Fashion. As a company that creates mobile solutions for consumers and businesses, we are highly interested in the evolution of the way consumers interact with brands. Millennial 20/20 is set to highlight the ways in which the ‘millennial mindset’ alters this process and how it is increasingly becoming the norm in commerce overall.

MOBGEN are lucky enough to be attending this event with one of the key partners of Millennial 20/20, Accenture. At the event we will be taking along two of our very own exciting projects that incorporate Trendradar and the Microsoft HoloLens.

HoloLens – Future of Aircraft Training & Maintenance

MOBGEN will be using the HoloLens to demo the ‘future of aircraft training and maintenance’, illustrating an airline engine in 3D. The key concept behind this is that it can be used for training purposes for engine and maintenance staff.

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The HoloLens overlays 3D holographic content on the physical world. With HoloLens, trainees can interact with a detailed hologram – in this case, specific aircraft material – to get an interactive hands-on experience whilst learning about operational procedures. But this is not only useful for training. The HoloLens can also be used for maintenance purposes, to extract information from manuals to the real world, hands free. Come see us at the event to discover the capabilities of this new 3D technology!

Trendradar – Data Visualisation

On the other hand, MOBGEN will be at the event to demonstrate Trendradar, a real time Twitter data visualisation platform. Trendradar operates by filtering tweets by a keyword such as ‘Technology’ or ‘Travel’. The hashtags are then extracted from the tweet text and sentiment analysis is then performed to determine the emotion in the tweet text. This information is then visualised on screen. Tweet nodes are displayed in the centre. The colour of the node indicates the sentiment; green corresponds to positive and red to negative.

An overall sentiment percentage is also calculated. This allows the user to gain an understanding of the overall sentiment that the topic has amongst the twitter community. The hashtags are displayed as separate nodes, which further allows the user to get an overview of trends that relate to the keyword used.

01-datavisualization

The strength of this data visualisation is that it allows the user to get an impression of what is happening on the ground with a topic. For example, if a person was looking to book a holiday to London. They could enter London as a keyword and get an overview of what is happening in London. The hashtags that are displayed enable the user to see what is happening in the city and how people are feeling about London at that moment. Or if the same person wanted to compare two airlines, they could look search for each airline and get honest customer feedback from people tweeting about those airlines.

Come see us at Millennial 20/20!

We will be in London for both days of the events, and as much as we are looking forward to seeing all of the cool things others will be showing, we are equally thrilled to be able to show you some of the things that we have been working on. You will be able to find us at the Accenture Travel Showcase located at the Old Truman Brewery, stand T3.10 on the first floor, both May 3 & 4 – come say hi!

Credits: Silviu Agapi – HoloLens, Tom Power – Data Visualisation

 
 

In a world where technology is quickly becoming an important factor in every facet of society, and in many variations, it can be extremely difficult to choose which types of technologies to adopt in business. Technology is ever-changing, and there are new ideas emerging all of the time, making it difficult to determine which new trends are worth investing into and deploying as the next step in your digital strategy.

When looking towards the finance industry, what we have begun to experience is a multitude of small players investing in innovative technologies in an attempt to disrupt the industry. The introduction of contemporary technologies in FinTech startups has allowed for the transformation of banking, with new possibilities emerging that can increase usability and promote positive user experience. This forces larger businesses to compete, and not only do they feel pressured to lead the way with tech, but they also need to show that they are capable of being on-trend, and that they know how to deal with change.

Generally speaking, multi-national corporations find investing in technology much more difficult, as their traditional structures often hold them back and inhibit their abilities to grow in a future that is so heavily reliant upon it. This is where mobile solution companies, such as MOBGEN, can play a part in this change, and help large businesses figure out the most valuable option for the next step in their digital strategy.

Taking on Knab Verzekeren

When focusing on large financial companies, one of the most innovative mobile apps that MOBGEN have helped to create is Knab Verzekeren. This long-standing relationship between ourselves and Knab is something that was built upon a previous project, which aimed to create a financial advisor in your pocket. Eventually, this was adapted to encompass some of the latest technological trends that could add increasing value to an insurance service.

Knab Verzekeren is, essentially, an insurance comparison app that aims to make customer experience engaging and seamless. The app allows the user to compare insurance prices across the market, and apply for them directly through their smartphone. When the app is downloaded, the user is asked to complete a profile through answering a set of fixed questions. These responses allows the app to understand the user’s living situation, and continuously advise them about which insurance policies meet their needs, whilst also considering best value for money alongside other important factors.

In addition, the app also allows the user to complete an existing insurance portfolio, including the details of five different insurances – home, travel, content, car and liability. This means that user’s have all of their current insurance policies in one place, complete with contact details for each specific company. When wishing to improve or renew insurances, the user is able to select an option in the product management screen, and further choose whether they require direct advice about insurances available to them, or to directly compare the options in the market at that moment, using filters to prioritise their needs.

The Key Features

What sets Knab Verzekeren apart from regular price comparison sites, are the various functionalities that are available, including its ability to stimulate the user to take action. The in-app messaging box reminds users to add their details in the product dashboard, to look for the latest deals that suit their living situation, and also, to alert the user when their insurance contracts may be coming to an end.

Something that is quite interesting about this feature is that once the message box is empty, the user is presented with an additional three options to select, which are very important to the Knab brand and philosophy. Ultimately, the goal for Knab Verzekeren is to make the user’s life easier, meaning that gaining feedback from the user is of utmost importance and responses are used to continually improve the app’s functionalities. It makes sense, then, that user feedback is the first option, with insurance checker and policy upload as the two remaining choices. The policy upload option allows the user to email their insurance policy number to customer service, allowing for the completion of details in the app portfolio to be completed by Knab themselves.

Alternatively, insurance checker allows users to send documents directly to Knab, without fees, via email or Whatsapp. This is an innovative solution to common problems in banking, which allows the user to receive a report, outlining how well their current insurance policy suits their needs, and how they can improve. Utilising Whatsapp in banking is particularly convenient as the user can be immediately assisted by the Knab customer service line, directly from their phone, without the need for a long phone call and frustrating hold time.

In terms of design features, the Android version of the app is most interesting due to its dynamic interface, which is presented in the form of bubbles. Usually, when considering insurance, all applications are done through forms and paperwork. MOBGEN wanted to change this, creating an innovative interface that goes beyond what is currently developed. Before building this entirely, the design team completed various usability tests, from which the users expressed that they found the interface very inviting, and said to have enjoyed the interaction very much. The goal of such features is to create something unique, that makes the experience much more enjoyable for what is commonly perceived as the tiring and dull task of arranging insurance.

What can be learnt from Knab Verzekeren?

The design, development and deployment of Knab Verzekeren illustrates just one way that large financial companies can adopt new technologies and improve customer experience. We understand how overwhelming it can be when evaluating which approach to follow, in fact, a study by Brother International Corporation reported that 63% of business owners frequently feel overwhelmed with the number of technologies available to run their business.

We believe that the best starting point when considering which technologies to invest in, is to fully understand your company’s needs, and to adopt technology that could best accommodate them. As seen with Knab Verzekeren, it was important for them to ease the pain of applying for and maintaining various insurances, and to aid their customers in achieving a contract that is best suited for them. The app facilitated all of these needs, using new and innovative design to make the process of applying for insurance more enjoyable, whilst also enabling the customer to access insurance details remotely and without fuss.

When considering large businesses in particular, it is equally as important to consider how these new technologies will fit in your existing business structure. It is not uncommon for businesses to throw investment into new technologies that they do not fully understand, or know the most valuable ways they can be utilised. Ensure that you are able to connect your organisational strategy to your tech strategy, and always consider your business’ mission and culture in the process. There is little use adopting the most popular or extravagant technology that is on the market, if it doesn’t fit with your long-standing brand and work in partnership with your company structure.

MOBGEN prides itself as a strategic partner for global brands, to engage their customers and employees with mobile and creative technology. We aim to make mobile interaction easy, engaging and rewarding, so that users become loyal and lifelong brand-ambassadors. We do this by striking the right balance between strategy, creativity and technology.

 
 

It has been just over a month since Mobile World Congress 2017, where I was part of the team that demoed the world’s first in-car payment system. MOBGEN developed the solution in cooperation with Shell and Jaguar Land Rover, and I had the good fortune of being able to take part in the project from its inception to its production deployment in the UK just 2 weeks before MWC, and of course the actual preparations for the MWC demo itself. As it sometimes goes with demos, no amount of planning prepared us for the complexities we had to face at the venue in Barcelona, ranging from demo car configuration to 4G and WiFi networks congested to a level simply ironic for the name of the event.

After 3 days of scramble, our demo eventually came together and we ended up having an excellent MWC, including, but not limited to, winning a GloMo award – making a nice hood ornament for our demo vehicle:

IMG_20170228_162017

Sitting in my hotel room after the event, still sleepless from adrenaline, I took account of some of my learnings in the present of connected car related development, and contemplated on what the future might hold for us on four wheels.

Your car is your new screen

As your TV today is basically just another (big) output media for your cloud account (be it Apple TV, Netflix, or Youtube), so will be your fridge, your lamps… and your car. “Big multimedia” is coming, and is ready to disrupt this market too. The “car as the new screen” concept creates a whole new ecosystem and the industry is scrambling to be first and grab market share in providing you with the hardware and platform for it.

Samsung buying Harman, one of the big car multimedia solution suppliers for $8 billion is a clear sign. Because even though you might know Harman from your harman / kardon speakers and amplifier at home (or AKG; or JBL), 65% of their revenue is actually automotive related, as they supply some of the most high profile car makers with various hardware and software components.

Qualcomm, the company that’s probably manufacturing the brain of your phone, well… if it’s not a Samsung, announced their Connected Car Reference Platform for the same reason: hitching a ride in your car, but in a good way.

Microsoft integrating multiple mapping solutions (most recently: HERE Maps, the Google Maps alternative owned by BMW, Audi and Daimler) into their Bing Maps platform has a similar goal: to offer a viable reason to become an additional layer between the driver and the actual data.
Google and Apple are, of course, already well known contestants for a prime position in your car dashboard, with their Android Auto and CarPlay solutions. Amazon, a new but very strong contender, partnered with Ford to couple Alexa with Ford’s existing SYNC platform.

And naturally, the “old industry” doesn’t want to be left behind, so Valeo just got themselves a self driving vehicle permit in California. Intel just bought Mobileye, providers of autonomous vehicle and crowdsource mapping solutions. And Bosch just partnered with NVidia to create a self driving car computer. To add to this, we actually used Bosch technology for the in-car payment solution we demoed at MWC. This only scratches the surface, but they do give us a clear picture of what is happening in the automotive industry.

You need to treat your app’s security on a new level

What is also evident is that while the primary focus is on the multimedia in your car, everything is connected now: your multimedia experience is tightly integrated with the core telematics, safety and security systems of the vehicle. This has fun applications, like turning your car into Mario Kart controller.

Unfortunately it also has less fun side effects, like when hackers turn your car into their Mario Kart controller; or kill it remotely, while you’re driving on the highway. Or simply switch off your alarm from their phone, using a hacked remote control app.

When multimedia capabilities of cars covered CD changers and possibly Bluetooth phone connectivity, this wasn’t an issue. Today, when your phone app taps into the system that controls your alarm, it suddenly is. To blatantly steal Bruce Schneier’s phrase: computer security is now everything security. And everything includes cars.

Safety and sensors: vehicle and app are now much closer

Also, with platforms evolving, so is safety related legislation: the US Department of Transport now proposes a new rule that would mandate vehicle-to-vehicle communications, to ensure your connected car is also connected to the other connected car to avoid accidents.

On the positive side, with the new platforms bringing app and vehicle that much closer, we have a lot more exposure of the vehicle’s inner soul, via exposed sensor data. The industry is currently learning what can be done with this data. Basics include using data from the car’s much higher quality sensors in your app, like GPS or movement sensor; or differentiating app experience based on, for example, whether the car is moving or not.

There are more advanced concepts too, like combining sensor data with one of my other favourite things, gamification. Imagine your car sensors (while talking to other cars to keep the feds happy), also expose your good and less good driving behaviour to a gamification app that turns them into points and badges. You don’t have to go far – our Shell app already lets you collect badges for smooth driving.

There are new dimensions of complexity for app developers

An idea that was taken from your phone or tablet, with monthly security patches and system upgrades, car manufacturers are doing over-the-air updates to their cars now. They are learning what the mobile ecosystem has been learning for some time: how to deliver software updates, without screwing it up, at scale. This gives them the implicit opportunity to build their own ecosystems; when it comes to cars, manufacturers obviously control the platform itself.

For app developers wanting to integrate with this ecosystem, this brings three new dimensions of complexity.

First, as an app developer, you need to decide the core platform to go with. Are you building on top of an integrated platform and possibly putting some extra effort on your customer, or do you use tethered mode and let the phone app be the brain of the operation? It is a multilayered question in itself where there is no one good answer. You need to look at how your app will be used, how deeply does it have to be integrated, and how simple each option is for you as a developer, in terms of initial and maintenance effort (how well you know the platform, how stable you feel the platform to be, how widely used is the platform of your choice, and does that fit your desired target audience).

Second, you need to decide what car platforms you will integrate with. Think of it as the Android fragmentation problem, except instead of different underlying hardware to integrate your app with, you have a galore of underlying SDKs and APIs coming from different platforms that you want to integrate your services with – preferably still with a unified user experience at the end.

Then, once you’ve made your choices and integrated with a selection of connected car platforms, you will need to start planning your incremental upgrades to follow SDK upgrade cycles of platform providers, because remember? The car is your new screen (and speaker, and keyboard, etc.), and the driver to those peripherals just changed.

And don’t forget: all of these have to be tested.

You need to rethink the app testing

Any changes that you make in your connected car app, you need to test them. You need to test with them.
And depending on the level of integration you do, testing a simple change could bring an unexpected amount of effort when it comes to validating it on a car.

Similarly to car manufacturers learning the joys of OTA upgrades, app developers now have to learn that with connected car integrations, there’s stuff you simply cannot test in a test lab. This probably sounds trivial, seeing the amount of road testing going into autonomous vehicles. But while it is trivial to extensively test a self driving vehicle for safety reasons, you also want to test anything sensor integration related, for example, in a real life scenario.

An additional complexity is hardware fragmentation such as car hardware changes, and components getting incremental hardware upgrades. And while car manufacturers do a good job in keeping their platforms (SDKs, APIs, etc) consistent, mundane things like a change in the speed of an underlying hardware component can cause unexpected behaviour in your app.

All these bring additional complexity in testing even for smaller changes, and have to be reflected in test planning.

More than ever, UX design has to drive app experience

One of the main drivers in creating the in-app payment solution for Shell and Jaguar Land Rover was simplicity. We wanted to do whatever we had to do, with minimal screen taps and minimal driver distraction. When the Google Drive app on my phone provides me with an unexpectedly complicated user experience, well that’s sad, but at the end of the day, it’s just another couple of extra minutes from my life. When your in-car app drops one unexpected dialogue that potentially distracts the driver from driving, you might have your name associated with an accident in the press, like poor Mr. Potter who is now also remembered for having a supporting role in a Tesla crash.

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As a result of our focus on simplicity, the number of possible taps you can make in our app whilst driving is exactly one. At the pump, when stationary, you can complete your refuel act in 3 easy steps.

We are still in the early stages

Last but not least, our project and our MWC demo has taught me that the journey has only just begun.
As the industry is in disrupted mode and everyone is scrambling to find their positions, so is the supporting industry exploring and learning what can be done with this new platform. My (obvious) guess is payments will always be at the forefront, as we’ve also been implementing solutions to pay for anything. We are also going into alternative controls, like how best to interact with an app in the car, extending, for example, on what Alexa is doing now.

We can expect closer integration with the other peripherals that users have (currently most importantly the smartphone, but this may change). We are in the early stages of understanding exactly how it is possible to make motorists lives easier.

As the underlying technology makes more and more things possible (including, but not limited to a significant increase in sheer bandwidth and processing power the cars provide), connected car platforms will evolve and will increase focus. Maybe some middle layers will grow stronger to address the fragmentation issue, and make the life of app developers easier.

And, naturally, the rise of autonomous vehicles will fundamentally change the way we use our cars, creating an entirely new segment with a different focus.

Whatever happens, we at MOBGEN and our MOBGEN:Lab will be continuing to happily tweak away with any improved or new technologies that the future brings!

 
 

Mobile World Congress 2017

March is Mobile World Congress month in Barcelona, and once again the circus rolled into town to put on the largest mobility event in the world. With well over 100,000 attendees and 9 football-field sized halls, MWC seems to get bigger and more intimidating every time. As always, the event attracted some of the biggest names in tech including the likes of Google, LG, Sony and Samsung, and as always the usual suspects were missing [Apple?]. This year’s tech gathering presented an interesting range of the old and the new, with companies such as Nokia and Blackberry making a comeback at the show.

The MOBGEN team was lucky enough to have some prime real-estate at the Accenture Digital stand in Hall 2 for our showcase of a world first connected-car project. In collaboration with Shell and Jaguar Land Rover, we exhibited our in-car payments system, powered by the Shell Motorist app and an eye-catching white Range Rover. We were also pretty chuffed to be presented with a 2017 Global Mobile Award in the Best Use of Mobile for Retail, Brands & Commerce category, for the Shell app.

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Highlights from the event

So what else was going on at the event? Actually it felt like the trends of last year were still mostly the same, but maybe with a little more focus. 5G is still effectively an idea, but a more tangible one. VR is everywhere but there is an even bigger focus on AR or MR. Connected cars were popular, but Carplay and Android Auto were not. IoT stands seemed to take up about half of all the real-estate within the expo halls, and the tech buzzwords were in abundance. Wearables were popular, but they seem to be more sensible now that we have actual sales trends to learn from. And graphene will definitely save the world.

One of the biggest hits was a huge slice of nostalgia: Released in 2000, the Nokia 3310 was one of the best-selling mobile phones of all time and quickly became an iconic gadget in the modern technological world. Nokia announced the rebooted version at the event, showcasing its near-original design and the classic Snake game we all know and love in a new and updated format. It feels good in the hand, has killer battery life, and we are sure it will sell like hot cakes as a starter or ‘festival’ phone.

One of the big mobile hypes was of course around 5G – the fifth generation of wireless technology – with expected speeds to be significantly faster than current home broadband. It goes without saying that this is something that is causing excitement in the mobile world, as it can unleash the potential of many other contemporary technologies such as streaming virtual reality. Concrete details are still not fully defined, but 5G feels closer than ever.

Our favourite part of the whole event is hidden in the last hall, where they keep the scientists in their lab coats: the ‘Graphene Experience Zone’. Graphene is the world’s first 2D material that is immensely tough, flexible and cheap to use. If it were possible, I imagine Elon Musk would coat himself with graphene and become even more like Tony Stark. The focus of the Graphene stand was on five key innovation areas: Datacom, Energy, Composites, Wearables and Health, and IoT and Sensors. Each area involved awesome specialised prototypes and demonstrations, and the PhD candidate behind each of the research topics was on hand to try to explain it to the rest of us. Learning about how graphene can be used to revolutionise energy storage, wearable technologies and electric sportscars got us truly excited to see where this material could take us in the future of technology.

VR/AR/MR headsets and drones were front and centre at the event. The hype surrounding these products in the technology industry was certainly clear, with new and already established devices around every corner. Of course the MOBGEN:Lab team is experimenting with these technologies on a daily basis, but there were still a few surprises that grabbed our attention, particularly in the new DJI pro-grade drones and the proliferation of cheap but capable robots. The post Google-glass game is also quite strong, with AR glasses clearly evolving to focus on industrial applications rather than mainstream appeal.

In the end, it is the people that attend that are the main reason to be at MWC. The handshakes and card exchanges, the networking, the awards and the parties are next-level, as we essentially have the collected global mobility expertise in one place at one time. Once you get away from the stands and the brands, the discussion is not about the technology but about the experience and the ability to deliver. There are still many strategy demonstrations and prototype services being shown, but the real appetite is for what is available now, or within the next 6 months. The speed of innovation is so great that it felt like only the actual, tangible products were able to raise their heads above the noise. Yet another reason to be extremely proud of the MOBGEN team who delivered one of the few real connected-car products at MWC 2017.

See you next year!

Images credits – Morgan Mullooly. Video credits – Nick Mueller & Meeuwes van Dijk.

 
 

Cars are becoming more and more connected to advanced technologies every day. What we are starting to see is much more than electronic and driverless cars, but cars that are connected to technology in order to become ‘smart’ and provide the user with a great experience. Innovative features such as augmented reality displays and non-touch touchscreens make the modern car easy to use and a concept of the future.

When it comes to the customer journey, virtual reality is beginning to play a vital role in revolutionising the selecting and purchasing of a new vehicle. Virtual showrooms are gaining increasing popularity, meaning that customers are able to wear virtual reality headsets to experience the specific car models available in a range of environments. They can also ‘build the car of their dreams’, changing the desired features, colour and even sounds of the car. So far, this has proved a huge success, with customers no longer needing to even take a physical test drive, as they can fully experience their future car in a virtual environment.

 

Augmented reality and safety features in automotive

Using augmented reality in cars allows the driver to receive information on the windshield, so that they are able to keep their eyes on the road at the same time. These are called Heads Up Displays (HUDs) and although they have been around for some time, the technology didn’t quite reach its potential. The rapid growth in tech in recent years has meant that this feature of the contemporary car has improved significantly, with an impressive update that allows only the driver to see the full-colour holographic image presented to them. This image is able to provide useful information such as driving speed, navigation and fuel levels. It is predicted that the next few years will produce some of the most advanced and innovative technologies to cars that we have ever seen, and augmented reality could indeed become a regular feature in these designs.

Pre-collision technology ties into the idea of HUDs in automotive as they essentially provide hazard warnings to the driver, which could be displayed on the augmented reality screens. This type of technology detects dangerous situations when driving, such as pedestrians crossing or oncoming vehicles, allowing you to react in the most appropriate manner swiftly and avoid any serious incidents. New auto safety features are sophisticated in the way that they are able to be incorporated in a variety of ways. Using pre-collision technology can either allow the driver to take action when there is an upcoming hazard, or in even more advanced systems, the car itself will react to the situation by slowing down, breaking and so on.

It is imperative that the technology behind pre-collision systems is finely tuned and highly complex, as accidents are unpredictable and can happen in a variety of situations. Testing is a highly critical part of the design of these systems, the active safety system needs to operate effectively based on the signals it receives, rather than reacting to something that does not cause any threat. As a result, many of these advanced systems detect danger without solely relying on visuals and instead utilising radar systems, therefore using the detection of infrared waves that echo and travel much faster than visuals and sounds.

 

The use of cameras and displays in vehicles

A visually futuristic automotive feature is the concept of cameras as a replacement for side-view mirrors. It is argued that this can increase safety and is likely to become a modern feature in cars of the future, as Japanese car manufacturers are starting to implement them across the board. Side cameras erase the problem of the blind spot, which we have accepted as a common problem when driving, for many years. They also allow for the improvement of a car’s aerodynamic qualities and reduce noise whilst driving. This paired with the introduction of inexpensive digital camera systems means that there’s a real possibility such features will become common practice in the automotive industry.

The use of surround-view cameras are relatively common features in modern cars, which provide the driver with a 360 degree view of their car and surroundings in real time. This technology incorporates the use of a monitor, upon which the driver has a birds-eye view of the car and the surrounding elements, showing moving images, road markings, oncoming vehicles and objects. Advanced systems also provide warnings when you are too close and can assist the driver when parking, contributing to the increasing use of technology for safety improvements in vehicles.

Many modern cars have also improved their in-car displays much further than implementing touch screen technology. In fact, one feature that is becoming commonplace in luxury cars is the touchscreen that does not need to be touched. Such screens simply respond to the user’s gestures and hand movements, without the need to touch the screen itself. The display has sensors integrated into the design which respond to such movements and activate the display’s surface with ease.

When looking towards far-fetched futuristic display concepts in cars, Nissan designed a concept car named Teatro with advanced touch-screen displays built into the seats. This allows passengers to play games and chat online, essentially turning the car into a moving tablet. The touch screens are able to accommodate video chats, live streams and video games whilst also providing the user with information about the car itself.

 

The Connected Car

The connected car is a vehicle that is fully-equipped with wireless internet access and local area networks. This allows the driver to interact with their vehicle in a variety of ways, making the journey more pleasant and functional. Using network service, cars will be able to take advantage of a whole range of services from unlocking doors, checking the status and maintenance requirements of your vehicle, and using hands-free services including fuel payments and much more.

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Shell and Jaguar Land Rover, together with MOBGEN, part of Accenture Digital, have recently released their very own in-car payments system which simply requires the user to connect the Shell app to their InControl Apps dashboard system. Users are able to locate the nearest shell station, confirm which pump they are at, and pre-authorise using Apple Pay or PayPal. All the driver has to do is fill up, view the receipt and leave.

The connected car incorporates a vast range of different services, from entertainment, to home integration and vehicle management, having such advanced technologies connected into your vehicle gives you the ability to use network connection to make your driving experiences more enjoyable. While entertainment features in vehicles are not a new phenomenon, the idea that you can move connectivity to the car itself and not have to rely on a smartphone is what really makes this unique.

At MOBGEN, our combination of creativity and innovation allows us to work together to bring new and improved technologies to the automotive industry. We look forward to being involved in what comes next!

 
 

How to tackle a design sprint

We recently took one of our biggest clients through their first Design Sprint which took five days. The purpose of this week was not only to get to a testable prototype, but also to show how we can solve problems for existing mobile applications using the processes of a Design Sprint.

 

The Design Sprint methodology is part of the agile approach to user experience and product design that puts the business, technology, and most particularly the user, in the centre. It is a structured process for tackling critical business questions through designing, prototyping, and testing new ideas with users through a one-to-five day workshop.

 

The process combines 6 stages:

  • Understand
  • Define
  • Diverge
  • Decide
  • Prototype
  • Validate

 

The sprint team consisted of 6 participants from MOBGEN and our client, each of whom were experts from different disciplines. In the sprint team, there are two key roles, the decider – a person who makes the final call on a discussion, and a facilitator – someone to run the week.

 

 

Design Sprint preparation – Pre-Sprint interviews

 

As part of the sprint preparation, we conducted a number of pre-sprint interviews to collect user insights, in order to empathise with the users during the design sprint.

 

The interviews were to gauge the opinions on the existing status of the application: Is it clear? What could be improved?

 

This part of the first step of the design sprint, to understand, and the results of the interviews were concluded into the sprint introduction, on the first day.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 16.53.07Monday – Understand & Define

Guiding goals & questions | Map | Interview the experts | Target

 

We started the sprint with initial team introductions and role definitions, and we introduced the Design Sprint plan and the sprint challenge. Summaries of the pre-sprint interviews results were presented shortly after.

 

Our first group task was to write out the sprint guiding goals and questions on post-it notes and group them on the whiteboard.

 

The guiding goals were created by defining the questions we needed to answer during the sprint. To help the team better understand the guiding goals, we prepared the following questions for consideration:

 

  • To meet our long term goal, what needs to happen?
  • Where do you want to be in 6 months, 1, or 5 years from now?
  • What might cause failure to happen?
  • How will the solution integrate with the current application?

 

Some of the Guiding Goals we defined included:

  • Does the solution support all markets?
  • Is the navigation flexible to support future services?
  • Does the app make the user feel welcome as a guest on the app?
  • Is the solution Simple?
  • Is the solution Smart?

 

The second group task was to map out the user journeys in the app, and select a user type, and a user journey for more detailed consideration.

 

The steps we took to capture the user journey were to list the customers on the left of the whiteboard, write out the complete goal for each customer on the right, and then list the steps and interactions that take place between the start and the completed goal. Additionally, we listed the services available to the user at every step of the journey.

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The third task was to have a number of Lightning Talks to interview experts from the business. These were 30 minute calls, where we explained the Design Sprint, presented our sprint guiding goals, the user journey, and asked for feedback from the business experts who were not part of the sprint team.

 

During these calls, the sprint team wrote out ‘how might we’ notes, reframing each problem we heard during a call as an opportunity in the form of a question, beginning with the words ‘how might we’. These notes were written on post-it notes and after the call all the notes were captured and placed on a wall.

 

Once all the notes were up, we then organised the ‘how might we’ (HMW) notes into similar themes. The whole sprint team then agreed and removed the themes that were out of scope. Then, sprint team members individually reviewed the long term goal and the sprint questions. After this, we took a secret vote to choose the most provoking and useful HMW questions. The notes with the most stickers were placed on the map next to the corresponding step in the customer’s journey.

 

The final task of the day was for the Decider to select the user type and user journey we would focus on for the rest of the week. The user type selected was an existing app user, who has already completed the on-boarding process. The decider chose two user journeys, instead of one, which was something we as a team agreed to tackle.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 16.53.10Tuesday – Diverge

Remix and Improve | Sketch

 

The first task was to research apps and websites that we felt we could learn from. Then each team member presented a handful of apps and websites that they liked, and explained why. During each presentation, another member of the team would sketch the key ideas on the whiteboard.

After the presentations, we worked through four sketching exercises individually taking the ideas we liked and relating them to the guiding goals and user journey.

 

  1. Notes – steps

Individually we each reviewed the long term goal, the sprint questions, the map, the HMWs and the inspiring demos. We then captured our ideas and notes for the solutions that we considered sketching in the upcoming exercise.

 

  1. Ideas – steps

We roughly jotted down our ideas, diagrams, thoughts, doodles, sketches and headlines.

 

  1. Crazy 8s – steps

We used A4 paper folded into 8 panels. We began by drawing our strongest idea from the previous exercises and created variations of the idea in the remaining seven boxes.

 

  1. Sketch solution – steps

We used three mobile phone screen print-outs on A4 paper for this. Individually we sketched our best idea in detail so it could be easily understood. We added simple labels and added a catchy title. The choice of words was important in this exercise as each team member would privately review them on the following day.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 16.53.13Wednesday – Decide

Decide | Rumble | Storyboard

 

The first task for the team was to vote on their favourite sketches from the day before, after which the decider chose the four sketches that would be taken forward to the prototype.

 

In order to get to this decision:

Each team member had 20 stickers. The team members reviewed each solution sketch and voted on their favourite sketches and ideas, and distributed their stickers between the sketches according to their preferences.

 

After the voting, one team member spent 3 mins presenting each solution sketch. They narrated the sketch and discussed any standout ideas that had clusters of stickers around them. Additionally, they reviewed and discussed all the concerns and questions listed for each solution sketch.

 

At the end, the sketch creator contributed anything missed or confused from the presentation. This process was repeated for each solution. At the end, the decider had a visual output and a complete understanding of all proposed solutions, and was able to choose the sketch the team would prototype.

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After the presentations the decider chose four screens (two for each user journey) that would be taken forward in the sprint. As a team, we agreed to combine the chosen designs to create a single prototype with two screens, rather than to create two prototypes and compare the results of each one.

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Next, we created high level designs, combining the chosen sketches into one design, containing two screens: one screen was used when the customer was at the client’s retail site, and the other screen was used when the customer was not at a retail site.

 

During this process, we also worked out which services would be available in one tap, and which services would be available in two taps.

 

The last step was to create a storyboard for the flows we wanted to test at the end of the Design Sprint, and include in the prototype.

 

Finally, the team members split into the different roles needed to build the prototype on day 4, shown below:

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 16.53.40

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 16.53.16Thursday – Prototype

Start prototyping | Trial Run

 

We started the day by planning all the tasks and dividing them amongst the sprint team.

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The tasks included:

  • Start building the prototype and make it look as real as possible (The prototype does not have to be perfect)
  • Keep it simple and focussed on the main features that we want to test
  • Plan interview questions
  • Prepare Copy for the prototype

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At the end of Thursday, we ran a trial test with the prototype we made, and the interview scenarios and questions we prepared.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 16.53.19Friday – Validate

Small Data | Interview | Learn

 

The most important question was “How can we know if we did a good job?” In order to answer this question, we used the prototype we created and asked different users to test it. We gave an explanation of the context, and asked them some guiding questions.

 

In the interview room, the two interviewers introduced the prototype to the customers to get their authentic reactions while interacting with it. In the Sprint room, the rest of the team were taking notes on all customers reactions using post it notes and coloured markers (Green: Positive, Red: Negative, Black: Neutral).

 

The day consisted of 6 interviews, and the team was split into two groups: Interviewers and Observers. Two team members set up the interview room and asked questions, and the rest of the team watched camera feeds on a large screen and made notes on the interview.

After the final interview, the sprint team came together to review the notes, note down our lessons, and conclude the results of the day.

Lessons from the sprint

The biggest lesson taken from the sprint is how much effort is needed from the entire sprint team during the week.

 

Looking at the notes that were taken during the interviews, we saw some clear successes in the prototype as well as things that needed improvement which we will further explore at a later date.

 

However, all team members, from MOBGEN and from the client, agreed that overall we made great strides towards the sprint challenge, and had gone a long way to addressing our needs.
This was not the first design sprint conducted by MOBGEN, and all through 2017, MOBGEN will be increasing the number of Design Sprints and Service Design Workshops for their clients. I look forward to participating in more Design Sprints in the future, and to facilitating some of them as well.  

 

Photo Credits: Peter Munkacsi. Icon Design Credits: Pal Blank.

 
 

It needs to focus on its customers – more than ever.

 

About 6 months ago, I decided to switch to a different gym to cut unnecessary costs. Although it meant substituting fancy Netflix-equipped cross-trainers with barely digital cross-trainers, this loss seemed to be worth the 30 euros in monthly savings. Sadly, I recently found out that my expensive gym membership wasn’t actually cancelled and I was paying for both memberships, while going to the significantly less fancy gym. Whereas one would argue that this is just plain stupidity (which I partly tend to agree upon), others will see the business opportunity in my story. There are similar frictions that customers face in traditional banking, waiting to be resolved.

A wave of financial technology startups, such as Monzo, Simple, and Atom, have recognised these customer frictions in traditional banking and are redefining the future of banking. Though banking has historically been perceived as a robust industry, unlikely to face disruption, this notion is changing rapidly.

 

As Bill Gates once famously said: “Banking is essential, banks are not”. By removing the physical bank, these mobile-only banks’ core focus is on providing their customers with the best banking experience possible.

Though the landscape of so called “challenger banks” varies in proposition and approach, there is one strong common denominator: an undivided attention to understanding customer needs. Many traditional banks provide their customers with digital services that require them to actively manage their finances themselves. Oftentimes, the traditionally offered services (viewing your balance and transfers) have merely been translated from a physical into a digital format. The successful challenger banks however, proactively provide their users with insights about their finances. They have better visualisation capabilities that provide financial insights to help their customers save money, give smart suggestions, and information is updated in real-time. These capabilities address major frictions, as they remove a significant part of the required manual effort from the customer.

It is not only these independent FinTech startups that are pressuring banks to adapt. New regulations, such as the Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2), will require banks to share their customers’ data with third-party providers. These regulations around Open Data are creating new opportunities for innovative solutions in the banking industry. This may be perceived as a potential risk, as banks could potentially lose the ownership over the customer relationship if a third party provides a more desirable technological solution. However, traditional banks can also embrace these regulations as an opportunity to create better digital banking experiences for their customers themselves.

 

It is no news that financial organisations – or any organisation for that matter – should focus on its customers. The difference between many of these innovative mobile-only FinTech startups in comparison to traditional banks, is the methods they apply to quickly gather insights about their customers. Whereas larger institutions have the available funds to enter long research projects, the new kids on the block do not. This forces them to use short cycled trajectories to quickly validate value propositions.

Here at MOBGEN, we often work with large institutions looking to bring innovative mobile solutions to their customers. Applying design methodologies and frameworks frequently used by startups allows us to gather important learnings in a short period of time. This way, we can validate in advance whether the product we are building is the right one for our end-users. Additionally, running these short design trajectories throughout projects, allows us to shape the roadmap to decide where to focus next.

There is a large range of design methodologies and frameworks that can be applied to ideate and validate new value propositions. Some of our favourites are:

 

Design Sprints

The basics of a design sprint is to answer critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. It is a method in which a small team (consisting of business stakeholders, designers, developers and other subject matter experts) works closely together to shortcut the regular work processes and compress something that would have taken months into a single week.

