The Internet of Things and App Development

The Internet of Things has been a hot topic for the last 24 months, reaching a fevered pitch in the last few months.  When I was at CES earlier this year, you couldn’t find a company that didn’t have some perspective on the Internet of Things (IoT).  Car companies, consumer electronic companies, even clothing companies were showcasing their new connected products and how the IoT was going to improve the consumer’s experience with their brand.

I’ve been thinking about this and what makes the IoT different than prior versions of connected products.  To me it is two key factors, the level of connectivity and the quality of the software.  Let me explain

Level of connectivity

For decades, large industrial plants and manufacturing facilities have been using real-time and near real-time data to improve the efficiency of their business.  The did this via ethernet connectivity and sometimes expensive satellite and microwave connectivity.  These systems were affordable because the cost of unplanned downtime was so high, that almost any connectivity costs were acceptable.  Additionally, cognitive computing algorithms  were developed around very specific use cases, i.e. pump maintenance schedules, which had to be custom developed based on the specifics of a plant or facility. These finely tuned systems of systems were built around the connectivity and proprietary standards of the hardware in place.

Now the cost of connectivity and level of penetration of simple protocols like TCP/IP are cheap and near ubiquitous.  You can added a wifi or 2G/3G/4G radio into a product very inexpensively, while transmission costs are now bore by most of the end consumers as part of their day to day life.  This is very different than the last few decades, and means that much of the value of a IoT solution, will be in the software’s implementation of the data and consumer’s usage of the device.

Quality of the software

With the mobile revolution over the last 7 years (I go back to June 29th, 2007 when the iPhone was first available – even though had been very happy with a Palm  Treo for years before this), consumers have become used to higher quality of software.  Why do I call it higher quality?  Is it bug free? NO! Is it more functional? No! Is it more atheistically pleasing?  no. What I mean by quality of software is that it is doing what you need when you need it.  Some of the most popular fitness tools in the last few years, are applications on a smart phone – apps like Moves which tracks your walking, biking, and running based on the accelerometer on your phone.  They take advantage of many of the capabilities of the phone, and given that most people keep their phone with them at all times, it becomes the de facto fitness device.  We see the same phenomena with pictures,  the majority of pictures on Flickr, are taken with smart phones.  The same with games, the majority of time spent gaming is spent on smart phones (I made this one up, but I would bet it’s true).

So the software that is running when you need it, on the data that you have with you, and provides you with the insights you need to change your behavior, improve your process, or just better engage in a situation is higher in quality in my opinion.

So why do these matter in the Internet of Things?

In the IoT, devices and software have to work hand in hand to improve processes and a person’s environment.  As developers, we need to understand this aspect of the internet of things.  It’s easy to get consumed by the cool factor, but cool without value isn’t that cool.  So we need to improve our software to better serve our users / customers. And the Internet of Things provides us with a great way of doing this.

Internet of Things applications and things have the ability to provide us as developers with real-time and near real-time feedback on how consumers are using our product.  We should take this information and quickly improve our product to increase its value.  This means letting a consumer know what data we can and do capture, and providing no nonsense, easy to understand terms on how we will use this data to improve the consumer’s experience.

We then have the ability to take this feedback and improve the product or create new ones.  This faster time to feedback is a principle foundation of the ideas behind DevOps.  Another key aspect of DevOps is scale, and the Internet of Things is all about scale for the product/application developer.  While any individual using a IoT device or application is potentially a single node, much more value is gained in the larger scale system where patterns and other insights may be gained to improve a product or application.  And peeling back the insight requires analytics.

So what can I do as a Developer?

First, make sure you are open to your customers on what data you do collect and how it will be used.  Where it makes sense, expose APIs so your customers can extend your application and product, trust me they will come up with even more cool things to do with your application/product than you can image.  And three, take advantage of the faster time to feedback to make your product better.  Remember once you release a product or application, the engagement with your customer is just beginning.  It’s not about the initial sale, but about increasing the value over time.

