Let me answer the first question first. Yes, your business does need a mobile strategy.
Does this mean developing an “app”?
App development can be expensive ~ $10K and up per app is not unusual. “Native” apps (apps that run directly on a mobile device and can run without a live network connection) typically cost cost more than a so called “web” app, which is often just a web-site designed to look good on a smaller screen. While native apps are much loved by users for their excellent performance and polished “look and feel,” sometimes the less expensive web app might be a better choice. As with any good business decision, making the right decision requires a thoughtful analysis of your target user group, your business goals, your budget, and the extent to which mobile technologies compliment your existing legacy systems and the data they contain. In the finally analysis, the decision to invest in mobile technology is a business decision and not a technology one, and all the rigors of good business apply.
Business rigor sounds, um, corporate. Bureaucratic. Stifling. What if I am an entrepreneur with a great idea for an app? Do I still need to get mixed up in all that blah, blah, blah?
Yes. You do.
Your app is not your business ~ your app is a business enabler. It is just one componant in a business ecosystem that you must rule. Just getting the app developed is only one part, albeit a key one, of your overall go-to-market business strategy. Creating the value people are willing to pay for is the superior goal, and that means being everywhere in your app’s “space” ~ blogging, podcasting, network marketing, affiliate marketing and all the rest.
Rule your space! If you don’t, your app will join the crowd of millions bobbing in a sea of app flotsam, waiting to be found. Good luck with that. You will have invested, but the returns will be meager.
So where do you start? I am old school in a new world order ~ I still believe in taking the time to develop a business plan, starting with your financial model. Model several different mobile monetization strategies ~ there are at least five that I know of. If your model, however tweaked, does not “Show You the Money,” then move on.
Need help with a business plan? All kinds of help exists, often for free. I steer folks to their local Chamber of Commerce or government Small Business Development Center. It is common for those organizations to offer business planning classes and even free business planning software. The written results don’t have to be an 800 lb tome, but the “back of the napkin” biz plan is a romantic myth. You get out what you put in, and you should at least have a one page executive summary of your business plan written out so that developers like us can “get it” with a five minute read.
OK ~ enough preaching for one day. We at Shockoe stand ready to help you, however you may need it, with services ranging from business planning to mobile development to backend integration. Whatever your mobile strategy is, get out there and rule!
Great companies want to know as much about themselves as they do about external factors like the market, the competition, and the economy. The reason for this is simple: competing for business of virtually any kind takes a tremendous amount of execution and focus, and it’s hard to do over a long period of time without focusing on your process. If a business had access to unlimited talent who could work unlimited hours, optimizing for process wouldn’t matter at all. However, the reality is that the number of individuals at your disposal is likely extremely limited (perhaps even to “just you”) and the number of productive hours you can work per week is probably capped at 40 over any reasonable amount of time, you have to be extremely careful with how you use your time.
At Shockoe, we care deeply about this problem. We built a time tracking system that we use to track the time we spend building things for clients, but recently we realized we wanted to know how we spent the rest of our time. So we started using our system to track the rest of our time, in order to answer the one, eternal question: are we wasting our time?
What we realized is that the biggest waste of time is entering all this data into a system to figure out if we were wasting our time. Data entry is hard, and the same way we have found that sales people end up getting so little out of their CRM’s because they resist entering data, we have found that we ascertain less about our daily routines than we’d like. We we’re going to try to fix it.
First we’ll be building out our internal tools for tracking our time with the most seamless data entry system possible. Then, we’ll release it into the wild. Want to try it? Drop me a line at [email protected] We’d love to have you help us solve this data entry beast.
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I had the pleasure of participating in this year’s Global Game Jam over the weekend. 321 Jam Locations in 63 different countries participated this year and an astonishing number of games were submitted!
We created a video game using Unity called Audiball, a cooperative two-player game where one user controls the character movement and a second user interacts with the world using a microphone. The decibel volume detected by the microphone will cause different reactions in the game world. The game has some puzzles and a nice big sandbox to play around in.
Want to give it a try? Go and play and let me know what you think in the comments!
David and Shaun – Programmers
Anne, Ayyaz, Ben – Artists.
The Game Jam experience was great. Met some great folks, learned about some new tools, and sharpened my own skills.
Special Thanks to the folks at RVA Game Jams and 804RVA!