Instead of waiting to launch a product to understand if an idea is worthwhile and sits well with customers, the team learns from a realistic prototype. The sprint can give the team insight into the solution the business would like to apply to the complex problem.

 

Personas

The purpose of personas is to create reliable and realistic representations of your key audience segments for reference.

A persona typically has a name, a picture, relevant characteristics such as age or income group, behavioural traits, common tasks, and a goal that describes the problem the persona wants to see solved or the benefit the character wants to achieve.

Personas are used to help to focus decisions surrounding a product’s components by adding a layer of real-world consideration for the team.

 

Applied User Story Mapping

Applied user story mapping is a great methodology introduced by AJ&Smart to use in ideation and discovery sessions. It is a collaborative way to go from understanding the different steps in a user journey, to uncovering a large bulk of ideas that address customer frictions.

 

Jobs to be Done

Popularised by Clayton Christensen, the Jobs to be Done framework helps you understand the “jobs” a customer “hires” a product for. Rather than focussing on the functionality to be delivered, the focus is on understanding underlying customer motivations. A mobile banking app does not per definition compete with another mobile banking app – it’s main competitor to “get the job done” could be a notebook. Understanding the job to be done provides you with the clarity needed to decide which attributes of a product will improve upon existing solutions.

 

A physical bank is not the customer need – banking is. Applying methodologies such as those described above, enables financial institutions to rapidly ideate and develop better value propositions for their customers.

After having my own bad experience with my bank, I, myself, am considering switching to a service that addresses the frictions I personally face when managing my finances. There are many activities I’d rather do than closely monitoring my financial expenditures. As those activities often require funds, a bank that will proactively prevent me from spending unnecessary money on fancy gyms sounds like a great fit.

 
 

Lessons from the Fintech landscape

Over the past few years, financial technology (FinTech) startups have taken Europe by storm. These startups are easing payment processes, reducing fraud, saving users’ money, promoting financial planning and ultimately, using technology to disrupt the existing financial services landscape. They’ve attracted a notable amount of interest from VCs and traditional financial institutions. By September 2015, the total investment in London FinTech startups alone, had already hit £357m ($554m), surpassing £314m ($487m) in 2014. These figures were boosted by several companies taking home multi-million-pound investments, with the value of the top 10 biggest deals of 2015 exceeding $400m.

 

A study conducted by the Wharton School of Business suggests that the reason for negative sentiments towards big banks relates to financial literacy – a lack of understanding of finance allows consumers to be easily taken advantage of, and thus, makes them cautious when approaching banks.

 

These negative feelings towards banks have persisted throughout history, and could perhaps be part of the reason why consumers are flocking towards FinTech companies. Services which FinTech companies provide, such as loans, savings advice, and financial assistance, infringe on the typical territory of big banks. FinTech therefore provides services that are not necessarily entrenched in the legacy of old financial institutions. Additionally, many earn their revenue from separate sources that are not considered exploitative or advantageous.

 

One example of this is the stock trading app Robin Hood, which allows users to trade stocks without transaction fees that typically come with trades made via traditional brokers. This illustrates how FinTech companies make profits without the need for traditional fees. In the case of RobinHood, it is the way in which the app reinvests money that brings increased revenue.

 

The introduction of modern technologies in finance has meant that new possibilities have opened up. FinTech startups have given people innovative and appealing new alternatives to traditional financial institutions, that those institutions can learn from.

 

FinTech providers have progressed more quickly than traditional banks allowing them to take advantage of innovative technologies, developing banking products that are more user-friendly, cheaper to deliver and optimised for today’s digital, mobile-first world. The majority of these startups have focussed on single-purpose solutions, designed to offer an improved experience with one product or service, rather than attempting to provide a wide range of different banking services. These players are small but agile, unencumbered by costly and inefficient legacy systems and less burdened by the demands of regulatory compliance. FinTech companies are built to innovate and have a clear advantage over traditional banks in this respect.

 

The growth of open data, APIs and cloud computing as well as intense cost pressures, are set to push these FinTech firms deeper into the heart of banking, fundamentally changing the infrastructure at the core of the industry. Some leading examples of this are banking innovations based on the Internet of Things (IoT), smart data, and distributed ledgers.

 

While FinTech companies could hold the upper hand when it comes to rapid innovation, banks can offer immediate scale and critical mass alongside technology and regulatory and technical expertise. Many banks have seized the opportunity for collaboration and have responded by starting their own FinTech accelerators or innovation labs, launching corporate venture arms, or partnering with FinTech firms.

 

What are the lessons traditional financial institutions can learn from FinTech startups?

 

Understanding the user’s pains and needs

When starting to tackle a complex problem, such as a financial service, it’s important to keep focus on the person who the solution is aimed at. This requires empathy, which means identifying or vicariously experiencing the emotions, thoughts and attitudes of another person. When you feel what the other person is feeling and you can mirror their expressions, opinions, and their hopes, then you begin to understand them. This is important, because this exercise will help you identify what they truly need, and the barriers they encounter towards getting to the solution. Empathy helps you create a product that will better serve the person you are targeting.

 

For example, TransferWise started by trying to solve the pain of transferring money in different currencies to different accounts. Traditional money transfer services such as Western Union and the Money Shop typically charge between 5-8% for transfers, as well as foreign exchange fees and all sorts of other hidden charges. Banks and brokers also tend to set foreign exchange rates that will earn them a profit. Hinrikus told London Loves Business in 2012 that he “regularly transferred money from my savings at home to my new account here. I found that I was losing five per cent of the money each time I moved it.”

 

By understanding the pain of the user transferring money using traditional services, Hinrikus and Käärmann were able to define an online system where people sending money abroad could swap it directly with each other, creating a peer-to-peer money transfer system. TransferWise charges a flat commission, and offers the mid-market currency rate with no markup. The company prides itself on transparency and fairness. In 2015, TransferWise announced that it has completed more than $1 billion (£650 million) worth of transactions in the US alone.

 

Focus on solving a single problem

A startup has limited resources, and therefore is likely to only be able to solve a single problem for the user. Both of the examples mentioned in this article, Robin Hood and TransferWise, each address just one challenge in financial services. Robin Hood focusses on the single function of investments, and TransferWise focusses on international money transfer. A lesson from both these companies is that their success comes from their focus on a single problem. Traditional financial institutions that are looking to update their existing offerings should consider tackling one service at a time.

 

Staged releases, get feedback quickly

The third lesson is that most FinTech startups use agile development methods, releasing small iterative improvements to their applications, proactively getting feedback from their users, and and creating products their users want.

Companies that operate on tight time scales and limited budgets need to be nimble, getting features and bug fixes released quickly. The general rule that “the smaller the release the smaller chance something goes wrong” is worth remembering. By isolating development into specific features, companies are able to reduce the amount of QA necessary and get improvements released. Furthermore, frequent releases with isolated changes make tracking down issues easier as developers have a much smaller set of changes to review.

 

With small and quick releases, getting feedback from the users promptly and frequently is possible. This is of course related to the earlier point of focussing on the user. User feedback can take various forms: user surveys, app data, and user reaction on social media, for example. Feedback helps companies – both startups and established businesses – learn and adapt quickly to their users needs.

 

At MOBGEN, we create products that focus on the needs of the end user, by delivering mobile platforms that strengthen the relationship between customers and brands or companies and employees. We aim to make mobile interaction easy, engaging and rewarding, so that users become loyal and lifelong brand-ambassadors. We do this by striking the right balance between strategy, creativity and technology.

 
 

There is no role for designers in Scrum…

…was an argument that a colleague of mine started when we were discussing the Agile ways of working and roles of designers in this realm. And indeed, Scrum (the most frequently used of lightweight software development methods), has this in the guide:

“Scrum recognizes no titles for Development Team members other than Developer, regardless of the work being performed by the person; there are no exceptions to this rule. Scrum recognizes no sub-teams in the Development Team, regardless of particular domains that need to be addressed like testing or business analysis; there are no exceptions to this rule.”

Since the official guide does not differentiate the roles in a development team, such as the business analysts, UX and/or UI designers, quality assurance testers, and so on, how do we accommodate the process towards their intricacies? What if the designers’ way of working is different from the “typical” members of a development team, for example the software coders. So, in highly coder-focussed agile methodologies such as Scrum, how do we define the role and process for the designer to successfully deliver a product? And a user-centered product at that?

MOBGEN, like the majority of advanced IT organisations, uses Agile methodologies to organise workflow and process in most of our projects. We work with various clients who come from all walks of life, with different company sizes, cultures, ways of working, expectations, and many other differing factors. And due to this, we’ve realised over the years how crucial it is to build specific teams that will be compatible with each project. Collaboration is such an essential part of the Agile development, and knowing who (and how many) to assign to a project team to achieve great results can make or break the game. And for me as a UXer (user experience researcher and designer), it is especially interesting how this resource allocation works in terms of designers.

The term ‘UX designer’ is a broad one, as there are so many profiles (or archetypes) a designer can have. We also found that certain projects had specific UX designer + UI designer combinations. Where one project had a team with one UX designer working harmoniously with two UI designers, another team had UI designers doing some occasional UX tasks. Then we were curious: apart from the experience of the creative director who assigned these resources, is there a way to define which UX/UI profiles fit which kind of project?

This started an internal discussion within a small group of MOBGEN designers. At one point, we realised that our opinions were one-sided as we were basing them on our own experiences which shared many common familiarities.

So we decided to take this further than MOBGEN –  as part of the Amsterdam UX community, we organised a roundtable discussion at MOBGEN. There were ten external participants: eight UXers, one product owner and one innovation engineer.

UX roles

As an exercise, we collected the roles and responsibilities that UXers have in their projects. We focussed mainly on tasks that are expected of a UXer.

These are the ones that we came up with during our session:

Scrum1

UX roles and responsibilities

Scrum2

UX roles and responsibilities grouped

Agile processes

As another exercise, we defined the different processes that we’ve observed in the workplace. The list came from our own experiences working on different projects and industries. The following are the descriptions of each process that we’ve defined, along with for which projects they are best fitted to.

  1. The loop

Scrum3

The Loop

What we called “The loop” is a process where the roles in the project team work parallel to each other: the business analyst (or product owners) defines the requirements; the designer creates the wireframe or designs; the dev implements the functionalities, and so on.

We concluded that this model works for the development of completely new products, where the team needs to build quickly, and if necessary, fail quickly but learn fast to achieve the end result. The model is also assumed to work best for small scale projects.

  1. The Waterscrumfall

Scrum4

Waterscrumfall model

What we called a “Waterscrumfall” model, is an iteration of different tasks being performed in different dimensions. First, the Business analyst team comes up with the business requirements. There is an overlapping period when BAs discuss the business requirements together with the Ready team so that they can develop wireframes and designs based on the requirements. Then, the Ready team creates the wireframes and designs that need to be approved by the BAs to ensure that all requirements are fulfilled. Finally, the designs are delivered to the software development team who will implement the designs.

The disadvantages of this process are that:

  • the designers have no input in the business requirements
  • the “Ready team” may feel pressured if the business requirements aren’t refined enough to be turned into wireframes or designs, while the development is pressing them for new designs to be developed

Based on the experiences of the participants, we concluded that this model is a good fit for:

  • multiple scrum teams working on the same product
  • corporate beasts
  • medical, finance, airlines industries
  • the transition phase from waterfall to scrum.
  1. The Spotify model

Some of the participants have used the Spotify model of scaling while working Agile. The model incorporates a cross-discipline nature where “roles” take over “people”.

We’ve concluded that the Spotify model would work for

  • large projects that employ large usability testing capabilities
  • strategy-oriented projects
  1. “Design sprint”-like process

This process involves the development and design teams working together to create ideas in the form of wireframes. Afterwards, while refining and pixel-perfecting the designs, the development team can start working on implementing the functionalities based on the wireframes.

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“Design sprint”-like model

One advantage that was pointed out during the session is that this model serves the project very well in terms of communication.

  1. Sprint 0

“Sprint 0″ is an add-on to the initial Agile (particularly Scrum) methodologies where the role of design was heavily underrepresented. The idea is that designers should work a sprint ahead to prepare the work that will be developed by the dev team in the next sprint.

This model is also characteristic to contractors (or agencies) who are hired for producing designs only without having to collaborate with the development team during the implementation.

The combination of “The loop” and “Sprint 0” can work well together for small MVPs.

Scrum6

Sprint 0

Conclusion

In conclusion, to refer back to the title of this blogpost, there is a role for a designer in Agile processes, and this role is always evolving. The expectations of a UX designer’s participation changes along with advancements in UI tech and design tools, and general market awareness of the role. As we observed during this round-table session, in practice, no one single methodology fits perfectly right to a project, and as UXers, it is part of our responsibility to continuously keep improving our tools, methodologies and practices in order to achieve greater results in collaborations. UXers all over take inspiration from other companies who got it right, then mix and match ideas and tools to get what works best for them. When one single process is not working for the team ,  a combination might. However, when no improved methodology or process is working, it is recommended to change the culture.

As Christian Beck puts it, “There are different skills within the field of UX design, each which lend themselves to different roles, which are then suited towards different types of companies”. We, as a part of the UX community, are yet to define which UX roles are best fit for which types of teams or organisation.” This round-table was trying to do exactly that: assemble the UX community to start a discussion on how UX roles fit in Agile processes. This “work-in-progress” is still open for questions, challenges and debates — that we hope to achieve by getting the subject out in the community. If you have any suggestions or remarks, please do let us know :)

 
 

Forms are difficult. Forms have been difficult since digital ever came to exist. A lot has been said on this topic, from the discussion on usability of web-forms in the 90s , to when these web-forms were tailored to handsets, and to current day when UX experts have various opinions on what makes forms user-friendly (as in this, and this, and this). Forms make or break your online interactions. They usually require users to do a lot of typing, checking the accuracy of filled-in information, and often error-fixing. Since forms are usually not the users’ most favourite thing, it is essential to make filling out forms as easy and user-friendly as possible in order to keep your users interested.

While working on an insurance application app, which required a lot of forms and data inputting, we discovered a lot of inconsistencies across what is considered a good mobile form user experience. What was considered common-sense in form behaviour to some, was not clear to others. So, we decided we should create a rule. More like a best practice, really. In the end, we made ten of them, because, you know, all the good things come in top 10 lists.

And thus, without further ado, when designing usable and useful mobile forms, please consider these 10 practices.

Best practice 1. Minimise the forms.

Before you even get into the details of your forms, ask yourself: “Is this form really necessary?” If you hesitated while answering that, re-think the purpose of the form.

Best practice 2. Minimise the typing.  

Let’s just admit it, typing on a smartphone, no matter how big they are getting, is a pain in the fingers. For the convenience of going through the forms without the keyboard appearing and disappearing all the time, make use of all the amazing possibilities of touch interfaces, such as swiping, scrolling, tapping, multiple choices, and so on. Works like a charm, I promise.
Better yet, check if you can you use camera, GPS, or other sensors in the smartphones to make filling out the form easier.

mobile-forms-1

An example from earlier sketches for one of our applications.

Best practice 3. Simplify the typing.

If you really do need your users to type, at least make it easy to do so.

3.1. Use the right keyboard (to match the input data you need).

Depending on the type of input that your field requires, you can match the keyboard to the input field, so that your user can start typing immediately instead of having to switch to the desired keyboard. Does the input field require numbers as input? Then display the numeric keyboard – it will save your users one click of changing the alphabetic keyboard to the numeric one.

The keyboards that have the controls with next/previous arrows and “done” make navigating through the multiple-field screens much easier.

 

mobile-forms-2

 

An example from earlier sketches for one of our applications.

3.2. Prefill whenever possible

Has the user given this data previously in the app? If there are recurring instances when a certain piece of information has already been provided by the user, make sure the information is saved and can be reused (pre-filled) as much as possible throughout the app to avoid extra work. Don’t you love having conversations with people who remember things you said to them previously?

3.3. Be smart

Can you fill the field based on other information you have at hand?

The credit card type can be recognised from the card number.

In the Netherlands, the street name and city can be filled in automatically by knowing only the postcode and house number of the user.

Best practice 4. Offer field focus.

When users are required to fill in multiple fields, you don’t want them to get lost in the form. The input field that is being edited should always be visible, along with any hints, or error messages associated with that field. The form scrolls upwards as the user types so that they see what is coming up next.

mobile-forms-3

Image credit: Google

Best practice 5. Validate errors as you go.

The last thing you want is for your user to realise they’ve made an error just after they’ve finished filling out a form and  must now go back and correct them. Instead, check and reveal their errors in real time. While you’re at it, if the field is mandatory, mark it as such. Saves a click and inconvenience to the user. As Nick Babich puts it ‘prevention is better than cure.

mobile-forms-4

Image credit: Google

Best practice 6. Do not mask your passwords.

A lot of mobile forms involve registration or some sort of sign-in. An essential part of such forms are passwords. While there is the legacy of security coming from web forms, we highly recommend not to mask passwords. Pioneered by Luke Wroblewski, this behavior is becoming more usual: due to the personal nature of mobile phones, it is natural for users to hide their device out of prying eyes when typing in passwords. In addition, as it is known that people stick with default choices, not masking the password by default cuts down on typographical mistakes while still providing the option to hide the password when necessary.

mobile-forms-5

Image credit: Polar app

Best practice 7. Auto-everything.

Automatic capitalisation. Autocorrection. Autosuggestion? Sure, do all of that.

Automatically capitalising words, such as names or surnames when filling out forms may help the user go through the form faster without having to switch between lower and upper cases. However, avoid enabling anything auto on email and password fields. If the emails are auto-capitalised, the user might want to edit the first letter in order to avoid delivery issues. And don’t even get me started on how big the problem would be if the password fields were also auto-capitalised :)

Best practice 8. Let the users know where they are.

If your app involves not only multiple-field screens, but also multiple screens of forms – make sure to give the user a progress status. Knowing where the user is in their progress of form-filling can help improve their orientation within the app, and provide an easy way to go back to previous screens when necessary. These can be accomplished using progress bars, breadcrumbs, or simply a counter for the amount of steps.

mobile-forms-6

Shell Fill Up & Go application registration form.

 

Best practice 9. Optimise the mobile real estate.

Visual design has a great deal of influence over the user’s experience of the app interface and, in this case, the mobile forms. If the user lands on a screen with an overwhelming number of input fields, they might get the urge to quit. In order to reduce the cognitive load for the user, it is important to keep the visual clutter to a minimum. While the highly-respected Nielsen Norman Group promotes otherwise, I believe that having the labels or placeholder texts within the input field may save some real estate space and provide an aesthetic appeal. The experience can be enhanced by transforming the placeholder text into labels to remove the short-memory strain and other concerns presented by Nielsen Norman Group. This way, you can achieve a visually attractive view, because allowing your users to easily complete your form is the first step to winning their hearts :)

mobile-forms-7Plus supermarket app

Best practice 10. Test across systems and users.

Last but not least, after you have created your awesome forms, remember to test the experience across systems, screens, setups and users especially, if you support small-screen devices, such as the iPhone 4 or Samsung-mini series – make sure your forms are consistent to the original designs..

In conclusion, sticking to the principle of “less is more” when designing mobile forms does half the job for you. By requiring as minimal user input as possible, and making the essential data-filling feel as painless as possible, you can help enhance the user’s interactions on your app.  These best practices will hopefully help you in creating usable, useful and beautiful mobile forms.

 
 

The developer experience

User Experience

The term User Experience is well-known to all of us. It’s deeply integrated in the Agile methodology, forcing us to write User Stories, to perform User Testing, and to keep the user central in every little decision we make throughout the day, whether we are a business analyst, a developer or any of the other roles required to deliver a product.

Developer Experience

The term Developer Experience is not that common. It was coined about four years ago in regards to API usability. The gist is that using a third-party API should be simple, intuitive and fun, in the same way a User Interface should be to a user.

It has been a quality that many, if not all, successful tech products have focussed on from day one. It’s one of the reasons Facebook won the battle against MySpace, and one of the reasons that the first release of iOS, while quite low on features, found so much adoption.

But I feel the term can be applied in a broader sense. It applies to a developer’s hardware, software tools and internet connection. It applies to the feasibility of deadlines, but most of all, it applies to listening to your developers. Every developer wants to deliver quality. Give them the chance and they will start applying unit testing, code reviews, continuous integration; all tools that will have a direct positive impact on the quality of the product.

Corporate development environments

For the last 18 months, I’ve been involved in a multi-million Euro project at, and managed by, one of our bigger clients. The client is working on integrating Agile SCRUM into their entire workflow. The scrum teams work with a sprint planning, daily stand-up, retrospectives; all by the book.

But the output of the teams has been different than what I’m used to at MOBGEN. It took over 12 months to have a first releasable product out to the first users. So what is going wrong?

The developer experience is subpar. A few examples:

  • As the use of Bitbucket and Github is forbidden by the company policies, we ended up creating a Git repository on a USB stick and passing that around until the policy was finally changed.
  • Missing documentation or outside assistance for the projects closed-source software
  • Outdated versions of tools and frameworks.
  • No continuous integration set-up.
  • No support for GIT, forcing complex branching workflows in Subversion

 

There is a constant focus on delivering story points and making deadlines, but there is not enough focus on improving the actual output of the development team, or on spending time on getting rid of the technical debt.

None of these things are surprising in a corporate environment. There is an understandable need for (security) policies, which makes these kinds of challenges extremely difficult to overcome.

Conclusion

My time there has been a huge learning experience. I learned how to work inside a big corporate project, and I learned the challenges that come along with it. I’ve seen the correlation between developer experience and the throughput and quality of the product.

Most of all, I’ve learned how privileged I am that at MOBGEN we’ve succeeded in keeping a startup like environment, where we hold the developer experience in high regard.

 
 

Data Visualisation

In 2012, a US academic named Dr. Martin Hilbert estimated that the average person was bombarded with 174 newspapers worth of information each day. He also estimated that each individual contributed 6 newspapers of data back into the world each day. Contrast this with 2.5 pages of data that each individual generated in 1986. It’s a lot of newspapers. It’s clear that we’ve stepped into a new era. The era of information and big data. And it’s only going to grow exponentially. In fact, it is estimated that by 2020 there will be 44 Zettabytes of data in our digital world. To put that into perspective, that’s 10Mb of information per grain of sand on Earth.

However, our faculties for processing this information haven’t changed as rapidly. We seem to live in a world with a constant information overload. A quick search on Google about a company or a person can reveal huge amounts of information. But gaining real insights from the information is still a challenge. What we need is an information roadmap. A way of altering our relationship with the data and connecting the dots. This is where the concept of data visualisation enters.

Data visualisation is the representation of data as graphic forms that the eye can comprehend. As humans our vision is exquisitely sensitive to variations in space, colour, shape and form. Our visual cortex has evolved over millions of years to detect and analyse visual patterns. This is important when you need to distinguish between a harmless animal and a predator trying to eat you. The entire structure of our brain is heavily biased towards analysing and understanding visual information. The aim of data visualisation is to utilise these evolved advantages and translate the language of the eye into the language of the brain. By doing this we can move beyond the data itself and start to understand the ideas and concepts hidden within the data. Our eyes give us the ability to unlock these hidden stories and patterns.

At MOBGEN:Lab, we are working on a data visualisation project which will allow users to interact with a dynamic visualisation of MOBGEN’s values and interests. Rather than handing visitors an info sheet about the company, the visualisation aims to allow visitors to visually and conceptually gain an overview of Mobgen. The vision is to project these data visualisations on the walls of the Lab creating an immersive and futuristic environment.  A Microsoft Kinect can be used to allow visitors to physically interact with the data. Depth information from the camera will allow us to use the visitor’s motion in the space to control aspects of the visualisation.

Several experiments using Twitter data have also been undertaken in the lab. The Twitter API is a very accessible source of data. The Twitter servers can be queried for certain search words or hashtags and the server responds with a real time stream of relevant tweets. For example, if clients from an energy company visited Mobgen Lab, we could visualise tweets with relevant energy terms. This would allow the company to gain an insight into what twitter users were saying about their sector. The images below are some of the experiments into visualising a feed about a particular topic.

data_visualization

Another concept explored was using IBM’s Alchemy Language API to analyse the sentiment expressed in a tweet. The text in a tweet is analysed in the Alchemy language processing servers and a value is returned indicating how positive or negative the sentiment in the tweet is on a scale from -1 to +1. The graph below shows the results from searching for tweets related to Solar Energy. We can see how a higher proportion of the tweets analysed have a positive sentiment, which hopefully bodes well for the future of clean energy.

data_visualization_03

 

Ultimately the design goal of this project is to engage clients with MOBGEN:Lab, and make them feel inspired for their own projects and creative sessions. We want to show data in a creative way and inspire visitors with new insights into their own sector. We want to make the LabSpace an immersive and dynamic environment that hints at future possibilities that big data can offer us.

 
 

Web Summit 2016

The Web Summit is Europe’s largest technology event, with over 50,000 attendees. We knew only one thing; we wanted to be a part of it. Discovering all things technology and innovation in the beautiful city of Lisbon, we were excited to be surrounded by all of the biggest names in tech, from Amazon’s and Facebook’s CTOs, to Tinder CEO Sean Rad, and many, many more. Even a handful of globally-known celebrities showed up, including footballer Ronaldinho and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Upon arrival, the event seemed overwhelming, with multiple stages, continuous talks, panels and debates and endless activities scheduled throughout the day. Nevertheless, it was an exciting few days, filled with a bunch of interesting talks about all of the latest and most innovative technologies, such as artificial intelligence, mobility trends, chatbots and Internet of Things. We even got to test-drive the latest BMW i3 electric car – it’s safe to say it was a successful week overall!

We got to see a number of excellent presentations that were both informative and inspiring. Some of the talks that stood out in particular are described below.

websummit02

Bots: What are they good for?

Facebook’s VP of Messaging, David Marcus, presented on one of the biggest hypes in technology right now: chatbots. With 33,000 developers for bots on Facebook Messenger, it is a growing phenomenon in the industry that had a rocky start. The art of chatbots is certainly ‘learning by doing’, just as we saw with the first websites and apps that were deployed – they were subpar to say the least. Up until recently, this was one of the main reasons why Facebook did not offer many distribution possibilities on their platform. However, David Marcus announced that brands will now be able to use the Facebook advertising platform to target their users and bring them into a conversation with a chatbot.

Now is an exciting time in the development of chatbots as we are not only beginning to experience them ourselves, but we are starting to see the emergence of some good examples, such as Burberry’s holiday shopping chatbot that was mentioned by David Marcus during his talk. Burberry created a hybrid chatbot, in which the user can also choose to interact with a human support agent instead. And, after trying this out for ourselves, we can conclude that Burberry created a solid experience, with smooth handovers between bot and human. We’re looking forward to see more brands experimenting with chatbots in the future.

websummit03

Generative design and the future of work

Autodesk’s CEO Carl Bass gave a great presentation on generative design. Generative design uses technology to mimic evolution in regards to design. This means that you can use your design goals to expand and explore all of the possible options based on your requirements.

Generative design allows you to completely turn this process upside down. Based on your requirements, you rely on algorithms to come up with thousands of designs to choose from – all of which fit your stated parameters. A great example that could be used here is the designing of a chair. How many designs can one think of to consider? Maybe three, four? Once creating these first designs, you would then go on to the calculations and considerations in an attempt to settle on the most suitable design.

You can now begin to imagine how many incredible possibilities could be discovered using this approach. And for everyone wondering whether designers will still have a job, Carl Bass ended his talk with stating: “The question isn’t if we are going to be replaced by robots. The question is how are we going to take advantage of computers to design and engineer things we never imagined before.”

A great visual example of generative design can be found by Autodesk here:


 

websummit04

Technology + elections = drama!

Donald Trump’s presidential election certainly did not go unnoticed during Web Summit, with a large chunk of Silicon Valley’s tech community present. It was a topic of discussion on many stages, but technology investor Dave McClure’s rage certainly stood out from the rest. He turned to the crowd and voiced his anger about the election results and the role of technology, and claimed that all of us are responsible for the outcome. It was certainly an unanticipated outburst, but there’s no denying that the role of Facebook, Twitter and Google in being a platform for spreading inaccurate news is one of the most trending topics in Silicon Valley right now.

It is important for us to understand the significance of social media during global events such as elections, and it comes as no surprise that the word on everyone’s lips is that dominating social media platforms, such as Facebook, need to take their responsibility a lot more seriously. Many have highlighted a real problem with the way in which Facebook’s feed filters information and shows only certain posts, linking this with the spread of one-sided political information during the US elections.

Shockingly, in a study of US adults, ⅔ of the social media users interviewed claimed that Facebook is the place they turn to for the latest news. This is problematic in itself, as top fake news posts are clearly outperforming all of the top stories from traditional news outlets. Some of these inaccurate news stories have a clear agenda which is based on complete lies, and unfortunately these lies are believed by a large proportion of social media users, clearly indicating a need for assessment. Buzzfeed analysed these ‘top stories’ and found that one of the most shared news stories on Facebook at the time of the election was that the Pope funded Trump’s campaign. You can already begin to imagine the ridiculousness of following posts and perhaps, can understand why people are so frustrated that this is happening during real, life-altering events.

So, what do you think? Do you think that social media platforms such as Facebook need to reconsider their approach when it comes to news feed content and the “filter bubble” that is now utilised?

Honest thoughts

We thoroughly enjoyed the tech community present at Web Summit and the interesting happenings. However, there were also a few downsides due to it being such an extraordinarily large event. With so many stages and talks happening at the same time, sometimes things seemed a little…rushed. With most presentations being limited to 20 minutes per session, this didn’t really give enough time for in-depth discussion surrounding the topics that were most interesting to the audience.

Another problem that has been highlighted following the event by others as well, was the lack of interactivity. Very rarely did the speakers invite the audience to ask questions, or to engage via social media platforms. It would have been a nice touch to allocate more time in the presentations for these kinds of interaction, but yet again the fast-paced format of the event was a significant drawback from this perspective.

All in all!

The 2016 Web Summit was an event filled with a whole bunch of innovative tech inspiration. We wouldn’t have wanted to miss it!

 
 

AIA Discussion Report

Accenture Innovation Awards Discussion

The background for the discussion

While companies are fully aware of the need to develop good-looking digital interfaces on both web and mobile to engage with their customers, a new trend is developing where users no longer need to access a company’s owned touchpoint to interact with their products. You can now order an Uber using Facebook Messenger, Siri or Amazon’s Voice Assistant, Alexa. Uber does not control these interface for digital engagement with their customers. In addition, new services are emerging that don’t ‘own’ an interface, but solely rely on third parties for their digital engagement. Increasingly, we are seeing that companies engage with customers on 3rd party interfaces which are already familiar to the user e.g. chatbots in messaging services and smart assistances.

Round table discussion (What was the occasion to discuss this and how?)

What will the digital engagement with your customer be like in the future? This was exactly the question that we explored during the 2016 Accenture Innovation Award round table discussion hosted by MOBGEN. With participants from companies like Shell, Philips and Athlon, the MOBGEN team explored this theme and developed some interesting insights which we would like to share in this article.

Key value drivers for the trend

Most companies now have a digital strategy with well-designed interfaces for the web and mobile apps. In contrast, we are seeing that people are downloading less apps (source Comscore), and on average are using only 4-6 apps per day, but are spending increasingly more time in these apps (source Nielsen).
In addition, for the first time in history, the traffic on mobile phones and tablets has surpassed the desktop web traffic (source Statcounter).
For most companies, this will mean that they have to go where customers spend most of their time instead of trying to use the company’s interfaces. We are already seeing this with companies engaging with their customers on social media and other digital channels that are controlled by third parties.

“It is the customer that decides where and how they want to engage with your company.”

Providing customer service via third party channels is for many customer-oriented companies a common practice. With the technology becoming available to build chatbots for these channels, it will become only a matter of time before customers start interacting with these bots in a conversational manner. The automation of these channels with the use of chatbots will open more opportunities for companies to provide more of their digital services via these channels. With the ability to receive payments via chatbots, there are many business opportunities to be explored that are potentially disrupting for a company’s business model or industry. There are already examples where the entire customer journey for ordering goods can be done via chatbots including the payments, receipts and shipping notes.

Besides using third parties channels for communication with chatbots, there are also opportunities in providing additional value to the customer by providing data and services via third party interfaces.

A good example of this can be found in the public transport sector. In the Netherlands, the public transport companies have an app called 9292 OV with which users can plan their journey with bus and train. Besides their own app, these companies also share the travel information with Google Maps which users are using more frequently. The benefit for the Google Maps user is that this app provides more options for travelling e.g. car, public transport, cycling, and more. Thus, public transport companies can create more value for their customers by having an open API or providing data to a third party.

In addition to the above example, we are also seeing an increased interest in smart assistants like Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana. These voice-enabled and AI-powered smart assistants are slowly opening up to third parties and there are already many companies enabling their services to work with these assistants. Good examples here are Spotify and Uber, who allow users to control or order their services via these smart assistants.

Challenges of digital engagement via third party interfaces

Third party interfaces are a good opportunity to serve customers independent of a company’s own channel, but there are certain challenges that will need to be considered.

How to drive Engagement & visibility

With third party channel integrations companies can create additional touch point with the customers through interfaces that they are already using. By making services available on channels customers already use companies can increase engagement and lower the barriers of access.  

Customers that are already using these interfaces can now get more value from this channel by interacting with companies. However, this group will still need to be educated and informed about the possibilities of interacting with the company via these interfaces. Which functionalities can be used via this channel, and how does the user interact with the company in this channel? Similarly, these challenges also apply to customers who are unfamiliar with the interface itself.

For interfaces with a UI, the education process may be much faster since more information can be displayed and the customer can quickly process the information. In contrast, services that are available via voice interfaces, e.g. smart assistant, the customer may not immediately be able to understand the possibilities of the service via this channel. The learning curve here could potentially be bigger.

Differentiation

Depending on the channel, there are different opportunities but also challenges to differentiate from the competition. With services being provided through voice interfaces like smart assistants, the content will be the differentiating factor as the interaction will be handled by the assistant. The ability to interpret and process natural language will be handled by the third party, hence, the service will be the differentiating factor. Whereas in a more UI focussed interface, like chatbots, the differentiating factor right now is the language processing technology and also the design of the interface.

Another challenge that will arise is how these channels can be monetised. For certain companies a new channel could mean that they will have to reconsider their business model. For example, if the company relies on a closed environment hosted on their own channels, then the methods of distribution and monetisation might have to be reconsidered to cater to these channels.

Validation

What will become even more challenging for some companies is the moment when customers start to interact with a smart assistant which will provide answers directly without the need for a third party. Within web search results, companies strive to be on the first page, or preferably the first unpaid position. However with voice interfaces, the assistant will only choose to provide the user with one best answer. In a similar method, when the users start connecting other services to the smart assistant, these services can become the default source for the answers. Once a default service has been set, the user can get locked-in, thus providing both a threat and an opportunity for companies.

Similarly, when the effort for users to compare information becomes higher, the validation of information becomes more important. When the interface determines which information is presented. the user should have methods to review why they are provided with certain information. Most recently, we have seen the controversy of Facebook censoring certain types of media which sparked the discussion around the censorship of dominant channels.

Privacy vs value

At the moment, there is a big debate in the tech industry around the privacy level vs. the service level that users are willing to accept. This debate is especially present in the context of smart assistants and the user information they can access. For assistants to be truly smart, they will need to tap into privacy sensitive information like email, calendars, and more. The debate here is how much privacy people are willing to give up for an increase in service.

Companies that want to connect their services to the smart assistant will also need to consider this privacy vs value debate. Nonetheless, it will be the customer who decides through which services they want to access a company’s services and how important their privacy is over the value they receive.

Conclusion

Looking at the future, we are convinced that the way forward for most services will be via third party interfaces. Although we are only in the early stages of development in natural language processing and AI (the technology driving smart assistants), we need to start exploring the opportunities that third party interfaces provide for companies. A clear analysis of the customer journey as well as an agile approach to these developments is needed to explore where in the customer journey companies can create value, and how the value can be captured. In the end, the customer will determine where and how they want to interact with a company.

 
 

Organising company retreats for big groups

In the same way that a vacation does wonders in terms of recharging your proverbial batteries, we think that a company retreat is a great way to renew our enthusiasm and excitement for work.