An Enterprise iPad case/keyboard Review

I recently was approached to write a review of the PI DOCK iT Air iPad case with bluetooth keyboard. Given that I have had a keyboard case for every iPad I’ve owned (except my current one) I was willing to give it a try. I find that using a case can certainly increase my productivity when traveling, and as a touch typist I’ve always found that the iPad’s touch screen keyboard is a bit lacking. I also don’t feel comfortable talking out my emails or documents, so no matter how good a speech to text translator is, I tend not to use them.

Damaged Box

When the box arrived it had a gash in it, but it didn’t impact the case at all. Like all cases, it has a little bit of a delay in the typing especially when it first pairs with the Bluetooth, but that is normal. I can certainly type faster with the keyboard then the onscreen keyboard. I am sure that the tactile feedback makes a big difference for a touch typist. Similar to the other cases, the keyboard is slightly smaller than a normal Mac keyboard, which can cause a few typos.

Box Case and ManualCase in Wrapper

I found that it has an interesting design for changing angle of the screen. They call it a slideway, and it allows you to extend the hinge so that the screen can go either vertical or horizontal, and at a comfortable angle for your eyes. As someone who reads a lot of magazines and books on the iPad, the ability for a case to support vertical orientation is a nice touch.

Unboxed Case and Cable Unboxed Case Flat Side view reclining Side view no recline

Given that it is a case and keyboard, it doesn’t need much of a manual, and the simple manual (1 page back and front) does a good job of explaining all the features. I guess you don’t really need much more than that.

I wrote the rough draft of this review in Word for iPad so that I could test out the keyboard in a meaningful way. (Given that I took pictures with my SLR the final part of the review was done on my Macbook Pro.) The targeted user of the Dock iT is an enterprise iPad user, I feel this made the most sense. A little secret that the team at DOCK iT doesn’t mention is that the slideway’s ability to swivel the screen direction around, also makes it ideal for some games. I use Real Racing 3 on my iPad, and it works great for that game! Providing me with a stable enough base and a solid steering wheel feel. Very cool!

The keyboard is a bit small, but no smaller than other iPad keyboards I’ve used in the past. The plastic keys tactile enough, to allow for most touch typing, providing a nice little raised area on the F and J keys so that you can easily home your hands. There are a set of rubber feet and rubber nubs around the keyboard (I’ve lost one of the rubber feet, not sure where but after a week of traveling it got lost some point during my travels). The rubber feet keep the keyboard in place nicely on a desk (even after loosing one of them it feels stable and doesn’t wobble). While the nubs around the screen are designed to protect your screen from touching the plastic. This is good, but as a touch typist they do get in the way at times.

Like most cases, they include special keys for cut, copy, paste, volume controls, brightness, home button, and screen lock. These keys really increase the productivity on the iPad once you get used to them. One minor thing, the Home button seemed a bit finicky (not sure if this was a Bluetooth syncing issue or an iOS8 Beta issue). The reason I believe it may be beta related is that it appears to be app dependent.   They also a Caps Lock Indicator light, I’ve not seen this on the other keyboard cases I’ve used in the past – nice touch.

On day three of playing with the DOCK iT I discovered how to lay it flat. You can slide the screen on top of the keyboard. (Don’t forget to turn off the Bluetooth before doing this.) This is great for drawing programs and some games. It does, however, make the iPad much thicker than the Apple case, which I use at times, allowing me to hold the iPad like a book.

There’s one feature that is both a plus and a minus, and that is how well the DOCK iT holds the iPad is the shell.   I wanted to take the iPad out of the case to put it in a dock I have for charging. After prying the iPad out of the case with a letter opener, I ended up scratching my iPad’s back a bit. I’ve always prided myself in selling my old iPad while it still looks like new. I guess I won’t be able to do that with this one.

