Yesterday Jack Zankowski (who leads the next gen UX at Comcast) and I gave a talk on the design and engineering challenges in building VR experiences for TV content at the WICT Tech It Out event at Villanova University. While there, we were also able to check out their pretty interesting VR cave as well.
The talk is based on a VR prototype we demoed recently at the Cable Show and the Code Conference. Personally its been a very educational experience. In a way, working with Unity is like working with Flash all over again, with similar challenges ( managing visual assets, code architecture, working in a team of varying skillsets from design to development). Hopefully I’ll do some more write-ups here on those challenges. But for now, the deck from the event is embedded below.
Quite a few years back, I got really interested in Treemaps. The whole project had started as an academic discussion between a friend and I on how hard a treemap would be to build (they seemed to be a pretty popular data visualization method back then, though I don’t see them around much these days). Anyway, what I thought would be trivial weekend hack turned out to be a lot more involved and I ended up reading and implementing Mark Bruls, Kees Huizing, and Jarke J. van Wijk’s algorithm for an optimum Squarified Treemap implementation (in ActionScript 3, you can find all the code which I open sourced here).
To demo the algorithm, I took the visual aesthetics of Marumushi’s NewsMap but instead used it to show trending topics on Digg.com. The project, not so creatively named DiggGraphr, got fairly popular and was mentioned on a few data visualization blogs and even won an award for a Digg.com API contest.
DiggGraphr has been dead for a while now, but I was pleasantly surprised to have it be included in a research paper titled ‘A case study on news services using big data analytics (뉴스빅데이터 서비스 사례 및 모델 개발 연구)’ conducted by professor Kim of the Korea Aerospace University and three researchers from a non-profit research organization (Media and Future Institute).
If anyone of you can read Korean, feel free to read the paper here
At last week’s AndroidPhilly event, I was surprised to find a lock screen notification for a “Physical Web Page” on my phone
Tapping on that notification linked to an explanation page of the Physical Web pages and then a link to Nick Dipatri’s BLE geo-fencing app.
This was the first time I have seen the Physical Web pages in action, though Google has talked about them for a while. While not a lot of people talk about iOS’s iBeacons much anymore (compared to the rage they were when they were announced), the Physical Web pages approach is different with Google Chrome being the receiver app that detects the beacons and notifies the user. This is great for developers who don’t have to worry about having their app installed but also means users wont be able to skip notifications from services they don’t care for. Bundling the beacon technology within Chrome also means that the Google approach is more cross platform and will work on multiple devices.
It’ll be interesting to see how this evolves in the next few years.
I have been reading a lot of interesting things on robotics and AI lately.
Boston Dynamics’ new Atlas 2 Robots video is fascinating to watch. While the capabilities of the robot to balance itself and track items is great, almost every person who I showed the video felt sorry for the robot who keeps getting shoved, kicked and its box pushed away. The empathy towards a machine is really a fascinating thing to observe.
I just finished the book “Machines of Loving Grace“. While the book doesn’t have any unique answers to the question of human-machine balance in the coming years, the book is full of fascinating information on the history of AI and robotics. Definitely worth a read.
I was in New Delhi, India for the last couple of weeks visiting family. The trip has also been an interesting experience looking at how people use mobile phones here. Here are some observations.
Most folks in India are on Android, though I did see more iPhones than I thought I would. The Android devices are those I have never seen before. Pictured below are my parents’ and brother’s phone. The one on the left is from a company called CoolPad, the middle is a Xiaomi Mi 4i and the one on the right is an Asus. All of these are ₹10,000 to ₹15,000, which translates to around $150 to $225. And they work really well. I am particularly impressed by the Xiaomi which has a very nice UI language and generally performs pretty well (why can Xiaomi do such a good job at UI and the much bigger Samsung cannot is a mystery to me)
Also, I didn’t see many phablets, though I did see a bunch of cheap and really small Android phones.
Almost everyone in India seems to be on WhatsApp (unsurprisingly the #1 free app in India), and are on numerous WhatsApp groups that range from family groups to local neighborhood communities. WhatsApp has surprisingly few features compared to other messaging apps and yet, even though there may be other apps with features (specific to commerce for example), WhatsApp is where all the commerce happens.