In case you’ve forgotten your Greek mythical monsters, the Medusa had a hideous human face with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Gazing directly upon her would turn onlookers to stone. As a long time salesperson, I believe the Medusa is an apt metaphor for one of the most hated and feared computer systems foisted upon the human race: the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
Simply put, a CRM is a system for managing a company’s interactions with current and future customers, allowing sales professionals to track a “deal” from first whiff (a “lead”) through resolution, which could be either a win or a loss. CRMs help sales managers forecast demand, manage their staff, and lots of other useful things. But CRMs are only useful when the salesperson interacting with the customer enters relevant data.
Lots of data.
Every phone call. Every email. Every meeting. Every twist and turn in the Labyrinth that leads from the whiff of opportunity to the fragrance of victory or the stench of defeat.
That’s a lot of data to enter.
And when we are entering data into a CRM, we are not engaged with our customers. And when we are not engaged with our customers, we are not selling and we don’t make money. That’s why we hate them. Like the Medusa, CRMs are hideously hard to use, take up too much time, and effectively turn us to stone, locking us to our desks like statues, where we laboriously enter data we gathered in the field.
And why do we go through this torture? Certainly not because we want to, because we know what’s going on with our accounts. It is, rather, for the benefit of those who don’t know what’s going on, that is, our bosses.
Now I understand bosses should know what’s going on in the field and that sales professionals should manage the sales funnel. Theoretically a CRM helps us to do so. But the systems, many of which were designed and built decades ago, are notoriously fragmented and painful to use. In a 2007 survey from the UK, four-fifths of senior executives reported that their biggest challenge is getting their staff to use the systems they had installed. 43 percent of respondents said they use less than half the functionality of their existing system.
So there we sit, hunched over our laptops, dutifully pecking away on a system that to us seems like it was designed by Hades, the god of the underworld, just to torture us. Personal note: the most painfully complex CRM I ever used (and I’ve used a few) was Microsoft’s. Any surprise there? But with the emergence of “insanely” easy to use mobile technologies, why can’t entering valuable CRM data be made easier? The answer is: It can.
I am not authorized to reveal every trade secret for how an innovative company (say, like ours) might make CRM’s less painful, but I can provide a few hints. One of our favorite companies, 37Signals, had a hit by stripping away everything that made Microsoft Project complex and hard to use (um, that would be most of it) and giving us a project management tool that is beautifully simple, elegant and intuitive. They employ a design philosophy they call “Getting Real.” The result is Basecamp, and we love it.
Zeus hit us with a bolt of intuitive lightening when we asked ourselves, “What if 37Signals were to build a CRM? And what if they designed it from the ground up to be mobile, for the truly traveling salesperson? What would it look like? What if we finally started “Getting Real” with CRMs?” We believe the result would be a fabulously useful tool for sales professionals, freeing up many hours of time for them to do what they do best ~ serve customers. That CRM would not be another Medusa.
We’re kinda thinking Aphrodite ~ beautiful, elegant and intuitive.
 Joachim, David. “CRM tools improve access, usability.” (cover story). B to B 87, no. 3 (March 11, 2002)
I was having a bad dream, except it was real. The year is 2012. I am standing in front a room full of people, presenting a mobile strategy for their enterprise. Yes ~ I was wearing my pants. That wasn’t the problem. It was, rather, a man about my age (mid-50′s), the grey haired exec, the top dog, el hombre, “the man.” He was shaking his head. “No, no,” he said with a grimace, as if he had just chomped down on a crabapple. “That won’t do. Our demographic does not use (Whaddya call ‘em?) smart-phones. Them’s for young people.”
Suddenly I was teleported back in time. The year is 1993, and I am an “Internet Evangelist” for IBM. I am standing in front of a room of people (wearing my pants) presenting them with strategy for leveraging the web. “No, no,” says the grey haired exec. “Them, whaddya call em? Web sites ~ don’t fit our demographic. Them’s for young people.”
And so it goes. What goes around, comes around.
As with the Internet 30 years ago, there will be too many execs who underestimate the significance of the accelerating migration to mobile, or its impact on their business. And part of their skepticism is frankly justified, considering the #1 app involves flinging furious fowl forward for frivolous fun. But mobile is moving beyond the “Angry Birds” era, through the trough of disillusionment, up the slope of enlightenment, and to the plateau of productivity. Smartphone sales blew past PC sales last year, stalling PC growth, and in March 2012 we crossed a threshold ~ there are now more (whaddya call em?) smart mobile phones in use than dumb ones. We have reached critical mass, and the pace of acceptance will accelerate in 2013.
