HTML 5, Native Apps, the iPhone and Windows 8

7 03 2012

I have been a tad quiet on the blogging front for a little while, simply because I haven’t had time really to sit down and write anything (though I have found time to read a lot)….Ok excuses over…

In this post I want to look briefly at the whole HTML 5 Vs Native app debate, and how Windows 8 potentially changes that landscape…

 

HTML 5

It’s something that has been a dream of developers, a single code base, a single “app” if you like that works on any system you can think of. HTML 5 does deliver that, well sort of. You see HTML 5 maybe being touted as that multi platform solution, but the whole architecture of using a browser and HTML isn’t right for actual applications. If you want to present some information and some basic functionality (think blogs for example), then HTML makes great sense, and that after all is what it was originally conceived for, to deliver content (not applications) to any machine.

The issues arise when we start to use HTML to deliver actual applications, and this is something that has been going on for some time – long before HTML 5 raised its head (my own companies have done this too). There is nothing wrong with web apps as such, but you must realise that they do lack certain functionality, and equally important, the user experience is NOT as good as a native application.

 

The iPhone effect

Before the iPhone was released, many software development companies were starting to deliver real business solutions as “thin client” applications – essentially web apps. I personally hated these, but did see the benefits when it came to roll out, updates etc over standard “thick client” applications. Many companies even started to deliver apps via FLASH, providing the software with a richer environment, much improved user experience but still rely on the distribution architecture of the web to actually deliver the app to the end user.

With mobile devices, there was no flash support, and we started to deliver “mobile” web apps, though not that great and a little clunky, they did work to an extent…But then along came the iPhone and this did change everything.

The iPhone had a much better web experience than any other handset, yet still using web apps on such a device was not good. The iPhone though had an app store, and an environment that worked well for delivering applications to the device, and these were native applications, applications that actually worked very well and provided the user with a much improved experience. All of a sudden to support mobile well, it was expected you write a native app…

 

Flash support

Flash did provide great experiences over the web architecture; the whole plug-in concept did get round so many issues with traditional thick and thin client apps, though Flash did have a lot of issues, especially security ones…Flash was also dependent on support on the device, on PCs this wasn’t a problem, but on mobiles etc the game was different.

By not supporting FLASH and singing the praises of HTML 5, Apple effectively killed off the browser plug-in and cross platform support for technologies that could deliver thick client experiences in a thin client fashion. Instead, Apple forced that user experience to only be available via native apps, as it knew all too well, no matter how good HTML 5 is that it cannot compete with native applications…

 

Native Apps

I personally think the whole native app experience is far far better for the end user. Native apps deliver great usability, the look good and their functional capabilities far outweigh the potential of a web app. The App environments provided by Apple and now Microsoft also negate so many issues associated with installing “dodgy” software.

By controlling the distribution of applications, Apple and Microsoft effectively can ensure (to a high level) that the applications are good, that they perform well (which makes their device look good) and just as importantly, know the application isn’t up to no good. The problem with the web, installing plug-ins or actually applications is that the end user doesn’t have anyone else saying “yeap, this is fine to install”. As a consequence, the majority of computer problems, viruses etc are born out of the end user installing something by being tricked into thinking it was safe….

 

Native expectation

So many of us are now used to the native mobile app experience,  which we like, that we now expect the same sort of environments on our desktop machines, tablets go without saying.  Because of this, Apple and Microsoft are providing app stores on desktop machines, which potentially changes how we install applications on our machines – and the sort of experiences we start to expect. You could argue that the iPad has really started this migration of “apps” from the mobile phone to general devices that we use…

 

Windows 8 effect

Though the iPhone and iPad dominate their respective market places, Apple don’t dominate the desktop, and we must remember that the desktop is still a massive market. Windows 8 no matter what is written about it will change the desktop, and with Windows 8 you can only install “metro” apps via the application store. These apps are immersive full screen rich experiences, and they are native applications. So, just as we see with mobiles, we will start to users opting for “apps” over HTML 5 web experiences.