Another point on build quality. I was putting the case in my back pack and my employee badge got itself between the screen and keyboard, popping off a key. On a normal keyboard that would be the end of it, but on the DOCK iT Air I was able to just pop the key back in to place and it works. Nice.

Overall I am pleased with the build quality of the DOCK iT, it held up in my few weeks of testing.  Battery life appears good, I’ve only charged it once and so far have used it for two weeks with no required recharging.  The lip where the iPad sits is great for horizontal positioning, but in vertical positioning it can be a bit unstable, based on the screen angle. This is a basic physics problem due to the weight of the iPad Air and the rounded corners of the slot where the iPad sits. It works fine for a sturdy desk, but for not so much when reading a magazine in bed.

The team at PI also provided me with a cool sticker for the case – check it out.

Back of Case with Skin Screen with Skin

My continuing experience with glass

It’s been a few months with Google glass, and while it is interesting, I am still not overly impressed with the tech.  The idea is fantastic, but the implementation of applications so far is less than impressive.  Given that it is beta, I know things can only get better; however, I am starting to feel that Google is using this as a test platform for their android wear solutions.  The Google Now cards, that show up in glass, are starting to be THE way to program for android wear.

Photo on 7-2-14 at 3.58 PM


Is it the idea that is intriguing, or the actual tech?  I keep wondering if this is because of the requirement for tethering when I am out and about. However, even around the house, or at my favorite coffee shop, when I have full wifi access, I am not finding that the existing apps are that useful.

What do you think?  Are you going to get glass as an explorer?  Do you think it will EVER come out of beta?  Or is this all just a test bed?

Technology and Politics

I try not to talk politics in my public comments, but those of you who know me, know that I have an opinion.  Recently I saw two decisions from our Supreme Court which taken together left me a bit perplexed.  The first one is Aereo, in this ruling I believe that the Supreme Court has decided to cave to the money of the cable lobby.  If you are not familiar with Aereo this startup company tried to address the problems with rebroadcasting rules, but providing a rental charge for a small HD antenna in a city and then letting a consumer get access to the over the air broadcasts that the antenna captures.  In order to address concerns about rebroadcasting content, there was a one for one ratio between antennas and subscribers.  You would then receive the content over the internet from your antenna on the device of your choice.  Given the minimal cost of the antennas I felt this was a very creative approach to let consumers who are cord cutters to get access to the content they want without requiring them to get special permission to put an antenna on their apartment buildings in big cities.  A few years ago, I was on an assignment with my day job and lived in a highrise apartment building with an exclusive monopoly for access to TV.  Basically the windows didn’t open and you couldn’t put out your own antenna, so if you wanted TV you had to pay for cable.  So my read on this ruling is that the Supreme court is trying to reinforce an existing de facto monopoly.

Years ago, as an undergrad in Journalism, I had a professor who was an expert testifying to congress on matters of cable law.  It was one of my favorite classes, and it was in this class that I learned how our open broadcast system was being turned into private monopolies thru local deals between cable companies and local governments.  Originally, cable was setup to give people in remote areas access to the broadcast signals which were economically not viable for building towers.  Similar to Aereo, early cable companies used new technology to reach consumers who could not access broadcast signals. They would use public right of ways (the area where they laid their cables in the ground) as a means for extending the reach of those signals. Today our public right of way is the Internet.  I find it disappointing that the Supreme Court didn’t see it this way.

The second ruling which surprised me was the cell phone warrant ruling.  In a 9-0 ruling the supreme court ruled that the police can’t search your smart phone without a warrant (I am sure it is not that simple, but let’s start with that assumption).  The current court has a history of taking away civil liberties and siding on the side of police.  I feel that standing up for the right of unwarranted search is a major victory to keep from eroding more of our civil liberties.  I hope that we quickly get more details on this ruling and that it warrants the faith I have in our system.

May 12th Triangle Mac users group meeting.

Meeting for a computer group at an Irish pub is a great idea… Unless you want to hear. The over all noise in the pub wouldn’t be bad for all speakers, but some of the presenters were not loud enough, and many of the attendees could not hear.