Of course, if you live in the mobile space you already know this. People are overwhelming choosing mobile devices to access web services. And even if you aren’t in mobile, it should make sense that they would, if you take the time to think about it. People are naturally mobile and naturally tactile, and they will always migrate towards their nature. That is why we love a thoughtfully designed mobile app, no matter how old we are.
So take a lesson from history: To be unaware of, and unprepared for, the mobile revolution is simply to be unprepared. It’s like showing up for a meeting, well, without your pants. Don’t let it happen to you, or it might become your bad dream.
If you were around then, you remember seeing them. Lonely kiosks, gathering dust, cast aside in the corner of a hotel lobby or government office, their one dead eye staring out dark and lifeless. The once mighty cyclops of the computing world, what IBM believed would be THE way the public gained access to electronic goods and services — rendered a corpse — and a grim reminder of what fate will befall your mobile app should you fail to heed the lessons of the lonely kiosk debacle of the 90′s .
What kills technology based initiatives? Two things: A failure to deliver value, and failures in usability. Kiosks that have survived into the present day deliver superb value and are superbly easy to use, and we use them all them time. The airline ticketing kiosk. Redbox. The ATM. But what about those goofy “info only” kiosks that gave us a map to a restaurant that closed six months ago? Or those whose UI made us want to smash them with a baseball bat like in the famous fax machine scene from “Office Space”? Cue “Still” by Geto Boys. Those kiosks died a just death, and rightly so.
History repeats itself, as they say, and so today we see mobile apps that make all the same mistakes of the 90′s. But this too shall pass, and those apps will too. In 20 years we will will look back and it will all make sense. Apps that survive, nay, thrive, will be those that deliver value consistently, reliably, and easily, and that are compelling and “insanely” easy to pick up and use. Thriving apps will enable those line of business services that are in the critical path of a company’s strategy, essential to its customers, designed for ease-of-use, and built to last.
The question is:: Will your mobile app be one of them?
There are now a multitude of device resolutions and densities running iOS, how can you make sure your content appears how you want it to appear regardless of which device your users have? This is, of course, one of the trickier areas for mobile applications. Fortunately, Titanium Studio has tools to help us attack this problem. Initially I thought that the DisplayCaps properties I could access through the Titanium API would produce the exact pixel dimensions of the device my App was running on. Upon a more careful inspection of the Titanium documentation these properties will produce values of “density-independent pixels (dip) on iOS”. I went ahead and ran a few tests on the simulator to determine what values I would receive on each device:
Ti.API.info(“height: ” + Ti.Platform.displayCaps.platformHeight);
Ti.API.info(“width: ” + Ti.Platform.displayCaps.platformWidth);
iPad (non-retina): height: 1024 width: 768
iPad (retina): height: 1024 width: 768
iPhone (non-retina): height: 480 width: 320
iPhone (3.5 inch retina): height: 480 width: 320
iPhone (4 inch retina): height: 568 width: 320
Also keep in mind that the values are relative the the orientation of the UI (not necessarily the physical orientation of the device). Another useful property of Ti.Platform is the dpi property which can provide useful information about whether the device has a retina display or not. This information helped clear up some issues for me and enabled me to better plan layouts for multiple devices, I hope the information was helpful for your App Development as well!
If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed for me from the first day I started writing code until today, about my 500th day, it’s that not knowing where to start is incredibly intimidating. I acutely remember the panic of learning HTML and having no idea how to get my divs to go where I wanted them to go. The concept of setting up a grid system made sense to me, but the execution eluded me for days.
My relief finally came when I had the greatest realization of my young coding life: good lord, there is working code everywhere! It’s all over the internet! Just find it, copy it, and see how it works and you’re golden! I became a Google, “view source”, and “inspect element” maestro over night, learning structures and logics by reading other people’s successful executions. And for a while, this was all I needed. I needed to learn such basic things that just reading and seeing how other people’s code executed then editing it to fit my needs was the best thing for me. However, as my skills improved, I found myself lacking the skill to write code from scratch as elegantly as I wanted to. So I started a new system: instead of coping other people’s code, I type it out.
When Hunter S. Thompson was working as a copy boy at Time Magazine in 1959, he spent his spare time typing out the entire Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway in order to better understand what it feels like to write a great book. To be able to feel the author’s turns in logic and storytelling weren’t possible from reading the books alone, you had to feel what it feels like to actually create the thing. And so I have found it to be with coding.
And it’s working. It’s awesome. I suggest you try it.
Nobody ever learned to become a great writer just by reading books, you’ve got to feel it.
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