For businesses, even micro-online retailers, the importance of delivering native “apps” appears to be growing. On the plus side, this means you have the opportunity to really deliver applications and experiences of note to consumers, on the downside, you have to realise that you need more investment in the front end of your applications. (Mind you, the amount of time spent making sure your HTML website runs the same on all browsers across all platforms, and then is mobile compatible etc etc the difference may not be as great financially as you expect).

Advertisements




BUILD and Windows 8…

19 09 2011

So last week saw Windows 8 developer preview being shown off at Microsoft’s BUILD conference, and well, there was a lot to take in. BUILD was also showing off Windows Server 8 and a host of other Microsoft initiatives / solutions, including Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Azure. With all that being shown off, it was hard to keep up and understand what exactly Microsoft was telling us about their future products and services. Unfortunately, as with most things Microsoft does, this meant that there was a lot of “dodgy”, to put it politely, blogging and tweets being thrown around. Essentially many tweets and blog posts were simply wrong, or written by pure Microsoft haters, so the messages coming out from BUILD did get a little lost for some…

Anyway…Let’s have a look at Windows 8 and what it could mean to consumers and businesses…

Metro

Well this is the new interface style if you like, what Windows now looks like by default. Metro is something Microsoft has been pushing, but it’s essentially a design look and feel. Many people see this as
primarily just for tablets, but I disagree. I like the idea of switching on my PC to see the “live tiles” environment, allowing me to peer into applications without needing to open them. It’s a feature I like on the Windows Phone 7+ platform, and I personally think it works really well for the PC, laptop, tablet market. Metro applications also look and behave great, and I have no problem with moving away from “chrome” based windowed applications.

Windows 8 new Metro UI. It's Alive...

The “Metro” side of Windows 8 only supports “metro” style apps and HTML running in IE10 (currently no Silverlight or Flash in the Metro browser experience). Metro also provides a design methodlody for applications, and as such, a framework for developers to work within when delivering “apps”.

There are also “contracts” in place between applications, allowing them to share functionality via “charms”, such as the “search charm”. What does that mean, well it means you can search inside your app from the standard search dialogue. Even better, you can share content between apps using the “share” charm, so I am in one app, and I wish to share some content, I can click on the system charm and simply share it with another application. This provides a real slick feel to using the system, as if the Apps are part of Windows 8, as opposed to a single bit of software that simply runs on Windows 8. There is quite a difference there…Essentially metro and charms all adds to the user experience, and rich environment, Windows 8 aims to deliver.

Charms in action

Using "Charms" with touch screen keyboard to search within apps

Many though have stated, why ship Metro style for the PC if you are also supporting the more traditional “desktop” look and feel, which essentially is Windows 7 updated. There have even been calls for supplying metro only for tablets, and desktop view only for traditional laptops and desktops, a bit like Apple shipping iOS for tablets and full on Mac OS for Mac Books. Well to these people I simply say “you don’t get it”…

Flexibility, choice and function is what people want. If I own an iPad and I want to edit some pictures by using Photoshop, I can’t. That means switching over to my laptop, Mac book, PC whatever to do that work, not great if I am at the mother in-laws for example. So why not deliver a tablet that can allow me to do that work if I want? What’s wrong with having the flexibility and option there? Nothing…After all, I don’t have to go into the standard desktop if I don’t need to…

Native Desktop

The native desktop is still there, essentially it looks and feels like Windows 7, and there is nothing wrong with that. The native desktop is used to support more complex applications, applications such as Photoshop or Visual Studio, applications that need lots of tool bars, need to show lots of actions and functions to the user. There is nothing wrong with these types of applications, and not all applications could be designed the “metro” way (nor should they).

The native desktop is just that, it’s everything Windows 7 is right now, so all your legacy / business applications that have gone before will run fine on Windows 8.

 

Tablets, Laptops, Netbooks, PC’s, Phones…ARM, the lot…

One of the big things with Windows 8, and something Microsoft kept on pushing at BUILD, was that Windows 8 is for all devices, and that means all forms of hardware. So Windows 8 runs well on my fully blown development beast of a PC, yet it works just as well on a small wafer thin tablet running an ARM processor. This is actually great, it means I have a single experience across all my devices, while Microsoft needs only support a single platform.

