Tuesday 16 December 2008

O2 Litmus launch

I went to the launch of O2 Litmus on Friday — in the form of a hack day at the O2. It was interesting to see an operator directly running a hack day. Usually they’re involved as the supporting acts in a semi-official way, like Vodafone Betavine supporting OverTheAir. The guys at O2 did a reasonable job — finding people via twitter and other events and providing solid wifi and lots of power supplies. They didn’t leave quite enough time for the hacking though, allowing too much time for O2 Litmus partners to advertise their wares in the morning.

O2 Litmus itself seems like a good proposition in business terms — the same 30/70 revenue split as the Apple App Store; a system to let developers test apps with early adopters before releasing them into the wild; and money coming through to developers just 5 weeks after purchases. O2 are also trying to support app development through their partners, providing testing and business development support.

There are a couple of pieces missing, however. One great advantage of the Apple App Store is the ease of download — one click and the app automatically downloads to your iPhone and appears in your home screen. This is much harder for general phones at large — not only do you have to make sure you’ve got the right build for your phone (a problem that Apple has avoided for now by just having one platform), but you then have to figure out your phone’s weird and wonderful download experience. Do I really want to install something that my phone tells me could be a security risk? Do I want to install it in Games or Applications? And now it’s downloaded, where did it go? (Nokia Series 60, I’m talking to you here…)

At the moment, O2 Litmus requires a separate application and description for each build, with no provision for combining builds with automatic detection, and no support for external hosting either. I suggested that they consider allowing URLs for downloads and they seemed interested — this also opens the door to web apps instead of downloadable apps. They might also consider partnering with one of the companies who make a point of providing effective provisioning systems — like Paxmodept, GetJar or even ourselves.

The other piece that is missing is direct access to the store from the phone. O2 say they will email their early adopters in a few weeks to get them involved in the web site, but even those who do will not have the ability to see what their friends are doing and download the same thing. Spreading applications virally requires immediate access to the app as and when you see someone else using it. Miss the moment and the viral effect dies. The iPhone provides the App Store on the device itself to help with this — it’s not the easiest solution but at least it’s possible. Since J2ME apps make sharing apps intentionally hard (security to stop people sharing paid-for games…), O2 need to provide some access to Litmus from their phones.

As I mentioned above, the hacking competition itself was a little rushed — we only had about 3 hours to get something ready. As a result most of the entries were screenshot prototypes and sometimes not even that. I started putting together a simple J2ME version of our iPhone MyRail Lite app but NetBeans wasn’t behaving itself. Instead I made a paper prototype integrating MyRail Lite with twitter so that you can meet friends on the train and as they arrive:

Share your train journeys on twitter with myRail Lite on iPhone. Click the Tweet button on your departure, select your destination and carriage and it will send a tweet for you. Also see which train your friends are on and track them as they go.

The idea caught the attention of the judges (I imagine it was the idea rather than my sketched interface!) and I won second prize — 30 hours on DeviceAnywhere.

Here’s my full notes from the day if you want a bit more detail:

Why Litmus?

  • Came to the conclusion about a year ago that O2 is quite difficult to do business with…
    • Just like the other network operators! Except O2 hasn’t had a developer program recently.
  • Enabling O2 customer base to test apps and feedback
  • Developers can test apps and get feedback
    • Can control how many customers can download it and test it out
  • Developers can also put apps on sale directly
    • O2 take 30% cut of sales — exactly the same as the Apple App Store
  • Plans to incentive customers to get involved
    • Any customer that has tested your app will get the app for free when you go commercial
    • So controlling numbers of testers is crucial
  • O2 Marketing will monitor forums & feedback and launch popular apps into main customer base
  • Money comes through to developers after five weeks

Litmus Tools

  • O2 APIs
    • Connection Status API
    • Location API
  • Supporting services:
    • DeviceAnywhere — remote device testing
    • Rackspace — hosting
    • Segala — expert testing

Mobile Social Networks — Ewan Spence

Poking from your mobile

  • Involved in running Wubud — still in stealth mode
    • 100% focus on mobile, but with web client too, linking to other social networks
  • itsmy.com makes money from users buying widgets
  • facebook 0.3% CPM…

Mobile Developers Dilemma — Paul Golding

Slides available online

  • Still has his Source O2 badge from O2’s previous developer outreach programme
  • Expert member of MIDP3 group
  • Chief app architect for Motorola in 90s
  • What should you build?
    • Open APIs
    • Involve a community to build weight & momentum
    • Provide service & support
  • Mobile UX: should exploit context
  • Use microformats — if there isn’t a suitable one then invent one!
  • Jitterbug — successful phone for old people in US
  • Social Business Model: share ideas with frenemies
    • Share the risk
    • Exploit mashups
    • Create or be part of an ecosystem, so that even if people click out of your app, they haven’t left the ecosystem and are therefore more likely to come back
  • Paul’s 9 year-old son is an iPhone developer :-)
  • Growth areas:
    • Enterprise social software
    • Services to support SOHO users

Inspiring New Ways of Design and Development — Anthony Ribot

Slides available online

As usual, Anthony gave a good presentation on mobile design. The Ribot guys were on a lucky streak on Friday, winning both a Sony Ericsson C905 in the raffle and coming first in the hacking competition with a proposed mashup of dopplr and your phone address book — find out who’s in town and then call them straight away. Well done guys!