Also, business trips during the year don’t always provide us with enough time to build strong relationships with our colleagues who work in other cities. Why is this important (you may wonder)? When we like and trust one another, the work flows much easier, we’re more creative and therefore have a lot more fun at work!

For these reasons, we are organising a second trip for the whole company, and we’re pretty good at it!

Here are a few tips on how to organise yours:

 

  • Start planning it at least 4 months in advance.

 

For us, it’s a Christmas trip and so we started planning in July. The kick off meeting was during a weekend in Barcelona, and we all came prepared with ideas of possible locations and activities. By the end of the two days, we had 3 fantastic ideas to present to the board!

    • All 3 ideas were in places that are easy for everyone to travel to (we checked that there were reasonable flight hours).
    • All offered big accommodation facilities.
    • None were in city centres where people would easily spread out. We wanted to stay together!

 

  • Assign roles to every person involved in the organisation.

 

We identified 4 that work for us:

    • Project Manager – Oversees the plan. Responsible for monitoring the event budget & arranging the guest speakers.
    • Communications team – Coordinates all mailings, promotion, phone calls, etc. Organises the event program and schedule.
    • Banquet team – Arranges the banquet meal, secures the needed facilities, supervises decorations, organises the event set-up and head table seating. Arranges awards & is in charge of THE PARTY.
    • Hospitality team – Arranges the hotel accommodations, photographers, check-ins, welcome team and reception.

 

  • Agree on a date quickly

 

You will want to send a “Save the date” as soon as possible to the company to make sure that the majority can make the trip.

This will also allow you to reserve both the accommodation and flights early to ensure availability and to keep costs down.

We think that a trip of 4 days including travel time works pretty well. We close business for 2 days and combine it with a weekend.

 

  • Create memorable experiences

 

It is a great idea to learn something new together. Last year, we all took ski/ snowboard lessons. Some MOBGENNERS were already pretty good at it but for the majority this was a new experience.

Also, the most skilled ones offered to teach others during the morning sessions and enjoyed a good ride after lunch.

Besides sports, MOBGENNERS enjoyed dogsledding and some spa time.

But we all agreed that the party at the pub was the one creating the best memories!

We liked including a souvenir too. Everyone received a personalised hoody that they loved… and this year we have something special too!

 

  • … but what is our secret ingredient?

 

We have a dedicated team responsible for the main events at MOBGEN… The O Experience team! They are 11 MOBGENNERS from different departments who, besides their daily jobs, have weekly meetings to brainstorm, organise and ensure unforgettable experiences.

Organising an event like this is not an easy task, but it’s so much fun and rewarding! A company retreat provides an authentic opportunity to help your people work better together and build a strong, connected culture. The cost is worth it because your people will love your company even more for it.

 
 

Applied Design Thinking

At MOBGEN, we accompany many clients in facing challenges that require divergent and innovative thinking. Not many are familiar with the details of Design Thinking, or whether it’s even relevant for their large and complex organisations. Below, we’ll see how we effectively bring Design Thinking into our collaborative creation process, and what we do to ensure lasting benefits after the initial workshops.

What is Design Thinking?

We see Design Thinking as one method in our toolbox that can inspire innovative products and services in complex business environments. You’ll find many definition and interpretations of Design Thinking, but they all tend to share the following elements:

  1. Begin with a clear definition of the problem you want to solve, or the opportunity you’d like to explore. This can be done by visualising potential users, mapping life scenarios, concept mapping, and more.
  2. Think of as many different possibilities to solve the problem as you can. Use individual brainstorming, role playing, and similar techniques to examine the problem from different perspectives.
  3. Select the most impactful solutions from the ideas that have arisen. Impact is evaluated first and foremost from the point of view of the user (though we may identify benefits for the business).
  4. Finally, select and validate the most viable option. This will be the convergence of what customers want, what we can feasibly create, and what is economically viable.

At MOBGEN, we complement the Design Thinking process with tools, techniques and exercises to guide each one of the phases. What does this process look like in practice? How can it be implemented in a real business environment? Let’s take a look:

Design Thinking in Your Organisation

Many of our clients are multinational firms with complex hierarchies and elaborate project governance. As you might imagine, these could pose a challenge to the implementation of something as divergent as Design Thinking. However, sometimes a spark of change is precisely what is needed to inspire new solutions to old and new problems.

One of our recent workshops was conducted with long-time client and partner ABN-AMRO, a company with strong digital presence and dedication to innovation. In this workshop, we sparked new ways of thinking and gave an introduction on how the design thinking methodology can be applied to solve problems of any kind. Our approach allowed them to discover new paths to innovation:

  1. Empathise and define: Rather than rushing to define problems, we begin with a process of identifying with a specific persona. We visually construct the complete journey that person would follow in order to better understand needs, goals and emotions going into the next phase.
  2. Ideate: In this workshop, we mapped out the persona’s journey with Post-it notes. Next, we individually brainstormed on how we could improve each and every step in the journey, thinking outside of the box, allowing infeasible ideas. During this phase, it’s not quality, but quantity that counts!, The journey provides an excellent tool to visually represent and organise the ideas.
  3. Evaluate: The evaluation phase of this workshop was performed by all the participants, based on the values identified while empathising with the customer journey. Priority pyramids and impact-effort matrices are excellent ways to assess and compare ideas, eventually leaving the ideas that, alone or combined, rank highest
  4. Prototype & Test: We like to take these ideas to the next level and construct a prototype. This serves both to validate assumptions behind the proposed solution, while allowing the participants to see tangible output of their effort. You can even conclude the session with an elevator pitch!

The purpose of this workshop is to  shed new light on how to tackle organisation’s upcoming challenges and opportunities, but this is where the journey only begins.

From Post-Its to Products: The Crucial Next Steps

Our introductory Design Thinking exercises are very enjoyable and quite fruitful, but to initiate an approach that leads to disruptive innovations, more than just a workshop is required.  Karel Vredenburg, Director of Design at IBM famously said, “Design Thinking is not Workshopping”. After the workshop, comes the work.

 

01_image

 

First of all, this means starting with an empowered, multidisciplinary team to deepdive into the nature of the problem and spend time on the different phases of the Design Thinking phases. The outcome of the Design Thinking process must be captured and translated into a viable approach. Of particular importance, other than the chosen solution, are the definitions of problems to solve, descriptions of personas and/or scenarios, and any assumptions made while crafting solutions. Much of the background research that goes into initiating a new solution will have been reflected in this process.

Next, we proceed to the development phase. Sounds obvious, right? It may be so, but we have observed two impediments that often stop the innovative process in its tracks:

  1. Sometimes, the organisation is happy to conduct workshops and create and validate prototypes, but does not follow up in a timely manner with the commitment to its outcome. Therefore, having a plan to dedicate resources to grow the Design Thinking seed is critical. You’ll get much further if you’re prepared to go beyond the first step.
  2. When ideas are cultivated and shaped into a solution, they may be passed on to a development team that was not involved in the ideation process. While this is quite common, it requires conscious effort to ensure that all team members share the same vision of the goal, the user’s needs, and the other considerations that led to this solution being chosen.

Releasing a working product is not the last step of our journey, either. To truly gain lasting benefits from the work started by the Design Thinking process, we can use the feedback and learnings from the product to enrich our future innovation. By comparing your definitions, assumptions and expectations with real-world interaction, you learn about what’s really important to users, how the market is evolving, and which new challenges and opportunities will present themselves. This input to your future creation and ideation improves the quality of their output exponentially. The more regularly we adopt Design Thinking into our complete project cycle, the more effective it becomes.

Conclusion

Design Thinking has evolved from being an abstract buzzword to a methodology that guides creation in industries as diverse as toothpaste and transportation. While many variants may exist, the fundamental elements of the process combined with the commitment to follow up generate new ways to overcome the many challenges of the modern business world. From our experience, Design Thinking tools are extremely effective in the digital world, even for large organisations.

 

Authors:
Guy Samuel
Eva Moerbeek

 
 

Halo 2.0 release

Recently, we released the 2.0 version of HALO, our Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) product. During the process of development, we completely redesigned the user interface and upgraded the backend system, enriching both with killer features and a cool new design. The final result is an impressive product that we are very happy to release to the broader audience.

If you haven’t heard about HALO, and you aren’t familiar with the MBaaS systems but you’re interested in adding value to your app development workflow, then let us lead you through the history of the process that brought us here.

The Beginning of a Journey

The HALO 2.0 release is the result of a process that started in 2015, inspired by years of mobile development experience, frequent client requests and market research. At MOBGEN, we know very well the dynamics of continuous and frenetic evolution of the mobile world. A market where the backend systems need to be flexible and adaptable to changes, so updates can be available to the users quickly and efficiently.

But what is HALO? Well, let’s keep it simple for now and explain it first from a customer’s perspective. Basically, it is a managed service around apps that customers use to manage content and send push notifications to a targeted audience.

Let’s show an example of the standard workflow: In the first step, the customers can create and manage content for their applications. In addition, they have the option to add push notifications to alert users. Finally, they can select a segmented audience of users for this content. When these steps are completed and everything is ready, they can publish directly. Simple, right?

 

01_Content_image

 

 

Let’s go deeper now and analyse it from a developer’s perspective. HALO is an accelerator that solves a set of common problems that always occur during app development. This makes the process faster and more efficient and reduces the time-to-market of our applications considerably. HALO provides out of the box backend services, so the teams can focus and spend time on app development.

In addition, we provide SDKs open source for Android and iOS platforms, which can be easily integrated into any app. The SDKs solve most of the common problems and time consuming tasks related to app development. Main tasks such as security (authentication), push notifications and content synchronisation (included offline).

What is new in the 2.0 release?

The new version includes outstanding improvements and new functionalities added to the core of the HALO system. First, we’ve completely redesigned and boosted the Content Management System interface. The new user interface has totally evolved into a cleaner, more attractive and customisable way to improve the user experience.

In addition to the UI changes, the user management system changed from role based to permission based. Now it is possible to have complete control over the different roles/permissions for each user. This change allows the HALO admins to create custom roles with specific rights, adaptable to all the different situations, applications and markets.

The iOS and Android SDKs have been considerably upgraded in this new release. The HALO SDKs are now more stable, modular and independent as result of an exhaustive process of testing and code refactoring. Also, the content synchronisation for offline use has been improved to offer a positive experience in your apps regardless of the connection conditions.  

Moreover, we’ve enhanced the general architecture, improved the security and introduced the new app dashboard analytics. We are extremely excited to introduce these new cool features to our clients and fellow developers!

And now?

Introducing the 2.0 version, a mature and stable product with lots of new functionalities and core improvements… but this is the mobile world after all, and it never sleeps. At MOBGEN, there is continuous communication between the HALO team, our mobile specialists and existing and potential clients. This two-way communication channel provides us with constructive feedback which helps us to continuously improve our product and develop new features using cutting-edge technologies.  

Our work doesn’t stop here, the roadmap for the coming months is already planned with new features to keep upgrading HALO. The analytics dashboard will be improved to provide more useful information about app usage, segmentation and push notification relevant metrics. We will focus on increasing the capabilities of HALO to manage loyalty programs that can be very useful for our retail customers. Also, improvements in the internationalisation module will make it easier to deliver different content adapted to each app market.

If you want to improve the development process of your apps significantly, or you just want to receive more information about HALO, please don’t hesitate to contact us: info@mobgen.com

 
 

Android Nougat

We’ve been trying out Android Nougat (7.0) since March thanks to the Android Beta Program (see below), but with the official release last month, we can now look at what Nougat means for the end-users and for us as developers.

For users

Below are some of the more noticeable features for the users:

Split screen mode

Let’s start with the new split screen mode which makes it possible to have 2 apps visible on the screen at the same time. This can be done by dragging an app from the overview screen (where your recent apps are) to the top of the screen to trigger multi screen mode. Alternatively, you can swipe up from the overview button (square) after enabling it from the settings.

The top half of the screen will consist of the most recent app while the bottom half shows the overview. Selecting an app from the overview will show that app in the bottom half of the screen. By default, the screen is 50/50 but the user can change this to 33/67 or 67/33 by dragging the splitter up or down. Given the high number of different Android devices on the market, we’ve already developed many apps for the different screen sizes, so supporting multi window shouldn’t require that much work.

Quick switch

Split screen mode is already very useful, but Google has also added a new shortcut for quickly switching between the two most recently used apps. You just have to double-press the square button and the previous app will show up.

Improved notifications

In Nougat, the notification system itself has support for replying to notifications without having to open the app. Developers used to have to use workarounds, but now the same code used in Android Wear can be used to allow users to reply to messages from the notification system. The notification UI itself also got an update: information has been reorganised and some of the text sizes have changed. Next to these UI changes, notifications for the same app can be grouped together.

Doze

The third major change is an update of Android’s power saving possibilities called Doze. In the previous Android version, Doze became active for stationary devices that had the screen off. Nougat has removed the stationary requirement which means that less battery is consumed even when the user walks around with the device.

Data saver

To help people avoid excessive phone bills caused by exceeding data plans, Android Nougat introduced the Data Saver. This new feature allows you to keep control of your data consumption. By activating Data Saver in Settings, Android Nougat will block app background connections. The system is smart enough to manage and allow more or less connections depending on your current data consumption. Moreover, Data Saver can be turned off for specified apps.

 

Developers

Major or minor update

As developers, we feel that Nougat is closer to Android 6.1 than to 7.0: 6.0 gave us the new permission model that meant we didn’t need to bother our users with all the permissions before they tried the app, and gave us time to gain the trust of the user. We would only ask for permission if the user wanted to try a feature that required it.

Android 7.0 on the other hand has multi window support which we see as the feature with the biggest impact so far that we should add to our apps. It will be interesting to see how much work it will take to ensure the Pixel Perfect User Interface remains after enabling the multi window support, but it won’t be the same kind of challenge as the new permission model was.

Secure connections

Nougat includes changes to the network security replacing the error-prone X509TrustManager class to secure the connections our apps make with the backend. In Nougat, we are given an XML configuration file with a clearly defined format from where we can:

  • limit the trusted certificates to the specific group that is used, instead of the larger device group.
  • easily pin certificates to further prevent MITM attacks.
  • give an option to prevent insecure traffic being sent using a new flag per domain.

Other changes relevant to developers

Besides these features, Google identified the following key developer features: Background Optimizations, JIT/AOT Compilation, SurfaceView, Data Saver, Vulkan API, Quick Settings Tile API, Number Blocking, Call Screening, Locales and Languages, New Emojis, ICU4J APIs in Android, WebView, OpenGL ES 3.2 API, Android TV Recording, Android for Work, Accessibility, Direct Boot, Key Attestation, Network Security Config, Default Trusted CA, APK Signature Scheme v2, Scoped Directory Access, Keyboard Shortcuts Helper, Custom Pointer API, Sustained Performance API, VR Support, Print Service Enhancements, Virtual Files, FrameMetricsListener API

Android Beta Program

Trying the new Beta version of Android before Nougat was a difficult process, involving installing the image manually using a computer. Nougat made it easier by allowing users to just opt-in for the Beta program and receive the update via the air, making it a two tap install process. This means that more users can have access early on to the new features and hopefully give both Google and app developers more testing data.

 

 
 

iOS 10 Update

Introduction

 

The objective of this article is to provide details regarding the benefits of upgrading to iOS 10. Last year 77% of user had upgraded to iOS9 just 3 months after it was released. As of August 2016, 87% of iOS users were using iOS9.

 

Introduction to new features of iOS 10

 

iOS 10 has introduced new features which will revolutionise how we do things. Messaging, Siri, Control Center…have all been updated for iOS 10. These new features will allow us to easily access information on our iPads and iPhones much quicker and easier than before.

 

Redesign of Lock Screen/Raise to Wake/ Control Center

 

The lock screen, which had been the same for many iOS versions, has now finally been upgraded. The lock screen no longer uses the Swipe to Unlock function; it has been replaced with using the Home button. Although this change can be confusing for some at first, the features that have been added to the lock screen will make it worth it.

 

One of the changes made to the lock screen is the clock. Previously, you would need to press a button to see the time, but now with Raise to Wake, which is already used for the Apple Watch, the time will appear instantly when you pick up your phone.

 

Now when you swipe right, you will see an overhaul of the Spotlight section. We’ve seen this with iOS9 where Siri suggests apps and contacts, along with nearby locations and news headlines.

 

The control center has also been redesigned and now has three different sections: the main one, which we already know from previous iOS versions, a Now Playing section, and also a Home app section. The Home app section is used to control your smart home accessories, now made easier to control with a swipe up from your lock screen.

 

Widgets

 

iOS10 takes widgets to the next level. The widgets, which you previously viewed on the Notification Center, are now in the Spotlight screen. Third party apps can make their own widgets, and users can easily add them to the Spotlight screen. Widgets make it so that it’s easier to access information quickly without having to open the app.

 

3D-touch enabled notifications  & Messaging

 

The iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, and SE saw the introduction to 3D touch. With 3D touch, the iPhone is able to sense how much pressure is applied to the display; different pressure will allow different abilities.  For notifications, this is huge, and with iOS 10 you can quickly respond to a message without the need to fully unlock the device by using the 3D touch. Users are now also able to view photos and videos with this.

 

Siri update/3rd party integration

 

iOS10 has given developers access to Siri. This allows third party developers to integrate Siri into their apps. Users will be able to tell Siri to use a particular app to message someone, book a ride, search photos on apps…etc iOS10 has increased Siri’s capabilities as a personal assistant at the palm of our hands.

 

Siri intelligence is also being used for the Photos app in iOS 10; a new algorithm is used for recognition techniques. Photos will be able to scan the user’s entire library and detect people, animals, places.. making it easier to group images together and improving the searching capabilities.

 

Apple app updates

 

Major updates have been made to iMessages, photos, maps, and music apps. The iMessages app in iOS10 is more personal, emotive and fun. Animated backgrounds, “Invisible Ink” bubble effects, “Tapbacks”  and Stickers are some of the new features included in iMessages.

 

Besides these new ways of personalising messages, with iOS10, users are able to use digital touch to send drawings, heartbeats and tap friends. We’ve already seen this with the introduction of the Apple Watch last year.

 

Rich links in messages allows users to view a preview of the content without leaving the app. Handwritten messages can also be sent to friends by using the new pen button. Editing pictures is easy with a Markup feature which you can access directly from the iMessage app.   

 

Apple maps also include limited 3rd party integrations with iOS10. Developers can integrate the Maps app directly into their apps. This will improve the user experience so that there is no need to open multiple apps to access the maps. Siri intelligence is also being used here to improve suggestions on where the user can go, faster routes, and other suggestions based off of the user habits and locations.

 

The Apple Music app and News also has a new interface in iOS10, providing users a cleaner interface, which makes it simpler to use and to find content.

iOS 10 Device Availability:

 

iOS10 is available on the following devices:

 

iPhone

iPad

iPod

iPhone 5/5c/5s

iPad 4th generation

iPod touch 6th generation

iPhone SE

iPad Air/Air 2

iPhone 6/6Plus

iPad mini 2/mini 3/mini 4

iPhone 6s/6sPus

iPad Pro

 

iOS 10 Release

 

iOS10 was released some time after the Apple Keynote on the 13th of September. These are the main features that are included in the release. Apple has shown that with each release, users are able to use their devices with more ease and have added more useful features.

 
 

It’s been six months since the last article on some of this year’s upcoming technology trends. One of the trends, the 360-degree video, faced a big test when we helped Shell launch their first 360-degree video in collaboration with the Scuderia Ferrari F1 team in August.

 

For those who are not familiar with the term, 360-degree videos are also known as immersive or spherical videos. During playback, the viewer has complete control of the viewing direction like with a panorama photo. Most 360-degree videos are monoscopic, meaning that it is viewed as a flat image on a singular surface. This year, we have seen a big increase in 360-degree video production when video platforms like YouTube allowed you to upload and share the content. One of the biggest moves in 360-degree video support came from Facebook last year, when it opened the Facebook newsfeed to support 360-degree photos and video content. Through your Facebook newsfeed, you can now automatically view 360-degree videos and photos from your desktop (Chrome), smartphone, or virtual reality headset.

 

Last week, we hit a record breaking milestone with Shell when two Scuderia Ferrari F1 360-degree videos were published on the Shell Motorsports Facebook page. Combining the statistics of the videos showed that we have hit more than one and a half a million views in only a few days, making it the ‘highest organic (non-paid) reach of any Shell social media post’. The comments on the video have been amazing. People are loving it and sharing it with friends in huge numbers. MOBGEN:Lab played a vital role in working closely together with Shell on editing the 360-degree video that was captured by Shell to make it a fully immersive experience.

 

Check out the video here.

 

Not only did we design the 360-degree data interface for both Scuderia Ferrari F1 videos, we’ve also recently finished the complete 360-degree video production of the Shell Eco-Marathon. All videos are now available for free inside in the Shell Motorist app. MOBGEN:Lab has done all the coding in order to support 360-video technology inside the app, making it a modular platform that can be globally distributed across all markets where the Shell Motorist app is live.

 

 

 

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The time is now to reach out to your customers and provide them with immersive content. 360-degree video technology gives full flexibility to the viewer to explore all angles of the experience. It has also been proved that viewers are tempted to play the 360-degree multiple times since there is so much to explore. MOBGEN:Lab is excited to further explore the opportunities of 360-degree video technology by working with new professional gear that reaches the highest level of quality for your business.

 
 

A NEW WAY TO EXPERIENCE ART

What is SMARTIFY?

Ever been to a gallery and struggled to find more information about the artwork? Have you ever had to forfeit your retina display and Hi-Fi noise cancelling headphones for a second-hand audio guide and a pre-selected tour? Using advanced image recognition, SMARTIFY provides access to inspiring audio and video commentary, straight to your smartphone.

Why did you start it and what is the problem it tries to solve?

For my part, it all began on a freezing cold December Friday in New York, when a friend and I took advantage of the UNIQLO Free Friday nights and visited the MoMA for the first time. For us, the 5th floor was the most enjoyable.

We entered the room and was greeted with Monet’s Water Lilies. Three massive tableaux covering three walls. I stood staring at the painting listening to a podcast about the story of how Monet created the painting.

It took him 6 months to complete. He studied all the shadows and reflections of the clouds over his water lily garden behind his house in Giverny. Each part of the painting represents a different shade or passing of the weather.

It struck me that without this podcast, I could not have fully appreciated the commitment, dedication and perseverance that Monet invested. There are amazing stories behind the art, the artists, and the world and times they lived in. Such stories trigger emotions, and emotions turn into warm lasting memories, these memories come back again and again just by looking at the art. At it’s core, the idea of  SMARTIFY is to help audiences create these memories.  

Where do you want to be in 5 years time?

We want to see SMARTIFY being used by audiences across the world’s top museums, galleries, and collections as the medium for a new way of experiencing art and driving deeper, personal connections with it.

Why are you participating in the competition?

Participation in competitions such as VOOM 2016 and PwC’s Great Innovation Challenge offers opportunities of immeasurable value to reach out to a broader audience supported by great established brands.

How can fans of the app help?

If you believe in SMARTIFY, you can show us your support by following us on our social media channels (Facebook and Twitter). Tweet and post about us! Additionally, if you are interested to find out more, or if you have any suggestions for SMARTIFY, you can contact us directly at info@smartify.org

Any advice to anyone starting their own business now?

It’s probably too early for us to be giving advice to other start-ups since we still have a long way to go. However, based on the journey so far, it’s become apparent to me how important it is to have the right partners/team from the very beginning. It is a bumpy ride with lots of ups and downs, and having people around you who believe in the idea and are as passionate is crucial. Another more practical insight is that you should share (within reason!) your idea. We live in a time where the possibilities of multiple people working on the same ideas are high. Therefore, feedback is always good for challenging you and making sure you’ve thought of various aspects such as understanding your audience and coming up with new ideas.

For more information:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqokBBcYP68

 
 

Imagine a world where we don’t have to program our computers anymore, but where the computers program themselves; this is where we are heading towards with machine learning. But how does it work? And more importantly, how can we apply it to improve our lives? At MOBGEN Lab we have started to explore the possibilities by creating a boxing app that gives instant feedback on your performance by using a sensor embedded in the boxing glove.

 

By using sensors, we are able to learn new things about ourselves and the world around us that we can’t see with our bare eyes. But often just looking at data does not result in an epiphany; data can be messy, and interpreting it can be a challenge. Writing a computer program that interprets data for you, which can filter irregularities and recognise events, is tricky, and oftentimes consuming. At least, it used to be…

 

Machine learning offers a solution as it interprets the data for us. The way it works is that we set up a computer model in which we specify the input data, for example, acceleration data – and the output we expect in return, for example, the punch type. After that, we train the model by feeding it new data, and telling it what output we expect it to give. The model looks for similarities in the datasets, and writes a program that allows it to recognise the same events in new datasets. The model is then tested with new datasets to see how it performs. The more data is used to train it, the more accurate it will be.

 

For the boxing app, we use machine learning to recognise different types of punches such as jabs, hooks, and uppercuts to be precise. Knowing the type of punch gives us a good starting point to interpret not only the quality of the hits, but also to give advice on how to improve.

 

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To demonstrate this function, we are creating an app that, in real time, visualises the impact you make while boxing with Bob, our office boxing dummy as seen in the image above. A small sensor (accelerometer and gyroscope) is embedded in the glove, and connects to the phone through Bluetooth. Within the app, the data is processed, classified, and translated into a visualisation as you can see in the image below.

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Even though we are now applying machine learning to boxing skills, the possibilities are endless and definitely not limited to the sports domain. It could be applied to app within the medical world, or in therapy, think of interactive art installations, face and speech recognition, robots, and even fraud detection. Basically, any type of detection you can think of. With the growing pool of data that we collect through IoT devices, we are entering a world where we can predict people’s needs and desires based on how they behave; a bit like J.A.R.V.I.S. in Iron Man. The future is now: be aware and be inspired!

 
 

Why physical exercise is great for your company.

From the point of view of a sports person, being competitive means that you want to perform at the highest level possible and in the most challenging environment. Pressure, endurance, calculated risks – all these characteristics can also define the performance of an employee within a company. But what if we can take advantage of the personal requirements that sports & physical exercise demand to help people be more effective at their jobs?

 

People can be happier at work (and in their personal lives) if they engage in some sort of physical exercise with their colleagues. They feel better, and the work they do is better. In fact, they often believe that their time at work is more productive which can be a result of the many positive ways that exercise affects the brain. Studies have shown that exercising in the morning before work can help prepare you for mentally stressful situations, better reactions to complex problems for the rest of the day, and increased retention of new information.

 

Physical exercise is also shown to be good for your brain. Endorphins released during physical activity can help you feel happy and relaxed, but also with more focus and concentration at work. Team sport activities can help employees stimulate their brains and develop multiple skills that can be applied to their work environments.

 

One clear example from a recent study shows that the antidepressant effects of running were also associated with an increase in cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

 

So what are some of the key benefits of physical exercise?

 

  • Build engagement and motivation
  • Boost physical and emotional wellbeing
  • Work/life balance
  • Team building among co-workers
  • Improved concentration levels
  • Increased morale within the team
  • Friendly competitiveness
  • Create potential leadership situations
  • Unwinding and relieving stress
  • Make a fun work environment
  • Encourage people to get away from the desk

 

What we do at MOBGEN?

 

MOBGEN is a company that believes in teamwork and collaboration, but this can mean that our projects are run by more than one team in more than one location. At the end of the day the communication between all the teams, and all the people in all those teams, must be as good as possible. If our people (who have really diverse backgrounds and cultures) can participate in team sport activities together, then all the trust, confidence, passion and camaraderie that they generate has a positive effect. That’s why we encourage various forms of physical exercise.

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  • Padel The second most popular sport in Spain after football is played in doubles, so your success depends on a great rapport with your partner. There is an ongoing league in the MOBGEN A Coruña office that also involves occasional day-long tournaments.
  • Football Our Amsterdam office has an official football team enrolled in The Footy Swift Woensdag, a football competition between a number of Amsterdam-based companies. The games take place every week, and the MOBGEN team is currently performing pretty well within the Division 3 League.
  • Running Quite popular at the moment amongst MOBGENNERs is the sport of running, and we have our own personal trainer to help get the most out of it. Our people have participated in many competitions, from 5 km runs up to half marathons. Some of them are even taking part in Obstacle courses where they also climb over walls, carry heavy objects or jump through fire.
  • Table soccer Although not considered a sport in the traditional sense, as such it does encourage mental exercise, a high dose of concentration and some healthy competition. The rivalry and the passion for this game is so huge that we are working on developing an inter-office foosball table in the upcoming future.
  • Winter sports Our Christmas party for 2015 was a weekend of skiing and snowboarding for the entire company. What better way to increase the bond between people?

 

So if you are thinking it would be good idea to buy a table soccer or ping pong table in your company, or encourage your workmates to do some team physical exercise, the answer is definitely yes!

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Creating opportunities for young talent

MOBGEN believes working together with the best (technical) universities all over the world helps us to fuel our innovation, research capabilities and attract talent for our fast growing company. We believe in structural and measurable innovation. For this reason, new perspectives are constantly needed to keep the information coming on what’s new, what people need and what people want. MOBGEN: Lab specialises in exactly those things and connects with Universities such as TU Delft, University of Málaga, University of A Coruña and others to continue pioneering and experimenting.

 

As summer comes to a close, a team of young talented students from Stanford University leaves the MOBGEN Amsterdam office. In early July 2016, three students from Stanford University, California came to the Amsterdam office to share their innovative ideas and newly acquired expertise for app development. In the time they’ve been here, they’ve managed to develop a working platform on which location-aware audio tours are facilitated for iOS and Android users. What follows is an explanation of what their app does and how it fits into current market trends.

 

With the explosion in popularity of Pokemon Go, Google’s recent acquisition of Waze, and Uber’s continuing domination of the taxi industry, it has become more and more apparent that location-aware apps are on the rise. The synergy of GPS technology and powerful smartphone platforms has transformed the mobile application space in the last few years. Users are flocking from traditional low-tech services to mobile platforms that undercut their competitors – showcased by AirBnB’s recent transformation into a major competitor in the hospitality industry. By realising, recognising, and adapting to these changes, companies like MOBGEN can provide innovative and ultimately highly lucrative solutions.

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At MOBGEN Lab, the three students from Stanford University in California developed a location-aware tourism platform that reflects these changing times. Instead of relying on the conventional model, in which human guides lead groups of people along a preset course about a city, museum, or landmark, the platform, called ‘Amble’, connects tourists with local insider knowledge to which they can listen on their own terms. Users view, sample, and ultimately add to their tour list Amble audio guides from local points of interest. They then wander along this self-determined route, guided by Google directions. When a user comes within range of a point of interest they’ve selected, ‘Ambles’ from this location begin playing in the background. The platform displays the original route of the tour’s author, allowing users to closely trace the steps of the locals to which they listen. Because these audio guides are created by locals, Amble is able to deliver uniquely personalised information and an intensely immersive experience.

 
 

How can a brain be hacked? We (Daniel, Natalia, Sebastian and Silviu from MOBGEN) weren’t sure, but we came across a post from the Waag Society and quickly became curious about the possibilities. We wanted to apply science to our expertise within mobility to solve a problem and also try some of the impressive equipment provided by the hackathon.

 

The problem was… we didn’t know much about the brain, only that we all have one, so we were lucky enough to adopt Michael, a neuroscientist, into our team who helped us understand that our brains are constantly sending out signals which we could read if we were to  “eavesdrop on a brain”. On the first day, we were super excited to know that we had the opportunity to use OpenBCI, Emotiv or the Muse. We were given a good overview of how art and science could connect with presentations from people who had made installations, events and projects using these systems. So the question was… what could we actually achieve in 1 and a half days? And of course, we came up with a lot of ideas such as, “What if you could use brainwaves to help someone meditate by making them aware of their brain status?”, or “What if you could assist people in institutions who experience various psychoses and administer their medication before they snap? We were still unsure of our direction until Saturday morning.

We sat down as a team and discussed the type of audience we wanted to target, what they might need, which technology we could use, what the value would be, and what kind of experience do we want to provide. While discussing our shared love of traveling and the feeling of independence, we realised that this is not possible for some people. There are conditions that do not allow you to drive by yourself, for example, narcolepsy, or epilepsy. Having found our direction, it was finally time to put some hacking into action and see what we could develop to solve that problem. Choosing the appropriate device to hack was not an easy task, as different devices measured different brain waves. Luckily we had Michael to help us on that, and after a quick consultation round, we knew that using an OpenBCI was the way to go.

 

Setting the OpenBCI was a bit of a struggle at the start. We had to make sure the readings were clear and we couldn’t move on until the signals were clean. Making sense of the signals was also a challenge, but with some help from the staff, we were able to get the OpenBCI up and running, connected to Daniel’s head with a clean signal! Then the real hacking began.

 

Connected Car

Our idea was named BAT (Brain AssistanT). It was able to detect epileptic and narcoleptic events. With the BAT OpenAPI, the user could connect to an ecosystem of apps and services that could integrate with BAT to offer new, customised experiences. BAT measured the following channels: Alpha Waves, Muscle Tension and Heart Rate. Research showed us that people who suffer from narcolepsy or epilepsy can cause fatal accidents whilst driving! Also, the penalties for people who suffer from these conditions are quite severe and differ per country (One seizure could ban the driver for 6 months in the NL, while other countries completely prohibit you to drive at all if you suffer from any of these conditions). If we really want to prevent these types of accidents, then we have to choose a car that has the technology to prevent the accidents before it can happen, such as a Tesla.

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For this to work, the BAT OpenAPI should connect with the Tesla connected car interface by using our ‘BAT hat’ which is equipped with electrodes. This wearable device will send user-friendly data to the car’s interface while the user is driving. Because driving is the primary activity in the car, the UI must be simplified to keep the driver’s eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. The app does not demand any user interaction whilst driving, and the moment a seizure is detected, the Tesla would be alerted and automatically be switched to the autonomous driving control and guide the car towards a safe haven and then alert emergency response services.

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So looking back at hackathon weekend, we created the following:

  • OpenAPI to detect if someone is falling asleep,
  • Demo app to indicate what the user will see,
  • Animation to showcase the use case and the in-car experience
  • A killer presentation to explain our concept

 

In the end, we were able to impress the jury enough for them to ask us “how much of this was already there when you started?” our answer was, of course “none of it”.

We received comments like “wow, it looks  like you have a startup ready there” from other participants. While we didn’t win the first prize, we took 3rd place and had an awesome weekend of work that didn’t even feel like we were working!

 
 

People are busy. Going to a Shell Service Station, sometimes you just want to fill up and go. That’s why Shell wants to offer their clients a speedy, secure mobile fuel payment service as part of the Shell Motorist App. It works seamlessly with PayPal and from end of June 2016 also with Apple Pay, so you can now pay for fuel without queuing up in store.

 

Since Apple pay went live last year, many big companies have decided to let their customers take advantage of this initiative integrating a safe mobile payment method in their mobile platforms. One of the companies who decided to step forward to integrate Apple Pay in the European market is our client Shell with integration in the UK Shell Motorist App.

 

MOBGEN as a software solutions provider took the responsibility to integrate the Apple Pay software with the Shell Motorist App. Our MOBGEN team began working on the implementation last February and the result went live at the end of June 2016.

The idea of this implementation was triggered by Shell customers, after research showed that 70% of iOS users of mobile payments in the UK were using Apple Pay. Shell is the first gas company implementing a mobile payment solution in the UK.

 

Currently, Shell is rolling out a nationwide marketing campaign. This campaign will kick off in August 2016, with the purpose of gaining even more active users.

The user simply selects how much they want to spend and scans the QR code at the pump from inside their car. Then they just fill up & go. It really is as simple as that. Apple Pay is a user friendly solution, allowing customers to use one associated credit card. Another advantage is that the payments are faster, and the transactions have an extra security system with the fingerprint option. The next step will be to launch the app in more countries in the EU and in the US.

 

MOBGEN has in depth knowledge on the specific Apple Pay software and technology, so we are able to adapt and integrate Apple Pay as a solution for your customers. It’s great to see that customer embrace these kind of user friendly mobile payment solutions, delivering value for many businesses.