Now, throw into the mix Microsoft’s investment into the cloud and Windows Live, and you start to see added benefits of this kind of thinking. You can have all your devices understand “state” between them, so understanding where I am in an xbox live game for example, or where I am in terms of a business process. That makes life a lot easier and flexible. Simple things such as changing my “Avatar” on my PC is replicated across all my devices, which is a great touch…

For quite sometime I have wanted a tablet that allows me to install everything I may ever need on it, so that includes development studios, it includes database administration suites, it includes photo editing software etc etc and I simply cannot do that with a tablet. So that means I lug around a great laptop just in case I need these things, yet I mainly use that to search the web, run some power point presentations, check email etc etc. With Windows 8, I can get my PC on a tablet, and use it as a tablet, until I need to use it properly, and in such an event, I can…

 

WinRT, .NET, WPF and Silverlight

Ok, now this is where many bloggers etc really annoyed me, especially those saying “Microsoft has killed .NET and Silverlight”. The essential truth is that many “components” that make up the .NET framework (and therefore the Silverlight framework) have been incorporated into WinRT (which is the metro side of Windows 8 libraries – if you like). Metro apps run either XAML or HTML 5 (note that if you are familiar with WPF and Silverlight that XAML is the front end of those technologies) but don’t run what we could term “native WPF or native Silverlight” applications. Metro apps “managed code” environment is either C++, VB, or C# (oh that’s just the same as WPF and Silverlight), and pretty much everything is the same. If you have an old Silverlight or WPF app,
you do need to make a few, and I do mean few changes, before it runs in the metro environment. I personally don’t see the big problem with this. Sure if you have a business application running on Silverlight, you now need to change it if you want to run it in the Metro world, however, you can always run it in the desktop environment…If you want to migrate, make the few changes and away you
go, and you now have a Metro application. Those changes are essentially a few include changes, and that’s it…

When you look at “Metro”, you see that it really is just an update to Silverlight / WPF, actually the whole of Windows 8 looks and feels like a Silverlight / WPF.

 

HTML 5 and scripting languages

HTML 5 is now supported along with Javascript in Visual Studio 2011, now I don’t think this shows any movement away from Microsoft technologies (such as XAML), rather it shows Microsoft’s aim of allowing as many developers as possible to develop great applications for Windows 8.

From some of the videos I have watched, I would suspect that using XAML is better for Metro applications (well delivering some of them), however, HTML 5 is going to do more than adequate job.

 

Windows Azure

There was a lot on Windows Azure, especially when we start looking at how Windows 8 synchronises between all your devices. Now I am not one who has shouted about the cloud from day 1, I have often spoken of some of the issues regarding compliance and many issues with the cloud. However, that being said, Microsoft uses Azure very very well with Windows 8. They have also gone through a lot of work of exposing may Azure interfaces to developers, allowing them to take advantage of the power of Azure across all devices. Great thinking…

I also liked a lot of things being done with Azure, and how Microsoft have really addressed compliance issues that do raise their head when we think of cloud computing. If I am honest, I think the stuff I have seen on Azure of late has me praising the concept of the cloud so much more. Though I feel that’s more aimed at “Azure” than cloud computing in general. I still have issues with IaaS and concepts of cloud applications running in my browser (I hate that, I want a real user experience, a real application, and guess what, with Metro or the desktop and Azure, I can get that very easily).

 

Developers, developers, developers

BUILD was all about developers, and that means putting them at the forefront of Windows 8, giving them the tools they choose to develop with and allowing them “sell” to potentially millions of customers. On that note, there was a lot made about the sheer number of devices out there that will be running Windows 8, and just how big that audience is for developers. I know that Apple has gained traction here; I know that Android has gained traction too, but at the end of the day, if you develop for Windows you have the biggest audience out there. And that is a fact…Throw into the mix Windows 8 capabilities on tablets and the deal with Nokia, and I think you see that Microsoft is working hard to get even more devices running their software.

