2012 Preview: Twelve App-Related Questions On The Way To Armageddon

Happy New Year!  Yes, 2012 is upon us and, if you believe the pundits (or the Mayans), we’re all gonna die in about 11 1/2 months. And while that really takes the pressure off of watching your 401k or worrying about global warming, it amps us the urgency to get that killer new app launched.

So with that in mind, here are 12 questions whose  answers will shape the app universe (and thus, the testing landscape) in 2012:

  1. Will we finally find a better way to vet apps than app store ratings?
  2. Is Flash really and truly dead in the mobile app space?
  3. What’s the next big wave in the ever-growing sea of SoLoMo?
  4. Web-enabled TVs:  here or hype?
  5. Will Android keep winning such rapid market share from iOS?
  6. Is this the year the mobile wallet hits the U.S. mainstream?
  7. How will netizens find what they need — search or social?
  8. Can developers finally forget about IE6?  How about IE7?
  9. Will Amazon’s app store plans fly or flop?
  10. Where do tablets go from here?
  11. Which direction will the IPO and VC markets turn?
  12. After watching Uber battle taxis, and AirBnB take on hotels, which mature industry will be next to get disrupted in a big way (fwiw, my money is on medical and education, though the latter may take longer)?

So what’s your take — which of these issues will have the biggest impact on devs, testers and users in 2012?  Put on your fortune telling hat and share your prediction to that question in the comments below.

And happy 2012 to us all. Let’s enjoy this next (last?) year in the apps universe!

Gone In A Flash – Mobile Flash Player Discontinued

Game Over?

In the battle over the mobile web, the Flash Mobile Player has officially been blocked by the HTML5 lineup (arguably with Steve Jobs as the forward-thinking QB). In an Adobe blog post yesterday, VP Danny Winokur stated:

“We will no longer continue to develop Flash Player in the browser to work with new mobile device configurations (chipset, browser, OS version, etc.) following the upcoming release of Flash Player 11.1 for Android and BlackBerry PlayBook.”

For phones and tablets, the future is clear; however, the battle isn’t over. According to Mashable, “Adobe has added more robust cross-platform mobile development features to Flash Professional and added native iOS streaming to Flash Media Server,” maintaining “a strong commitment to Flash as a development platform separate from a technology stack.”

In line with more brands moving toward a hybrid approach (see post on Pandora), Adobe is astutely refocusing its efforts on native apps and aggressively contributing to HTML5.

What do you think? Without mobile, has Adobe Flash become irrelevant?

Update: Adobe also told GigaOM it has stopped supporting Flash on digital home devices, such as HDTVs.

HTML5 is Going to Solve All of Your Problems…Right?

There’s a lot of talk these days about HTML5, specifically in regards to the web and what it means for the future of video. Did you not get the memo?

“Dear Desloper (Designer+Developer) community, HTML5 has introduced a <video> tag and all you need to do is give the source of your file and it will play videos in all the browsers and devices of the universe.”

Can it really be that easy? Nope. As the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” – and the same applies to embedding video in HTML5.

The popularity of HTML5 becomes more and more important with the way arch-rivals Adobe and Apple get along with each other.  The miserable deslopers start looking for an alternative to Flash to play video on Apple devices. HTML5 – and its <video> tag – is therefore seen as somewhat of a savior. No Flash or Quicktime to play a video? Where do I sign up?

However, with different parties supporting different video standards, the desloper community needs to keep in mind that they need to encode video into different formats so that various browsers can understand their video format.

For converting the video to iPhone, Apple provides a tool named Quick Time Pro which you can buy (or let your generous boss pay for it) for conversion purposes. Quick Time Pro will make your life easy to convert your video (Quick time format) file into MP4 which you can play on iPhone for both web and desktop applications.

The fun starts when you have to play H.264 video format in Mozilla Firefox (my favorite browser and probably most developers’ favorite too).

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Testing the Limits With Jakob Nielsen – Part I

What an honor it is to have Jakob Nielsen – the “King of Usability” – as our Testing the Limits guest this month. Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D. is principal of Nielsen Norman Group , a research and consulting firm that studies how people use technology. He is the author of many books, including Eyetracking Web Usability and Prioritizing Web Usability. He has invented several usability methods, including heuristic evaluation, and holds 79 United States patents, mainly on ways of making the Internet easier to use. For more, read his official biography.

In part I of our interview, we get his thoughts on the evolution of user experience; the superiority of native apps; tablet usability; the death of PDF files; iPhone vs. Android and other hot topics. Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part II of the interview. Enjoy!

uTest: Like everything, software usability is in a constant state of change. How have you managed to stay on top of a field that seems to get turned upside down every other month?

JN: The users keep me fresh. I don’t really have to know anything, because I can simply see what our test participants use and how they use it.

uTest: It seems to us that software usability is as much a study of human behavior than anything else. What other subjects would you advise people to study who want to learn more about user preferences? Psychology? Sociology? Others?