 
 

Cognitive computing in mobile landscape

An app that thinks with you

Martijn Spee – Jr. Business Analyst @ MOBGEN

We’ve become very much used to the presence of the smartphone in our lives. It wakes us up in the morning and keeps us entertained while waiting for friends at the bar. It’s also made our lives so much easier, with over 2 million apps available in the Google Play Store and iTunes, we decide what our smartphones are capable of. With so many capabilities in our pockets, it’s hard not to get attached to it.

Yet, new developments in the software space are about to make the relationship we have with our smartphones even stronger: Cognitive computing systems. This emerging technology enables humans and systems to interact more naturally with each other, thereby bringing humans and computers closer together.

Since many see cognitive computing as the driver of the next big wave of innovation in the digital landscape, let’s take some time to explore this upcoming technology.

So what is it?

A cognitive computing system is a self-learning system that uses data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing to understand the user’s behavior. The system constantly learns from the interactions with the user, while at the same time analysing the user’s experience and environment before coming into action. In this way, the system is able to provide the right functionality or content at the right time, in the right place. In simple terms, with cognitive computing, Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, not only gives you the right directions to the nearest gas station, but is also aware if you are in a car, on a bike, or in a hurry, and adjusts its response to your situation.

As the word ‘’self-learning’’ indicates, cognitive computing systems are capable to learn, reason with, and correct information they find in internal and external data sets. And because of this capability, we are slowly moving into a situation in which systems are trained instead of coded. The more the system is trained to understand different types of data, the more it is capable of generating content that is relevant to the user.

This type of method is very similar to the way we humans process information in our brains. We also use different types of information sources (e.g. experience, knowledge and education) to make decisions. And this is exactly what cognitive computing does: it mimics the functioning of the human brain. This is an interesting development, because the human brain is an incredibly complex network. The way we store information, how we remember things, and interpret our environment is hard to describe, let alone understand. However, due to the fast evolvement of cognitive computing, we are moving into an era in which systems think the same as humans. Well-known examples that have already integrated cognitive computing are IBM’s Watson, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home.

Opportunities for mobile apps

As mentioned earlier, cognitive computing enables humans and systems to communicate in a more natural way. By giving the user the feeling that they are interacting with another human rather than a programmed system, chances are high that the user will feel more connected to the system, resulting in a higher engagement level.

Engagement with the user is key in today’s mobile landscape. Apps need to continuously deliver content and functionalities that the user can relate to. If this is not the case, there is no reason for the user to return to the app. Cognitive computing can be the helping hand here. Through cognitive computing, apps will be able to adjust functionalities, tailor-made to the needs of the user. This will result in:

1) Unique user-journeys

2) Advanced decision-making

3) Higher engagement

4) Lower costs for business

 

How to apply it?

The following cases will give a general impression of how cognitive computing can be applied to different types of industries:

Hospitality industry – Cognitive apps in the hospitality industry could personalise user journeys with dynamic feeds of available hotels and apartments. For example, based on the personal details and time of searching, hotel apps such as Airbnb and Booking.com could display different search results to different type of users for the same destination. Additionally, cognitive computing will disrupt the traditional way of planning holidays by pre-empting the decisions and desires for the user.

Financial industry –Financial cognitive apps will visualise complex data sets to make it more understandable for the user, thereby enhancing decision-making. Think of investors who need to make decisions on the spot. Also, with cognitive computing, systems would be able to identify potential frauds much earlier, resulting in safer environments for users to do their finances.

Retail industry – Cognitive computing will transform the way users interact with retail apps by having real dialogues with virtual shop assistants and customer service bots. This will have direct impact on customer service efficiency. Similar to the hospitality industry, retailers will be able to target each user individually on a more personal level. Combining this with automated purchase analyses, retailers will be able to move items to locations closer to the user, thereby decreasing delivery times.  

Aviation industry – Through cognitive apps, companies in the aviation industry will be able to enhance the customer experience both online and offline. From eliminating the ‘’will wait for cheaper tickets’’ -behaviour towards buying tickets, to providing them with their favorite drink or snack when entering the plane.

As a last note:

 

Cognitive computing is becoming an interesting way to move forward for many industries. Many software firms have started looking into this technology for their business and systems. Yet, making use of cognitive computing is proving to be quite challenging. The reason for this is that we train systems how to behave, thereby losing a bit of human control on the output generated by these systems. In other words, we are starting to build systems we cannot fully regulate. Hence, it will require more research, testing and development before cognitive computing can be considered a reliable technology.

At MOBGEN, we are constantly on the lookout for new innovations, and exploring them to see how they can bring value to the mobile landscape. If you feel that cognitive computing technologies could suit your business strategy, or just want to receive more information on this topic, please do not hesitate to contact us: info@mobgen.com

 
 

Apple WWDC

As a die-hard Apple developer, gaining access to the Worldwide Developers Conference is a bit of a holy grail, so I was particularly excited to be able to attend the WWDC 2016 held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. True to its name, the event focusses on the developers, so there are no hardware reveals to be seen, but Apple did unveil watchOS 3, tvOS, macOS Sierra, and iOS 10, all of which are loaded with killer new features. Apple referred to iOS 10 as “Apple’s biggest iOS update ever”, with major improvements to iMessage, Apple Music, Siri, Notifications and many other minor features. Let’s look at some of the highlights:



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watchOS:

watchOS 3 brings a huge array of updates. The biggest is speed, which will benefit the entire platform. Applications launches instantly – seven times faster than in watchOS 2. This is the result of multiple under-the-hood changes, mainly due to background updates of apps hence why it always has the latest data. Apple has added “dock” to the watch and now users can see real time data without even opening the apps.

 

Apple introduced the Control Centre function in watchOS 3 which can be accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. Apple has also added more watch faces including activity rings, numerical ones, and a Minnie Mouse face. Users can change their watch faces with a swipe.

 

WatchOS 3 is even more focussed on health and fitness now. In the Activity app, users can now compete with their friends. They can see their friend’s activity rings, heart rate, step count and more. Users can message the people they are competing with directly inside the Activity app. With a single setting change, wheelchair users can set their activity to wheelchair mode and receive “time to roll” notifications instead of “time to stand”.

 

Another important update was the launch of a new app called “Breathe” to guide users through deep breathing exercises. Users can set the duration from one to five minutes and the watch does the rest with haptic feedback or visual aids. Users can also set reminders to do their deep breathing exercises.

 

It will be a free update, available this fall.

 

Apple TV:

The fourth generation Apple TV was released last year, but there is no hardware update yet. The major announcement related to Apple TV was the Remote app for iOS, which allows any iOS device to function as a complete Siri remote. Other highlights included a dark mode for TV to darken the interface, and a single-sign on for cable network apps, allowing users to sign in just once on the Apple TV to access other cable content.

 

macOS:

Apple has rebranded OS X to macOS to keep the name in line with its other OS names (tvOS, iOS, and watchOS). The new macOS update will be called macOS Sierra.

 

macOS Sierra brings an array of new features for Mac users. For me, the biggest update is the introduction of Apple Pay on Mac. Via the Safari browser, Apple Pay is available on both Mac and iOS, allowing sites the choice to add a “Buy with Apple Pay” Button. When selected, the user can then confirm the payment either by using the Apple Watch or via Touch ID on iOS devices. Using this option is safe and straightforward for users as they don’t have to type the card information (which also protects the user’s card details in case a site gets hacked). I am really looking forward to making payments with Apple Pay on web.

 

Alongside Apple Pay, the other big update for Mac users is the integration of Siri on Mac. Users can search for files using Siri, and pin search results to the Notification Centre for quick access.

 

Another interesting update for me was unlocking the Mac via an Apple watch instead of entering a password manually. In the context of continuity, there was an update related to iCloud and an announcement of universal clipboard for all Apple devices, which lets users copy data (Text/Link/Images/Rich content) from one device (iPhone/iPad/Mac) and paste onto another device (Mac/iPad/iPhone).

 

Sierra will have the ability to clear infrequently used (and probably useless) data like old caches, empty trash and others, which will help to free up a huge amount of storage on a Mac.

 

iOS:

There were ten major updates announced for iOS 10. Apple finally added ‘raise to view’ to iOS devices, meaning that the iPhone will detect when you are holding it up to look at it, and it will show the lock screen with all the notifications without unlocking it. Notifications on iOS are also more advanced and rich now. For example, a user can check an entire thread of messages instead of only one message, or view their complete calendar using 3D touch. Moreover, developers can now customise notifications in a new way, allowing much greater flexibility in how they can be displayed to users.

 

The iMessage app got a major update this year to include handwritten messages, full screen animations, stickers, and the sending of invisible messages (which requires the recipient to swipe in order to see them). Apple also added support to show web previews when a user sends a site link. Emoji symbols are now three times bigger, and Apple Music links let users play music right in the message thread. Text can be replaced with a related emoji (which was well received by the audience with a big applause). A major update for developers is that Apple opened iMessage for third party extensions which can be very useful. The examples Apple gave included the option for users to order food or send payments from within the iMessage app.

 

Talking about extensions, Apple has also opened Maps for third party extensions which seems to be very useful. For example, a user can book a ride or reserve a restaurant table without leaving Maps. Maps can now show traffic routes, routes which take less time comparatively, and zoom in and out based on location and speed.

 

This year, Apple opened many extensions which also included Siri. Now, developers can take advantage of Siri for their apps. So you can send a WhatsApp message using Siri without even opening the app or send a payment using related apps.

 

In iOS 10, Phone app users can now request voicemail transcriptions. Apple added support for third party VoIP apps – for example, now you can make a whatsapp call right from the Phone app to your contacts.

 

The Apple Photos app is now way better, with powerful in-device image recognition technology. In addition to faces, it can now detect objects in pictures like horses, water or trees, making it easy for users if they want to search for specific photos. Apple has added a new feature called Memories, which is quite intelligent in the way it can group pictures based on location, time etc like trips.

 

QuickType got a lot smarter in iOS 10. It can now give intelligent suggestions as you type which can be based on other activities on the device. Another addition to QuickType is the ability to have bilingual suggestions in case you use more than one language (without having to switch the keyboard’s language).

 

Apple’s Music app has been completely redesigned. Users can now check song lyrics, play complete shows, and much more.

 

Apple has also introduced a swipe action to see available widgets in the Notification Centre. Developers can now customise what the user sees via the 3D touch functionality.

 

The News app in iOS 10 is a lot more useful, supporting subscriptions and categories. An interesting update was that News can now offer breaking headlines notifications if the user wants it.

 

Apart from these notable updates, there were some other smaller additions like the ability to use HomeKit to turn on/off devices, clear all in the Notification Centre, share Notes app and many more.

 

Though Apple opened many extensions this year, they were quite clear that the most important thing for Apple is a user’s privacy and security.

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Swift:

As expected, Apple announced Swift 3.0. Apple also launched a new free app on the iPad to help users learn how to code in Swift (for both basic and advanced users).

 

Everything announced at WWDC will be available this fall as a free upgrade.

 

Even though Apple didn’t release any big new surprises this year (like they have done in previous years with tvOS, Swift and WatchOS), they have definitely made big improvements on what they already have. As an Apple developer, the most exciting thing for me is the opening up of Siri, Maps, iMessage extensions, Apple Pay and Swift 3.0 with better performance than ever. In addition to the Keynote, I attended the live WWDC sessions and the labs, which certainly makes quite a lot of difference compared to the online videos. In particular, being at the labs gives you an exceptional opportunity to talk one-on-one with Apple engineers, and I could ask undocumented questions about best practices, app review help, tips & tricks, and more. In fact, the WWDC is the only time that one-on-one conversations with Apple engineers are made available to the developer community, and that alone is worth the price of admission!

 

 
 

Making mobile apps smarter with geofence technology

Smart notifications and suggestions are what people are expecting from smart digital assistants like Siri and Google Now, but some of these capabilities are also possible for regular apps with the use of location aware technology. By combining user information with location aware technology, it is possible to create a personal experience when the user is in a certain location. The result is a smarter app which delivers relevant content and services to the user, creating a positive view of the brand and app.

This article will discuss some of the available location aware technologies and make the case for geofence technology for smarter apps. In addition, the best practices in regards to geofence and the opportunities to apply this technology in retail, hospitality, and airline apps will also be discussed

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There are various location aware technologies for the smartphone that can be used to determine the user’s location. One of the better known technologies is Apple’s iBeacons, or simply Beacons, which uses Bluetooth to transmit a signal to a smartphone. Due to its high accuracy in determining the smartphone’s location, there have been many experiments to install Beacons in stores to track the user and provide relevant information where appropriate. The beacons are capable to measure at a micro-level when a user is near a certain product or object. However, as this technology depends on Bluetooth, which most users turn off, and requires investments in hardware (i.e. Beacons), it is an expensive option for companies since it targets only a small fraction of the user base.  

Another technology which is becoming more familiar in people’s everyday lives is NFC, near field communication. This technology is currently being integrated within our payment cards and smartphones and can be used to transfer data when the NFC enabled objects are in very close proximity (few centimetres) of each other.

Many use cases can be considered, especially with Android’s newly announced Instant Apps, which can launch an app without the need to install the app on the smartphone.

This can for example be used to launch an instant payment app when the phone is held near a NFC enabled object such as a parking metre. Enabling NFC in an app presumes the user is already intending to take an action with the app and will not make the app smarter.

Where NFC and Beacons are perfectly capable of tracking the user’s micro-location, it will only work for an app when the user is in the micro-location e.g. in a retail store. There is an alternative technology which works without additional hardware investments and is able to understand the user’s location at a macro-level e.g. in the vicinity of a retail store. This technology is called geofencing and relies on the user’s smartphone geolocation to determine whether a user is in a specific area. By understanding the user’s location on a macro-level, apps can send relevant information to the user related to the user’s context.  

Recently, I received this smart notification from TripAdvisor while visiting the Botanical Garden in Amsterdam. I did not use the app to search for this location nor did I have the app open. With the use of geofence technology, TripAdvisor knew my location and was able to send this smart notification.

Geofence technology, how does it work?

To understand geofencing, it is first important to understand what geolocation is and how smartphones determine their geolocation. In the context of smartphones, the geolocation is the geographic location of a smartphone. This location data can be used in apps to understand the location of the user and provide services based on this information. Common examples are nearest store-, hotel- or restaurant finder, or sorting information based on the distance of the user to the location.

The geolocation of a smartphone is based on various measurement methods. Most commonly, the smartphone’s location is determined by a combination of GPS, cell tower- and Wi-Fi data. On both Android and iOS, these services are built into the operating system. Users can opt out of the location tracking services by changing the app or operating system settings or decide to switch off GPS, Cellular and/or Wi-Fi data. With the rise of personal assistants such as Google Now and Siri, which uses the GPS for geolocation based recommendations and services, the GPS is often turned on by users.   

To understand geofencing, imagine a virtual perimeter around a geographic location with a radius of X meters. The border of this circle is what we refer to as a geofence. To state it more simply, a geofence is a radius around a point location.

Both Android and iOS have developed technology to track the user’s geolocation. When the user enters or exits the geofence, the operating system can trigger the app to perform an event in the background. This event is most commonly used to send a notification to the user but can also be used to process some relevant date. The triggering of the app by the operating system can even be done when the phone is locked and when the app is not opened.

The geofences that the operating system will use to trigger the app can be different per user. On Android, there is a maximum of 100 geofences and on iOS, there is maximum of 20 geofences which will be used to track the user and trigger the app. The limited amount of geofences that can be stored on the smartphone make it important to understand which locations and related geofences are relevant for the individual user. With well-designed interfaces, the app can ask the user to provide their favorite locations or the app can use sources such as loyalty data and other user provided information to determine the relevant geofences for the user.

What is unique about this technology is that the operating system (i.e Android or iOS) will trigger the app in the background when the user hits a geofence, it does not require the user to have the phone active or to have the particular app open. As the tracking is done by the operating system, the geofence technology allows the app to target an individual user based on their location instead of targeting a large group of users. By combining the location with other user information, the context of the user becomes clearer and the message that is send to the user can be personalised.

Best practices for implementing geofencing

To successfully implement geofencing technology in an app, the following practices should be considered to ensure a good experience for the app user.

Determine the relevant locations for the user

Selecting the locations that are of interest to the individual user is important to ensure relevance when a notification is triggered based on the location. User data can play an important role in selecting relevant locations. Relevant data can be based on whether the user has been at this location before, loyalty card transaction history, or whether the user has at some point purchased a ticket which is related to a location. This information can be used to decide which geofences to store on the smartphone.  

If user information is missing or only provides a few relevant locations, the user can be asked to provide locations which are relevant to them. By explaining what the benefits are and providing an easy method to select locations, the user can be prompted to provide this information.

 

Control the geofence radius

To control the geofencing technology, the radius of each geofence can be tweaked to improve relevancy. If the radius of the geofence is too wide for a specific location (e.g. radius of 5km in a urban area), then the risk of unwanted events is more likely to occur if the user lives in the area or has to commute through it daily. On the other hand, a large geofence could be useful for larger areas such as airports or rural areas.

In addition, it is also possible to set a dwelling time for a particular geofence, which only activates the app to perform an event when the user spends a certain amount of time within the geofence. Thus, it is important to understand the location and the purpose of the event to determine the radius of the geofence.

 

Control the events

On a basic level, each geofence entry or exit can trigger an event every single time. However, to prevent sending too frequent and irrelevant messages, it is important to establish a set of rules that determine if and what event is performed.

The rules can include the following information:

  • User information from a CRM system or loyalty program
  • Characteristics of the geofence location
  • Frequency by which the geofence is triggered in a certain timeframe.
  • Frequency by which messages are sent to the user.
  • The time at which the geofence is hit

By setting some rules, it can be determined if for a particular geofence trigger an event will be triggered and what the event will be e.g. the content of the message and the service that is provided. There are no limitations to the combination of rules and flows that can be created.

Give the user control

Furthermore, with regards to privacy concerns and giving the user control over their app experience, it is important to provide the user with some control. The user should have the option to opt-out of all of the location based notifications but should also be given the options to receive some of the notifications if they want. Within the settings, it is thus important to explain the various triggers and events so that the user has control over the various notifications.

 

 

How can this technology be applied to create value for the user?

There are many opportunities to use this technology in apps and create smart notifications and services depending on the context of the user. The retail and hospitality industry are prime candidates to adopt this technology, but there are many more industries that can use geofence technology to create valuable experiences for the user.

Retail app

The retail industry in general can benefit from this technology as some retailers have many stores which can be used as relevant points for the user.

  • General retail applications: when a user is near a store, send them special offers, win back campaigns, rewards, reminders, or shopping tips.
  • General retail applications: use previous browsing history to suggest the user to come into the store and view the products in real-life when they are nearby.
  • General retail applications: when a user is near a store, use previous user purchase data to send a message about relevant in-store items or a possible sale of their favorite brand.
  • Automotive retail: when a user is near a service point and their car is up for service, send a message to remind them of their upcoming service and possibly provide an offer as an incentive to come to the service point.
  • Phone retail stores: when a user is near a store and are near the end of their contract, send a message to ask them to visit the store to review their contract.
  • Banking offices: similar to the phone retail stores, banks can invite their customers to visit a nearby store to discuss their personal finance and see if they can be of any service depending on the user’s situation.

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Hotel app

For a hotel app, the use of geofence technology can increase the service level for the user when travelling to the hotel, but could also be used to speed up the check-in procedure. This is one step in making the app the central point of the hotel experience.

Use cases:

  • When user has booked a room for a hotel and enters the geofence of the hotel on the day of the booking, send the user a welcome message and inform them that the keys are ready at the front desk. At the same time, a message to the front desk can be sent to have the guest’s key and check-in information ready.
  • The geofence of the hotel can also be used to send a message to the hotel’s IT system to inform them that the guest has exited the geofence. This information can for example be used to manage the room cleaning and maintenance services.
    Knowing that American guests who book a Hotel in Amsterdam almost exclusively fly via Schiphol Airport, a geofence can be setup at the airport. After disembarking off the plane, the app can send the user a welcome message and provide suggestions on how to travel to the Hotel.
  • When a guest arrives at a city, geofences can be set up around interesting places such as tourist attractions, nearby lunch places, or to provide alternative suggestions. In the case of a business traveller, geofences can be set around convention centres and other business areas. When they exit the geofence, they can be sent suggestions about transport to the hotel or nearby places for food and drinks.

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Restaurant or cafes app

Restaurants or cafes can apply geofence technology similar to the retail app. It can be used to send a notification when the user is near its location. When connecting the notification to the CRM or loyalty system, various smart notifications with suggestions or offers can be sent.

  • By using notifications, the user can be prompted to visit the restaurant or cafe. In addition, it can be used to send information about their special of the day, or if they’re a returning customer, remind them of a previously ordered meal or beverage.

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Airline app

Travelling can be stressful for many people, but geofence technology can be used to make flying a bit more relaxed by providing context based information. Based on flight ticket information, the airline can set up geofences at the departure and arrival gates.

  • Upon entering the departure gate, the user can be sent a welcome message and a link for their boarding pass, be provided with a walking route through the airport, or suggest places to relax before departure.
  • At the arrival gate, the user can be offered a walking route to the baggage claim area, or be sent a notification with suggestions on how to travel to the nearest town with a link to a ride-hailing or public transport app or website.

The examples above demonstrate that there are many opportunities to create unique personal experiences. Whether it is directly related to selling products, providing a unique and personal experience or providing additional services in line with the user journey. The geofence technology enables the creation of these personal experiences that are specific to the context of the user and the location.

Nonetheless, it is important to bear in mind that when geolocation technology is poorly implemented, the user can receive many unwanted or irrelevant notifications. As a result, the user’s trust can be damaged which may result in the removal of the app in favour of a competitor. Therefore, it is important to consider whether geofence technology is the right technology for the particular user journey that is being envisioned.

When the technology is implemented correctly, it allows the creation of unique context based user experiences which will positively delight the user and will create value for both the business and the user.

 

At MOBGEN, we have the experience creating value adding experiences for the user with the use of geofence technology. By building and testing apps from a customer perspective, MOBGEN can guarantee the best customer experience. Please don’t hesitate to contact us If you need further information – we’ll be happy to help!

 

 
 

Last week saw the biggest ever TNW Europe conference which was held in Amsterdam. MOBGEN was present and business analyst Guy has written a recap of this great event.

As in previous editions, this year’s TNW brought together some of the leading innovators in diverse digital fields, from whom we could learn first hand about internal processes and future developments. Of the various topics throughout the conference, special focus was given to artificial intelligence, supporting growth in Europe, and discussions of ethics and protection of rights.

AI and Machine Learning
AI and Machine Learning in everyday life were clear trends this year. The message delivered by motivating speakers such as Aparna Chennapragada (head of Google Now) and Werner Vogels (CTO of Amazon) is that artificial intelligence is well within the reach of those who build digital products and services right now. Amazon’s Machine Learning tool makes computing power and expertise accessible to an audience far beyond the field’s few specialists. Aparna shared Google’s formula (AI+UI+I) for bringing AI-powered products into the service of regular consumers, rather than just large organisations. Indeed, the ever-important focus on user’s needs was illustrated by many other speakers. For example, Julie Zhuo (VP of Product Design at Facebook) explained that their design process serves first and foremost to effectively solve real problems for real users.

Although these exciting technologies are now in the hands of a growing number of people, their effective implementation still relies on considerable expertise, careful planning and accurate measurement. This was highlighted by Pete Koomen (co-founder of A/B testing tool Optimizely). In his talk, Pete explained that even though tools such as Optimizely simplify complex technical and theoretical processes, some knowledge is still required to avoid drawing false conclusions or making mistakes in critical business decisions. Optimizely addressed this concern by maintaining open and transparent communication with its clients after some experienced significant difficulties due to this knowledge gap.

Ethics and citizens’ rights
This example of corporate responsibility relates to another important thread running through TNW Europe: the discussion of ethics and protection of citizens’ rights. One of the conference spaces was devoted entirely to the collaborative economy, while other stages welcomed speakers such as Peter Sunde (founder of The Pirate Bay), Bill Buxton (leading researcher at Microsoft), Emma Holton (human rights activist) and more. Their inspiring talks included warnings about censorship and surveillance, but also positive calls to action to ensure that we use technology to enhance our interconnectedness, human values and democratic freedoms.

Startups
Finally, while Europe’s tech scene undoubtedly looks promising, the ecosystem, especially the world of startups, still faces significant obstacles (this concern was also expressed the same week in Amsterdam, by Eric Schmidt at Startup Fest). The continent’s fledgling startup field was evident in the relatively small number of companies exhibiting at this important event. Many of these startups focus on solving specialised problems and are in the very early stages of development. Projects on show included apps to ease travel bookings, alternative messaging tools, workflow organisers, games, and other incremental, rather than revolutionary, concepts. While these products and services do offer tangible value, many of them (and their accompanying pitches) lack the polish of their counterparts from Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv. Nevertheless, as, the Boost pitching contest showed, all the elements are in place to keep learning and growing.

In summary, TNW 2016 has given us a thorough overview of the European tech landscape: a mix of innovations and challenges, thought leaders and startups, geeks and idealists, all in a dynamic, connected and rapidly evolving environment.

 
 

The rapid rise of the mobile channel is having an enormous impact on the financial sector. Where do the major challenges and opportunities lie? What possibilities exist for furthering customer engagement? And how can companies make the most of these?

During a free webinar, MOBGEN spoke to three prominent Dutch digital finance experts about their approach, their challenges, and their vision of the future. What follows is a thought-provoking summary of the topics discussed, along with a brief profile of our experts.

Michiel Aangenendt

Michiel Aangenendt

Michiel Aangenendt
Senior Manager of New Business Development at Aegon
Favourite app: “Credit Agricole, for the innovative way in which it allows developers to access its platform and data via open APIs.”

Herco le Fèvre

Herco le Fèvre

Herco le Fèvre
Former Head of Business Strategy & Innovation at ING Netherlands, now, an independent consultant at Iguacu Payments.
Favourite app: “The Twyp P2P-app is a good example of how young people can be engaged through mobile payments.”

Andries van Luijk

Andries van Luijk

Andries van Luijk
Managing Director at EVI van Lanschot
Favourite app: “My wife’s Rabobank payment app, because of its exceptionally good user experience.”


Relevance is paramount in addressing customers’ new digital and mobile needs.

All three experts have adopted a mobile first strategy. “When developing solutions, our primary concern is always that they must work on a mobile phone” says Aangenendt. “Only then do we look to see whether they can be translated back to the web and tablet devices. The big challenge for us financial professionals is that we are in the habit of incorporating a lot of functionality. Developing for the small mobile screen teaches you to be as simple and elegant as possible. Relevance is thereby always the guiding principle. Research shows that the average mobile phone user makes use of no more than eight apps on a regular basis. If our proposition can’t get into that eight, we’d rather not do it.”

Van Luijk points out that 90 percent of EVI van Lanschot’s contact with customers is initiated with smartphones. “So it’s absolutely a case of mobile first. Convenience and accessibility are therefore always the primary consideration. It is essential that our customers, who are mostly investors and other professionals, can access the most meticulous financial information related to things such as cash flow and investments at any given moment. Making this up-to-date data available as quickly as possible is one of our key challenges. It leads us to regularly ask ourselves how much money we actually still need to spend on applications which are more suitable for desktops and tablets.”

As an independent advisor, Le Fèvre is currently observing a lot of banks and other financial institutions rolling out or working towards mobile first strategies. “However, I’m also already seeing the original pioneers moving on, focussing heavily on an omni-channel approach”, he says. “Of course, mobile is a majorly important pillar in this, but it’s not the only one. These front-runners remember that different customers use different channels for meeting different needs. To make it work, it’s crucial that all these different channels interact flexibly and offer users a truly seamless experience. Knowing your customers well, along with communicating their data to them in a consistent way across the different channels, are essential criteria.”

Alongside relevance, personalisation is another key factor for successful customer contact.

“The challenge with mobile is keeping things easy, simple and relevant to day-to-day life”, says Aangenendt. “Personalisation of mobile services and solutions is thereby an important requirement, certainly in the financial sector. It’s happening, but only sporadically. For example, I hardly see any personalised home screens on financial apps. And how do you replicate the feeling you get when you actually sit with your financial advisor to discuss important considerations for the future over a cup of coffee? Exploring the possibilities in this area is something which my team, and many others in this sector, are now feverishly working on. We are already seeing the impact innovative solutions are having on daily consumer behaviour, particularly with retail banking. I think this is yet to hit the rest of the financial sector, and that a successful response to these matters will make an even greater impact here.”

This expectation is also shared by Van Luijk and Le Fèvre. “We’re currently seeing an apparent contradiction, whereby an insane amount of customer contact is taking place via banking apps”, says Le Fèvre. “While at the same time, banks are having difficulty providing other relevant services. All that contact via mobile, web and other channels reveals an enormous amount of data through which various customer needs can very clearly be identified, including which channels they prefer to use. The challenge now for both retail banks and other financial organisations is to make use of this data to gain better understanding of customers. For example, to gain more precise identification of pain points in the customer journey, which can be helpful when devising new mobile solutions.”

Mobile solutions can be used effectively alongside legacy technology, and obstacles are falling away.

The majority of banks have invested heavily in legacy infrastructure which, as the name suggests, can’t easily be replaced. According to our three experts, that isn’t, however, an insurmountable barrier to rapid implementation of innovative mobile solutions. “In this case it is necessary to disconnect your mobile presence from your legacy infrastructure as far as possible, as this is also still undergoing continual development”, says Le Fèvre. “API technology plays an important role here as it can actually be applied to a lot of existing legacy infrastructure, potentially opening up your back office to your mobile channel without creating problems.”

“We always start by identifying the functionality for the customer”, explains Aangenendt. “Once that’s clear, we test to see if our ideas actually resonate with customers. If it goes well, we look at how they can be scaled up and find the best way of integrating these new components with the rest of our service and platform. In this aspect, we are naturally very happy about the possibilities presented through APIs, which show very promising indications for integration of new technology with old. The process of ongoing testing, learning and upscaling is essential for every financial institution which wants to maintain a good connection with its customers’ wishes and requirements. If you make isolated decisions about if and how to position new solutions together with old ones, the process inevitably goes wrong. You can negotiate this obstacle at a later stage, but thanks to the possibilities offered by APIs and other technologies I also expect it will completely disappear in the future.”

Van Luijk:
“Because we started from scratch, we have a very young platform with few legacy issues. Of course that greatly helps the speed with which we can develop new services. We presume our applications will have a lifespan of 2 to 3 years, and are continually engaged with monitoring their use and thinking about the next step. If necessary, we handle this new step by initially incorporating just 30 percent of the intended functionality. First make it work, then make it better. You too can do it this way if you’re a first mover, because your customer base will also accept it. On the other hand, as a later adopter you can’t afford to release applications which don’t match up with minimum requirements. In this case the art is in learning from your predecessors and subsequently offering an even better solution. In other words: Be first, or be best!”

The mobile financial pie will be larger in the future, despite legislative restrictions.

All three experts have great expectations for the financial sector’s mobile future. Van Luijk in particular envisions the role played by laws and regulations will be limited. “We already have the experience to know this can often make provision of solutions via the mobile channel unnecessarily complex. We would therefore also like to see technology teams set up within the regulatory bodies, who understand why and how mobile technology provides customers with added value. Particularly in view of the speed at which we try to develop new solutions, we also regularly find ourselves landing in grey areas where we want to ask these bodies for advice, or to connect them with existing legislation. Unfortunately, cooperation in this area is far from optimal, which effectively slows the pace of mobile innovation.”

Both Aangenendt and Le Fèvre, however, emphasise the importance of having safeguards in the system. Developments are happening at lightning speed, and it is important that everybody plays by the same rules, says Le Fèvre. “That might mean you can’t always do what you want, but it also protects customers from being burned.” According to Aangenendt it is also up to the financial sector to show the regulation makers that the technology being introduced is of real added value to the customer. “Companies who are able to do this can look forward to a future with enormous growth potential. For example, I expect financial services will increasingly broaden, and there are huge opportunities waiting for parties who aren’t yet associated with the sector. Take for example combinations with retail, connected home or connected city. The lesson is that these new solutions and technology often grow exponentially. The future doesn’t always turn out as we expect. Being open-minded and expecting change is the way to prepare your organisational structure for its best chance of remaining successful. The really disruptive mobile and digital services in the financial sector are, I think, yet to be conceived.”    

The above is a short summary of the free webinar in which MOBGEN spoke with three prominent Dutch experts about their approach, vision, favourites and predictions. If you’d like to see the entire webinar, in which a multitude of other thought-provoking and informative subjects were covered, you can now watch it at Youtube.

 

 
 

INSPIRE TO INNOVATE

Today’s businesses are more dependent on technology than ever. For CIOs (and all of IT) this is a change-or-be-changed tipping-point; we must guide our businesses and deliver real bottom line value.” A clear statement from VP & CIO Downstream, Craig Walker on Thursday the 5th of May, during the Inspire to Innovate event. Ron Vrijmoet and Sebastian Veldman took the stage and presented towards 500+ Shell IT staff on how mobility plays a vital part in the Shell Value Chain.

 

Next to MOBGEN, goliaths like Accenture, Salesforce, SAP, and IBM joined the stage and spoke on various other emerging technologies like IoT and AI. Especially for all event attendees, MOBGEN:Lab explained how mobile VR empowers marketing and training experiences. For some, this might just sound like a one-time fun game, but research done by the University of Udine tells us the opposite. Research by Chittaro and Buttussi (2015) showed that a VR training experience gave users a knowledge gain that is maintained after one week, where statistically, people who used the traditional training method suffered a significant loss of the acquired knowledge after one week. The VR training was able to produce more engagement, emotion and physiological arousal than the safety card, a factor which can contribute to a positive impact on knowledge retention.
MOBGEN:Lab is the research division of MOBGEN, set up to investigate disruptive innovation with a focus on mobile technology and interface. We have the ambitious aim to identify and map the trends across the design industry that will create changes in the way we interact with brands, products and places.

 
 

It may well be the case that “analysing performance data” is not part of your job description, but you do have a large stake in the insights that your app’s data can bring you. However, getting into all the nitty-gritty details of performance data is a job on it’s own. So how can you go to sleep at night, knowing that you have played your cards right and are capitalising on the right opportunities? In our previous post (The Data Game: Do You See Numbers or Opportunities?) we discussed the importance of framing the right questions in order to identify opportunities. But when you know which questions to ask, you also need to ensure that these questions are answered. But how can you capitalise on opportunities that will grow your product, without the need to deep-dive into the data yourself?

This is where purpose-filled dashboards enter the picture. Even though dashboards will never replace data discovery (the user-driven process of searching for patterns or specific items in a data set), a purpose-filled dashboard allows you to identify patterns and anomalies that can be used to set deep-dive data discovery in motion. The following 3 fundamentals will provide you with the necessary guidance to create a purpose-filled dashboard. These fundamentals will also help you  to identify whether the dashboard you currently may have, is indeed setting the stage for actionable decision making.

  1. The objectives of your audience

Different stakeholders have different questions for the same set of data, that they need answered in order to reach their goals. The idea of having a “singular dashboard” for an organisation to represent the current status of the product often does not work, because the data representation becomes too high-level to allow different stakeholder groups to derive actionable insights. Therefore, it is important to have separate dashboards for different stakeholders within your organisation, that are tailored to their needs. But what type of needs do different stakeholder groups have? When looking at the mobile app industry, there are a few main purposes a dashboard could serve:

  • Providing management with an overview of the app’s “health” and allowing them to monitor the application from a high level.
  • Setting goals for specific people or teams to improve the app.
  • Solving your app’s issues in a timely manner (e.g. crashes, errors and performance issues).
  • Providing a central point of business intelligence for your app and aligning different teams in the company about important KPIs.

 

Having clearly identified the objectives of your audience, is the first step in creating a purpose-filled dashboard. The objectives of your audience may change, depending on the development stage your app is currently in. When building a dashboard, asking the right business questions based on the app’s development stage, will bring the necessary context to your dashboard to provide actionable insights.

 

  1. The level of granularity required

After you have determined your audience’s objectives, these objectives need to be met and visualised in a dashboard. There are different ways of meeting these objectives, but not every way is suitable for your audience. Different audiences require different levels of granularity in a dashboard, depending on their role in the organisation and the amount of time they spend looking at the data.