 

Much more I have missed…

There was simply so much at BUILD that I can’t possibly start talking about all the things I am aware of, nor did I fancy writing multiple blogs on essentially a platform that is only at developer preview stage.  I didn’t touch on Windows Server 8, nor other features such as NFC enablement, but there you go. Go visit Channel 9 and watch the hundreds of hours on BUILD.

Essentially, Microsoft has been working very hard, it has taken on board the need for touch, and the fact that mobile and tablets are becoming must have devices, and as such, Microsoft should have Windows running on them.

I personally think Microsoft has done a great job with Windows 8 and Azure, and I can really see them taking Apple on head to head in markets where Apple currently dominates. Is this Microsoft getting back to their best? I think so…





Silverlight 4 PivotViewer…I like it…A lot…

2 07 2010

There aren’t many controls that I see that make me sit up and think “wow”, however this really is one of those. For a while now I have been coming up with new ways in which to allow users of our workFile ECM product to access massive amounts of data visually, allowing the user to search through them in a graphical way that is both intuitive, but more importantly in a fashion that is usable rather than just looks pretty. We have had quite a lot of success with this, however in certain areas our solution just isn’t perfect, and for these areas we revert to more traditional methods of understanding / navigating data. The main issue is usually the potential amount of data the user may have to look through…

Let’s have an example. A while back I was asked to consult for a company that were looking at a solution that needed to look through vast amounts of pictures and graphics. The vendor had a very visual solution; it looked great and performed ok, for small sets of data. It involved using nicely animated thumbnails of data, which the user could then navigate, very similar to the standard tree view with details pane. However, the problem arises when your node could contain hundreds of thousands of images (which the customer did have). While the demo looked great and all the representatives from the client thought it would do the job perfectly I had to speak up and ask just how it would cope with say 500,000 images in a single node….. The vendor looked a little shocked and said “you would navigate in the same way or break the node down into several other nodes”…The client looked fine, however again I had to point out that scrolling up and down searching for a single image in 500,000 or popping into every sub node to find my image would take a hell of a long time. It was at this point that the vendor and the client both realised that this solution wasn’t going to work for them….Now this may seem obvious, but the issue with cracking graphical interfaces in this fashion is that, while they work great on smallish subsets of data, they really do fall down to massive vast amounts of information (you can’t beat a good text based search can you…..or can you…)

This morning I decided to finally look at the PivotViewer with Silverlight 4, and, I was very impressed. I have to say I like it a lot…All of a sudden I have a tool that can give me just what I have been looking for (without anyone here having to spend a long time coding).

What is PivotViewer

Basically it is a Silverlight 4 based control that allows you to graphically represent collections of data. You can filter and sort this data quickly and move between different views of your collection allowing users to quickly identify just what they are looking for, or perhaps trends in data for example…

What could we use it for?

Well there are many things it could be used for. A couple quickly spring to mind. Imagine a way of quickly and accurately reviewing your quarterly sales in a graphical format. Then imagine being able to break that data down (using the same graphical format) into each month, then week, then day. Or perhaps you want to compare cars based on fuel economy, price, and number of seats. As a user, you can filter and re-filter all this information graphically so you can quickly and intuitively find what you are looking for…

There are many uses for this particular tool, and it could indeed lead to RIAs that deliver a completely new way of providing us with data and even navigation…

Interested?

Well if you are interested, have a look at http://www.silverlight.net/learn/pivotviewer/





HTML 5 – It’s not the end of internet plug-ins

4 06 2010

I have posted a number of times now about HTML5 and my concerns that people see it as a complete replacement for internet plug-in such as Silverlight and Flash, allowing RIAs to be delivered in pure HTML 5. One of the main people who keep going on about HTML 5 is Steve Jobs (though I think a lot of this is trying to convince the users of iPhones and iPads that Flash has a short life ahead). However, it seems that more and more people are sharing my opinion that HTML 5 will not kill of Flash and Silverlight, and that its adoption is a hell of a long way off in general…A recent report and article from Forrester illustrates this…

HTML 5 traction and buzz….