ShareIt, a file transfer tool by Lenovo, is the #2 free app on the store beating even Facebook which is at #3. Guess file transfer between phones is a big thing here.
Another thing I was surprised to notice was that people were pretty open to accepting calls from unknown numbers (I mostly let those go to voicemail and I know most of my American friends do as well). This also makes Truecaller a pretty essential app here.
I actually like the Truecaller experience, which opens a small overlay every time a call comes in with information on the caller. As of this writing, Truecaller is #7 free app on the Google Play Store in India.
Pre-Paid plans and Missed Calls
Unlike the US where almost everyone is on unlimited calls, people here still have plans with limited number of minutes. A lot of communication happens by just missed calls, whether its just signaling (“Send me a missed call when you have reached so-and-so place”) or with a second call from a land-line by the receiver of the missed call (incoming calls are free). Even ads on TV and radio mention phone numbers that you give a missed call to and they’ll call back with more information.
(While the idea of the missed call seems weird, it reminds me of the Yo app. Both allow a very simple message to be interpreted in a variety of ways)
People also add minutes to their plans using scratch cards, which also apparently make great give aways at events.
Phone: The original Conversational Commerce app
The term conversational commerce has been getting pretty popular lately as companies build AI and Natural Language based systems where you would be able to talk to different services (like Uber) as opposed to using an app. The original version of that is how services are still used in India. Almost every service like groceries, food delivery etc is a phone call away and most people I met prefer to just call rather than deal with an app or a website. Apps like Whatsapp will also soon allow you to call a merchant from right inside the app which seems to be how folks prefer to do business in India.
I met a few entrepreneurs at a local event in Delhi and it was interesting to see their challenges. Some are familiar, like general lack of engagement with apps in a very crowded app market. Others seem more unique to India, like a general unwillingness to pay for digital services for lack of trust or low perceived value for the services. Poorer connectivity is also an issue and quite a few apps (like Google Transit for example) give you options to download the data for offline usability.
An interesting point that came up in the conversation is the growing need for localization in apps. While a fair bit of the country speaks English, as mobile devices become more accessible to even the remotest part of India, support for regional languages is becoming more and more important.
WordPress.com prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 35,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
2015 was a eventful year on a lot of fronts. Parts of it were great, and other parts not so much, but one thing it definitely wasn’t was boring.
iOS with Swift was definitely the technology I worked on most this year. After some disillusionment on what Swift was trying to be last year, this year was a lot more about just using it for a pretty elaborate app (which, unfortuately I cannot share yet, but hopefully soon). Honestly the thing I had a harder time to learn this year was AutoLayouts. I am still not a fan of the system but I can definitely say I am now pretty productive with it.
Besides iOS the other tech I used quite a bit this year was Ruby and Rails. One personal goal I had for the year was to get really comfortable with a serverside framework that I can use to build concepts quickly. This year I worked with enough Rails code to honestly be able to say that.
My projects got a little more “hardware aware”. I looked at a bunch of things happening in the wearable space and the Quantified Self movement. Looking at hardware development was interesting because it brought back all the memories from my undergrad days (my major was in Electronics and Instrumentation). I think next year I will finally dig a lot more into hardware as I get more involved in the larger IoT efforts at Comcast.
I continue to co-manage Android Philly and that goes well, but I’d like to see us grow faster.I finally set up an official site for it and have some ideas in store for next year, so I am excited about that.
I was happy to be able to attend a bunch of events this year including CES, SXSW, The Quantified Self conference (that CIL sponsored) and The International Festival of Leadership in NY. Also visited a number of companies and institutions in Philly and SF and it continues to blow my mind how awesome the next few years are going to be.
Here is my list of books for the year (GoodReads link). I feel I spent a lot of time reading this year thanks to the Philadelphia Free Library.
Next year promises to be very interesting with some really interesting technology coming to users. Its going to be a big year for technologies like VR, smart devices and Bitcoin and I am looking forward to working with them.