 

“The higher-level in the organisation, the higher the level of the insights” is a good rule of thumb for determining the level of granularity needed in a dashboard for a specific audience. Executive management often require a high-level overview of the application’s status and progression over time. This allows them to identify opportunities and anomalies, that they can use to steer the responsible teams in the right direction. On the other hand, an operations team requires more granular dashboards, that allows them to identify anomalies and conduct root-cause analysis based on the identified issues in order to resolve them.

 

As many of the stakeholders interacting with your dashboard are likely not data analysts, the level of granularity is a major factor that needs to be addressed correctly.

 

  1. The scope of the dashboard

Depending on the app’s current stage of development, the scope of your dashboard will vary. This sounds like stating the obvious, but there are a few key dimensions you need to keep in mind when designing your dashboard. A dashboard is only useful when it is easy to incorporate into your current workflow, otherwise you will not extract the value that it can provide.  Adjust the dimensions of the dashboard accordingly, and you  will be surprised with the improvement of the decision-making in the company. Think about the following 2 metrics which are key when defining the scope of your dashboard:

  • Time span Your dashboard can be retrospective, display real-time events, or predict the future.
    • Retrospective: When your app is it’s earlier development stages, often a retrospective dashboard will suffice and can often provide you with enough insights for future releases. Don’t get distracted by the buzz of fancy predictive algorithms at this stage: ensure you understand what actually happened and why, before trying to predict what will happen next.
    • Real-time: When your app is live, it is important to have a real-time dashboard in order for you to iterate quickly. Especially when it comes to error and performance monitoring this is important (you don’t want your users to suffer from down-time), but real-time dashboards are also useful to assess how your marketing campaigns are affecting your app usage.
    • Predictive: In later stages of app development, predictive dashboards could be a useful asset to forecast how certain decisions will affect your app’s performance.

 

  • Point of view – Your dashboard can tell you exactly what the current data means and what steps to take. Another perspective would be to give you the relevant data and let you interpret it however you want.
    • Prescriptive: The dashboard tells the user what the data means and gives context. This context is often provided through comments on graphs (e.g. assumptions, hypotheses) by business-savvy data analysts. Prescriptive dashboards are interesting and provide people in managerial roles with the necessary information, without forcing them to deep-dive in the data themselves.
    • Exploratory: The user has the liberty to explore the data and to interpret the results as they see fit. Exploratory dashboards are often used by data analysts to identify lower level patterns and anomalies, that can then be extracted and provided to the correct audience.

Now that you have the basic fundamentals for creating purpose filled dashboards, it is time to build one and start taking control in this complex app industry. Don’t forget that understanding context facilitates the opportunity to enhance your decision making.  Do you currently have a dashboard that displays your app’s data? Is that a dashboard that represents data in such a way that it provides actionable insights? If this is not the case, think about how you could use these fundamentals to set the stage and facilitate a dashboard for enhanced decision making.

If you want us to help you get the most out of your analytics, or you just want to receive more information about analytics for your project, please don’t hesitate to contact us: info@mobgen.com

 
 

interview Dave van Velzen, Marketing Manager at TOTO

It is difficult to conceive a world without the internet and mobile devices for today’s consumers. People now expect exciting and engaging experiences at the click of a button as standard, with the demand for digital experiences impacting upon almost every consumer market. In this interview, Dave van Velzen, Marketing Manager at TOTO explores how the company has evolved and experimented to take full advantage of the omnichannel approach to capturing and retaining consumers.

 

  • Exciting times at the TOTO. How have you experienced the merger process with Staatsloterij? (if you want to share…)

 

We’re still in the midst of it, but so far it’s going reasonably well. It affects a lot of processes and, most importantly, involves and affects a lot of people. That’s never an easy thing to manage, but the new joint teams are gradually forming and some are already working together on future projects.

 

 

  • What digital transformation do you see happening in the sports betting world?

 

 

That’s a very broad question. For us it’s about an easy omni-channel experience for our consumers. It doesn’t matter where you are, we should always deliver quick access and very easy ways of playing our games. With around five thousand retail sales points and all the online possibilities, we’re always close to the Dutch consumer.

 

 

  • What is the role of mobile in this transformation?

 

 

Everybody is glued to their mobile phone these days, so it’s been an easy step to use this device to play our games. But next to playing the actual games, it’s also important to use it to service our offline players with the latest information and make it easier to place a bet in the stores.

 

 

  • You introduced a point of sale device in the stores recently where consumers can select their bets. Can you tell us more about the reasons behind this, and the scale of it?

 

 

Yes, the Toto EasyPlay terminals, as we call it, allows people to make their bet selections and print them on a barcode coupon. They then get the coupon scanned at the counter by the retailer and only then is the bet is placed. The reason behind the terminals is to provide better service and lowering the threshold to play the Toto games in retail. From the service part: in sports betting, odds can change everyday due to reasons such as players injuries etc The weekly program guide with our odds can then be outdated, so with this terminal the latest odds are always at the players and retailers disposal. They can, of course, also use our mobile site or mobile apps to access this information. For the retailer, as it lowers the troubleshooting with incorrect details or unreadable bet slips, and because the consumers have all the latest info on the EasyPlay terminals, retailers get less questions, so it makes their lives a lot easier and they can focus more on customer relations. As for lowering the threshold to play, the physical payslips can look a bit intimidating for new players at first sight with all the various betting options on it. With the EasyPlay terminal, the consumer can now easily select matches simply by touching the screen and not have to fill out the physical paper betting slips.

This easy way of placing a bet at our retail locations has been successful and made available on our native apps and mobile site for the last few years and has proven itself enough for us to take this next step and invest in retail EasyPlay terminals. The big wins are for both consumer and retailer.

 

 

  • How do consumers and shop owners experience the devices in the stores?

 

 

Both consumer and shop owners have responded very positively to the EasyPlay terminals, we’ve seen a big rise in the percentage of transactions done through the EasyPlay terminal. We’ve also received good reviews from retailers as it indeed makes their lives easier.

 

 

  • What would be your greatest digital wish to realise for TOTO in the future?

 

 

I think this wish is constantly evolving. For now, it’s all about giving the players the best personal experience while playing our games, and also to contribute to their love for sports as much as we can with our challenging betting products, services which bring extra fun and excitement around the matches.

 

For a long time, the gaming industry has held close ties with technology and the development sector. Needless to say, the betting industry has undergone revolutionary transformation. TOTO strives to persevere in offering its customers the best personal experience through technological innovation. It’s not enough to simply run a healthy and stable core business, rather it is also vital to guarantee investment and innovation for future customer experiences.

 
 

Are you a retail company without a strong mobile presence? Do you have difficulties keeping up with the pace of your customers? Then it may be time to reconsider your current retail strategy. An increasing number of retailers have redefined their retail strategies and are now focusing on increasing their mobile presence on their customers’ devices. 
There are two common ways to manage your company’s retail strategy: Multi-Channel Retailing and Omni-Channel Retailing.

Multi-Channel Retailing makes use of a number of individual retail channels, aiming to reach as many customers as possible. For example, customers are able to order and purchase their favourite jeans on the online store, and expect delivery at home. Or, they could go into a store and shop the traditional way. These are two unrelated transactions where the customer’s business within the physical shop is separate to their online account.

 

Omni-Channel retailing on the other hand, focuses on the use of multiple connected channels, where the whole buying process is tailored to every customer individually. The customer has a variety of possibilities they can choose from to achieve their preferred retail experience. For instance, the customer can buy products using any of the channels; determine how they receive advertisement or advice; and choose the payment and delivery type.

As the channels overlap within the Omni-Channel strategy, all devices and local stores can access the individual customer’s database, which captures all relevant information regarding their preferences so that each channel delivers tailored content.

The larger international retailers focus on Omni-Channel strategies, whereas smaller companies have been striving on the Multi-Channel strategy due to their limited resources. Regardless of the size of a company, retailers are now moving towards the Omni-Channel Retailing, even if the transition towards Omni-Channel is a challenge that requires a lot of effort and financial resources. Customers expect the retailers to meet their demands to make the shopping experience as easy as possible and therefore, the retailers have put the main focus on the device most frequently used by the customers: the smartphone.

Choosing which channel strategy is dependent on different factors:

 

  • The aim of the retail strategy: What the retailer wants to achieve?
  • Customer preferences: How does the customer prefer their shopping experience?
  • Market: Which strategies do the competitors follow?
  • Capabilities of the Company
    • Supply Chain Management: Which channels already exist?
    • Marketing: Does the company want to attract customers within a target group, or is the company willing to attract every customer individually, depending on their preferences?
    • Data Management: Is it possible to capture, organise, and analyse customer data throughout all channels within one database that is accessible by all channels?
    • Technology: Which technology is needed within the new retail strategy?
    • Finance: Does the company have enough financial resources to implement the new retail strategy?

 

Depending on the company and their customers, the answers to these questions may vary. Each company has to decide on the strategy that best suits their customers’ preferences, and therefore the business should be aware of the shopping behaviour of the customers as they are essential to the organisation. The organisation’s management team must decide on an approach that works best for their initial and overall business strategy.

 

Examples of big multinational retailers that have successfully implemented an Omni-Channel retail strategy are Starbucks, British fashion retailer Mark & Spencer, and Albert Heijn. 
Starbucks customers are now able to check and reload their Starbucks balance card via their smartphones, on their PC’s, or while they are in the store and will be guaranteed an updated balance across all devices in real time. Moreover, customers are able to pay with their real balance card or with their phone in-store. All this technology is combined within a smartphone and will make the usual customer loyalty card and credit cards redundant making the customer’s life easier.


Mark & Spencer offers a ‘virtual rail’ in its biggest store in Amsterdam. Customers can see the latest trends on a screen and choose their favorite outfits from 50 samples and make their own combinations. Additionally, M&S launched a new website offering different delivery and payment options to optimise the customer experience. A new platform shows the customer the in-stock levels of the items, so they can order the desired product and collect it the next day from their local store. Marks & Spencer also makes special use of its mobile application. The app allows in-store customers who are unable to find a clothing item in their size, to simply scan the barcode of the product, and if it is available elsewhere, have it delivered to their local store, or to their homes, guaranteeing the most flexible customer experience. Furthermore, the app offers features like a store locator, and synchronises the virtual shopping basket that a customer has created on the website with their basket in the mobile app.

Food retailer Albert Heijn has implemented different strategies within its new Omni-Channel approach like AH pick-up points; where customers can pick up orders that were made online on   AH.nl or  bol.com, or from the online delivery service in the Randstad, in the West of the Netherlands. The Albert Heijn application “Appie” offers different features like creating a shopping list via voice input; countless recipes and also checks if the ingredients for the recipes are available in the store. It also connects to the AH loyalty system and captures the user’s buying preferences so that the customer receives customised product promotions and discounts. Customers are also able to send their current shopping list to a store via the app and schedule a pick-up time and location. This saves the customer time and makes the shopping experience as convenient as possible.

 

But how do the companies manage their retail strategy successfully?

 

Key success factors of each Omni-Channel strategy are:

  1. Convenience – Inventory visibility across all channels
  2. Consistency – Product, Price and Service consistency across all channels for all customers
  3. Relevance – Personalised advertisements and offers, meeting the customer’s preferences
  4. Empowerment – Retailers need to empower their customers to make the best purchasing decision and to bind them as a loyal customer to their company.
  5. Agility – The technology and analysis of customer behavior needs to be agile and fast across all channels to react on preference changes

 

Choosing the right strategy, depends on the factors mentioned above, but one has definitely to point out that whichever strategy is chosen the trend moves towards Omni-Channel Retailing. According to the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), retailers are under pressure to keep up with the market changes to improve customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction is the most important driver of a business. Omni-Channel Retailing increases marketing effectiveness, sales figures, and therefore, profit margins. Additionally, companies profit from an increased stock turnover, which decreases the overall cost of inventory. All big retailers aim at an increased market share in a highly competitive market and therefore need to stay up-to-date with the latest retail trends, and adjust their retail strategies in relation to the market changes and customer preferences. Customers are the winning party in this game, as retailers become more consumer focused and the shopping process becomes more customised and personalised.

 

Whichever strategy you choose, MOBGEN will build and implement the right app for you to support your company in pursuing the retail strategy that suits your customers best. MOBGEN builds and tests its apps from a consumer perspective in order to guarantee the best customer experience. Please don’t hesitate to contact us. If you need further information, we’ll be happy to help!

 
 

MOBGEN @ UNIVERSITY OF A CORUÑA

It is always fun to return to your former university stomping ground, especially if you come bearing Virtual Reality gifts. Adrian Lopez, Full Stack Web Developer and Sebastian Veldman, Innovation Lead visited the Faculty of Computer Science at the University of A Coruña (UDC)  on the 20th April to talk about the latest progress made in Virtual Reality at MOBGEN and MOBGEN:Lab.

 

We started by introducing what we do and how we work at MOBGEN, taking this opportunity to present some of our projects in Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and 360° imaging. We demoed the latest innovations in each one of this fields, showing examples of how brands and organisations can have an immersive experience by allowing real-time collaboration in VR (powered by your smartphones).

 

We also wanted to give the audience a hands on experience and brought some MOBGEN-branded VR Cardboard viewers. They were able to use the viewers with their own phones by downloading apps such as NYT VR (available for Android and iOS), and by playing 360° videos. YouTube actually integrated this functionality back in March 2015, and announced a few weeks ago that it will also start to give support for 360° live streaming and spatial audio. In addition to the Google Cardboard units, we also brought with us the renowned and famous Oculus Rift, with a demand so high that the estimated ship date is now August 2016, limited to one purchase by customer. Check the Oculus Rift site  for more details and/or order a full kit set.

 

The relationship between the A Coruña University (UDC) and MOBGEN is a strong one, with 15 of our 71 Spanish colleagues (including Adrian himself) having studied there in the past. Thanks in part to the collaboration of the dean, Luis Hervella and the vice dean of Institutional Relations, Adriana Dapena, the event was a big success and the response from both the students and the faculty was very positive. The room was at full capacity which indicated a great interest in the technologies used at MOBGEN among the students and professors who attended. This resulted in a collection of useful feedback points, and we will keep them in mind for upcoming events.

 

To summarise, we felt that the whole event was a triumph, and we look forward to the next one! If you would like to propose a new topic or idea for an event at the University, send us an email to info@mobgen.com. New talks and workshops coming soon!

 
 

MOBGEN Usability Lab a Lab Without a Lab

One of the things a UX researcher dreams about is a ‘usability lab’. As a student, I learned there are many ways to enhance a test by adding more dimensions to it in order to (objectively) measure the user experience. Formal labs are usually equipped with fancy (and expensive) tools to do just that, from eye-tracking to bio-feedback sensors and monitoring systems. Depending on what you need to test, you can have labs that look like plain rooms, perhaps just having a table inside, or you can also have themed rooms – for example a cosy living room or a sterile hospital room. And that can be very useful if you want to test, say, a new television (in its context of intended use, a living room), or a medical device (in a hospital surgery). Many of these facilities are like those interrogation rooms that we see in CSI: one main room where the interviewer and the interviewee sit (no good cop/bad cop play though), with a two-way mirror allowing anonymous observers to see the process from the adjacent room.

 

But what about testing mobile apps?  

 

If you have ever visited MOBGEN, then you would know that we do various types of usability testing, but… there is no defined ‘lab’ space. This is because we believe a mobile app is not a static, autonomous product to be tested within the boundaries of a room (like a television). As Erika Hall mentions in her book:

 

  • “We live in the future. There is no reason to test in anything called a ‘usability lab’, unless there’s a danger your experiment will escape and start wreaking havoc. A usability lab gives you the illusion of control when what you are trying to find out is how well your ideas work in the wild.”

Apps have their own ecosystem, and the context in which they will be used depends not only on the purpose of the app itself, but also on the people that hold that mobile device in their hands. And that context is always unpredictable. We may design for a purpose and an intended use, but it is a messy world. Just because a mobile is… mobile, people might be anywhere and under any circumstance. It might be that your app will be used by someone that has been trying to find a parking spot for an hour, holding a baby that is annoyed and crying, pushing a trolley along a supermarket corridor while manipulating a mobile ‘to buy list’ so that they don’t forget anything that needs to be bought for that week. Sure, you can test how clearly information is perceived within a formal lab, but what have you discovered about the context and the unintended usage of that product?

 

So what we prefer doing here at MOBGEN is to evaluate every time what kind of context to include in our tests, and what kind of experience the user might need to go through.

 

With that in mind, some of our tests still take place in our office using phones and prototypes, with cameras to document the interview. Other tests take place outside, in a car, a music studio, or in a gas station; wherever they need to be in order to be realistic. This way we can see how the digital artefact that we designed merges with the real world. Since the time that phones became smart, interactions are not just those that happen when tapping at your screen, so we want to observe the whole range of them and discover mental patterns in how people think.

 

What we also want to get right is the experience the participants will go through. So besides designing the usability of an application, we also design the tests themselves. Once, I was observing a usability testing within a formal lab (yes, behind that fancy mirror), the participant walked in, looked around, saw the desk loaded with an eye tracking device and said “Wow, what is that? What are you gonna do to me?” By avoiding this kind of lab environment we can create a more casual approach, making the participants feel relaxed and far less stressed. Although this strategy can sometimes be perceived as ‘unscientific’, it is much more natural, and it lowers the barriers people usually have about being really, really, really honest with giving feedback for your designs. ‘Scientific’ labs and formal places (with big names) tend to influence people to think that they have to act in a certain way, to say only good things about your designs. But we love and need critical feedback!

 

In another situation, we had to activate the internal (audio) communication between rooms in order to ask the participant to elaborate on an answer. The user hears the question, smiles, and says “thank you voice from above!”. It seems that many people are not fully aware of the capabilities of such rooms, and it is always tricky: do I let my participant know that they are being observed on the ‘other side’ (so that they are aware of the conditions), or do I let them think they aren’t being watched (so that they behave naturally)? Sure, this can create funny moments, but how does the participant actually feel? It is not an everyday situation, so it can potentially lead to additional stress which can colour your test results.

 

In short, formal usability labs have their place and can be useful, but they need to be considered as a tool, not a rule. The best way to test a product is contextually, in the environment that it will eventually be used. If that product is an app, chances are that it is not designed to be used within an interrogation room!

 

P.S. Did you know that you can become a participant in MOBGEN’s usability lab without a lab? Check it out!
Reporting live, from our lab without a lab, over.   

 
 

As part of the user experience design series at MOBGEN, we have recently covered the benefits of low-fidelity prototyping within design process of digital products. Additional to low-fi prototypes, designers can also make use of high-fidelity prototyping in their process to communicate or validate concepts.

 

With the recent announcement of Origami studio by Facebook, and the Framer’s upgrade – some of the tools used in the industry for creating high-fidelity interactive prototypes – the timing for this post could not have been better.

 

What is it?

The fidelity of the prototype refers to the level of details and functionality built into a prototype. In this sense, a high-fidelity (sometimes referred as high-fi or hi-fi) prototype is a computer-based interactive representation of the product in its closest resemblance to the final design in terms of details and functionality. The “high” in high-fidelity refers to the level of comprehensiveness that allows you to examine usability questions in detail and make conclusions about the user behaviour.

 

The hi-fi prototypes cover not only the user interface (UI) of the product in terms of visuals and aesthetics, but also the user experience (UX) aspects in terms of interactions, user flow and behaviour.

 

You might be thinking, lo-fi, hi-fi, (do these, by chance, have anything to do with wi-fi?) – what is the need for another technique and how is this better than lo-fi?

 

Now, it is not a question of which usability testing technique is better, and perhaps you may even need a combination of the two (+ other prototyping methods) in your design process, but it is the matter of when to use which method, and why? Extensive research has been done in literature proving that both methods are basically equivalent in finding usability issues (Walker et al 2002). At MOBGEN, we broadly use both techniques depending on the stage of the design process and the maturity level of our designs. In fact, often designers make various prototypes using more than one technique, moving towards the final production methods as the designs mature towards completion (Newman & Landay, 2000).

 

When?

 

So, when is the right time to use hi-fi prototypes?

  • When you have visual designs of your product
  • When you have an idea about interactive elements, such as navigational schemas from a screen to another; animations; and mini-interactions, and are able to prototype them
  • When you want to test the details of your products in terms of UI elements, colour schemes or copy
  • When you want to test the transitions, animations, and effects of them on the user and user behaviour
  • When you want to know how your target users feel about your product and you want to get their opinions on your designs.

 

 

Why?

 

The main purpose of interactive prototypes is their use in the usability testing of the product have target users validate it. It is important to test your product before launching it in the market to foresee any issues or failures. Getting the most out of the feedback can be done with a prototype that is closest to the final product in its detail and functionality.

 

In addition to validating designs, interactive prototypes can be used for presentations and pitches. When you want to communicate the designs and functionalities of your product to your team members, clients or other stakeholders in the project, and when the functional build of the software is not developed, a high-fidelity prototype does the job very well.

 

There are multiple benefits of using high-fidelity prototypes in product design:

  • Interactive prototypes are made as close to the true graphical representation of the products as they can to allow thorough testing on all the detailed aspects, including UI components, colours, layouts, the information hierarchy, mental load of the screens on users, and other interactions.
  • They provide a good base in terms of project management for making estimates on how much time is needed for implementation and quality assurance testing
  • The availability of interactive prototypes can improve the collaboration with developers as they will have a clearer idea on how the application should behave
  • Most importantly, by allowing you to test your product, the prototypes can save the company the cost in terms of time and money on building something that would have had little success in the market.

 

As with everything, there is always the other side of the coin, and so are there drawbacks in using high-fidelity prototypes in your design process:

 

  • Hi-fi prototypes are costly in terms of time and resources to produce compared to their low-fidelity cousins.
  • Because it is more time-consuming to change the designs, it is harder to make on-the-go fixes in between users during a usability testing if you want to update your prototype quickly to get better feedback.
  • As hi-fi prototypes have a finished look, participants in usability testings may not feel comfortable making critiques or pointing out flaws in the designs.

 

How? Materials and methods.

 

In order to create an interactive prototype, you need to get all your ingredients ready. First of all, prepare your visuals and set your user flows. Identify all the transitions and animations you want to create between different objects or screens. Finally, choose the right tool according to your needs. There is a growing list of prototyping tools available for designers.

 

Some of the top mobile and web software prototyping tools currently in the industry are:

 

The web has enough information on comparing pros and cons of each tool that we do not want to repeat again here. Although, what is important to mention here is that when choosing your most optimal prototyping tool, you need to base your decisions on practical considerations:

  • Aesthetics of the produced prototype, in terms of visuals and interactions giving a native feeling; how fluid the animations are, and so on.
  • The availability of established interaction models in the software that you can use to drag and drop in order to create your prototypes quickly
  • Handling of assets, in terms of syncing with popular cloud-based platforms, ease of storing and searching assets in the software, and ease of updating all instances when changing the source asset.
  • Compatibility with Photoshop, Illustrator, Sketch or any of your favourite tools to generate visuals
  • Ability to preview your prototypes across different-sized devices and platforms
  • Playback speed
  • Publishing capabilities to enable sharing with your clients and other stakeholders
  • Availability of library with common UI elements to aid creating quick screens
  • Collaboration, in terms of allowing colleagues or others to comment or feedback on features

 

As all design projects have different needs and teams have different standards or goals, you can make your decisions accordingly. We at MOBGEN have used Invision, Pixate, and Principle in the past and have currently opted for Proto.io. We prefer Proto.io for its simplicity and how fast you can create things with it. It has a library with standard interface elements that you can use to create your screens quickly without having to switch to Photoshop for simple elements. It is web-based and keeps your projects on the ‘cloud’ – meaning that if you switch devices, you can access it from anywhere (the mobile app even has an offline mode to access your prototypes without internet). It is suitable for both beginner and advanced users; you get a hold of the app quickly thanks to the simplicity of established triggers and interactions, while the advanced users can enjoy the vast amount of capabilities enabling customised codes.  

 

Practical tips from MOBGEN:

From our experience with creating interactive prototypes and using them in usability testings, we have learned a lot in how to achieve the best results. To save you some time and many lessons to learn, we wanted to share some practical tips:

  • Inform the users that it is the prototype that is being tested, and not the user or their capabilities. It is important for users to know that this is only a prototype; it is an early product idea and that there may be areas that are not functioning. They should also not see this as a finished product and should feel comfortable pointing out flaws in the design.
  • If time permits, allow yourself a window in between users, in case you need to make improvements before the next user. This way you maximise the amount of improvements you can make during the testing session.
  • While formal usability testing sessions are useful, it can also be time-consuming. Use your interactive prototypes to show and get quick feedback anywhere anytime. Ask a colleague (who is not familiar with the project), a friend, or even your mum to use the app and tell you what they think about it.
  • Generally, the results of testing with hi-fi prototyping are used to revise your user interface. Even before the test, be clear about what you want to achieve through the usability testing and how you will approach the results. In terms of project management, make it clear to your team how you will be implementing the improvements that you have achieved from your findings.
  • When testing a prototype of an app with a long flow, we have found that when something goes wrong and the app crashes, the user will have to start the whole flow from the beginning, to both the tester and user’s annoyance. A practical solution we have come up with to solve this is creating several milestones in the flow (Section 1 – sign up, Section 2 – onboarding, section 3 – personal profile, etc…, for example) and create a starting page in the prototype with shortcuts to each of these milestones. This way, if the app crashes you can pick up from where you were instead of having to start from the beginning.

Hui's-project

[an example of an interactive prototype of a personal financial management tool made by our designer Hui Lin during his internship]

In conclusion,

 

In their paper Designing for Usability: Key Principles and What Designers Think, Gould and Lewis (1985) discuss three principles for designing in the field of information technology: (1) early focus on users, (2) empirical measurement using prototypes and (3) iterative design.

Following these principles at MOBGEN, we believe in the motto: “User-centred design starts with the user and ends with the user.” Throughout all the stages of our work, we try to put ourselves in the shoes of the user. We cannot stress enough the importance of testing a prototype as early in the product development process as possible. These prototypes, low-fidelity or high, which can be validated and refined based on feedback gathered, serve as a powerful tool in uncovering the missing gaps in your designs, and when used in iterative cycles of design and development, will bring you closer to the realisation of the killer app you are after.

 

If you’d like to receive more information regarding prototyping for your project, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

 

References:

Gould, J. D., & Lewis, C. (1985). Designing for usability: Key principles and what designers think. Communications of the ACM, 28(3), 300–311.

 

Walker, M., Takayama, L., & Landay, J.A. (2002). High-fidelity or low-fidelity, paper or computer? Choosing attributes when testing web prototypes, Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 46th Annual Meeting, 661–665.

 

Newman, M. W., & Landay, J. A. (2000). Sitemaps, storyboards, and specifications: A sketch of web site design practice. Designing Interactive Systems, 263-274.

 
 

Mobile workforce enablement

A delicate but business critical transformation

For decades, technology has shaped how we perform our work and conduct business. The introduction of the car has led to decentralisation and local ecosystems. The introduction of digital technologies in the 80s and 90s has led to globalisation dissolving the geographical barriers to communicate and interact. With the current mobile technologies and innovations, we’re merging the physical with the digital world, allowing for communication and interaction anywhere anytime without spatial barriers delivering a huge potential in how we shape and conduct business: Enabling enterprise mobility.

 

Enterprise mobility is not about transforming your entire business to mobile devices, it is about complementing and implementing critical processes through the use of mobile technologies, allowing employees to tap into the company’s resources anywhere and anytime resulting in:

 

  • Unified communications
  • Ubiquitous supply and access to up-to-date business information
  • Process efficiency improvement
  • Quality enhancements
  • Employee satisfaction

 

Although above benefits are achievable, mobilising your workforce shouldn’t be underestimated. The development and implementation is a delicate process in striking the right balance between usability, connectivity and security; areas companies constantly struggle with.

 

Usability

In order to create, deliver and implement mobile services/solutions that are of real benefit and highly relevant for employees, a perfect understanding of the end-user is needed. By involving employees in all stages of the development process, it is possible to uncover their behaviour, values and needs. This will ensure that all choices are based on the actual insights of the end-users, making it possible to validate, create and deliver solutions that tap into all relevant touch-points of the end-user, resulting in active employee usage and adoption of the platform.

 

Connectivity

The success of mobile employee solutions can only be achieved by improving and speeding up workflows and processes, instead of creating additional or new ones. Crucial and at the same time very critical to enhancing these workflows is connecting and integrating existing systems, applications and databases. By enabling enterprise and solution architects to engage with key systems, suppliers, stakeholders and assess API availability and quality, it is possible to create and map a clear system architecture and integration plan. This will deliver a clear insight into how to integrate and optimise existing systems, resulting in a better performance and workflow.

 

Security

Mobile enterprise solutions tend to have access to critical and confidential business information, and mobile devices are more vulnerable in getting lost, stolen or hacked, security therefore, is one of the biggest challenges and concerns in developing mobile enterprise solutions. To reduce this vulnerability, it is key to understand the risk rate of specific information and functionalities within the platform. Once a clear risk profile has been determined, a tailored security plan can be put in place and validated via penetration and security testing, enabling security measures like data encryption, password and biometric protection, token authentication, and remote device management.

 

A great example of mobile enterprise solutions is Shell’s Sales Enhancement Platform, designed, developed and deployed by MOBGEN. This Sales Enhancement platform is a multi-platform solution used by Shell’s global sales representatives and distributors. The platform consists of the following the platforms:

 

  1. Native iOS (iPad) app
  2. Native Android (SAFE compliant devices) app,
  3. Web Portal (PHP frontend, IE8 compliant),
  4. CMS (PHP frontend, IE8 compliant),
  5. Back-End REST API (PHP).

 

The platform provides Shell’s global sales representatives and distributors access to (always up-to-date) sales materials such as price-lists, tools to calculate the benefit of Shell products in comparison with competing products, discovery sheets to instantly make meeting notes, videos, audio, images, 3D interactive product demonstrations, and more providing the tools to conduct solid commercial conversations and presentations with existing and prospective customers. This ultimately results in growth in new and existing businesses both accessible on- and offline. Besides using Shell provided sales materials, representatives are able to add and upload their own presentations and materials. They can also instantly share relevant information (meeting notes, PDF’s, calculation etc.) with the client or prospect.

 

Via the sales enhancement platform, Shell’s worldwide sales team can conduct productive sales meetings with just one touch device, instead of bringing laptops, brochures, excel calculation sheets etc. to a meeting, allowing them to travel light, and sell fast. This platform demonstrates how mobile enterprise solutions can benefit any company in about every industry improving productivity, knowledge and engagement. Although the penetration of mobile usage does vary among industries, and whether or not it is about improving business processes or servicing existing clients or prospects, mobility will and is transforming enterprises, resulting in an increase of mobility investments. This is something we’ve also experienced within MOBGEN in recent years. The design, development, and implementation of mobile applications is to improve sales, customer relationship management, training, employee motivation, healthcare process optimisation, human resource and financial management. A strong, consistent and long-term mobile workforce enablement will strengthen the relationship between companies, employees, and customers by leveraging on mobile technologies and innovations.

 

A few examples of mobile workforce enablement:


(How drones are helping companies perform inspections in a safe and speedy way)


(Great example on how mobile and virtual reality can help educating employees/trainees on a global scale with a minimum investment)

 
 

Scanning for Virtual Reality

On Thursday 24th March, MOBGEN:Lab was invited to present at the Virtual Reality (VR) expert meeting at the Coded Matter(s) #13: Compiled Landscapes event. The reason for the invite was to showcase ‘Project Construct’, a virtual reality app developed by MOBGEN:Lab that allows people to digitally collaborate in a 3D environment. The session was organised by FIBER under the series that is called Coded Matter(s); a range of events with presentations, workshops and performances that explore the possibilities and pitfalls of emerging digital culture.

Sebastian Veldman demonstrated how Project Construct is going to change the way that brands and organisations can offer an immersive experience. The key difference when comparing with VR apps that are available in the market nowadays is that Project Construct allows people to real-time collaborate in VR, all powered by your smartphone! This means that the VR channel is no longer bound to a 1-on-1 relationship, it’s has become a collaborative environment that can be shared with multiple people at the same time! With this technology advancement we unlock the potential to bring digital storytelling to a whole new level were people can influence the experience by interacting with the brand in the middle. The demonstration encouraged a good discussion between virtual reality experts, all acknowledging that socialising VR is the next big thing to come.



Interested in Project Construct and want to receive more information about it? Don’t hesitate to contact us: info@mobgen.com

 
 

Disruptive thinking @ TU Delft

MOBGEN had the pleasure of attending the IOB fair at TU Delft, where a team of delegates from MOBGEN’s Creative and Lab departments hosted a 2-hour disruptive thinking workshop. Participants were bachelor and master students from the integrated product design, design for interaction and strategic design streams of TU Delft.

MOBGEN has a history of academia collaborations including hosting a number of Masters thesis project investigations and a JMP (Joint Master Project) with TU Delft students. Over the years of these collaborations it has become clear that there are some subtle but distinct differences in the design methodologies that businesses and institutions follow. On the one hand most academic institutions teach an elaborate and precise road towards conceptualisation, including a lot of research steps until the first ideas start to become defined. Normally, at TU Delft, students would implement this into 3- or 6-month projects. Businesses on the other hand, need to fast-forward this process in order to get quick results (taking into account speed-to-market, budgets and other resources). It is often the case that conceptualisation might only have few weeks of time until ideas need to be shaped to a concrete level. We often need to start with assumptions, and what we already know, in order to generate ideas (that will be tested later and researched upon users). This is a more ‘lean’ approach to design, and it is exactly what MOBGEN wanted to showcase to the participating TU Delft students.

Lean Thinking

Lean Thinking

  • To demonstrate a lean conceptual process during the workshop, we wanted to give briefs in the same format as we use in large real-world agile projects, so we decided to present 4 user stories as the challenges. We also assigned fictional companies to each of the user stories to provide some context:
  • Insuras (a global Insurance company)
  • Enormart (the world’s biggest Supermarket)
  • Energion (a forward-thinking Energy provider)
  • Petrolus (a Fuel and lubricants company)

The students, split into 4 groups, were asked to come up with ideas given the 4 briefs and the companies assigned to them. In order to bring up assumptions and continue building on them, the process was the following:

  • Mindmap, what do you know about the given situation/company?
  • Check up screens
  • Make a flow of the screens, telling the story from a user perspective
  • (Optional) digitally prototype your flow
  • Pitch to each other, including how you framed your problem area, your solution/story, and how the user gets benefits from this.

 

Scenarios

Companies

1. Monitoring Dashboard

As a user, I want to control everything even when I am away, so that I don’t waste time and energy.
energion
2. Leaderboard

As a user, I want to be able to see how I compare my fuel consumption to others (contacts, neighbours, city, country), so that I know my performance.
petrolus
3. Redeem coupon

As a user, I want to be able to collect and redeem coupons at the supermarket, so that I always benefit from offers being paperless.
enormart
4. Compare prices

As a user, I want to be able to compare prices, so that I can make sure I buy the one that really benefits me.
insuras

 

Despite the time limitations (and an unexpected fire alarm!) that kept the actual working time to 1 hour, we were extremely impressed by the pitched concepts. Teams were able to think outside of the box, presenting innovations such as coupon-sharing platforms (including collective points and team strategies) and a zombie themed real-world ‘escape’ game to unlock additional offers. We saw a team transforming energy into an engaging personal challenge, an electric bike management app that gives back to the grid, and a proposal that we can simplify a search for an insurance by first selecting a typical ‘persona’ and then customising from there.

The MOBGEN team of Natalia, Sebastian, Nick and Eleonora certainly enjoyed their time at the IOB fair, and the feedback from the students was extremely positive. One thing for sure is that with the amount of talent in the program at TU Delft, the future of product and service design is rosy.

 
 

The data game: Do you see numbers or opportunities?

There are only 2 ways of playing a strategy game, be it chess, billiards, or poker. You can wait for your turn and devise the next move, or you can plan the next 10 moves for every step you take. Needless to say, good players never wait for their turn.

In the tech world, we have a slightly different game. It is called the data game. We’ve come up with several terms for it that you may have heard of, such as machine learning, advanced analytics, behavioural analytics, big data etc. In the end, they share the same goal, planning and predicting the next move.