There is for sure a lot of buzz around HTML 5 in the past couple of months, least not because of Jobs, but also because Google has recently open-sourced its VP8 video codex. To date, abilities and licensing issues surrounding such video converters have been one of the sticking points for beta HTML 5, however this is not the only issue. Though there is a lot of internet buzz, it seems that adoption of HTML 5 is a long long way off, with browsers only supporting small fragments of HTML 5 currently. It seems that for wide spread adoption, as users we will be waiting until 2020 or sometime around then…That’s not exactly close is it…Its again another reason why I am not at all “hyped up” about HTML 5, it’s just so far off….

So while HTML 5 is a long way off, just think how much traction Flash and Silverlight will gain in this period. Silverlight is the new boy on the block, but has already around 60% adoption across all machines. That’s rather impressive, all this while HTML 5 is in beta releases and going through a lot of, development pains and issues shall we say…

There is also the issue of cross browser issues. Just like HTML 4, HTML 5 will suffer at the hands of different browsers. The author of the Forest report (Hammond) stated “Until you get consistent behaviour the question will be why you would use HTML 5 when it actually creates more challenges than it solves from a testing and deployment perspective.” I have to say, this has always been an issue with HTML in general, especially when delivering internet applications, and it is one that won’t go away for HTML 5…Though HTML 5 is supposed to be intended as an enterprise-class product, the reality is that the architecture of HTML 5 with the browser has a number of issues and draw backs, even when talking to web services. Though the aim is for HTML 5 to allow easier building of “applications” the fact is that HTML and that side of the web architecture was never designed with this in mind….

Test once…You are all done…

Ahh, well this is not the case is it with HTML. Unfortunately you will need to perform tests on all the browsers out there, and no doubt, place “HTML fixes, CSS fixes and JavaScript fixes” into your application depending on what browser is running it. This does make life a lot harder for testing and development, oh, and of course ongoing support. However, this problem is just not there for Flash and Silverlight, because their architecture is completely different and in many ways separate from the browser and the web in general, indeed you can run Silverlight out of the browser fine…

Hammonds recent report – titled “Does HTML 5 Herald the end of RIA Plug-Ins? Not Really” – found that application delivery through RIA amongst businesses rose to 34% in 2009, up from 26% in 2008. This illustrates the increase use of RIAs amongst businesses, especially with technologies such as Silverlight develop further, all this while HTML 5 is still in its draft phase…

For traditional website material, you could still use HTML and HTML 5 if you wish, however for complex functions and applications, I would always recommend the use of Silverlight, there are just so many hurdles you negate while being able to use a technology that isn’t restricted by the browser web architecture.

Open aspect of HTML 5

So many people claim they love the idea that HTML 5 is “open”. And there are some good arguments made for this, however I have yet to see one example where these arguments are valid. Especially arguments that users may have to pay for Flash or Silverlight use, that you can become restricted to what browsers you can use, or that you are dependent on them for your support…I don’t see an issue or potential issue with any of these arguments, they are just created so people try to feel more safe with an “open” technology controlled by many rather than a single company…

However, this open aspect of HTML 5 may also work against its progress and adoption, especially as open standards are very slow to develop. HTML 5 has been in development for a decade now, and though early candidate releases are recommended for 2012/13, it is a while yet before we see HTML 5 as the standard version of HTML being used. On top of that, cross browser issues and W3C adoption is even further off…

Architecture…

RIAs require processing on the client, or at least they should do. Users expect “thick client” performance and usability in an RIA and on top of that, access to hardware components, such as storage, web cams, other applications running on the client etc etc. The architecture behind the web and HTML jsut doesn’t allow this. Though HTML 5 will bring us a richer web, with easier video playback, website animations and improved usability (a little like Ajax has done), it will always be behind Silverlight for example, that can take advantage of hardware on the client, keyboard interactivity, integration with other applications and the ability to work in a “disconnected state” from the internet….

