On the evening of May 8th, at the Marriott Richmond, the 18th Annual Richmond Technology Awards were held in celebration of the many breakthroughs, advancements and outstanding technologists Richmond has to offer. As Richmond’s “Academy Awards” of Technology, the Gala hosts over 600 of the area’s tech giants with eight award categories. The awards presented included The Community Catalyst Award, The Emerging Company Award, The Technology Builder Award, The Innovation in Development Award, The Innovation in Utilization Award, The Educator Award, The RichTech Chairman’s Award, and most importantly The People’s Choice Award.
As a part of the event we were thrilled to develop a cross platform voting app for the People’s Choice Award. Armed with smart phones, and laptops the public was able to vote for the winner of the award with just a push a button from their Android, iOS, or internet connected devices. During a period of less than 24 hours surrounding the Gala we had over 1,500 votes total across all 3 platforms (iOS, Android, and Web).
We would like to congratulate TCSC for taking home People’s Choice Award, with an astounding 862 votes.
The finalist as well as a more detailed description of each award can be found on Richtech’s event site.
Motor Mouth combines the experience and fun of the CB radio days with modern smartphone technology to allow drivers to share their thoughts, observations, and warnings to other drives anonymously. Just upload a short voice message, submit it, and the message appears no the global map, tagged to the exact location that you left it. Warn other drivers about construction or potholes, or just leave a thought about the scenery!
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?
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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If you’ve heard anything about software development in the last five years, you’ve probably heard someone talk about “knowing your user” or “putting the user first”. The massive growth of Apple in the last decade has shone a massive spotlight on relentless user focus and has caused developers at companies large and small to re-think their priorities and put usability first. However, if knowing your user is so important, what do you do when you don’t know or have anything in common with your user?
Recently, we were approached and hired to develop an application for a group of users that fits that description perfectly: non-tech savvy grandmothers and grandfathers. The gist of the app is to make it easier for them to access a specific kind of content that they have on their computers easily and quickly on their smartphones. What makes this task so interesting is that it’s not about facilitating them to do something they can’t already do: a user with any amount of tech savvy could accomplish this task with relative ease. It’s about making it so somebody with almost NO knowledge of the technology they’re using can transfer and easily access this content with getting overly frustrated.
This task is 100% about knowing your user and catering to their needs by making existing technology more useable. The problem is, I’m a developer, capable of not only using difficult applications, but creating them from scratch. I pride myself on being a mid-adopter who is in touch with his “how I open Word again?” roots, but going into the project I found myself wondering if I really could adequately put myself in the shoes of someone who thinks opening Safari just opens Google and that Firefox opens the Internet.
So I did the only thing I could do: I talked to my own grandmother, creator of the aforementioned “Safari=Google” theory. She told me about using her computer and what she hates about it, and it was eye opening. She hates the updates and the clutter. She only wants to send and receive email, check her bank account, and use Google and that’s it. If there were 3 icons on her screen: Email with just an in and out box, her bank account, and Google that would be perfect. So even though she CAN access those 3 things from any web browser that exists, that’s not really sufficient: it’s not easy enough and browsers are too cluttered with, well, the internet.
My eyes opened, I now undertake the task of making her vision of simplicity and ease of access a reality, at least for one type of content. Wish me luck (I’m going to need it).
When was the last time you used a mobile app and said “man, I’m glad there’s all this junk on my screen! This app does 100 things and it’s clear to me what they all are and how to access them!”
I’m confident this has never happened.
However, I bet you have opened a mobile app or two that has been so simple and intuitive upon first use that you actually felt refreshed using it. Maybe it was the picture stream on Instagram or the Newsfeed on Path.
Whatever it was, you were happy using it and happy to come back to use it again. The touch based interface on mobile phones is a joy to use, we love to touch, drag, pinch, and expand things with our fingers. But how many times does clutter get in the way of that joy?
This happens because companies or clients sit around and say “wouldn’t it be cool if it did this, this, and this” instead of saying “wouldn’t it be cool if it were the cleanest, simplest, and most beautiful application ever devised?” If you’re thinking of building or thinking of having someone build a mobile application, fight every second of every day to make simpler the goal and clutter your enemy. Clutter wants to steal the joy of using your amazing, futuristic touch based computer that sits you can keep in your pocket and you must fight it with the golden rule:
Simpler is better.
If you make web or mobile mockups and you haven’t used Balsamiq Mockups yet – stop reading this blog and go try it.
Did you try it? Did you love it? Good.
Balsamiq is a drag-and-drop rapid wire-framing tool for designing mockups for web and mobile pages. Basically, it allows you to quickly and beautifully design websites, mobile sites, and mobile apps collaboratively with your team before you waste any time writing code. It was designed for teams to collaborate on designs, but at Shockoe.com we’ve found an even more powerful use for it: communicating with clients.
When a client first communicates a job to us, we’re often left wondering if we’re sure exactly what they want built. We could receive and email like this:
And we would think, “Great! Of course we can!” So we would send them back something that looks like this, made in Balsamiq:
However, a few minutes later, we (of course) receive an email like this:
Now you may be thinking “that’s a completely different thing! The only overlap is cat pictures!” And you’d be right! But understand that the client is thinking about the cat pictures and not the execution, while we’re thinking about the execution NOT the cat pictures. We’re operating on two totally different levels, and that’s totally understandable. With Balsamiq, we’re able to get our clients to focus for a minute on execution to make sure we’re building what they’re imaging.
However Balsamiq can do much more than that! Look for a post next week about how to combine Balsamiq with Appcelerator Titanium to do some amazing things.
Bad Piggies | $.99
The creator’s of the smash hit, Angry Birds, are back with a game that provides a different perspective on the war between the pigs and the birds, but with the same addictive game play. Bad Piggies is the story of the pigs making their great escape with stolen eggs over 84 different levels. Players must use their ingenuity to drive, fly, and crash through obstacles to advance through the increasingly difficult situations. You will have over 30 different objects to create the perfect get-away machine for your pig to get through the dangerous levels. The familiar 3 star system keeps players coming back for more until they complete the level with the optimal amount of points. Getting 3 stars not only means you successfully passed the level in the best way possible, but also unlocks more levels for you to explore. Shockoe believes that this a worthy successor to the incredibly successful angry bird series and is a must have for your ipod/iphone.
Minecraft | $6.99