Playing this game, like any other game, requires practice, but it is one of the most versatile and fast changing games you can play. The rules are not really set, and what might have been true yesterday may no longer be valid today. Your benchmarks and targets should change their levels frequently because your solution needs to be optimised constantly! And if you don’t… make no mistake, your competitor will change them for you.

It is important to reiterate that data analytics unfortunately has become another buzzword in today’s tech world. Many people talk about it, but few understand its importance, and how to apply it. Big companies like Facebook and Google repeat over and over again that they do not take a single step which is not data-driven and that might resonate as a simple principle, but have you ever found yourself reading a report that only gives you numbers? That you look at it and just try to react by seeing if they are growing or declining.

As stated before, a good player needs to plan in advance the next 10 moves, play out scenarios and contextualise the data. So how do you apply it to your enterprise and products?

If you are an enterprise trying to thrive in the digital world either via web or mobile, the first step is to know what to use data analytics for:

  1. Refine the value proposition – What you want to offer the users can be very different from what they actually want.
    • A successful solution is an ever-changing one. It has to always be optimised also in terms of a value proposition, and data analytics can show you what to “sell” based on what the customer wants to “buy”.
    • Re-evaluate if what you are trying to sell is beneficial to the customers at that point in time and place.
  2. Understand the actual user behaviour – When defining the features and goal of the app, we think that it is all straightforward and intuitive, but the reality is that people will find alternative ways to use our solution and the actual behaviour might be completely different.
    • Data will tell you what the most accessed features are, how people engage with them, and how they actually utilise them for their own benefit.
  3. Perform a natural selection of your ideas – Creating a good website or app is many times tied to our own subjective view; it has to be actually validated by observing the usage numbers.
    • Define what success means to you and how it’s measured.
    • Understand which features are over/under-performing, and decide if you still want to support them.
    • For every new idea/feature that comes up, make an evaluation based on the data you observed previously. Does it have the potential to be successful, or is there no data to support it?
  4. Find ways to monetise on your solution – The digital economy is also a dynamic field. The way players monetise digital solutions have changed dramatically over the last few years.
    • You will find out via data analytics that you can monetise on features that are complimentary to your value proposition, but are intensively used and part of the entire user experience.

After understanding what you can, and most importantly, need to accomplish with data, you actually need to know how to squeeze the juice out of those stats. Data analysis is about simple steps of a thinking methodology. When looking at stats, you should try to:

  1. Identify what the facts are (raw data put into context)
  2. Make assumptions (interpreting a data pattern or distribution)
  3. Draw a conclusion (turn your assumption into a prediction)
  4. Sketch an action plan to validate your assumption (Define what are the next step to make sure you are going in the right direction)

By using this simple thinking structure, you can turn any report into an actionable plan, and that will give you a powerful process to properly interpret situations, predict outcomes, and make improvement decisions.

But as we all know, having the theory is not enough. We need the decisive factor in any game, which is the actual player. “Analytical Skills” is something you see in many CVs, and people usually take what it actually means for granted. In a nutshell, it is possessing the skills to actually frame the right questions, identify opportunities, and play out future scenarios. Let’s put things into perspective and get into a player’s head:

  • My app has an average session duration of 60 seconds.
    • Are these stats good or bad? Are they based on benchmarks or historical data?
  • Users utilise 30% of my available features within the 60 seconds
    • Which features need to be optimised, and how much of it?
    • What should be tested to validate that?
    • How long should it be tested for?
  • The remaining 70% of my features is actually 50% of my app code
    • How fast can I make changes?
    • How impactful could those changes be?
  • Of the 70%, many are also used in successful apps from other industries
    • Why do other companies have better/worse stats? Can I use strategies from other industries?
  • The new release is coming up and we have the same capacity to develop new features that we had for the previous release
    • What is a good/bad idea for a feature? Why?
    • What have I learned?
  • How has my business and data changed recently?
    • What is no longer applicable as a measure for success?
    • Which stats are actually supporting my value proposition and business case?

Now that you have the basics, let’s play the game! Remember, it is with the most simplistic data that you can get the most juice out of it. So, look at your last web/app performance report and tell me, do you see numbers or opportunities?

If you want us to help you get the most out of your opportunities, or you just want to receive more information about analytics for your project, please don’t hesitate to contact us: info@mobgen.com

 
 

Holy crap the Mobile World Congress is big. Like really big. We are talking more than 2,000 exhibitors sprawled over 9 football stadium sized halls, ranging from the gargantuan stands of Samsung, Intel, Qualcomm and Huawei to the thousands of miniscule parts manufacturers and service providers with cookie-cutter names and offerings. As always, Apple was conspicuous by being absent, but literally everyone else in the tech game was at MWC2016. I guess it doesn’t hurt that Barcelona makes for an amazing host city, so it is no surprise that this attracted over 100,000 attendees along with Mark Zuckerberg and Lewis Hamilton keynotes. The event is well positioned as a barometer for the next wave of technology that will breakthrough into consumers’ hands, and it spans well beyond the boundaries of what we traditionally think of as mobile.
So what are the big trends, and what impact will they have?

5G
Super fast (well over 1gbps compared to 30-50mbps) and super low latency (0.75ms or less compared to 25ms), 5G wireless connections will be at least 12 times faster on average than your current 4G LTE speeds. When will we get it? Probably not before 2020. Why is it important? Well, all of the following trends rely on massive amounts of data delivered as quickly as possible…

Virtual Reality
On roughly every third stand there was a VR setup of some description, ranging in scale from simple maintenance displays up to the crazy big Samsung Roller-Coaster experience complete with moving chairs and a seatbelt requirement. We had a play with some of the most exciting consumer-ready VR headsets including HTC’s Vive, the aforementioned Samsung Gear VR and of course Oculus Rift – and they are all essentially variations on the same theme. The perception of depth and the immersion of VR have reached amazing levels, and the challenge is there to make the most creative content.

The trend here is clear – video in all variations is being hailed as the key area for growth in digital for the next few years, whether it be regular footage, 360 videos, AR or VR.

MWC-2016


The Connected Car Challenge
With more than 300k tweets over the 4 days, it was clear that everyone is trying to solve the mystery of how the driving experience can change through increased connectivity. Ford has managed to get Toyota to join their ecosystem around the Sync platform (although at the moment their UI leaves a lot to be desired), SAP is trying to position itself as an aggregator and Jaguar demoed an impressive in-car dashboard that is already in production.

mwc-2016

But… there was little focus on the platforms from Apple and Google, and if it was there it felt like more of a compatibility afterthought than a core system. Most OEMs keep focusing on developing their own experiences while also making small bets developing partnerships. Porsche was an exception, choosing Carplay for this reason: “car interface decisions made today take 4 years to come to market and will then be sold in vehicles for another 5 years after that, so they will be significantly out of date. We need to focus on modular and updatable solutions for vehicle cabin technologies.” Yassss.

mwc-2016

Daimler-Benz showcased some amazing concept vehicles, and their automated driving vision was inspiring. Shell’s David Bunch and Marc Decorte presented to packed rooms on the future of energy and transport (big thanks to the MOBGEN team who work on the Shell API document and website for this!), and the reception was very positive about the innovation and strategy behind it all. Lots of excitement also around Project M.

mwc-2016

loT FTW
On every second stand there was an “Internet of Things” display. Everything is connected now – life, health, home, car, pets, food and now even bikes and snowboards. It is also evident that almost every company is “playing” in their non-origin territory. For example, MasterCard now promoting connected home services. The arena is common to all and there is a rapidly emerging realisation that everyone wants a piece of the new pie. Some of the most impressive examples were from the industrial sector, with companies like Libelium making very flexible connected sensor boxes that can be used to measure almost anything.

mwc-2016

Intel had one of our favourite stands, displaying a number of use cases for their technology like BMX-bike trick measurements and crop health data mapping.
On the flipside there were a number of fails in IoT displays on the other stands – bluescreens, missed cues and error messages abounded as people tried to demo things that weren’t ready for prime time. Plenty of face-planting robots too, much to the entertainment of the masses.

Watches and wearables
Continuing the trend from the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas last month, second generation Smart Watches were introduced to the MWC audience, although the more common response was a yawn. Accessories brands such as Fossil and Guess focused on bolting-on smart functionality to existing models while retaining the traditional Quartz and Mechanical watch faces. Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer, in partnership with Intel, tried to take on the Apple Watch with its $1500 titanium encased model. The new Samsung watches are impressive, but it seems there are none will rival the success of Apple in this area in the short term.

IMG_0407-2

While accessories and technology brands are trying to discover their identity and role in the Smart Watch space, companies like Sony and Samsung gave us an exciting sneak peek into how the future connected home will look like. Inspired by Amazon’s Alexa, Sony is bringing to life its own digital assistant that can manage your calendar, send texts on your behalf and change the lighting in the house depending on the time and the mood. Samsung’s new generation smartphones come with a remote that easily connects with all Smart Home peripherals and allows users to take control of all devices.

Wild Cards
IBM is putting all their eggs into the contextual computing area with their Watson program. This is big data and pattern recognition taken to the next level, and they define it as the way to actually take all of the ‘dark data’ created by the above trends and making some sense of them all.

mwc-2016

The surprise of the event for me was a smallish area of a dozen stands in the back of hall 8 showcasing the potential of graphene. This 2D carbon is 100 times stronger than steel, transparent, electric and heat conductive, and it can be printed, inked, pressed, grown, powdered, molded, synthesized… it is pretty much magic. Competing universities were showing off their experiments, including flexible screens, flexible batteries, conductive everything, sensor arrays etc. To be completely honest I didn’t understand much of what they were saying, but I trust that this is a vision of the future.

Is there a conclusion?

The discussion is no longer purely about devices and hardware, as access to these has been democratised. Instead it is about what services can be made available across the many touchpoints. Wearables, Cars, screens and accessories of the future will be connected to your custom profile. Many retailers and tech companies seem to get this, and now focus more and more on building open APIs and SDKs to their services and content. MOBGEN and other creative, innovative mobile companies who can understand how to use these feeds are perfectly positioned for maximum win. Also, graphene.

mwc-2016

 

 
 

How can you ensure a smooth and fully functional experience for end-users? How much testing is needed? When and how do you start the manual and automation testing, and what do you automate? These are a few of the questions that have attracted much debate over the years. This post is to shed some light on how MOBGEN is using automation testing and how it helps in improving the quality of the products we deliver.

What is automation testing?

Automated testing is the process, by using specific software, of controlling test execution and gathering results. This specific software is being used to simulate human interaction with the selected platform, translating human actions defined in test cases into commands. To gather test results, it includes graphical reports generated with the expected value and the one obtained during the execution.

 

Why automate?

It brings value to all stakeholders involved in the software application life cycle:

  • Developers like it because it offers immediate feedback in case the new functionalities they implemented broke the previous implementation. In addition, faster feedback loop leads to faster fixes.
  • Testers like it because it increases testing coverage and gives them room for focusing on the newly implemented functionalities. This leads to more confidence for testers that they are delivering good quality products.
  • Managers and decision makers like it because it offers them quick reports based on which they can then make informed decisions.
  • Business stakeholders like it because in combination with manual testing it offers a smooth and fully functional customer experience.      

 

What challenges did we face at MOBGEN?

Mobile technology is used more and more nowadays, and it is essential for us to stand out on a quality level, to move things from ‘Good’ to ‘Great’. However, being able to test a mobile app in a relevant way is very challenging. Below is a list of the challenges we faced while using automation testing for our clients:

  • Multiple platforms – unfortunately testing for Android is not the same as testing on iOS. The testing tools and frameworks available for Android are significantly different for iOS. Also, the UI layouts are built differently on each platform.
  • Multiple environments: we wanted to run the automation scripts on different environments during the development cycle.
  • Multiple markets: we are developing an international application, so that different markets with different languages could to be tested using the same tests.

 

  • Multiple devices: we wanted to make sure the application ran successfully  on multiple devices with different specifications.

 

  • Multiple versions: with every new version of the app, changes can modify application behaviour. Test cases maintenance may be needed.

What to automate in order to bring value

On projects we applied automation at MOBGEN, the following scenarios led us to successful strategies in ensuring the product quality:

  • API testing: the API is the place where the business logic is coded. The frontend applications only display the results and the error messages provided by the API.  Automating these calls at an earlier stage during the software development life cycle allowed us to concentrate on  more complete user-experience tests once the UI was released.
  • Regression Testing: this is the biggest headache for every QA department. It is a time/resources consuming task, very tedious and repetitive. Testers can get bored or distracted leading to errors or mistakes. We defined automated testing to avoid this issues.
  • Data Driven Testing: one application could have functions with a lot of different inputs to validate. Automated testing helped us in setting a big set of data and repeat one single test with every defined value, saving resources and increasing the test coverage.
  • App upgrade testing: mobile application development normally includes new versions that will be released using Android/iOS online stores. We know how important it is to get a smooth app upgrade, so we automated this process.

What tools do we use?

You can automate iOS/Android applications with different solutions. Here at MOBGEN, we have developed our own mobile testing tool that integrates TestNG and Appium to automate both mobile platforms with the same code. This helps us save time, and ensures high reliability and easy maintenance. They are two of the most popular tools used for mobile automated testing, providing big communities to get support from. TestNG is taking care of all the testing setup, helping with defining test cases, running them, and generating graphical reports to keep our developers and clients on track of our progress. Appium is the software that manages device connection and sends commands to them simulating manual interaction.  

For API testing, we use REST Assured framework. It introduces the simplicity of testing web services from dynamic languages like Groovy or Ruby to Java.

One standard solution in a mobile application development process is to use a server to generate application builds from time to time. We use Bamboo to generate those builds and we also schedule when to run the automated tests (nightly, on-demand or after each build), publish the generated reports, and updateg test execution results. Bamboo server also provides our integration with Jira, our issue tracking tool, helping on linking builds, and automation results.

On top of this, we know how important it is to use a flexible system with a high rate of scalability. We have built our Mobile Automation Testing tool keeping in mind how to easily add multiple devices, markets and environments, making automation able to run test cases over all possible combinations of the previous elements.

To close the loop, we are also integrating our automation framework results with our test case management tool. Once automation has finished, test results are directly updated into our test case execution reports, saving time and avoiding possible mistakes.

Conclusion

Automation is a testing solution that will bring extra value to all stakeholders involved in the software application lifecycle. It provides extra tools and resources, allowing QA departments to go further on ensuring the best quality is delivered. It is easy to integrate with the software development process and then schedule and run infinite times automated test cases at any time. It will also help in avoiding common human mistakes, and it is faster than a human tester, delivering immediate feedback from testers to developers.
Here at MOBGEN, we’ve applied all our experiences in testing to develop our automation tools and making them flexible and capable of providing solutions to every software application we face. This helps ensure that we are delivering the best quality products and keeping our clients satisfied.

If you’d like to receive more information about automated testing, or when you’re interested in the service for your project, please don’t hesitate to contact us: info@mobgen.com!

 

 
 

Apple Tech Talks: “The future of TV is Apps”

Apple recently announced the new “Apple Tech Talks” in several cities around the world, and MOBGEN was present at the London edition along with about two hundred other developers from all over the world.

The talks were thought-provoking, divided into different topics such as design, remote focus & game controller, media playback, on-demand resources, best practices, etc. It was a great opportunity to meet and talk with other developers.

Until recently, the previous generations of AppleTV allowed us to play movies, TV series, and make screencasts from our mobile, tablet or computer. But with the 4th generation, Apple wants to repeat the success of the iOS ecosystem by adding an App Store to the TV, which means you can install a lot of applications and games on the new device. This has opened up a whole new world for brands to showcase their products and content.

tvOS
The new system called tvOS, is a fork of iOS. This is a great advantage for the users that will find a familiar environment and a very simple adaptation to the big screen. Developers will also find it easy to adapt their applications from iOS to tvOS.

Apple offers a new way to make applications, through templates using web technologies, such as JavaScript and TVML (TV Markup Language) focusing on multimedia content.

The new AppleTV brings a new interface with parallax effect on focused elements. “People use the remote to navigate through interface elements such as movie posters, apps, or buttons, highlighting each item as they come to it. A UI element is considered focused or in focus when the user highlights an item, but has not selected the item.”

 

Siri Remote
The big innovation is the “Siri Remote”. It has a touch surface like a trackpad, which brings the touch experience directly to the TV. Forget the cursor as a computer and move the focus around the elements in the interface. It is very simple and fast. The touch surface detects multiple gestures such as Swipe, Click and Tap.

Siri Remote gets its name from the new high-functionality, Siri, the Apple’s voice assistant. “What’s the fastest way to finding out what you’re looking for? Ask Siri”. You can search for a movie, open a game app, or play a music album directly with Siri.

“Play more songs by this artist”
“Turn on closed captioning”
“What’s the temperature outside?”
“Who is winning the Cubs game?”
“Fast-forward two minutes”
“Launch Beat Sports”
“What did he just say?”
“Reduce loud sounds”
“Who directed this movie?”

It’s amazing!

In addition, you can connect any Bluetooth Game Controller to play your favorite games.

 

Techie stuff
AppleTV 4th Gen is powered by a dual core Apple A8 processor, the same as iPhone6. It has 2 GB of RAM and an internal flash memory storage of 32 or 64 gigabytes, depending on the model, which will have no problems running the latest games.

You can connect to the TV via an HDMI port supporting a maximum resolution of 1080p. It is designed to depend only on online content, so there isn’t any USB port to connect our pendrives to play movies.

Connectivity includes HDMI supporting 1080p, Ethernet, USB-C port, 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth 4.0. This model does not have an optical audio output port.

Moreover, the “Siri Remote” also has an accelerometer, gyroscope, Bluetooth 4.0, IR and Lightning whereby your battery will last a whole month with a single charge.

appleTV2-708x413-use this one for in between the article somewhere

The future of television
The internet has changed the way we consume and produce television. We used to have to wait for a television broadcast to watch a TV programme but today, with the internet, viewers can watch the football, catch up on the news, and the latest movies when they want, and sometimes simultaneously with their computer, tablet or smartphones.

TV channels have their own applications and web pages to release delayed content, and this is one of the reasons why Apple wants to be in our homes. “Apple TV gives you access to the most riveting entertainment content. Apps like Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes have full catalogs of hit movies and TV shows. HBO NOW and SHOWTIME bring you Hollywood blockbusters and binge-worthy original series. You’ll also find your favorite programs and professional sports. Breaking news and weather. Fun stuff just for kids. Educational programming, music concerts, and more. It’s hard to believe so much great content can fit into such a tiny package.”

In the words of Apple: “The future of TV is Apps“, and it is happening with iOS. Its success depends on great developers, so Apple leaves the future of television in their hands.

Another example is the Airbnb App. “Every aspect of this app is designed to emphasise the elements that are right for the beginning of your journey. You won’t find long passages of text or logistical details; instead it’s optimised for immersive photos and the fun of discovery”. AppleTV brings ecommerce into the living room, which is perfect for bringing all the family together.

A new product always attracts new users. Anyone with an “Apple Developer Programme” can sell their own applications and games. If you have already published an application for iPhone, you can adapt it to the TV without much effort.

One of the strong points are the games. You only need a remote bluetooth gamepad to have a console. There are good examples like Guitar Hero, Skylanders Superchargers, Rayman Adventures and Beat Sports.

 

Possibilities for brands
There are a lot of possibilities with the multimedia content. You could buy or rent a movie, watch TV online,  listening to your music, etc. But there are also endless opportunities for brands. With the new open tvOS, there is a new medium for brands to showcase their products. There are a lot of possibilities to serve their target audience with interesting content or (live) reports of events they’re organising.

For example, Burberry presented its collection for fashion week ‘16 live with AppleTV. It was a great success, and in September 2015, it became the first global brand to launch a dedicated channel on Apple Music.

More information
Are you interested in what the new tvOS can do for your brand or company? MOBGEN can help define a strategy, but we’re also happy to just give you some more information! Just contact us: info@mobgen.com

Some more articles from Apple about the new tvOS can be found via the following links:

 
 

What is image recognition technology?

Image recognition (sometimes called computer vision) is a technology that strives to acquire, process, analyse, and understand images and high-dimensional data from the real world in order to produce numerical or symbolic information.

What did you just say?

Don’t worry, italic voice. I know it is complicated. Let me rephrase: When you upload a picture of you and your friends on to Facebook, everyone’s faces will be recognised and get automatically tagged: that’s image recognition.

Ah, ok, that sounds definitely more understandable

OK! Because now it gets more complicated… Computer vision is a very complex area within computer science as there are a lot of aspects involved, such as machine learning, data mining, database knowledge discovery, pattern recognition, and others. Research into this area led to technology that mimics human vision. And to create software that is able to see, you first need a good pair of goggles.

What do you mean?

Well, I mean that to process an image, you first need to capture the moment using a camera. The software then extracts the information required from it and then takes an action based on the data. Until recently, digital cameras were ridiculously expensive, had a very low resolution, and image recognition was not possible to achieve in real time. But with the arrival of the mobile phone and high-speed cameras, the possibilities are endless. As an example of this, did you know that some years ago, a Japanese company created a robot that was able to play ‘rock, paper, scissors’ and win 10 out of 10 games?

Nope…

I didn’t think so. Here is the link to that. The robot basically uses a high-speed camera to detect the movement of the human’s hand. By checking the movement patterns of his hand at 500 frames per second, the robot is able to instantly react with the counterplay that beats him. To achieve this, the camera captures an image of the shape of the hand as it’s forming the object and sends the information to the software, which recognises the pattern and triggers the robot’s response. The human hand takes 60 ms to form the shape, compared to the robot who takes 1 ms doing all of the above.

Ok, but I thought this was a blog about mobile…

Don’t worry, we’ll get to that. One of the biggest challenges, and the most extensive case study in image recognition is to imitate the human vision by electronically perceiving the image, understanding it, and give the consequent reaction. That’s exactly what the robot was doing in our previous example: it perceives the image by taking a picture, understands what the human is doing, and reacts by counter-playing the human. Of course, we, software engineers, tend to be more interested in the piece of software that recognises patterns than into robotics. So, how does the perceiving part actually work? The short answer is “mathematics”.

The most common thread in pattern recognition algorithms is probabilistic classification. An image is processed against a set of other stored images, and is given a value (a probability) per other image that it matches with. Combining multiple probabilistic classification algorithms that run over the same set of images, which is called an ‘ensemble’, gives a final confidence level per image that can be used by the software to make an educated guess on which image is a match.

As you can imagine, that is quite challenging for a mobile device. You’d think that the processing power is a problem there, and it definitely is! But the most serious bottleneck is the database of images against which matches the original one. In the example of the robot above, you have only a limited subset of images (rock, paper, scissors) to work with, but in the earlier example of image recognition on Facebook, it is not possible to store all the possible faces of every person who is registered on that social media platform on your device. (This is actually not how it works: Facebook stores a unique hash per friend, using certain characteristic values of the face as a seed… but the example was just to convey the idea.).

To overcome this and other problems, image recognition is normally done within the server, where processing power or storage space is not an issue. The mobile device will only send the image there and a neural network or machine will process the request.

But wait! I’ve seen it running in mobile devices without internet connection.

Ok, yes, that’s partially true. The mobile device still needs to send the images to the server side as the server needs to contain them. Once there, the server will process the image, generate a much smaller hash, and return it back to the application. And then, for example, you could go into airplane mode and view the image on your camera phone. The comparison between them will be done offline.

Thanks for all the nerdy tech-talk. Now let’s talk business.

Ah, so you want to know how businesses apply image recognition technology? It sure won’t come to you as a surprise that image recognition has the potential to revolutionise entire industries. In healthcare for example, IBM is starting to use image recognition technology to process massive quantities of medical images. This can help doctors diagnose diseases faster, and with higher accuracy. Baidu has developed a prototype of DuLight: an image recognition product that will help the visually impaired to ‘see’, by capturing their surroundings, and narrating the interpretations through an earpiece. However, there are often legal and ethical implications involved with Artificial Intelligence products. Take for example the automotive industry and Google’s self-driving cars. The technology is there, but a complex and lengthy process will need to be endured to actually bring these cars on the market.

Okay, but I’m not planning to build a self-driving car – what can image recognition technology do for my business?

Frankly, a lot! There are many small-scale methods to apply image recognition technology to derive benefits. Since this is a blog about mobile, let’s take a look at some in use cases of image recognition technology in the mobile channel. One of the big players in the field is Blippar: a visual discovery platform that allows users to scan objects and unlock content about these objects, making the physical world an interactive playground. For plant enthusiasts, there is LeafSnap, for wine lovers there is Delectable. But there are also some image recognition marketing campaigns worth taking a look at such as Makeup Genius, TrackMyMaccas, and SnapFindShop. These brands applied image recognition technologies in a way that drove social sharing and user engagement.

So you’re saying that image recognition technology can help me engage my users?

Well, since this is a blog about mobile, the word ‘engagement’ was going to enter the conversation at some point. The world of apps revolves around engagement: if you don’t succeed to engage the user, chances are, your user will simply not come back to your app. Image recognition gives your app huge opportunities to engage, since the technology allows you to extend beyond the boundaries of the mobile device and into the user’s physical world. Your app can provide something more tangible, which allows you to make a stronger, emotional connection with your users. And since emotion is strongly connected to memory, the odds are in your favor to make an impact that lasts.

Would you like to receive more information regarding Image Recognition Technology? Plan a workshop with us, or if there’s anything that we can help you with, just let us know by sending an email to info@mobgen.com

 
 

Have yourself an immersive experience

Fancy a trip to Mars today? Nowadays it’s virtually possible – just give the image below a spin! It’s like Christmas has come around again when we look at the latest emerging technologies; Oculus is making its latest Rift available for the consumer market this quarter; HTC opens up pre-orders for the Vive at the end of February; and Ricoh is already selling their Theta S, an amazing 360° camera, for just €399. The consumer is in for a ride this year as brands line up to compete against each other to develop the most immersive experience. This article aims to give you an insight on key developments in some vertical markets.

Entertainment
You’ve probably seen, read, or played it – Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the most successful blockbuster to hit the theatres in 2015. To take the hype up a notch, it’s now possible to experience a new form of Star Wars entertainment by downloading the Star Wars app. Inside, you will find a powerful VR feature called ‘Jakku Spy’ that embraces a new technology and storytelling technique, and making you part of the resistance. And now to step outside the world of science fiction, and into the Dominican Republic. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit franchise recently introduced their first VR app. The 360° video experience unlocks a new way for consumers to interact with the supermodels featuring exclusive behind the scenes content. Keeping your attention to the article at hand, HTC is taking a different approach and has transformed a secret location in East London into a Virtually Dead zone. A ticket to this event will allow you access to a horror production that takes place over half a kilometre, where you will be terrified, amazed, and left wondering whether the world is really about to end.

Education
Scary examples aside, Google is pushing boundaries in the education market by bringing the Google Cardboard into the classroom. Under the umbrella of The Expeditions program, more than 500,000 students have already taken school trips to Buckingham Palace, and the Great Barrier Reef. The great benefit of the Cardboard is that it works with your iPhone or with almost any smartphone that is running on Android software. The design of the cardboard can be easily customised, and the price can go below €10 per unit, therefore making it accessible to a lot of people to use the platform.

 

So why should we encourage the use of smartphones inside a classroom? The above may just sound like a one-time fun game, but research done by the University of Udine tells us the opposite. The effect of an immersive experience for flight safety training has proven to be greatly positive! Research by Chittaro and Buttussi (2015) showed that a serious immersive game gave users a knowledge gain that is maintained after one week, where statistically, people who used the card suffered a significant loss of the acquired knowledge after one week. The immersive game was able to produce more engagement, negative emotion (eg. fear), and physiological arousal than the safety card, a factor which can contribute to these positive impact on knowledge retention.

Creating an experience that influences emotional arousal is key to improving the quality of the learning and can be a game changer in any vertical market.

Retail
Technology advancements are changing consumer expectations, therefore, requiring companies to take a different approach to retail. As described by PSFK, one of the 10 pillars delivering the new shopper experience refers to ‘Democratise Access‘, opening the door for consumers to take advantage of services and experiences that were previously too exclusive or expensive. Research by Forbes shows that the amount of AR and VR devices sold will rise from 2.5 million last year, to a whopping 24 million in 2018, resulting in a market worth of more than $4billion. Being at the beginning of this growth rate, VR commerce, like much of the VR industry, is small and experimental. This does not hold off start-ups like Ghostline to become visible in the market and provide an analytics platform for virtual reality, allowing developers to uncover the true value of their VR experience. Taking the advantage of the data at hand, there is a lot to be learned on how to create more effective immersive experiences.


Video: A short impression of the recent disruption workshop at MOBGEN

How can we help
MOBGEN:Lab is the research division of MOBGEN, set up to investigate disruptive innovation with a focus on mobile technology and interface. We have the ambitious aim to identify and map the trends across the design industry that will create changes in the way we interact with brands, products and places.

Why do we investigate?

– For technical knowledge gathering

– For entrepreneurial opportunity

– Based on a client insight or request

– Because it is fun and exercises our creative muscle

What do we deliver?

– Technology research

– Disruption workshops

– Client innovation projects

– Entrepreneurial tracks

If you’d like to find out what we could do for you, feel free to send a message to Sebastian.

Research paper reference:
Chittaro L., Buttussi F. (2015). “Assessing Knowledge Retention of an Immersive Serious Game vs. a Traditional Education Method in Aviation Safety”, IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 529-538.

 
 

The Alberto MOBGEN Awards

The Oscar nominees of 2016 have been announced! Oops, this is MOBGEN and we don’t have Oscars, but we do have the coveted Alberto MOBGEN Awards. It began at Christmas 2013, the year I started working for MOBGEN. I gave an Android figure (as I am an devoted Android developer) as a gift to each Android developer who worked with me that year: a way to say ‘Thank You’ for all the hard work they put in since I pushed them a lot to get things done.

In 2014, I was working on a very big project and a lot of people shared some good and bad moments with me. I thought it would be nice to turn a Christmas gift into a bigger event and created the Alberto MOBGEN Awards. I nominated 3 candidates for several categories and everybody at MOBGEN voted to award those workmates in a funny and entertaining way.

And this year, the Alberto MOBGEN Awards has become company-wide, so we can involve and nominate colleagues from all our offices to recognise and thank people for all their hard work in 2015. We’ve added fun new categories, and soon, we will find out who have won the coveted awards! Keep you posted!

Alberto Awards winners 2014

Alberto Awards winners 2014

 
 

Low-fi prototyping: What, Why and How?

The creation of digital products usually involves a range of roles and functions collaborating on a project. The apparent ones are the business analysts who map out the requirements for the end product to fulfill, the visual designers who create beautiful interface screens, and developers who turn those into a tangible reality. What is mostly hidden in the process (and invisible to the end user’s eye) is the work of the user experience designer. The aim of this series of posts is to shed some light on what happens in the backstage of a product development process, and to describe some of the tools and methods our UX researchers and designers use in creating our greatest products.

As UXers, we often get our hands dirty drawing the flows on paper before taking them on to the digital screens. While most of the design process is described in the previously written post, an important step in the user experience design is usability validation. At different stages of the development process, and depending on the objectives one wants to achieve, there are various tools a UXer can use to validate their concepts or designs and test their products. The most commonly used distinction describes the level of finishing of the test products, namely  low-fidelity and high-fidelity prototyping.

 

Today, we are going to talk specifically about low-fidelity prototyping.

 

What is it?

A low-fidelity prototype is a quick and easy tangible representation of a concept, a use flow, or an information structure created for getting quick feedback and improving the product. These prototypes are generally characterized by low technology implementation and can use a variety of materials, including sheets of paper, cardboard, glue, straws, lego blocks, among many others.

Why do we do it?

Rettig in his famous paper mentioned “Lo-fi prototyping works because it effectively educates developers to have a concern for usability and formative evaluation, and because it maximises the number of times you get to refine your design before you must commit to code.”

At MOBGEN, we often make use of low-fi prototyping (most commonly paper prototyping) when in need of quick feedback on our concepts, ideas or flows, along with quickly communicating the aforementioned to colleagues and clients.The greatest virtue of the method is in its speed – generally rough paper sketches or wireframes can be used if we do not have designs yet. By testing them with our users we can get feedback and learn from mistakes and then we iterate. We define use cases for what other questions need to be answered, test and recreate. These iterations of early tests help a lot to avoid delivering a half-baked product to the market.

Apart from its speed, there are a number of benefits of paper prototyping:

  • The changes to the test prototypes can be made on the go. If you detect a flaw in the flow, you can quickly replace it and test with the same user.
  • Testers generally tend to comment on the finishing of what they see. Hence, if you want to test the flow of the conversation, the layout of the elements, or the terminology – it is best to go with rough paper prototypes so the users are not distracted by details of the UI elements.
  • Because generally the paper prototypes do not have a very polished look, users feel more comfortable in being critical and pointing out UX problems. If this was to be done with highly finished design screens, users are most likely to be frustrated with themselves for not understanding or doing it right. This gives more opportunity to find out the problems.

Nevertheless, there are some downsides to testing with paper prototypes, so we need to know when to go with other prototyping methods.

  • Users have to be “trained” to think in terms of digital screens, even with paper screens. Paper prototypes are usually limited in terms of testing certain interactions, transitions or animations.
  • Using paper prototypes during the test can be more time- and space-consuming as opposed to using digital screens. The transition to a next screen will include a change of the physical papers, which takes time. In addition, with flows containing many stages, you need to make sure to have enough space to orient.
  • Usability tests with paper prototypes require a thorough planning. You need to think through how you are going to present the information to the user, what happens when they click a certain element, how does the navigation work on paper, and so on.

How to use it?

As mentioned before, usability tests with paper prototypes require thorough planning (but really, what testing doesn’t, right? ;)). A loose formula for successfully conducting a usability test with paper prototypes would include three ingredients:

  1. People
  2. Materials
  3. Methods

People

People refers to all the human participants of the usability testing. These include:

  • Users. Generally, for qualitative testing we invite 5 users, according to the recommendations by Nielsen research stating that 5 users should able to identify about 85% of all usability problems. During the test the users interact with the paper prototypes of the interface to be tested and additionally, may be interviewed about their impressions and experiences.
  • A facilitator to conduct the usability testing. They are in direct contact with the users, they explain the objectives and plan of the test to the user, provide the users with tasks to perform during the test and ensure that everything runs smoothly in the process.
  • Observer(s) to watch the behavior of the users and their actions, interpret the interactions with the prototype and jot down any important observations or comments. Observers do not communicate with the users, and only perform the role of taking feedback.
  • Depending on the chosen method and complexity of the prototypes, you might additionally need what has been termed as the “human computer” . This person manipulates the paper prototype so that it can provide the feedback based on the user’s interaction. The human computer is not allowed to give hints or answer the user’s questions so that the users are left entirely on their own to perform the tasks that they have been assigned. Most of the times, this role can be performed by the Facilitator.

Materials

  • Paper prototypes. Previously prepared screens or sketches on papers to test with the users. For mobile interfaces, we often create them on a template of a phone. If you want to be able to directly make changes according to the feedback and test the new changes with the same users, prepare some blank templates to draw new screens.
  • Depending on the method you choose, you may need a physical phone or computer stencil to represent your device and put the user in the mindset of working with a device. These can be laser printed to match the size and shape of the desired device or even simply a cut out from a cardboard.
  • Pens and pencils if you want to redraw screens on the go or take notes.

Methods

Various methods can be used to test with paper prototypes. The following are some examples:

  • Draw or print out screen layouts, lay them out on a table or wall and go through the flow. Based on the stage of your development process, the screens can use either wireframes or visuals.
  • Create moodboards for testing the overall impressions of the interface.
  • Use storyboards with different use scenarios for explaining the usage of the product and “putting yourself in the user’s shoes”.
  • For simulating an environment (e.g. “imagine you are at a gas-station”) you can use Google cardboards and 3D models to recreate the needed props and surroundings.

The following is a nice example of paper prototyping for a mobile interface with a phone stencil that is broadly used in usability testing.

Some practical tips

Through specific cases and experimentations from client to client at MOBGEN, we have developed paper prototyping methods to fit our own needs for usability testing.

 

When briefing users, it is important for them to understand that they need to feel as though they are using a digital device. For this case, users need to be educated about imagining the different digital interactions (e.g. “imagine you scroll down from this screen to this”) and are aware of the terminology used. Generally, storyboards can help to explain the usage scenario and full product cycle.