The topics are office in the cloud. Ms office, google docs iWork, and quip. Basic discussion in the benefits of cloud based solution, collaboration, offsite data, etc.

Given the price of ms office’s new office 365, between $70-$100 per year, many people may not want to deal with paying that subscription. Google Docs is free for most individual users, but costs $50 per year, per person for businesses.

A set of YouTube videos were also demonstrated that took people thru google docs. Again it was too hard to hear clearly, but it was a good idea to help people understand how google docs works. The link was shared with attendees and I will add it here.

One demo was a copy of open office that runs as a web app on any device. But you are actually running on someone else’s hardware. At 7pm the bar started trivia night, which made it even harder to hear.

rollapp is a new service that for $0.99 per month will provide you access to open office, and for $6.99 month they will make it add free.

While the topic was interesting between the noise level and the speakers inability to repeat questions and speak loudly and clearly, I was very disappointed.

Ms office $99 per year for 5 Computers and 5 mobile devices. With 20gb of storage per user on the 5 machines.

iWork, free on macs and iOS devices purchased after sept, 2013. While apple went to functional parity and removed a bunch of features, they have had three updates already adding more code and features back in.

Quip – this was a new one for me. This is Basically another office clone but focus on sharing and collaboration. Think of documents as lists of conversations. There is an iPad app.

Great news, the group is moving to TenPlus – an authorized apple repair shop, but the sound quality should be much better.

FaceFilter Pro 3.0 – Review

While at MacWorld/iWorld in April, I had the opportunity to catch up with the team at Reallusion.  They were showing their new FaceFilter 3.0 for Mac.  The program allows us average humans to do a lot of the same touchups on portraits that a PhotoShop expert would spend hours doing.   To say it is simple is to understate how easy and powerful it is.

Let’s walk thru a simple example of it… Using a picture I just took with the Mac’s PhotoBooth application.  Here’s the basic picture… I used a light behind my MacBook Pro in order to off set the very bad lighting in my office.

FF Pic 1

After you pic the file to import you are presented with two views of the picture, a before and after:

Screenshot 2014-05-10 12.09.32

The first step that you need to do, just like Reallusion’s Crazy Talk application, is to map certain facial features – this is called “Fitting”.  This includes the tilt of the head,

Screenshot 2014-05-10 12.12.59

each eye and eyebrow,

Screenshot 2014-05-10 12.13.59  Screenshot 2014-05-10 12.14.54

the shape of the nose,

Screenshot 2014-05-10 12.15.37

the mouth (don’t forget to toggle the close mouth check box or you won’t be able to whiten the teeth)
Screenshot 2014-05-10 12.16.59

and the contour of the face.

Screenshot 2014-05-10 12.20.40

The application will try to auto identify these items (as you can see in the before images above), but you can tweak it as much as you’d like (the second image is my mapping).  I realized how powerful this was overtime, when I saw that it allowed you to deal with profiles and other angles.

Screenshot 2014-05-10 12.20.48

Once we have all of this mapped the real fun beings, we can now do the makeover.  FaceFilter by default will offer a quick makeover template.. And as we can see here… It’s not too bad.  Already you can see it has gotten rid of some of the blemishes on my forehead. My skin is not as oily/shiny as it was in the original picture. My eyes are highlighted, with a nice twinkle in my eyes, and I have eyelashes.

Screenshot 2014-05-10 12.20.58

Screenshot 2014-05-10 12.21.44

We can tweak each aspect of the foundation, facial makeup and eye makeup.  Let’s have some fun by trying that now.  You can see some of the settings on the right hand side of this picture, but let’s talk about the clean:  I whitened my teeth, changed my eye color, changed my lips, and worked on overall skin tone.

Screenshot 2014-05-10 12.35.42

After working makeup, we can work on the shape of the face with the reshape options. The quickest weight loss program I have ever taken.  As you can see in the image, the rest of the image looks fine.. Even though we have reduced both the width of my head and the proportion.