JN: The main thing I recommend is to study your actual users: invite a handful of representative customers to your location and run them through simple usability studies of your software. One day in the lab is worth a year in university lecture halls, in terms of actionable lessons learned. (And remember that your “usability lab” can be a regular office or conference room —as long as you shut the door.)

That said, it’s still well worth studying all branches of psychology (perceptual, cognitive, social, etc.). One of the most popular courses at the Usability Week conference is called “The Human Mind and Usability” and summarizes the most salient psych findings for designers who don’t have time to go back to school.

It’s also worth studying visual design, even if you’re never going to draw anything yourself. Knowing the concepts and language is helpful when communicating with graphic designers, both to let them know what you want and to understand their ideas.

uTest: In the world of mobile, there’s been a lot written on the subject of native apps vs. the mobile web. What’s your take on this debate? Do both methods have a role to play in the user landscape? And for companies just venturing the mobile realm, where would you tell them to focus their attention?

JN: Apps are superior for 3 reasons:

  • Empirically, users perform better with apps than with mobile sites in user testing.
  • Apps are much better at supporting disconnected use and poor connectivity, both of which will continue to be important use cases for years to come. When I’m in London and don’t feel like being robbed by “roaming” fees, any native mapping app will beat Google Maps at getting me to the British Museum.
  • Apps can be optimized for the specific hardware on each device. This will become more important in the future, as we get a broader range of devices.

Apps have the obvious downside of requiring more development resources, especially to be truly optimized for each device. If a company doesn’t have enough resources to do this right, it’s better to have a nice mobile site than a lame app.

A second downside of apps is that users have to install them. Our testing shows poor findability and usability in Apple’s Application Store, and many users won’t even bother downloading something at all for intermittent use. So ask yourself whether you’re really offering something within the hardcore mobile center of need: time-sensitive and/or location dependent, and whether your offer is truly compelling in this crowded space. Most companies are never going to make it big in mobile. In some cases all they need is to make their main website somewhat mobile-friendly. Many others should deliver a dedicated mobile site but not bother with apps.

uTest: Regarding tablets, we see a lot of companies taking their current iPhone app, increasing the graphic fidelity, and releasing it as an “original” iPad app. In your view, what the biggest mistake being made by companies developing apps specifically for tablet devices?

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W3C: HTML5 Is Not For Production Sites

Well what do you know? Just 6 months ago in my post about 5 Reasons Flash is Here to Stay, I wrote reason #1 is that HTML5 is an immature and incomplete standard. Well now I have some support for that from none other than the web standards setting body itself – The W3C.

In an interview today on InfoWorld, W3C lead Philippe Le Hégaret had this to say about HTML5:

“The problem we’re facing right now is there is already a lot of excitement for HTML5, but it’s a little too early to deploy it because we’re running into interoperability issues.”

“I don’t think it’s ready for production yet.”

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Apple Winning the Bug Marathon

Take that Oracle! You just let Apple capture the lead in the 2010 Bug Marathon, otherwise known as Secunia’s Half Year Report (PDF). Worth the read, the 20-page report identifies the ten largest vendors with the most vulnerabilities (in all their products) and ranks them for the first half of 2010 – great entertainment for those who like to track bugs and keep score.

I mean, the World Cup is over and nobody really cares about baseball until September, so perhaps this could help fill the competitive void in the meantime…

Here are the current “standings”:

  1. Apple
  2. Oracle
  3. Microsoft
  4. HP
  5. Adobe Systems
  6. IBM
  7. VMware
  8. Cisco
  9. Google
  10. Mozilla Organization

As noted earlier, this is really more of a marathon than a sprint, so it would be useful if we went back a little longer than six months to crown a winner. Thankfully, Secunia did just that as part of their key findings:

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5 Reasons Flash Is Here to Stay

Apple’s recent changes to their developer agreement have unleashed a torrent of anger, hate, and divisiveness on the Internet (which, to my knowledge, has never happened before).  To summarize, Apple announced that the only languages that can be used to develop applications for the iPhone are Javascript, C, C++, and Objective C.  This change was seen as a slap in the face to Adobe who was developing a Flash-to-iPhone app converter that would have made it easy to migrate a Flash application to the iPhone.

Through all of this bitterness, many have argued that Flash is ready for the deadpool – some even cheering its demise.  I disagree.  Actually, I believe just the opposite is true.  Here are 5 reasons why Flash won’t be going away anytime soon.

1. HTML5 is still very immature.
HTML5 is everyone’s favorite choice as a Flash replacement. Read the comments sections on just about any blog or article about this topic, and HTML5 is often hailed as the greatest thing to happen to computing since Apple “invented” the mouse (with Xerox’s help).  The problem with HTML5 is that it’s still an immature and unfinished platform.  While it’s supported by the very latest versions of Firefox, Safari, and Chrome, it’s not yet fully supported in Internet Explorer (although IE9 will bring support eventually). If most of the browsers on the web don’t yet support HTML5, it’s not a fully supported standard.

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