 

The paper prototypes prove to work very well in validating the concept, and the UI elements with the involved stakeholders, getting direct feedback and applying changes.

In conclusion

Paper prototypes have been found useful in testing both the bigger picture and details of the user interface. This tool helps to detect problems at an earlier stage and tackle problems ahead of time. As opposed to high fidelity prototypes, lo-fi paper prototyping is efficient and saves both money and time in getting quick feedback.

 

In the end, we believe that using different tools at different stages will complement each other, allowing for more concrete feedback and the opportunities to improve and perfect the product. Depending on the needs, available resources and how far your team is in the process, the design researcher makes the decision on which methods to use.

 

In our next posts we will discuss high-fidelity prototypes and when, why, and how to use them in the design process.

 
 

Free to download white papers

Did you know that 84% of smartphone users often use their mobile phone to enrich or make their shopping experience easier? By the end of this year, the mobile share of all e-commerce purchases will count for around 40 to even 50%. And among the 500 largest mobile retailers in the world, 42% of all their mobile sales were generated from mobile apps.

 

Needless to say, the mobile phone has developed into the favourite consumer tool in recent years. Retailers who understand this, use their mobile apps to build consumer loyalty at all stages of their customer journey. However, simply providing an app is not enough…

 

In our white paper, The 10 Commandments of Mobile Loyalty,  we analyse the 10 main characteristics of successful apps for you. The second publication, The Retail App, will let you take a closer look at four specific challenges facing retail apps today:

 

  1. Increase your engagement
  2. Increase your conversion
  3. Provide a consistent customer experience
  4. Personalise your communications

 

And the white paper, The Mobile payments landscape and its opportunities, is dedicated to answering a number of key questions about putting the attractive opportunities of mobile payment in action:

 

  1. What are the most important mobile payment technologies, and what are their benefits?
  2. Who are the most important providers of mobile payment solutions?
  3. In what way are companies already successfully using it?
  4. Which solutions fit best with your digital mobile strategy?

 

Download the white papers for free from our library! And if you have any questions or would like to receive more information, don’t hesitate to contact us: info@mobgen.com

 

 
 

Happy New Year

The year 2015 is coming to an end, and the whole MOBGEN team wants to Wish You All the Best for 2016! Let’s look back at the past year that flew by…

To start with, we are very proud to have opened our 4th office: MOBGEN Malaga. In answer to the increasing demands of our clients, more technical capacity was implemented. Led by iOS team lead Pedro Morales, there are so far 7 developers (iOS & Android) working from Malaga to date, and the team is expected to grow.

The A Coruna office celebrated it’s 2nd year anniversary with 33 colleagues. And last but not least, one-man band Sam Contractor kicked off the UK business development in London.

 

With 134 MOBGENNERS in total, we couldn’t wait to get the 4 offices together in one place, so a special team within MOBGEN organised a special trip to Andorra for the MOBGEN Christmas Weekend. This way, we were able to celebrate the end of another great year together as one big team. As you can see from the photo at the top of this article, the trip was amazing and a great success!

 

MOBGEN has had quite an exciting year looking back at the projects we’ve launched.

Our biggest project to go live was the Shell Motorist app. It was launched in 28 countries, in 17 languages. You can read some more interesting facts here. Together with Shell, the on-going loyalty platform project will keep evolving, recently adding the mobile payment functionality: Fill Up & Go to the app, making Shell the first fuel retailer in the UK to offer a mobile payment solution at pumps nationwide. The success of the project lead the innovative app to win an MMA Smarties Award.

 

Another interesting project we did for Shell to help ensure a coherent experience across all their products and services, was to create a comprehensive set of mobile guidelines. These mobile guidelines consisted of a template resources package, and documents that can be used as a tool for designing new mobile and tablet products, as well as for measuring existing products.

 

And did you know that MOBGEN became a helping hand in fighting crime? For NL Confidential, we designed and developed ‘Meldmisdaadanoniem.nl (M.)’, an independent hotline to anonymously report serious incidents and crimes. Last year, M. reported in total 15.800 crimes to the police and other partners. Based on this information 1.922 suspects were arrested, and 127 crimes were solved.

 

For sports betting organisation TOTO, we designed and built the new mobile TOTO platforms. It includes an app for both iOS and Android, plus a new mobile-optimised website. With the newly designed mobile platforms, it is now easier for customers to search events, place bets, look up their favourite teams, play various betting games (like TOTO 13), scan a betting voucher to see if they have won, and look into their account details and betting history.

 

For Dutch live entertainment company Stage Entertainment, we worked on a new digital platform: BackstageNow.nl. From this summer, true musical fans who enjoy watching live productions such as ‘The Bodyguard’ on the stage of the Beatrix Theater, can now also access the captivating musical world via BackstageNow.nl 24/7.

 

For NIBC, the enterprising bank that offers corporate and consumer banking services, we developed its Corporate Presenter iPad application for worldwide access. The app keeps customers up-to-date on NIBC’s latest news, results, sector specialists, and services.

 

In order to provide the highest level of professionalism and proficiency in the field, we developed a set of tablet and smartphone e-learning apps (WFT Triple A) for educational organisation NIBE-SVV.

 

We provided the private banking app Evi, from private bank van Lanschot, a total re-design and also developed the smartphone version for this easy to use tool (iOS + Android).

 

And last, but certainly not least, we developed the iPhone version of the multi-awarded (RedDot Best of the Best included) FLUX:FX app, called FLUX:FX play!

 

These were the ‘visible’ projects we launched in 2015, but we also worked on (and launched) a number of more secret projects for clients we, unfortunately, cannot share with you. But keep an eye on our news line for upcoming news and projects! We can share that we’re kicking off 2016 with some new clients in the retail and finance sector, for whom we’re going to develop some very interesting projects that will go live next year.

 

If you’re interested in what we do behind the scenes for eg. our ideas, what excites us, our knowledge and observations in the mobile design, development, and strategy world, follow the MOBGEN:Lab Blog.

 

And lastly, the entire MOBGEN team Wishes You All the Best for 2016, and we hope to work with you on more exciting projects in the new year! Happy New Year!

 
 

How performance monitoring can benefit your business

Creating high performing apps, engaging your customers and making smarter business decisions are just a few factors that can lead your company to success. How you monitor the performance of an app is paramount and keeps you in the control tower. We’ve asked Luca Temperini, Team Lead Web Development at MOBGEN to talk about the monitoring performance tools used at MOBGEN and how they can be used at your business.

 

What is monitoring?

Monitoring basically deals with software analytics and it gathers billions of data points from your software, including user clickstreams, mobile activity, end user experiences and transactions, with the aim to make sense of those — providing you with business insights. Software analytics includes Application Performance Management, but extends to User Behavior, Business Transactions and Customer Insights. It is an area of information technology that focuses on making sure software applications perform as expected. The goal of performance monitoring is to provide end users with a top quality end-user experience.

 

What is monitoring used for?

Monitoring is used to answer to performance and application questions, but also business questions. Such as:

 

  • How many people are using our application right now?
  • How do response time trends impact customer adoption?

 

Is there a specific tool that you use to monitor performance?

Here at MOBGEN we use New Relic and Crittercism to monitor the performance of applications. There are several tools nowadays which provide more or less the same service. However, the ones that are used at MOBGEN are the most reliable and efficient tools as they are focused on specific functionalities. While New Relic groups components in one unique tool which incorporates the Mobile tier, Website Tier, Application tier, and Server tier, making the end result more consistent, Crittercism focuses solely on mobile functionalities

 

What are the benefits of using such tools?

The advantage of using performance monitoring tools is that they provide answers for developers on how to manage the performance of web applications in real time without delay. These tools can have significant impact on business performance, specifically when the business is attempting to better connect to their users through internet, social media and mobile devices, thus driving an increase in revenue. Another main benefit of using monitoring programs is that they provide an enhanced user experience for the end-user. Additionally, New Relic can have an impact on customer satisfaction ensuring applications remain available for end-users while keeping them happy.

 

Who can benefit from using these tools?

There are so many benefits in incorporating these types of monitoring tools in an environment that strives to create applications and monitor their performance. Using these tools can truly help you make better business decisions, and can help you scale and improve any application.

 

Would you like to receive more information about this topic or interested to learn how our tools can benefit your project? Don’t hesitate to contact us, we’ll be happy to help!

 
 

IKEA’s Think Outside The Cubicle

From Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd, IKEA hosted a 48-hour hackathon in its Concept Center in Delft. During the hackathon “Think Outside The Cubicle”, attendees needed to brainstorm in teams, develop and bring their ideas to life. Participants were asked to inspire each other with innovative solutions for the perfect workplace of the future. Developers, designers, and anyone with an idea could take part in this hackathon. Five themes were offered to the teams as an inspiration source: Collaboration, Productivity, Smart Space, Sustainability, Health & Wellness.

 

A small team of developers and designers from MOBGEN took part in the hackathon last weekend. After a long brainstorming session, the team created an app that allows seamless communication between phone and tablet using beacons to identify when a user is near a desk. Kameleont – which means chameleon in Swedish – gives the feeling that the environment around adapts to you, according to your preferences. Kameleont can be used as a tool to increase productivity, by applying certain settings to your workspace, making it an enjoyable environment to work in. You can set a certain desk with specific presets from your mobile phone, such as having a specific color of light or even adjust the volume intensity of your music. The app consisted of two sides: an end user side (presets, mobile phone app) and the “brain” (receiver of settings, tablet app). The “hacked” aspect of the app was to focus on managing certain elements of the concept (e.g: the lights), but the overall idea was easy to expand onto other areas as well such as Google Calendar to manage meetings and book rooms easily by simply approaching them.

 

Although the MOBGEN team did not win, it was a great experience to work in an environment where creativity and design are intertwined. And we got lots of inspiration for new projects at MOBGEN!

 
 

Google has long been introducing new tools for developers, in order to make the applications testable and allow them to work with continuous delivery systems. One of those tools Google introduced was Gradle for Android: an open source build automation system that merges the concepts of Apache Ant (a Java library) and Apache Maven (a software project management tool) introducing a Groovy-based (an adaptable language for the Java platform) domain-specific language (DSL) instead of the XML form used by their competitors. The very first version of Gradle was introduced back in 2007, but since this year a stable version is available.

Although Gradle is only a build system, it allows you to write scripts in Groovy and thus you can do whatever you can imagine (from getting values from the server such as the version of the app, to upload your test results to a QA system).

 

Big Android BBQ 2015 Europe

MOBGEN was invited to talk at the Big Android BBQ ‘15 Europe in Amsterdam and Android Developer Javier spoke about the topic “The other Android Getting Started Guide: Gradle Power“, trying to teach the other developers that were present how MOBGEN’s Android development team uses Gradle and why it’s great to improve the quality of projects. In this blog post we give a summary of Javier’s talk to share our insights with you.

 

Gradle in Android

The way Gradle executes different tasks is linked to the concept of a project. For Gradle you can have projects and subprojects. The main project will be referenced as the “root project” and those contained will be called projects. A typical Android root project contains different projects for libraries and applications (Android Mobile, Android Auto, Android TV and Android Wear).

 

Every Gradle assignment has a configuration file with the name “build.gradle” where you can write your scripts to build the project, but of course doing it from scratch is not a good idea. That is why Google provides us a Gradle-plugin with default tasks to build the apps and customize them for different environments.

 

Every project can contain different Gradle tasks linked to it and every task has a single responsibility to execute some action. For example, the task “assembleDebug” builds the Debug application compiling our code and creating the executable file.

 

The Android plugin for gradle allows us to customize the following items:

  1. Build type: determines if the build is for developing purpose or to be distributed.
  2. Product flavors: the same application can enable or disable features given some conditions. For example, a paid version is not exactly the same as a free version, or the app can change between countries. The flavors allows us to create builds with different configurations.
  3. Flavor dimensions: by combining values from different flavors we can create builds with combined features. Dimensions allow us to combine those flavors in the same build.

 

After going deep on how Gradle works, we realized that it could be used to include unit testing, automated testing and code quality analysis without too much effort.

 

Testing

Some years ago testing in Android was very difficult and slow (you could only test on real devices or emulators), and the community was not so active in that kind of development, but today things have changed. Now Gradle has two types of tests: Android tests and Unit tests.

 

There are several differences between them:

– Android tests run on actual devices while unit tests run on the computer.

– Android tests are slow and allow you to use UI components, unit tests can simulate that behaviour.

– Android tests are harder to set up in a continuous integration system, while unit tests are straightforward.

 

Each test has its own purpose, so it is really important to use them wisely and with the correct libraries. For unit tests we use JUnit and Robolectric, and for Android tests we use Espresso, UIAutomator and AndroidJUnitRunner.

 

Code quality and documentation

We create some quality measurements using an open source software called SonarQube and a Gradle plugin to configure it. This can be automated to create a report after every build, so that project managers can have some objective measurements and plan technical debts or refactors to polish the code and improve their quality. One of the best features this software offers is that it can automatically create JIRA issues pointing to the exact line of code that should be improved, making it easier for the developer and project manager.

 

We can also create some Gradle tasks to make good looking documentation with a branding image or a look and feel that matches the client’s company website. To do that we use Doclava, the same program Google is using to create the Android documentation every Android developer knows, making it comfortable to use and check.

 

Continuous integration

The main advantage with Gradle among other build systems is that we can execute all the tasks created for assembling the code, analyzing it or testing it, in a very efficient and easy way, almost without configuration. Such a good feature makes Android projects effortless to set up in Bamboo, Jenkins or any other continuous integration tool, which allows:

– Development teams to ensure the builds are not broken.

– QA can test the latest build for an application.

– The client can test a certain build with some new features or bug fixes easily.

 

Conclusion

The Android development environment and tools are evolving faster in the last few years. To become a leading edge company in terms of quality and experience in the platforms it is important to keep improving at the same speed the Android community does.

Conferences like the Big Android BBQ or the Droidcon allows us to acquire new ideas and feedback from people around the world that we can apply to our client’s projects and keep on improving our project processes and outcomes.
Want to learn more about the tools and platforms we use at MOBGEN and how these can be of help to your project? Don’t hesitate to contact us!

 
 

This summer, the European Council announced a long-overdue complement to the integration between EU member states: the elimination of roaming charges. From April 2016, EU residents will enjoy a reduction of up to 75% in roaming costs, with all charges to be phased out by mid-2017. This step promises not only to make our lives more convenient, but also creates new opportunities for the mobile world.

The world of mobile services is constantly evolving, with carriers always expanding their offers and improving the speed and quality of communication. Something that tends to lag behind this innovation, however, is making the latest technology accessible to all consumers. Though carriers can be expected to pose some friction to this initiative, downward pressure on prices is a consistent trend (by some estimates, carriers have already lost €15B in revenue from roaming cost regulation, though further reduction can broadly expand their customer base).

The Smart Traveller

One of the first benefits that comes to mind is a smoother, easier travel experience. We’ll no longer have to rely on previously downloaded content, offline-enabled apps or – god forbid – paper. Rather than searching for a café with WiFi (not so easy in some parts, even in Europe, but we wonder how this will affect Starbucks sales?), we’ll have immediate access to practical information just as we do at home. Figure out how to get back to your hotel after a party, find a vegetarian restaurant or check out recommendations for what to do tomorrow – it’s all about to get much easier. Additionally, the change is projected to save families €200 a year.

Beyond offering greater convenience in finding information, the death of roaming presents new opportunities for both travellers and the tourism industry. For example, increased availability means we’re free to search for and book hotels (or apartments) on the go, even after we’ve arrived at our destination. Services such as TripAdvisor and Yelp could offer real-time, location-based recommendations. Important alerts about flights, traffic or other events will reach you as fast as possible – no more last-minute airport surprises. To take advantage of this increased connectivity (and to match consumers’ expectations), the service industry must adapt its current mobile offerings.

Just don’t forget to disconnect every now and then.

The Truly International Businessperson

Of course, the benefits of cheaper intra-EU communications are not limited to your holidays. Working abroad, or with distributed teams, is also about to get easier. Here we can also expect interesting new developments in the mobile field. The reduced cost of communication will allow us to stay closer to our colleagues and clients while better leveraging office tools with strong mobile integration (e.g. Slack, Hipchat, Trello, and others). Factoring in direct costs and indirect benefits, business travellers can expect savings of up to €1000 a year.
An even greater opportunity lies in creating new mobile platforms that take advantage of freer communication across the continent.

Conclusion

Like many things in the EU, the reduction in roaming charges will take a while, and is subject to some conditions and exceptions. Nevertheless, the final goal is clear: open communication to mirror ever-deepening economic and political integration. Other than making the lives of European travellers and businesspeople a little more convenient, the elimination of roaming opens up diverse opportunities to enhance existing services and create completely new ones. It also makes your smartphone and the mobile channel just that little bit MORE important.

Need some help defining how the use of mobile can help your business? We are more than happy to help you! Just contact us for any questions or information.

 
 

iOS applications development: Never a dull moment!

Looking retrospectively at the years I have been focusing on iOS application development, the first thing that comes into my mind is the expression: Never a dull moment, and I highly doubt this will change in the next couple of years. The iOS platform is very dynamic with a major update of the operating system being released each year. You have to make sure your app is updated before Apple makes the new OS available, but at the same time it also needs to keep running on older versions of the operating system. A big plus side of these updates is that they bring new opportunities as they include new technologies and improvements that can be of great added value to your apps. Of course, MOBGEN can help you to get the most out of your mobile channels with all the potential that the iOS platform offers, enhancing the connections with your end users. However in this blogpost we will discuss the iOS platform from the point of view of a developer.

Dynamic platform

The iOS platform is an extremely dynamic one, with ever-changing SDKs and a new major operating system version being released each year. In addition, new models of devices are launched in tandem with the annual operating system release. As an iOS developer, I have experienced some high impact changes, like the transition from manual memory management to Automatic Reference Counting (ARC), the stunning Retina display technology installed first on iPhone 4 devices, the drastically changed user interface of iOS 7, and the 2014 first release of the Swift programming language.

 

The dynamic character of the iOS ecosystem can be both a challenge and a source of frustration for all involved in the application development process, but in my (not at all subjective) opinion, developers both enjoy it and suffer from it the most.

 

It is very exciting for iOS developers to take part in the evolution of the platform and witness the technological advances made in hardware year by year. The iOS developer community has risen to the challenge and has grown together with the platform in the last couple of years. A lot of the changes that Apple implemented in their APIs are the result of the needs expressed by the developer community – for example, custom container view controllers were not supported by UIKit until iOS 5, even if the concept of container view controllers was introduced in the framework together with the UINavigationController and UITabBarController classes as early as iOS 2.

 

Swift is maybe the most interesting and hottest topic of the moment for iOS developers, and represents an impactful change that the native iOS applications development is undergoing. Swift is a new high-level compiled programming language that was designed by Apple to make iOS development faster, and to provide a modern and more expressive alternative to Objective-C. Even if it is a young language, with its first version being released as late as 2014,  the adoption level of Swift is pretty high. There are a lot of reasons behind the early adoption of Swift, the most notable ones being the high expressiveness of the language as opposed to Objective-C, increased development speed, and the interoperability of Swift and Objective-C. The latter enables developers to progressively migrate existing Objective-C code to Swift. Apple promises to continue to support Objective-C in the future, but looking at the latest language additions, whose sole purpose is to improve the interoperability with Swift e.g. Nullability annotation, and the indications are that they will try to push Swift to become the primary programming language for native iOS applications. In addition, the fact that Swift will be made open source later this year holds the promise of very exciting times for the iOS developer community.

 

Hardware & new technologies

The constant improvement of hardware and the new technologies incorporated in devices such as Touch ID and Apple Pay always translate into a widening of possibilities when it comes to applications and businesses. Smart watches are a relatively new technology and they are an exciting area to explore for both businesses and developers. Leveraging new technologies and bringing value to users is always satisfying and I think Apple will provide plenty of opportunities for us to do so in the years to come.

 

Transitioning

Besides the pleasant aspects of a continuous and fast platform evolution, the overhead needed to keep existing applications up to date can be a challenge. The first and mandatory step in transitioning an application to a new SDK is to implement any changes required for it to remain functional. Once this is done, a second step of modernising the code base can follow and some of the tasks included in this phase might be: taking into use new constructs made available in the programming language, using new features of the compiler, reshaping areas of the code that can be implemented better with new APIs, and removing deprecated APIs. The code modernising phase is sometimes overlooked because of time-to-market constraints and this can lead to issues in the long run while also creating frustration for the development team.

 

Along with taking advantage of new iOS features comes the application backward compatibility issue. Ensuring backward compatibility enables users that don’t run the latest iOS on their devices to still enjoy an application, but it is not something developers are fond of as it leads to conditionals being added to the codebase (thus making it more difficult to maintain). If we add into the mix the range of device models an application needs to run on, things complicate even more. Differences in device models (available hardware components, screen sizes) need to be taken into account and translate into more conditionals added to the codebase, and more time needed by developers and testers to ensure that everything works smoothly.

 

Helping developers

To help developers cope with the dynamic landscape, Apple tries to present the major upcoming changes at their high-profile WWDC event, so that the community knows in advance what to expect. Beta versions of the brand new SDKs are also made available so that they can be experimented with before the final release. SDKs usually contain tools that can be used to speed up the transitions of existing projects, for example the ARC Conversion tool included in Xcode 4.2, and the Swift 2.0 migration tool included in Xcode 7.

 

Stay informed

The key to successfully facing constant change is to stay informed about the latest updates and understand what they entail. Evaluating the implications of upcoming changes against existing projects should be the first phase in coming up with a plan on how they should be tackled. In addition, developers should be ready to find and accept compromise solutions. Having these things in mind and applying them on a regular basis ensures that there is never a dull moment :)

 

If you are interested in keeping your app up to date with the latest and future iOS updates and new device models, please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@mobgen.com or give us a call. We’re always happy to help!

 
 

Digital transformation of traditional sectors

For all traditional sectors, there’s a digital transformation going on. Because of the fast rising increase in the use of mobile internet and applications, traditional companies can no longer be left behind. An example of such a traditional sector, is the book sector. To give you some insights into the digital transformations of this traditional sector, we’ve interviewed one of MOBGEN’s clients, Michael van Everdingen, Managing Director at Dutch Royal Booksellers association (Koninklijke Boekverkopersbond, KBb) which is the owner of the Nederlandse Boekenbon, an organisation dedicated to promoting reading that offers gift cards for books.

 

Q: What is someone like yourself, who has an IT/tech background, doing in a traditional field?

A: The reason why I chose this field is because we are heading into a new time age, one of disruption. I saw in the book sector a great opportunity for book sellers, despite the fact that they themselves see no favorable circumstances there. With my background in IT and business transformation, this created a great opportunity for me to start this assignment. Most people thought, “what are you doing on the Titanic?”, because the book sector is now largely digitised and people wondered how long it would survive. If there is one viable sector, it’s the book sector. The only thing that booksellers have to do is change their focus from books to customers. They should also change their focus from one money stream to more (5 to 10) revenue streams, and that can be anything from hospitality, stories, or the value-added space. Developing more revenue streams will make you less dependent on just books and enable you to use books to also deliver other propositions. That was actually the opportunity that I saw for booksellers because internet shops only have the opportunity to sell through a rational medium which is a screen. Booksellers have their own DNA. They can really build a relationship with customers which Amazon cannot. For instance, Amazon can deliver lower prices and discounts, but they cannot deliver a personal experience. I think that the bookseller is very well-positioned to do so, but that requires a big mental mind shift. The whole change program, which KBb have been driving now for three and a half years, is 50 percent focused on personal leadership development, and 50 percent on store development.

Q: How is Boekenbon currently doing?

A: Boekenbon is doing very well. When I started in 2012, Boekenbon had to deal with a lot of issues. The first issue was the dramatically ever-changing gift card market. Early 2000, there were only four gift cards in The Netherlands (Boekenbon, VVV Bon, Platen Bon, and Bioscoop Bon), so if someone wasn’t sure what kind of gift to give, they would go to the bookstore and buy a boekenbon. Today, we have more than 500 gift cards and over a billion revenue market for gift cards. People who sold the Boekenbon back then were used to waiting behind their counters for a customer to ask them about the Boekenbon. But today, you have to be very aggressive in the way that you grab the consumer’s attention using a completely different, very proactive, and entrepreneurial approach, which is not in the DNA of a bookseller. We’ve changed the Boekenbon from paper to plastic, and they’re now also available online. We’ve also expanded our distribution channels to supermarkets and other kinds of retailers. We are now in more than 6,000 distribution points, making it easily accessible and available. Boekenbon has a very good image: it’s still a very strong brand, number 2 brand in The Netherlands after the VVV Bon, and it is also the number 2 brand in terms of revenue and the market share. Boekenbon’s image has something cultural, something that contributes to society. A society where people read is better than a society where people do not. In the B2B market, many companies give the Boekenbon as gifts, so that is also a big market that we are currently developing. We can see that this is still in the “old” world, and together with MOBGEN, we are delivering and developing a platform which will bring Boekenbon into the “new” world, which is the world of mobile phones, e-payments, and mobile wallets. With the help of MOBGEN, we are repositioning Boekenbon in a totally new way, which will also enable the bookseller to develop more contact and a direct relationship with its customers.

Q: How do you envision the future of physical books?

A: I think physical books will always remain. It is an innovation which has lasted 500 years successfully. We now also have e-books, where the story can be written by a piece of software and take different shapes, which can create a lot of possibilities. I think people on vacation prefer to bring an e-reader loaded with lots of books on it, but when they’re at home, reading a physical book in front of the fireplace is probably more preferred.

Q:  What opportunities do you see for Boekenbon with the rise of digitisation in your company?

A: I think the biggest opportunity for Boekenbon lies on social media and the internet. We would be able to connect any cultural initiative to the bookseller, meaning that he can improve his position from being just a bookseller to a cultural, commercial seller.

Q: Do you see any leading and innovative examples in your sector?

A: If I were to look at streaming for instance, there are some streaming initiatives like Bliyoo from Bruna which lets you stream books. If you take a look at Libris book stores, they have an e-reader model called Tolino, and if you buy a book through that e-reader, the revenue from that purchase will be assigned to the store where where the e-reader was bought, so that means that they sell e-books through the physical bookstore, which makes the online and offline invisible for the customer. I think these digital initiatives would work in The Netherlands, and together with MOBGEN, we are working on a mobile strategy for Boekenbon to better connect to, and serve the customers of the book stores…..To be continued!

 

 
 

How to create value in the mobile channel

You know the story… You are certain that mobile will be awesome for your business. It is a great personal channel that everybody already has in their pocket, correct?

Well, it’s easier said than done.

There are almost always endless possibilities that your product/project can evolve into, and there is an all too human tendency to lose focus and dive into too many theoretical subjective discussions on ‘what we should do first’ without any objective or external conditions to apply. Most of the time, these discussions will revolve around which KPI’s are measurable, what will be easier to develop, and which will be the most impressive or innovative feature to put out in the market. These discussions distract everyone from the most important thing: bringing more value to your product. The value of a product can be defined in many different ways, but we want to focus on one perspective here.

Value to your end user.

Without fulfilling this value, users won’t be there to benefit from any additional values that the app can deliver. Users tend to keep and use apps that brings them value no matter what it is. ‘Value’ could be represented by an easier way to achieve a task (pay or subscribe for something), a way to save money or time (payments, online shopping), or anything else that benefits the users’ lives outside of that application universe.

So, how can we focus on value and objectively decide which feature will bring the most to your application? Business cases are not a bad place to start, but tend to be quite abstract when you begin (and not always connect to the users’ values). User journeys and analysis are of great help, but users also interact with brands in many other channels, and isolating mobile can be difficult if not impossible from the cross-channel communications and marketing that each brand presents to their clients and prospects.

Bringing value to a mobile message

For the purpose of the discussion, let’s analyse each channel using these 3 parameters:

1. Content – Most messages in the mobile channel will be accompanied by some type of content. Whether a promotion page, news article, a new video or anything similar, users tend to use applications that provide content which brings value to them as users.

2. Context – Context is any setting or scenario where and when we would like users or a specific user to consume the said content. With the mobile channel, users expect that the content they need will be there when they need it. With the amount of content growing all the time, if you can serve the right content at the right time, users will opt to use your services.

3. Active Communications – Even when we nail the content and context, communications are necessary to draw users’ attention to it. Today’s users are busy, and a reminder or alert can save frustration and increase engagement with the platform and channel.

Apply the 3 parameters to identify value in mobile over other channels

Mobile is the channel that easily provides the unique combination of all the three parameters and allow users to directly interact with it, with your brand. It is contextually aware, communications can be personal, and the content can be easily manipulated and modified by the above. The strength of the channel is in the ability to combine these parameters into a smooth customer journey that notifies and alerts the users about only what they need or have requested, leaving out all the noise.

To take an example of a real life case:

Content
A new amazing item is up for sale now
— Content is the promotion page within an application. This approach, which is very common, assumes that a user will open an application of a specific brand just to see if there are any interesting promotions.

Context
An amazing new item, that is related to an item you “liked” on FB, is available on sale for the next 60 minutes!! Would you like to reserve yours now?
— Giving some context to the promotion, making sure that items that are promoted are part of the user’s specific interests. This can be based on social media, past purchases, surveys or other means.

Communications
Hi Jane. We found a new product that we think you will love, and we want to give you a discount on it since you’re awesome! Why not swipe or go to the store on the 3rd floor to check it out?
— Making sure with a targeted “personal”, well-timed message that all users who fit the context are aware of the new promotion, and that they have been targeted because it will suit their taste/needs/wishes.

How can we use this for a roadmap?

When starting a discovery or a scoping session, everything from the high-level business vision (I want an app that will make shopping awesome), to the low-level functional requirements needs to reflect this uniqueness of the channel.
Combining the effort and budget that is required to achieve each feature, the team can build a more objective scale helping you to provide a more in-depth assessment of where and how the mobile product should be promoted and evolved.
Using this approach, it is easy to create a scale in which all of the above comes into play, and a score is given to every possible feature. From there, by ranking and accounting for time, technical or other constraints, you can usually create a clear roadmap with a very specific path. And more importantly, a roadmap that helps your brand leverage the unique value in mobile.

Interested in how to create and increase the value in the mobile channel with a mobile roadmap for your brand? Don’t hesitate to contact us!

 
 

MOBGEN’s new whitepaper is out: The Retail App: the ultimate direct link with the customer.
In our earlier whitepaper The 10 Commandments of Mobile Loyalty we analysed the 10 main characteristics of successful apps. In this new publication, MOBGEN takes a closer look at four specific challenges and opportunities facing retail apps today:

Increase your engagement
Where the mobile website can be used to discover a wide audience, the
individual retail app can offer a unique opportunity to strengthen the relationship
with the consumer through a rich and relevant user experience.

Increase your conversation
An important part of the user experience is the possibility to find product
information, and to make in-app purchases. By facilitating this smoothly and
easily, and by alerting consumers about relevant offers, the average number of
purchases and the order value can be greatly increased.

Provide a consistent customer experience
Whilst the app has evolved into an indispensable sales channel, the majority of all retail
purchases are still completed in the store. That’s why smart retailers are creating a total
experience, in which the digital and physical shopping experiences meet seamlessly.

Personalise your communications
To communicate consistently and personally with the customer, it’s essential to
have the relevant data about their wishes and needs
. Thanks to its intimate oneon-one
relationship with the consumer, the personalised app is the ideal tool to
collect this data.

To receive the full whitepaper via email for free, please fill in the below form:

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Select in which language you want to receive the whitepaper
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MOBGEN starts business development in the UK

We’re spreading our wings here at MOBGEN. After opening an office in Malaga, Spain earlier this year, MOBGEN plans to conquer the UK. Londoner Sam Contractor is exploring the UK market and has started the business development for MOBGEN UK. To give you a little taste of Sam’s plans, we interviewed him about the developments on the UK mobile market.

What does the mobile market in the UK look like at the moment?

2015 has seen a shift in smartphone use in the UK. 33% of internet users see their smartphone as the most important device for going online vs 30% using laptops. This marks a significant change from 2014 where this was 22% smartphone vs 40% laptop, and is likely driven by faster connectivity with 4G and increasingly powerful smartphones. Unsurprisingly, 90% of 16-24 year olds have a smartphone whilst it is 50% for 55-64 year olds, doubling since 2012. Ofcom 2015.

The UK is a sophisticated market from the standpoint of both business and technology. London has a strong standing and heritage in financial services and is renowned for being one of the fashion capitals of the world. London serves as the headquarters for many of MOBGEN’s ‘sweet spot’ target global brands in financial services, retail, travel, and automotive; 40% of the largest companies have European or global headquarters in London.

The UK has an array of digital service companies, such as boutique strategy and ideation houses that focus on value propositions or customer experience. These, however, do not deliver on technology. There are digital agencies that focus on web campaigns, SEO, and advertising, and some of these will have mobile teams. There are also large technology and consultancy players with mobile departments.

On the other hand, MOBGEN has a pure focus on creating mobile solutions that aim to drive loyalty with consumers and global brands, or create a significant aid for employees in their daily work. Six years of working with global brands like Shell, ABN Amro, Inditex and (to name a few) on mobile propositions help MOBGEN bring mobile thought leadership to new clients. The MOBGEN Lab will also play a key role in the UK development as a way for clients to understand disruptive technologies and have the opportunity to ideate with us in an innovative environment.

With a new office in London being currently under development, what are the areas you and your team have been focusing on?

Across the four verticals, there are excellent growth opportunities available.
For airlines – effective designs in the BA and Easyjet apps give customers easy access to bookings, loyalty, and viewing boarding passes. But what about extending the relationship into other services like cross-selling travel-related services, or in-flight entertainment, and using your mobile as the hub for this?
In retail, at least in fashion, many focus on mobile optimised sites. I’m excited by the prospect of brands being able to get to know their customers more and use social networks more effectively through mobile platforms.
For hotels – we’re already seeing check-in and room keys within apps by Hilton and others. Marriott has created a way for customers to create requests and ‘whatsapp’ style communication between customers and staff. But what other content and features could be deployed effectively to customers to enhance the experience?
For private banking, it has taken them some time to embrace mobile. There’s a mix of transactional and portfolio apps from some of the main players and independents. For instance, the oldest independent bank in the UK, Hoare, will release an app in 2016. But what’s next to grow adoption, help clients take further advantage of this platform, and drive loyalty?

For London, we are currently identifying key global brands to partner with to create loyal customers with mobile and creative technology. This will span early adopters that first created mobile apps for end-users that may be coming to their end of life. They will now need to be revitalised and rethought with the newest technologies and expectations of the customer. This will also include brands that may be investing in mobile optimised sites instead of mobile apps. And of course, there are some brands that have neither an app or an optimised site…

What developments do you see at the mobile UK market, and what opportunities do you see?

An exciting future! Customers and employees will experience brands through different channels and forms with mobile being the current target device for this and primary digital channel. Global brands should continue to challenge themselves to ensure true user centricity. It’s key to spend time in the mobile strategy to redraw the customer or employee journey, understand personas, and articulate the essence of the brand in the design to drive loyalty.

Apps that enhance the employee experience at work will continue to grow in popularity, whilst customer facing apps remain an important priority. The effectiveness and opportunities for these to work in parallel with employee apps will drive value for brands.

Keep your eyes peeled for exciting times ahead!
 

 
 

Personal Financial Management in the Mobile Age (2)

From research towards design

In the previous blogpost on this topic, we introduced the research phase of this project, which has created a solid ground for the innovation on the topic of personal financial management (PFM) in the Mobile Age. It can be concluded that young bank customers often live unpredictable lives, have a lack of financial capability, but are ambitious about money. At the same time, they are open to changes and challenges, which means they are willing to learn and improve. Since it is difficult to picture themselves in the very far future, they turn to peers for comparison to build up a projection of how they should be in the near future. Thus, the future tool should help the users build up a connection to the expected future-self. However, as the far future is hard to connect, the possible solution is to create something on the path, which points out the near-future as a design focus.

Based on all the findings from previous context research and user research, four design criteria for the future PFM solution were generated to bridge the gap between the research and the design:

01. Build up a trusting relationship between the users and PFM tools by enhancing the cooperation between banks and PFM platforms.