Screenshot 2014-05-10 12.37.43

Finally you can add effects to the picture to really make it pop. Overall not a bad job with just a few minutes of playing around (total time 5 minutes).  You can spend much more time and really enhance the picture, and Reallusion offers additional brushes and filters to have an even more professional quality of the pictures.  I  highly recommend you try out the trial version from the appstore.  If you like it, I think the Pro version offers a lot of extra capabilities, and is really worth the extra few dollars.  Check it out and let me know what you think.   And thank you to John and Bill from Reallusion for providing me with a copy to play with.

review image

Review – Milk 2 (Desktop Tumblr)

A few weeks back at MacWorld/iWorld I had the pleasure of meeting Diego, the developer for the Desktop Tumblr app called Milk 2.  He was showcasing his app in App developer space, and was having pretty good traffic.  We talked for a bit, and he indicated the app should be released in the App Store on April 24th, and would I be interesting in beta testing it. I was not a big tumblr user, but I do have two accounts one for this blog: TriangleAppShow and on for my other podcast GamesAtWork.Biz.  Given that one of the features that Diego talked about was the ability to manage multiple tumblrs like you would your email accounts, I jumped at the chance to help beta test. To be fair, not being a big tumblr probably helped, because I could ask the naive questions during the beta.

So what did I think?  Overall the app does exactly what you want.  It takes the tumblr management experience and puts it into a desktop app.  It also allows you to look at the people you follow and easily scroll thru all the content (just like I do with my RSS feeds).  I found the interface clean and intuitive.  There are lots of additional little hints to help you understand if a post is link post, a picture post, or a video post.  If you are a follower of a lot of different tumblr blogs / feeds, this app is for you.  If you are comfortable with the web interface than it is probably not compelling enough to make you switch (except for the key feature in my mind, the ease of which you can swap back and forth between multiple accounts.

Switching between accountsAs you can see it is as simple as selecting the account you want to work with from the menu.  Adding a new account prompts you with a Tumblr log in and attaches it to this menu.

Since I only have two accounts the list is pretty short, but if you are managing many accounts, this is a great way of swapping back and forth.


The overall interface is very much like Apple Mail:

Milk 2 Overall InterfaceThe left most column is the various aspects of our account. The dashboard, the likes you may have selected, your own blog, with it’s appropriate VIPs and mutes, any followers you may have (so you can easily look at what they are posting), tags you have safe (remember Tumblr’s power is all the great tags so you can search for appropriate content, etc.) and Search History.  If you find yourself searching for content across Tumblr a lot, going back to these search histories to find things to include on your Tumblr is a great time saving feature.

And since Tumblr is about sharing and cross-sharing others content search history is a must have function.

The second (center) column equates to your messages related to the selected item (folder in mail terms) in the left column.  In the above picture we are look at all items so you see the Tumlbr staff picks, my posts, and any group I may be following.  The small icons on the left side of the center column matches the folder from where it came and the type of post it is.

The third (right most) column is the detailed message you are viewing.

Posting a new messageWhen you post a new message you can chose the type of post (just like you can on tumblr and you will be prompted with a content window:

Post Content Window

This window is allows you to compose your entry and add the various tags, etc. that tumblr expects.

Overall the app behaves as you would expect.  If you are a frequent tumblr and want a desktop app, this app is for you.

Five days with Google Glass

With Glass

With Glass

As I mentioned in my last post, my Google glass arrived on Monday and I ran into a few problems to start with. I don’t want to color the experience with those day one battery problems, so I decided to wait until today to provide a more detailed description of my experience so far.