My own view on the use of HTML 5 in the future…

It simple, for typical web content, HTML 5 will provide a greater level of interactivity, animation and improved user experience. It will no doubt be used for “simpler” RIAs, however its adoption as a serious RIA for businesses is plain fantasy. RIAs need to deliver more, and therefore organisations will continue to look to plug-ins, especially Silverlight more and more. I also believe that websites available to the general public will also have more aspects delivered in Silverlight, even once HTML 5 has gained traction, simply because Silverlight can deliver a better end user experience without many of the hassles associated with web development and HTML, CSS and JavaScript across multiple browsers…..





Great website design or just great images and video?

18 03 2010

This week I have had a couple of conversations on Twitter with regards to creating great websites quickly and easily. For many, templates with the use of widgets (as available through wordPress for example) is almost perfect, allowing websites to be put together very quickly. However, this only works when your web requirements are for simple use of media and presenting this to visitors of your website…In addition, people often believe that they have created “stunning” websites, when in reality, the website design is a standard format (nothing special) but consists of some great images and use of various media…This doesn’t really constitute great website design…

With a branch of my own company specialising in website design, I am often interested in looking at great new websites – especially those which people term has having great design. However, in most cases I look at the design and how the website works and fine that there is nothing new there, nothing great at all, rather the website consists of great images and use of video.

Beware templates

Template websites are great for quick website design and delivering something quickly. If you are a small business owner, and don’t require much in terms of functionality (or anything out of the ordinary) – then templates are a great option. They are quick to implement, flexible to an extent and cheap….However, be aware, that the design (even once tweaked) can look disjointed at times and not “fit” well…I have often found that “CMS” based solutions (especially open source versions) deliver websites that are heavy on template use. Modifications are made by using “widgets” and moving them around, however the actual design never “flows” that great. Another downside is that more often than not, you will be able to find another website out there using the same template looking almost identical to your own – this is never good especially if the other company is a competitor.

However, any template can be improved and look a lot better with the use of great images….

Great media = great design

This isn’t true I know. However, for the vast majority of standard website users (and even marketing people, IT people, business decision makers etc) the first thing we notice, and then think of as the website design, is the video, is the colours used, is the images and how they are shown. This means then to have a great looking website, the most important aspect is not design, but the images and video you use….

Just as it is true that great images can make a standard designed website look great, it is true that poor images and media quality can make a great design look poor.

I would like at this point to set a challenge. At the websites you visit, look at them carefully. Work out what you like, what you dislike and try to separate what is “design” from what is a great image / video. Once you can do this, you will find that websites are often very similar in their underlying design. In many cases you will also find that the “design” element is often the secondary part of the overall feel and experience you get from the website…

Your type of website

Remember that the type of website you require will also determine the type of design that can be put together. For example, a content managed eCommerce website design will be very different to something that is showing off say, a car design. You also have to take into consideration such things as readability, accessibility and SEO (many of these things are, let’s say, forgotten by a number of great designs out there). If you are in the business of selling a product or service on line – then no doubt you will want something very plain, easy to navigate and something that enables Google and Bing to easily index your content. This means instantly that the technologies you use, and what you can and can’t do from a “design” perspective is very different to our “car” website – which may not need to take into consideration any of these factors…

What are the best examples?

 The best examples of great website design seamlessly blend great use of images and video into the way the website reacts / feels. It is hard to explain – but a great design builds on the use of great images and videos and incorporates them into the whole experience. When this is done well, a website really stands out from the crowd (and you can see that – just like anything in life – you get what you pay for).

Unfortunately – far too many organisations approach web designs and say “build me a great stunning website” to which the design starts to do. However, if the organisation hasn’t got great images, great videos or use of various media the website design process is highly limited from the outset. Even in an eCommerce world, if the images of the products are poor, then the whole website design feels as if it suffers….

Remember, websites are part of marketing to an extent, so you need to ensure your material, including images, video and copy are top notch. Only then can a web designer show their worth and build some stunning web experiences….