  • The user-centred developer is a new type of role that should exist
    • Should develop with the user in mind
    • Not a role for every developer
  • Clients from web medium come with a long list of 15 features
    • We tell them we’ll only implement the top 3 items, or even just the top 1
  • Data-snacking is the most common experience on mobile
    • 30-60 seconds experience — small snippets of info
  • Important to re-use the learnt behaviours of the device
    • Makes the first experience of the app that much better
  • Mobile not about making things smaller!
    • Must take in context of use and figure out what the user actually wants to do
    • Cameron Moll: Mobile Web Design book
  • It’s all about the subtleties
    • e.g. working around the 3G icon on Nokia devices — Opera Mini indents the page title
  • Try and make the experience support reward-based design
    • e.g. Opera Mini (again) — right arrow does clever things based on context
  • Dealing with diversity
    • Use statistics (e.g. admob) to work out top 5 handsets for your target audience
  • Use rapid prototyping
    • The sooner you can get something tangible in your users’ hands, the better
    • Paper prototyping is good, but having something real is so much better
    • Finding that there’s less application stuff and more motion
      • Harder to describe in paper prototypes and screenshots
    • Tools available:
      • Flash (lite v3)
      • XHTML + CSS
      • Nokia Web Runtime
      • Silverlight (coming to Windows Mobile early next year, Symbian & Apple targeted too)
      • Dashcode

Partner adverts

We then had presentations from Rackspace, NAVTEQ, DeviceAnywhere, Mob4Hire and Segala.com. These were interesting in parts, but generally not much more than we could have got from flyers — a bit of a waste of time when the audience was mainly developers. We know what hosting is, thank you.

Rackspace — Matt ???

  • 2600 employees (40-50 in London)
  • growing about 50% year on year
  • have “positive churn” (1.5%)
  • 24/7 live “fanatical” support
  • 80 new devices launched with GPS in H1 2008
  • 74m GPS phone devices sold in EMEA next year
    • 55m smart phones, others feature phones
  • NAVTEQ Network for Developers
    • Online developer community
    • Includes sample map data
  • NAVTEQ Connections Web Portal
    • matchmaking, promotion
  • 6th year of NAVTEQ Global LBS Challenge
    • 2009 prizes include cash, tool & data licenses and handsets
  • O2 segments:
    • Ambitious Status Seekers
    • Frenetic Families
    • Fun Loving Socialisers

DeviceAnywhere — Leila Modarres

We use DeviceAnywhere for testing our JavaME apps (such as the National Express East Coast Timetable to Mobile) and find it very effective. I didn't take many notes on this session as I already know how it works. Go see their site if you want further details.

  • Screens only turn on when the device is in use
  • Will hand out 30 free hours today
    • I won them!

Mob4hire — Paul Poutanen

  • Mobile developers can leverage the value of existing handsets to test for other developers
    • Earn money on mob4hire…
  • Developers can use Litmus system to take advantage of 25,000 early adopter customer base on mob4hire
  • Roadmap:
    • Certified testers
    • Remote emulation — competing with deviceanywhere (using LogMeIn)
    • Coder4Hire
    • Market research — localisation etc.

Segala.com — Paul Walsh

  • Expert testing services

Sunday 14 December 2008

Can I restore a trashed disk using a wireless Time Machine backup?

Mark Wheadon made an interesting comment on my Wireless Time Machine post the other day. He wanted to know if it would be possible to restore a trashed Mac from a wireless SMB Time Machine backup by pointing the OS X DVD Disk Utility at it.

I don't think this would be possible (please correct me if I'm wrong -- I'd really like to know), as using an SMB network share relies on setting the TMShowUnsupportedNetworkVolumes system preference. This is turned off by default and I suspect impossible to change when you've booted from the OS X DVD.

Instead, the approach I take is to have two separate backups -- one a full disk backup that just clones the entire disk; and separately, a wireless Time Machine backup.

The cloned disk backup is great when your disk dies, especially if you use similar hardware to the actual disk in your machine: if you get a failure, simply swap the hardware and carry on. I use Carbon Copy Cloner to make my cloned backup -- it's free, it's certified and it has an option to start automatically as soon as you attach your backup drive. Combine this with a 2.5" SATA disk in a USB enclosure and you have a drive ready to take the place of your MacBook's internal drive within a couple of minutes.

However, making a clone requires you to attach a physical drive, something that is too easy to forget doing regularly enough. It's almost guaranteed that the one day you forget to clone your disk is the one day your disk crashes irretrievably... This is where the wireless Time Machine backup comes in. Once you've got it set up, all you have to do is leave your Mac turned on and attached to your WiFi and you will get regular backups of your recent files (up to once an hour if you want).

So the answer to Mark's question would be that if my hard disk crashed, I would swap it out with the clone and copy any recent files from my Time Machine backup. This would deal with the immediate term -- generally the most crucial time when you have a disk crash. I could then look at restoring any other files I need from Time Machine at my leisure, though I would take a clone of the clone as soon as physically possible. I might also turn off Time Machine temporarily so that the out of date clone doesn't use up unnecessary space on the backup image -- but this would have to be a choice based on how long before I'd switch to using the clone as my main drive.

I'm not sure whether it's possible to use Disk Utility's Restore function from a Mac that has the TMShowUnsupportedNetworkVolumes preference set to true. Has anyone tried?