According to the user research, bank customers expect a reliable relationship with their bank as well as with their PFM tool. Several interviewees cited their doubts on security because current solutions of PFM tools were mostly provided by extra platforms other than the bank, which they did not fully trust. The user would worry about the leakage of their private information. To remove such worries, a possible solution could be that the bank system is embedded with PFM functions, thus the customers will not need to turn to other platforms with their PFM. Besides this, the bank customers expect their relationship with their banks to be lifelong. Very few of the interviewees felt they wanted to change their preferred bank in the future. They also want the bank services to be lasting, personal, and safe. Providing customisation is also something to be considered in the design phase.

02. Provide the users with a sense of both control and freedom by empowering them with efficient and ‘tangible’ interactions.

Based on the findings from current PFM tool customer journeys, bank users felt that there was too much effort required in tracking back their expenses, making budget and maintaining their financial goals. More efficient tools should be built up to meet the different types of user needs, helping the user to feel effortlessly “in control”. Once the complexity of PFM is removed, the users could then feel free to make their own decisions and feel in control of their finance.
Apart from that, numerous interviewees mentioned about missing the ‘tangible’ feeling they used to have with the cash in wallet. With the digitalisation of money, the users interact with money only by numbers, which is not touching upon the pain points of spending (or saving) anymore. People feel little emotional involvement when seeing the numbers going in and out of their account. As an inspiration, the future solution should think about the ‘tangible’ feeling in PFM as well.

03. Encourage the users to think of the future vision by involving their self-identity and revealing their tendencies in PFM.

A lack of future vision is one of the most mentioned features among young bank users. “As the future is never known, why should I think of the future if it is never going with the plan?” The users hold a negative attitude towards financial planning, which results in a low engagement in PFM. After a discussion with MOBGEN, the chosen direction is to make the user aware of their possible tendencies in the near future. As a result, the user would be left to make a decision based on this awareness, which provides the freedom (principle 2) in PFM.
Additionally, young bank users were found to have a strong sense of self-identity in financial activities, which greatly influences their financial behavior. It could be a great design opportunity to trigger the users to think of the future vision by involving their self-identity, or ‘who they want to be financially’.

04. Encourage the users to engage in PFM by supporting active exploration instead of passive acquisition.

Based on the literature findings, if the users are passively acquiring financial knowledge, then it won’t make a significant difference. On the contrary, if people actively seek skills, it could be more effective for them to learn and apply this knowledge in PFM. Following this finding, the future PFM solution should provide some trigger to actively involve the users in their PFM (other than passively presenting financial data).

Following the design criteria specified from the results of the user study, the direction of building up a future vision gradually came into being. How to bridge the past-, present- and future-self (for young bank users) became the core topic. As a result, we defined the design vision as follows:

‘We want young bank users to engage in PFM by associating time elements with financial management.’
Interactive qualities: Tangible, Balance of control and freedom, and Enlightenment

We hope that by associating time elements in financial management, the users will be stimulated to think of their future finance more often. Therefore, the design could add additional stimulus for the users to see the connection between time and finance, making them more aware of their current financial status, and thus giving them the tools to manage their personal finances more effectively.

 

 
 

What is Virtual Reality?

As part of a trip to London in May 2015, MOBGEN’s Sebastian Veldman participated in the safety event of one of MOBGEN’s corporate clients, demonstrating the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. (The Oculus Rift has been officially announced since and will be publicly available from early 2016. Also, read Sebastian’s post on Safety Day on LinkedIn.)

But what is Virtual Reality, and why do multinationals care? And more importantly, why should you?

In today’s world, Virtual Reality technology usually refers to a stereoscopic display of images – one image per eye, projecting a pseudo-3D image to your brain. The result, of course, is the feeling of space, depth of field, and, combining this with sensors found in smartphones to track movement, a virtual environment you can wander around in.

For multinational companies with internal Health&Safety regulations, VR will have many uses on the safety and security front: training staff to respond to dangerous situations, and even using the devices to assess such situations in the real world – an example of when technology can potentially save lives.

But VR has a lighter, more consumer oriented side: it is simply cool, and it’s a new hype.

As far as VR goes, Oculus Rift presents the top of the line with a focus on hardcore gamers and enthusiasts: you can see amazing gaming demos here and here… oh, and here too; of course watching them on a computer screen only does partial justice. It also has a price tag around 350 USD, making it a relatively spicy meatball if you only want to browse Google Street View (as we’ll soon see you can.)

VR @ MOBGEN

VR @ MOBGEN

As with many things, Google started it by announcing the Cardboard back in 2014 at Google I/O, (Google’s developer conference): a very simple paper-based VR headset you can assemble for yourself. Initially exclusive for Nexus 5 handsets and Android, the new Cardboard presented at this year’s I/O also caters for 6” handsets including the Nexus 6, and the new iPhone 6 and 6+. By now you also have several options if you want a Cardboard — they are also very inexpensive: you can buy one for well under 10 EUR if you dig a bit and don’t mind folding the paper based thing yourself. Google also has a nice page listing the most popular options.

With the Cardboard pseudo standard (dare we say: ecosystem) extended to Android and iPhone, the world has got a platform independent VR toy that is inexpensive to the level where a lot of enthusiasts will buy into it. Remember Second Life? Just like with the once-revolutionary online virtual world, our life will not suddenly turn into a big VR game where everyone only goes to work via VR. But there will be a strong customer segment of people buying VR gear and this will likely be the customer segment most valuable – the one that’s interested. And this is why retailers and consumer brands need to be interested, too. (And while on the subject of Second Life: incidentally they are looking at revitalising their world with Oculus Rift.)

The good news is that there are still considerably few VR apps out there. As a result, a good VR app creates tons of PR and media recognition. Also let’s not forget competitive advantage: not only is a retailer with a VR app the “coolest in the bunch”, it is also the best prepared for times when VR, and technologies based on it, become mainstream.

Pitching a new concept (in this case VR) within an organisation is just as much a complicated task as pitching anywhere. Being able to conduct a very informal first demo is often the key to a PoC initiative that helps the new technology gain foothold at the organisation. With VR, we are in luck: the market did some of the work, and there is a good pool to choose from for a very informal presentation on just what VR can do.

The most trivial and impressive option is simply popping up Google Maps: Street View has a VR mode that can be activated on any phone, and gives a beautiful view with head tracking of any street. Just double-tap on the little rounded arrow icon in your Android or iOS Street View app to switch to stereoscopic view and enjoy.

Amsterdam Marnixstraat Google Maps, Street View, VR mode

Amsterdam Marnixstraat Google Maps, Street View, VR mode

We at MOBGEN are keen to assist anyone interested in Virtual Reality. To help you make an impact with the initial demo process, we would love to assist with all steps of the process from setting up a formal PoC to the discovery and implementation phase of a full project to release your first VR application. Just contact us for more information.

———————————————-

This video will walk you through a few simple steps on how to assemble your MOBGEN VR Cardboard. Below is a selection of apps that we have made just for you so you can enjoy a virtual experience.

VR apps you can use with your MOBGEN VR Cardboard:

– Use your headphones with this New York Times app that gives you an entirely new experience
– Google’s own Cardboard demo app (iPhone | Android)
Tuscany Dive, a virtual excursion (in the early 2000’s, no less) to Tuscany (Android only)
Swerve, a virtual reality app (currently in invite-only mode) to check your Twitter feed (and your Instagram, soon)
WWF’s Virtual Reef webapp, a virtual dive at the Great Barrier Reef
– Also, VOLVO has a very nice VR app for their XC90, which is bad news if you work in the automotive industry, but good news if you work elsewhere – as there is “prior art” to demo.
– Hop into the Audi Virtual Cockpit with the Audi A4 Virtual Reality Experience and it will take you where you want to go.

 

 
 

Latest Technologies

At MOBGEN, we are always researching the latest technologies for new applications, or for enhancing functionalities in existing apps. One of the main goals is using new innovative technologies that run across Android, iOS and HTML5.

At the moment, we are working with the recent advancements in WebGL. Amongst other things, WebGL allows mobile browsers to render interactive 3D designs. We developed several demos to push the boundaries of what we could do with this new software within applications – one example included a fluid, interactive 3D sphere graph that reacts to accelerometer and GPS data to change shape.

Besides WebGL, we are continuing work with augmented and virtual reality apps for the Oculus Rift & Google Cardboard.

Google Cardboard is a virtual reality (VR) viewer made from…cardboard. It’s a VR experience starting with a simple viewer anyone can build or buy. Once you put it on, you can explore a variety of apps that unfold all around you. Google Cardboard V2 and the associated apps can be used for Android phones as well as for iPhones.
Making use of the Unity 3D engine, we are building a virtual tour app for the Google Cardboard V2 that allows users to collaborate digitally – solving a quiz or a game in a virtual world together. More on these technologies will be published on our MOBGEN:Lab blog soon, but if you’d like to receive more information on the latest mobile technologies please contact us.
 

 

 
 

Our chief creative officer Nick Mueller and designer Eleonora Ibragimova were in Los Angeles presenting the conclusions around industry/academia cooperation via the Smart Steering Wheel Cover Design project at HCI International 2015. HCII is one of the world’s leading conferences on Human-Computer Interaction attended by interaction design researchers and practitioners from all over the world. The conference hosted paper presentations, panel discussions, interactive demos, and exhibitions in various thematic sections. These included user experience and interface, persuasive technologies and gamification, immersive realities and social computing, among others. A significant part of the program was dedicated to mobile interactions, showing the prevalent place of mobile devices in the daily lives of people.

The design of the Smart Steering Wheel Cover is one of the initiatives from MOBGEN:Lab, where we conduct research in interactive technologies and explore new innovative ideas. In our talk at HCII2015, we presented the design along with our process at MOBGEN when we work on collaborative projects, such as with TU Delft and other universities. Our team received very good feedback, and were even invited to do a guest lecture for Missouri State University. Nick then went to SIGGRAPH 2015 to see the latest trends in tech, science, and art: VR and AR were everywhere along with 3D and other experimental tech. SIGGRAPH also featured a lot of cutting-edge computer and visual graphics research which helps provide inspiration for our future experiments.

Attending these conferences allows MOBGEN to stay on top of new innovations, learn about the emerging technologies from research institutes and laboratories around the world, and also share our findings in the research of mobile design and technologies with the world.
 

 

 
 

Smartwatch apps up & running

Here is a sneak peek of the first smartwatch app we will be releasing – an extension of our award-winning FLUX by belew™ application. You can now skip and pause the audio tracks, add to your favourites, or read the track information, all via the Apple Watch. The watch can function as a controller for the app, so you could (for example) dock your iPhone or iPad and wirelessly navigate the app while you are watching the mesmerising visuals.

Besides FLUX by belew™, we are prototyping many more concepts and products with wearable technology. Are you interested in discussing how a smartwatch app can be of use for your mobile strategy? Don’t hesitate to contact us.
 

 

 
 

iOS 9 – Are you ready for it?

As you may have heard, Apple iOS 9 is expected to be released in September, and the public beta is available this month. At MOBGEN, we are always testing these beta versions against our running apps, so we know what to expect and to inform clients on the necessary changes that may need to be done. Our initial tests with iOS 9 have lead to the following conclusions:

1. Deprecated and removed API interfaces in iOS 9
Some API interfaces were removed or modified in iOS 9 and needed updating to be able to build new updates with iOS 9. Think of for example the ability to open the photo library from the app when needed. Firstly, these issues need to be addressed and fixed, before you can generate new updates of the apps.

2. Reachability class
If the app is using a technology to detect if the app has no internet connection or the connection has dropped, it will most likely be affected by the changes in iOS 9 and needs to be updated.

3. Disabling application transport security
App transport security is a level of security for communication with servers that was introduced in iOS 9 and is enabled by default in the new OS. Because some apps do not comply with this new set of policies, the requests made by these apps fail, resulting in security errors.

4. URL schemas updates
The impact of the URL schema changes of iOS 9 in apps is significant and will highly depend on the final version of the operating system. The URL schema is the mechanism that iOS uses to make things available like deep linking, or to open resources in other apps (Safari, Google search, etc). For example when you tap on the twitter button in an app to open this website in Safari. Due to these changes in iOS 9, this functionality may not work anymore.

5. Layout issues
Apps can exhibit layout issues when running on iOS 9. Think of misaligned buttons or texts or even images with suddenly a strange position or size. A review of all custom layout code is necessary to adapt the layouts to the new OS.

If you are a client of MOBGEN, don’t worry – we’ll contact you if there are necessary changes to be made for your app to be iOS 9-ready.
If you are not a MOBGEN client but you are worried about the impact of iOS 9 for your app, please don’t hesitate to contact us to see how we can help you.
 

 
 

Personal Financial Management in the Mobile Age

The banking and payment industry has recently undergone massive changes. The ubiquity of mobile devices has proved to be a disruptive innovation in the way people access and manage personal finances. However, research also shows that only 20 percent of consumers are highly engaged (or active) in their financial life, whilst 50 percent are moderately engaged, and 30 percent inactive (Aite Group, 2013).

Based on these facts, MOBGEN is looking into the payment industry, aiming to identify trends that will create changes in the way mobile products improve people’s personal financial experiences, with a particular interest in increasing engagement in personal financial management. As a result, a student graduation project co-operated with TU Delft came to being.

To get a better understanding of the current context of PFM (Personal Financial Management), a study on PFM users was conducted.

The user study began with the identification of the target user group. The research question can be generated as “Who can be the target users?” To answer this question, literature study was performed, followed by an online survey.

Context mapping was chosen as the main methodology to expose insights. The research questions were, “Who are the target users? How is the current PFM experience and what qualities do users expect?” The participants were asked to fill in a workbook in 4 days and invited to make a group interview. Based on the results, a set of personas was made and users’ needs, motivations and ideal experience were defined with the help of a customer journey and emotion flow.

*Context mapping is a qualitative user-centered design method that involves the user as the “expert on his or her experience.”  (Froukje and Peter Jan Stappers, 2005) It consists of two main stages, a sensitizing session and a creative session together with interview. Participants were provided generative tools, thus he or she can express personal experiences in which a product or a service plays a role. In this project, the participants were asked to fill in a sensitizing workbook within a week, after that they were invited to a focus group interview and do some co-design work (co-design is a development process where design professionals co-create solutions with the users by empowering, encouraging and guiding them to develop solutions for themselves) to picture the future image of a product or service.

Mid-term-presentation38

Mid-term-presentation18b

In the customer journey, every touch point of the user interacting with the PFM tool was noted. The users’ emotional experience was also analysed according to the interview and booklet findings. In the figure, the different emotions were labeled with different colours. The positive or negative emotions revealed users’ motivation and concerns towards PFM, as well as some difficulties they came across in the current PFM experience.

Customer-journey

Emotion-flow

The next phase of this project is the visual design, and we hope to show off some brilliant ideas.

 

 

 
 

10_commandments
To answer the question how to use the mobile channel to establish and deepen valuable relationships with consumers, MOBGEN wrote this whitepaper. The paper lays out the 10 most important conditions to be met to achieve optimal contact with the modern consumer. To establish them, MOBGEN analysed the most important functionalities incorporated in the world’s most successful apps. MOBGEN has named these conditions ‘The 10 Commandments of Mobile Loyalty’. Click here to download the full white paper from our library for free.

The mobile phone is the most important gateway into the life of the modern consumer.

At the start of 2015, the number of mobile telephone subscriptions worldwide totalled 7.2 billion. A figure which annually increases by 5 percent [1]. During the year’s first quarter, more than a third of the world’s eCommerce purchases were made via the mobile channel [2]. In the same period, the IOS and Android apps stores were offering more than 2.5 billion apps between them. Consumers now spend more time using these apps than they do on their desktop or mobile web [3].

In a world where brands have to fight increasingly hard for consumer attention, it is essential to remain within reach throughout the entire customer journey. Now that the vast majority of consumers are mobile, brands have no choice but to follow suit. Claiming a space via the mobile channel is therefore a key challenge for every marketer. This battle is already in full force. And the arena is multi-faceted and intense, just like the relationship between consumers and their mobile phones.

The mobile phone influences things such as how consumers gather information, move around and orientate, make purchases, plan holidays and conduct relationships. You could say it’s the logical extension for immediately satisfying a great many daily needs. For brands who understand how they can integrate themselves here, a rich array of opportunities for establishing and intensifying consumer relationships lies open. However, effectively capitalising on these opportunities isn’t simple.

A great many downloaded apps are forgotten about after a short period of use, or simply not even downloaded in the first place [4]. The big question this raises is: which conditions do brands’ apps need to satisfy in order to establish lasting and self-strengthening relationships with customers? To provide a thorough answer, MOBGEN analysed 35 successful apps from large retailers, banks, airlines and hotel chains.

Selection for analysis was based on significant qualities such as the app being downloaded a large number of times, having high ratings for things such as user interface and user experience, and the achievement of commercial success. The careful analyses of the selected apps together with a large amount of relevant research led to us being able to define 10 key conditions for optimal contact with the modern consumer. MOBGEN  calls these ‘The 10 Commandments of Mobile Loyalty’.

Click here to dowload the full white paper from our library for free. You will get access to the full set of 10 commandments. To create some appetite, we are happy to share commandment 3:

Care for users by offering services with relevant added value

Mobile phones can provide an optimal connection between brand and consumer at any place and time. The services which enable consumers to use their phones at any given moment are therefore an important factor [7]. For creative brands, this presents a whole world of opportunities for offering relevant added value. In this aspect, a proportion of the researched apps provided a directly relevant relationship with the product, for example with the ability to scan products or services, to arrange personalisation, or to order.

Other apps offer users relevant related information and possibilities such as maintenance tips or advice on smarter and more efficient ways to use their products. Of course, detailed knowledge of the consumer’s needs and wishes are of enormous value here. Successful brands engage specialised User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) teams who precisely understand how to place themselves in the consumer’s world. This knowledge results in focussed services which make users’ lives easier and more pleasurable.

Two apps which really set themselves apart in this manner are those by Starwood Hotels and Walgreens. To simplify the check in process and cut waiting time at the front desk, the hotel chain’s app enables guests to check in and open the door to their room. Meanwhile, the pharmacy Walgreens’ app helps users by reminding them to take their medicine at the time it’s due. And when they have almost run out, the user can simply scan the package and collect a new supply at the shop. Possibly also with discounts from app-delivered coupons and other advertisements.

To download the full white paper from our library for free, please click here.

 
 

Creative escaping

Couple weeks ago, the creative team decided to… escape!

The plan was simple. We would leave the office together after work, form two teams, get ourselves locked inside a mystery room in Amsterdam, and then attempt to breakout in less than an hour using clues, logic and teamwork. And we had to try to beat the other team! Nobody knew what to expect, since none of us had played this game before, and good fun was had.

We found ourselves investigating the murder of Van Gogh, but that’s all we can divulge as any detail could be a spoiler for future hunters! The good news is that both teams did managed to escape, though it was a very close call for one team who was on the verge of being locked in the room FOREVER! But we won’t reveal any more humiliating details about that either. Unfortunately, the only real (furry) hunter we had with us wasn’t permitted to join our quest and help us sniff our way to the solution.

We ended a great night with some food and drinks, discussing what our next expedition should be. Perhaps it might involve a boat… We shall see!

 

 

 
 

MOBGEN Hackathon Challenge!

The first hackathon challenge at MOBGEN was held last Friday at our offices in Amsterdam and A Coruña. Seven teams involving designers, developers, business analysts, project managers, jugglers and crayon tasters participated in creating the next great thing in the mobile world. A hackathon, which has become popular in recent years, is an event in which those involved in software development and hardware development collaborate intensively on creative projects within a given amount of time.

Hackathons are an efficient way to sit down and get new ideas realised quickly in one go. There was no fixed theme and every team was free to hack on any desired subject. The only rule was: HAVE FUN! We spent the whole day conceptualising, designing and hacking our ideas until 10 pm in the evening.

At precisely 10pm, all teams gathered to present their concepts and prototypes. Curious to know what they were?

BATTLEFIELD

battlefield-mobgen-hackathon

Team 17 (Javier P, Andrés , Marcos E, Ude, Constantino, and Marcos G) came up with a multi-platform multiplayer game for iOS and Android. The concept of the game involves a battlefield in which two teams compete against each other. As a warrior you are able to move, attack, heal or defend. Well done, guys, for making it work smoothly!

TAMOBGOTCHI

tamobgotchi-mobgen-hackathon

Do you remember Tamogotchi? The Tamagotchi is a keychain-sized virtual pet simulation game for people of all ages. It was created by WiZ and Bandai and was first sold on November 23, 1996 in Japan. As of 2010, over 76 million Tamagotchis have been sold world-wide! Why not bring it back in 2015 as an app and make it work on both smartphone and smartwatch? Team ‘404 Name not found’ (Rob, Jorge, Marc and Natalia) went for it by combining the concept of Tamogotchi with a MOBGEN theme and named it Tamobgotchi. The character in this case is a developer who goes through several distinct stages of ‘development’ throughout his life cycle. Growing as Intern to ‘Ron’, the developer has to fulfill four different tasks in each stage which are super recognisable for all MOBGENners.

LIVE SCORES

liveScores-Mobgen-Hackathon

Spanish people love to play Paddle, that’s quite obvious now. But they love it so much that they’ve found a solution to make the game even more efficient! While playing Paddle in the past, Jonatan, Jacabo, Xes, Javier V and Jaime would have trouble remembering the scores. So in order to keep track of the scores, they developed an app in which one person can modify the results which can then be shown in real time to all participants, and spectators. The live scores are both visible on your smartphone and smartwatch. By changing the score logistics, the app could be used for any kind of sport!

BOLT

bolt-mobgen-hackathon

You cycle so hard each day but where does all the produced energy go?  Team BICERGY (Dani, Dragos, Pal, Jose Luis, Maikel, Silviu, Stas and Daniel C) invented an app called ‘BOLT’ which shows a total overview of your cycling performance. The platform features, among others, how much calories you burn, navigation, challenges with your mates and how much voltage you generate via your dynamo. The most interesting part of the project is that the voltage will be stored in a small battery that connects with your smartphone. That means you can finally charge your phone while cycling! Well done guys, for using both hard and software.

PUSH

push-mobgen-hackathon

With the latest GCM of Google I/O 2015, the MOBGEN Alert set can provide a system to send push notifications to employees! MOBGEN Alert consists of two apps: the client app, which will be installed in every employee’s device; and the control app. The notifications consists of package deliveries, guest visits, and of course custom messages. Sounds pretty time-saving right? Well done, Alberto, Jose Mato and David!

HEAT

heat-mobgen-hackathon

Team Triple X (Danny, Daniel K, Wilco and Floris) showed us valuable user behavior insights of the Motorist App! They managed to integrate the Google Analytics & Bugsense APIs into one portal which can also be customised. With multiple major CVPs joining the Motorist platform, the Dashboard will have cross-data comparison available on one single page. The portal keeps track of the crash rate of the app and the amount of viewers, clicks and shares of new promotions, and offers & reward section. The best part is the heat map which shows where most of the payments were made at any Shell Station worldwide.

INTERACTIVE WALL

interactiveWall-Mobgen-hackathon

What is the ‘culture’ of MOBGEN? Jasper, Leanda, Stella, Dennis, Lawrence and Eleonora have created a fun and interactive wall which shows info about the company including event photos, videos, birthday announcements, upcoming events and many more fun facts. Conductive paint was used that allowed certain parts of the wall to react when touched, so people can swap, rate, and like the content.

 CONEJOS Y ZANAHORIAS

RabbitsAndCarrots

MOBGEN’s newest iOS developer, Álvaro, created a dating app called Conejos y Zanahorias (Rabbits & Carrots). The idea came from his ‘friend’ who told him it was difficult to find someone through dating apps, so he decided to build one that was easy and amusing. The app locates rabbits (ladies) and carrots (gents) who are nearby. When a bunny or a carrot is selected, a blurred picture is displayed and to see a full reveal, a fee must first be paid.

 RESULTS

After all the team presentations, it was the time for the judging. The projects were rated according to very detailed objective evaluation criteria including:

  • Originality

  • Concept / Idea

  • UI/UX

  • Technical Design

  • Execution

  • Presentation

The decision was tough and after a long discussion among the judges (and a lot of jousting), a winner was announced…

 

00 Intro_with T_ed4

tamobgotchi-mobgen-hackathon-gif

Each winning team member went home with their own brand new iPad! Congrats, guys!

The event was a success and we plan to have more of them in the near future, and perhaps have it also open to the public. If you would like to participate, or have ideas for future challenges, let us know! Who knows, perhaps together we will create something amazing.

 

 

 

 

 
 

Co-creation: the user as a co-designer

Designing products and services with the user in mind is a central point of the user-centered design. Use of fictional personas, creating usage scenarios and customer journey mapping are part of traditional methods designing user experiences. These methods have been very useful in uncovering the needs and wants of the target user, learning what they value and how to best address these needs.

The only problem with that is oftentimes, with complex problems and situations, the user may not know what they want. What they say may not entirely match what they do in reality. There is only so much we can observe or ask the user about.

These include the hidden desires of users; their latent feelings; and the future experiences of people, communities and cultures.

Here is when Co-creation comes in handy.

What is Co-creation?

Co-creation is a practice of collaborative creativity, that’s initiated by firms to enable innovation and create value with, rather than simply for their customers. Defined by Prof. Thorsten and his colleagues at London Research and Consulting group, the concept originated from economics and shortly stuck with designers.

photo1

 

Many companies have been embracing this practice extensively. A popular example is the website of www.NIKEiD.com that allows people to customise their own shoes, for example, by choosing colours and detailing. For some, it is on a subconscious level. IkeaHackers.net is a community site about modifications and repurposing of Ikea products, not affiliated with the company itself. The existence of such fan-run platforms prove that the user wants and needs to be part of the creative process.

The benefits

The Co-creation approach has various benefits:

  • By involving real users in our creative process, we learn early in the process whether the idea or the product will be successful with the users.
  • It helps to uncover the true needs and wants of the users.
  • Consequently, it can lower costs and risks for the company
  • It can decrease the time needed for research, development and filtering of ideas
  • Consumers benefit from greater personalisation and value as a result of co-creation processes
  • Building competitive advantage by turning the obtained knowledge from users into advance and improvement of products/services and eventually, user experiences
  • Co-creation will enable creativity at individual and group level and potentially enable customer knowledge development and transfer across the organisation.
  • Most importantly, the Co-creation has the benefit of bringing the researcher and the designer closer to their users.

@MOBGEN

Co-creation is an approach adopted at MOBGEN to involve users of our designs in all stages of the design process; from the moment of problem definition to idea generation and decision-making. Depending on the nature of the project, we invite users into our office and lab spaces, or follow them in their natural environments. We do not see co-creative exercises as a replacement for traditional user-study methods. It is rather a complementary. In fact, at MOBGEN, we combine a blend of traditional approaches with co-creation approaches for our work.

Designing for enhancing driving experiences, we followed our users during their daily commutes.

During the research of a personal financial management system, we asked users to envision and draw their desired money-management tool.

mobgen_co-creation_research

 

With a client in the online-education business, we helped to scope smartphone and tablet versions of the existing web tool by designing the app with the users.

Co-creation does not entitle only the consumers as stakeholders in the process. Involving clients in the innovation process increase their engagement in the project; generate a broad support from them as they are involved in the process; and enable smooth communication and interaction. Users and clients can become part of the design team as ‘expert of their experiences’ (Sleeswijk Visser et al. 2005), but in order for them to take on this role, they must be given appropriate tools for expressing themselves. At MOBGEN, we use a variety of tools to enable a friendly co-creative environment. An example of such tools is the JIRA platform that we share with our clients to discuss the designs, development, bugs and future improvement issues.

To learn more about the design process at MOBGEN or how co-creative practices can help your company contact us at monique@mobgen.com

 
 

Last month, our CEO Ron Vrijmoet and Head of Tech Luis Ollero Pena went on an adventure to the US. As an innovative company, we aim to stay in the game and keep up-to-date with other leading-edge companies. MOBGEN was invited to accompany a client to visit Mercedes Benz, Google, Apple and SAP in Silicon Valley on the topic ‘Connected Car’. We caught up with our head of tech Luis Ollero Pena.

What was your overall impression of the meetings with these international companies?

All in all, it was super interesting. Obviously, because these large corporations have NDAs, we can’t talk about everything that we saw, but we definitely learned interesting things. For example: Mercedes Benz is really focusing on developing cars that work autonomously. Being there in the hub of technology you actually get to see innovations develop slowly and it opens up your mind. The future is closer than we think and it excites me. It inspires me and it inspires MOBGEN too.

Which company visit had the greatest impact on you, and why?

For me that was SAP. They were the first office we visited and it was just gorgeous. Their office is located on top of a hill and you can see the entire San Francisco bay area. The building had a real impact on me. In addition, they were also the ones that were the most open in sharing their vision. An interesting presentation was prepared for us by senior employees of SAP. I believe this meeting was the most valuable for MOBGEN.

Were there any new tech trends revealed that we need to keep an eye out for?

The main trend we discovered was that currently, many businesses are taking on the autonomous car idea. Cars are the next big ‘mobile interface’. However, there is an internal struggle on how they are going to actually realise things, such as how to organise their dashboards. Who will own this interface? Can Mercedes and BMW afford to become a software firm and develop their own software? Or will Apple (CarPlay) and Google (Android Auto) become the dominant software on this mobile interface as well? Both CarPlay and Android Auto are at a very early stage of development offering mainly messaging with a voice controlled system. At the moment, everyone is looking at what Google and Apple are developing in that particular business. The main struggle is that the bigger car companies do not want to lose control of their dashboard. It’s hard for them because they have their own software for their dashboard and they don’t actually want to give away any part of it to other companies. My opinion is that they should be more open to sharing. There are many companies that are specialised and could really offer them business.
Besides that, tech-backed network solutions are hot. Uber is not only impacting the taxi business in the US, but their popularity is now also impacting new car sales in the US. A lot of people are deciding against buying a 2nd or 3rd car because personal transport costs are dropping, thanks to Uber, resulting in less cars on the road, less pollution, etc. It’s time that the European legislators stop protecting traditional models and embrace technology driven change. Companies like SAP are looking at ways to deliver platform solutions for these type of new networks. They already have a business procurement marketplace platform and business travel platform. They are now looking at delivering a similar business platform specifically for car-drivers incl. admin and services around refueling; parking; F&B; payment of toll-roads, etc.

What kind of issues do these companies run into during the development of autonomous driving?

Both Nissan, Google, BMW and Mercedes have autonomous cars driving around in California. Part of the technology is already being integrated in current models including fixed distance versus preceding car, automated braking, etc. Mercedes expect fully automated cars to be on the road within the next ten years. TEN years from now, can you imagine! That quick! The most difficult things to crack are ‘ethical’, like the road situation choices that human drivers make impulsively. What do you program an autonomous car to do when a dangerous road situation forces you to make a choice between protecting the driver or protecting, for instance, a pedestrian…? As you can imagine, these sort of questions are very hard to answer and need a lot of discussions with all sorts of authorities.

Is there an opportunity for MOBGEN?

Definitely. I think MOBGEN needs to be present there. Any company who wants to grow internationally needs to have an office there. The biggest ideas grow there because that is where the money is. There are a lot of startups in Amsterdam, but Silicon Valley is where your company has the biggest chance of growing. You can see that in everything: cars, buildings, and the people.
The focus was on connected cars, and we presented our views on the future of cars. Overall, the response was very good, but some expressed their views more openly than others. SAP were positive and Mercedes loved our demo and even Apple seemed a little impressed with our ‘future of CarPlay’ demos, though they would never admit it … ;-). Good to see that mobile innovation from A Coruna and Amsterdam can make an impact in Silicon Valley.

How was your experience visiting Google and Apple?

The offices are pretty close to each other. The Apple office was cool and the building is surrounded by big terraces. We actually had our meeting outdoors.
Google had a very welcoming vibe. Outside their office complex, they have parks and volleyball fields, and it is a very colourful open office. It’s cool because you see people wearing shorts, having coffees outside while talking about business. There is no constraint of four walls, and there are a lot of services for the employees. You can for instance change the oil in your car; go the gym; or take a dive in the swimming pool. That’s all I got to see, but there is probably a lot more.
All in all it was very good to see that we are at the cutting edge of mobile technology. There are obviously some great cases out there (Uber, Yelp, Starbucks, etc.) that we can learn from, but overall the work we do can face off with the stuff that companies like SAP and Mercedes showed us.

 

 
 

Design Process at MOBGEN

The design process at MOBGEN strikes a harmonious balance between order and spontaneity, reason and intuition, form and function. Depending on the type and scale of the project, we employ a variety of tools and methods and engage in lots of thinking, sketching, analysing, presenting, critiquing (arguing!) and modifying to find the most elegant solution.

 

DEFINE

We start the process by defining the problem. This involves asking questions first before jumping towards finding solutions. Designing the right thing is always more valuable than only doing the design right.

IDENTIFY

MOBGEN’s products are designed for the user, around the user and with the user. Hence, the human behavior is one of the core components in the design process. Identifying the target user and the context allows us to establish who we are designing for.

RESEARCH

We dive further into research, including desk research and ‘in-the-wild’ field investigations. Desk research helps us analyze the user and the context, benchmark existing products in the industry, and identify characteristics of successful designs along with market and trend analysis. Field research is conducted with real users to understand their perceptions, experiences, motivation and behaviour patterns.

DESIGN

The results of the analysis and research are taken as insights into designing the desired product or service. We work to create ideas and generate concepts together with our users, clients and all involved stakeholders.

BUILD

All great design ideas and concepts need to be validated. In order to test the feasibility of our new product and to get feedback from potential users, we build interaction prototypes of design concepts. Our prototypes range from rough low-fidelity clickable models to slick, finished high-fidelity prototypes, depending on the stage of the design process and the nature of the product being designed.

EVALUATE

These prototypes are then used to validate the design, understand the quality of the designs in actual use conditions, receive feedback from potential users, and uncover usability issues and opportunities to improve the user experience of our design. The process may include iterations for evaluating and refining the concept until a desired result is reached.

PRESENT

Finally, we prepare the presentation of the tested and approved designs for both internal and external communications, and then we get ready to launch!

 
 

Foreword

At MOBGEN we have an interesting team of creative minds, curious tinkerers, fearless makers, sharp strategists combined with geniuses of marketing and management. Everyday for the last five+ years, this team wakes up with the thought of making the world a little better, the technology easier, websites and mobile applications more intuitive, the digital interactions more delightful, and users happier. Everyday trying new approaches, methods, strategies, and looking for innovations is a default for a MOBGEN team member.

Our company is home to 22 diverse nationalities, with offices in four cities around the world and with more than 30 languages spoken in the company. Our MOBGEN team members’ age ranges from early 20s to mid 50s, with backgrounds as diverse as Curaçao and Uzbekistan, and unique personalities and alter egos, as a popular tech-blogger, pro-gamer, and a rock band guitarist.

We have worked with clients ranging from global retail to automotive, banking and hospitality industries through to world-famous musicians. It took us years of experimentation and innovation in the web and mobile strategy, design and development to get to where we are.

This blog will be a place to share our ideas, insights, knowledge and expertise. We cannot share with you the magic potion of creating an amazing product. In fact, no one can. What we will do instead is share stories behind our work, our experiences through projects and our thoughts on design and technology theories and trends in the world. We will share with you what inspires, excites and makes us fascinated in the mobile design, development and strategy world.

Structurally, we will cover topics within categories, as:

  • Disruptive Technologies – the world of making at MOBGEN. Makers and tinkerers will talk about the ideas, concepts, prototypes, experiments and tests in creating the next best innovation.
  • Higher Theories – notes on mobile design, tech and strategy. We will share our thoughts on theories in these disciplines, the history of major inventions, lessons or tips on successful interfaces and interactions.
  • @TheWorld – news on the design and technological innovations and trends in mobile world, events that we host or attend, new innovative gadgets, devices and technologies.
  • @MOBGEN – what life at MOBGEN is like, including where our creative minds fuel their brains, how the technology works and how everything comes together under the account and project management. In other words, how the magic of innovation happens here. You can also see the atmosphere inside the company and find out how to get invited for our Friday afternoon drinks.

Stay tuned for this exciting adventure. Have we mentioned that we love to receive comments, remarks or questions via email monique@mobgen.com?