Some examples

Here are a couple of examples I have seen in the past couple of days that I love….See how they blend great images, video with seamless design and feel of the website. See how the navigation to content interacts with the images and video etc to give a unique experience….(Forget SEO and any other restrictions here…I just like the design)

http://eu.wrangler.com/

http://www.bountybev.com/home.html

http://www.walktowashington.org/

http://www.gm.ca/gm/english/vehicles/buick/behind-the-beauty/feature?adv=94437#/HOME

http://204beech.com/category/background/





Multitouch revolution

22 07 2009

Let’s face it, anything in the technology world that allows or uses the term “touch” is cool. The iPhone really got people interested in touch technology, and before you know it, we all want a touch phone, or a PC with touch technology. But touch isn’t something Apple invented for its iPhone, nope, touch has been around for quite some time now. EPOS systems (like our own) have been using touch screens for years. It’s just that, well, Apple has done what Apple does best, makes something sexy and desirable, then markets it as something wonderfully new.

Touch at home…

In the past 18 months, we have seen a number of machines starting to use touch technology. Though a little under-spec for their price, they do deliver great user experiences, and a great look and feel. The problem has been that these machines have had to have their own software overlaying the Windows operating system, to really get a great “touch” experience.

Microsoft though, through its Surface development, has spent a long time looking into and developing its own touch screen and touch technology. Surface delivers some great experiences and touch ability, and if you start searching the web for videos of Microsoft Surface or Surface Sphere, you will see some simply stunning demonstrations. Surface has no doubt driven Windows 7 to support multitouch experiences, at a native operating system level. This really means touch screens will take off not just in the workplace, but at home now…

Microsoft have taken the touch revolution further, offering touch overlays for standard monitors and plasma screens, effectively touch enabling these devices. For me that’s great, it means I can use my 42” plasma display unit as a touch screen to give demonstrations at corporate events.

Touch for business

Well we all want user experiences to be as good as they possibly can be. More importantly, we want users to be able to use software quickly and easily, and hopefully, without the need for lots and lots of training. Touch does open up new doors for developers, especially those who develop desktop applications, and rich web applications, using Silverlight. Why? Well desktop applications will be able to take advantage of the touch capabilities of the operating system and Silverlight, also supports touch, though essentially Silverlight is used for web experiences.

With touch comes new ways of designing software, which can promote simpler yet more powerful user interfaces and rich experiences. For sometime, our own workFile Vision product has been designed with touch in mind, with interfaces that can only really work well if touch is in place.

It’s worth noting that, just because Windows 7 supports touch, it doesn’t mean your applications will automatically work with all touch features. A limitation with Silverlight is that it understands and recognises multitouch events; however, it doesn’t understand touch gestures. If you want to support gestures, you’re going to have to write your own application code.

What do we need to support multitouch?

So what do you need to have in place to support touch? Well, multitouch requires an environment (platform and operating system, hosting application such as a browser) that supports and can propagate touch events. Windows 7 provides such support at the operating system level. Touch events are promoted to mouse events; therefore standard applications will be able to take advantage of basic touch input. But multitouch is what we want, we want to be able to size windows with our fingers, quickly navigate through options, zoom in and out etc etc. Multitouch is what we need to be able to do these things…

For web applications, you need to ensure your application host is also touch aware. Now at the moment, the only “multitouch” aware browser I know of is IE8. This means that it will support multitouch events and propagate these to the web application correctly. So if you have a web application written in Silverlight, you can take advantage of multitouch events and deliver richer and more user friendly web experiences.

Catch up…

I have no doubt that Windows 7 touch experiences will lead to more and more people purchasing machines / monitors that allow touch experiences. This means Apple will have to start delivering touch experiences on the Mac too. Touch issues are also present in web browsers. Because currently the only multitouch aware browser is IE8, the likes of Safari, Chrome and FireFox need to play catch up. For me, if my machine supports touch, I want my browser to support multitouch too!

More and more desktop applications will need to start to support multitouch events. The same can be said of web based applications, be they business or for the general public. This means technologies such as Flash will also need to start supporting multitouch events. Especially as Silverlight already does…

For many, multitouch support could prove to be a nightmare, however, for those that choose to implement it, will no doubt enjoy better end user experiences and ultimately, sales…





Do we need a web browser?