I’ve been playing with Glass for 5 days now, and I can see the potential.  The first question that people ask me when they see me wearing glass is, “Is it worth $1,500?”  I can honestly say that for the average consumer the answer is a big no.  But that’s not the point in having it now.  The point in having it now is to explore the possibilities of a beta product.    And in that regard I think the price is fair.  One thing that you have is the option to swap it out once as a developer.  This makes a lot of sense as Google should be quickly advancing the tech, so that when it does become a consumer product you are not stuck with having to buy it again.  This is an amazing deal, and I wish that more product development teams would consider this as a way of saying thank you to the earliest adopters.

A day after I got Glass, a software update was introduced.  This has actually made it somewhat less reliable and it is consuming more battery now.  (Ah, the wonders of beta testing).  There’s been a lot of help offered by the community in trying to address some of these issues.  If you want to get a view into those discussions I highly recommending joining the explorer community over on Google+.  The team of there is helpful and truly engaged.

As I mentioned on my other podcast – - the biggest issue I have right now is that I am using AT&T and am grandfathered in on the unlimited data plan.  To get all of the advantages of Glass, you need to tether it to your cell phone.  In order to enable tethering on my data plan, I will lose my unlimited plan and I use WAY TOO MUCH data to give it up. So all my experience is based on either connecting to a local wifi hot spot, or using the Bluetooth to access some set of capabilities.

The basic capabilities that come with glass are – take a picture, take a video, get email notifications, social interactions with Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and youtube, You get access to your calendar, etc.  One thing that I can’t test is the head up version of a GPS.  Having directions tied nicely to my calendar is a cool service that is enabled via other apps on my cell phone, but seeing it as a drive would be helpful.

One of the big jokes on SNL a year or so ago what the head nod that was used to enable Glass to react.  This is not required, you can touch the side to get it to wake up, instead of the head nod.  The head nod is great for a complete hands free option, however, a simple glance up activates Glass. In a public setting, and with some of the recent stories of people getting upset with glass, I’d rather not have Glass come on unless I want it on.

The interface of Glass, i.e. the Google Now cards, works really well.  It provides you with the data you want at a glance.  It’s clean and clear, and decided to show relevant info at a glance.  You can find the Developer reference here.

I’ve take a ton more pictures this week thanks to Glass, and even posted a few on Google+.  This is funny, because traditionally Google+ has been a location of last resort to me given that their interface tends to be a bit one off from all there other services.  Glass should make Google much more popular for social sharing.

As with all betas things are not working great all around.  I still can’t connect to the WiFi at my favorite Durham Coffee shop – BeanTraders.  While I know I have the network configured correctly (it works with my laptop, my iPad, my iPhone and my Android Tablet), Glass fails to connect.  I also noticed that there are no settings to allow me to connect to my corporate wifi, as it doesn’t appear to support the LEAP protocol.  Given that I can’t tether, this means that the utility of Glass is immediately reduced when I leave the house.

I’ve been working on connecting Glass to my glasses, since having the Glass frame and my glasses frame cause problems with placement and view.  To that end, I am working with the instructions from the AdaFruit site.  Will let you know how this works out.

I am sure as I explore more I will post more… I am excited by the possibilities yet to be realized.

Early early impressions of google glass

I received my google glass order yesterday and was excited to open the box. When it tried to start it up, it appeared that the battery was in a state of deep discharge. After two calls to tech support, I was able to get it to charge and right before I went to bed, it was working and setup.
This morning I wore them to my favorite coffee shop and got ready to connect to the wifi at BeanTraders and after multiple tries I cannot get it to work. I am going to do some work today and hopefully discover how to get it to setup correctly, and report back in after 24 hours with glass.

Continuing to explore CoreData

A few weeks back I was at MacWorld where I talked to the people at APRESS to see what books they may have on CoreData. They had one that seemed to be pretty good and I have picked it up. The book is called Pro Core Data for iOS: Data Access and Persistence Engine for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch by MIchael Privat and Robert Wamer. While the book only covers thru iOS4, I figure it may have a better structure and approach for understanding the basics of CoreData.

I plan on spending time over the next few months going thru this book…and will provide some feedback here on what I think of it, and if it helps me get passed my mental block on CoreData.