17 06 2009

There have been a lot of discussions I have seen floating around on Twitter etc with regards to HTML 5, and will it kill Flash and Silverlight. To be honest, there is no way this can happen, simply because both Flash and Silverlight do not rely on a third party to make them work. In addition neither has to conform to a generic standard which can hinder their functionality. Both have product roadmaps and both move forward at a rate that such a generic implementation could never hope to achieve. This means, the user experience will always be (potentially) better, and that’s the main aim.

However, both Flash and Silverlight based web experiences do rely on a browser. A browser has to be used by the end user to locate the web site, and then for the Silverlight / Flash plug-in to be executed. After that, the browser is pretty much redundant…

In the beginning

In the beginning of the Internet, a browser was simply used to locate, access and display basic documents, that were formatted in a particular way in which the browser would understand. (I know, I am making this very simple, but I want everyone to see where I am going with today’s post). This allowed people to access these documents that were stored somewhere and read them. If you think of a browser as Microsoft Word for example, and the HTML as the actual document, you start to see where I am coming from…

Browser wars…

Jumping forward, and into the web as it was a few years ago (before social media, videos etc),  the browser started to become an integral way of accessing content on the internet. Using HTML format for the documents, the browser allowed users to use an address to find that content, then interact with it (move around the website etc). Now this is all fine, if you have one browser, or a set of hard and fast rule of standards that everyone conforms too. But we don’t, in practice that is…

There are many browsers out there, which essentially have the primary of displaying HTML content to you, the user. However, as users we want more. We want to have options to store favourites, access feeds, personalise my browser etc etc. We also want websites to do “things”. We don’t want to just read content. So what we end up with is companies fighting for us to use their browser, which in turn turns into a bit of a nightmare for web developers as their supposed standardised HTML gets displayed differently in different browsers. Worse than this, some functions just simply don’t work in some browsers…

Does browser wars actually help end users?

Old way of thinking…

For me the web has moved on. We are already saying goodbye to web 2.0, and some smart person will term web 3.0 before long (which will actually mean nothing different to web 2.0 or even web 1.0…) my point is, the web hasn’t changed its implementation, only we as users have changed the way we use the web and what we expect from the web.

The concept of using a third party application to access content on the web is old. I don’t like it at all. I also think that using HTML or any standardised format to deliver applications is plainly wrong. As a developer you are always being “shoe horned” into a way of thinking and working which hinders the application look, feel, interaction, and therefore detracts from your users experience.

Internet websites are no longer formatted pages of information; many now act as applications and with Flash and Silverlight, deliver highly rich, interactive user experiences. With such websites, the browser is simply used to find the RIA (rich internet application) and start it. The application isn’t run by the browser at all. So do we need a browser for this?

HTML 5 is supposed to deliver the ability to show video for example. However, the same issues will still apply between browsers and websites; they will just now be even more complicated.

A new way of using the web

In my own mind, HTML should remain as it is today, however, with standards (especially regarding CSS) tightened. HTML is fine at delivering content, that’s after all what it was designed for. However, delivering complete websites, rich user experiences should be left to bespoke software, such as Flash and Silverlight. This form of distributed computing power helps the end user, and enriches their experience. I see no place for a browser on my machine, and would rather see the ability to browse the web as part of the underlying operating system.

Websites can then be developed in whatever technology they require, such as Silverlight or Flash. These technologies then display the website / application as they should. The web is used to provide access and download the application / content, no need for a browser…

I hear some of you crying at this point “how will a search engine pick up the content”, which is a good point. However, search engines must adapt. Why can they not interact with Flash and Silverlight? With the latter, the content essentially is stored as xml, so it’s not a massive leap. Also, what’s stopping search engines from picking up on tags that describe the content fully, still within the hosting HTML?

HTML shouldn’t be seen as just something a browser understands, rather a format the operating system itself understands. Once this happens, and we use the web to distribute applications and information in this fashion, many of the headaches of the web will be removed, and we can truly open up the potential of distributed and mobile applications / rich experiences…Silverlight 3.0 already delivers an out of browser experience, so are we far away from this ideal?