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nextPaper: An Overview Of The Cool New Digital Paper Tablet

(This post has been contributed by Joe Quiney, a resident of Sydney, Australia)

I love to read. As do my 6-year old twin daughters, Ellie and Lucita. We have this weekly thing of reading a nice ebook on Saturday nights (I do the reading, while they do the listening, of course) on my personal Amazon Kindle. Now, I am not much of a gadget expert – but I’ll say this…the Kindle is a pretty amazing ebook reader. It’s just that I might just have come across another device that is as good, or probably better.

I first came to know about the nextPaper digital paper tablet from the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. The makers (Companion) were proudly proclaiming it to be the ‘most practical paper tablet in existence’. I have this inclination of trying to know more about new things – and this curiosity led me to the official website of the manufacturer. Impressed by what I saw, I got in touch with Companion and managed to get a prototype of nextPaper delivered to my address. I have been using it for over a week now…and let’s just say, this device lives up to its hype.

The best thing about nextPaper is that it is not limited to being an ebook reader only. Ellie, in particular, loves to draw – and she absolutely loves to make sketches and rough line drawings on the new paper tablet. Inspired by her, I have also tried my hand at writing a few words (well, okay, I tried writing my own name!) on the tablet, with the nextPen stylus. I found the screen to be very responsive, and there was hardly any input-lag time. Sketches can be easily erased too, and it is possible to ‘undo’ an action. I like my electronic gadgets to be nice and prompt, and nextPaper seems to be just that.

It would be something of a cliche to call my daughters thick as thieves, but Ellie and Lucita are truly a living example of that phrase. They are always doing things together – and it was Lucita who found that the sketches her sister was making on nextPaper can be shared/sent directly to our iMac computer. I had initially thought that the drawings will have to be scanned to make them viewable on other devices…but hey, the combination of Lucita and nextPaper proved me wrong! I only just finished editing Ellie’s new drawing (I am a graphic designer by profession, by the way) – created on nextPaper – on the Mac.

Ease of reading is one of the biggest reasons me and my two angels became big fans of the Kindle. Once again, I feel that nextPaper has the potential to do even more – and expand the range of reading options for users. No longer is our reading list limited to ebooks from a single online bookstore. I can now pick out books from practically any bookstore – and in any format (MS-Word, PDF, ePub, Mobi and more) – and read them on my nextPaper reader. With all due credits to the Kindle, I will stick my neck out and say this: the reading options on nextPaper are greater.

I happen to be a fan of Apple, a big one at that. I have an iPhone 6, have the iPad Pro, use a Mac (with a spare Windows PC) and a 5th-gen iPod Touch. The nextPaper is probably the very first Android-supported device (Android 4.0 and later versions) that I have ever used. I was delighted to find that all the ebook apps listed in Google Play Store can be accessed and used on this digital paper tablet. Earlier on, it was only about reading kids’ stories for my daughters…but now, I download and read stuff for myself as well – things ranging from blog posts, interesting items from reddit and HackerNews, and informative articles on designing, to textbooks and PDF docs. nextPaper has given me the leeway to read whatever I want (well, almost!)…a big thumbs-up for that!

The arrival of nextPaper in our household has also made my daughters (Ellie in particular, ‘coz Lucita is the slightly lazy one!) more interested in actually reading books on their own. I found out that this digital tablet has a cutting-edge e-ink screen (it works as an e-ink monitor) – and reading from it for extended periods does not cause any type of ‘eye fatigue’ – unlike traditional LCD display screens. The fact that nextPaper offers an ads-free reading experience is also great. I do not have to wonder about the suitability of the ads my kids might see while reading books online…on this tablet, there are no ads whatsoever. Just quick, easy reading.

(nextPaper has introduced me to the world of e-ink devices. I found out from Companion’s website that they were planning the create the world’s first exclusive e-ink app store. If they are successful, that would be great).

Now, I love my iPad – and I think it is a very nice device to get my daughters familiar with smart gadgets. This familiarity is important, given the rate at which the importance of education technology is rising (Ellie and Lucita already have computer classes at school). However, I don’t think that the iPad is a particularly great as a reading device only. Lucita earlier used to read rhymes from the iPad, and I have often found her getting distracted by the pre-installed games on it. The Kindle has no such distractions, and neither does nextPaper. As a smart education/reading companion, the latter would certainly rank above the iPad.

Books can be smoothly transferred from my Mac computer to the nextPaper tablet as well. Since the tablet is optimized for ebooks in all formats, reading them is a lot easier than doing the same on my computer or even the iPad. Oh, and I can also upload Ellie’s sketches from nextPaper to Dropbox and Google Drive quickly and seamlessly. I have intentionally left the tablet on my daughters’ bed a couple of times – and I have seen them operate it on their own. That’s how user-friendly the controls and basic operations of nextPaper are.

Speaking of ease of use, the nextPaper has got to be one of the very few devices I have been able to master on my own, without having to look around for a instruction manual or a tutorial. This is one ebook reader that anyone can use…and that includes children. My daughters would vouch for that.

While the features and capabilities of nextPaper are excellent, it is a very good-looking gadget as well. The beautiful pearl-coloured 9.7” display screen caught the attention of my daughters first, and I really like its neat form-factor. There is a definite air of efficiency about the nextPaper tablet. The display resolution is a terrific 1280×825 pixels, and the quality of the capacitive electromagnetic touchscreen has been, till now, top-notch. Ellie is particularly fond of checking out images in 1024×768 resolution on the tablet. It also has a 2.5 mm earphone jack.

Me and my daughters love to read, and we download a lot of ebooks – and for heavy users like us, the nextPaper is an ideal device. The built-in internal memory of the tablet is a cool 16GB – and I have also added a 32GB SD card on it. I can now download books on the device, without ever having to worry about running out of memory space. Ellie, Lucita and yours truly are working together to create our very own bookstore on nextPaper.

The usability of Companion’s breakthrough digital paper tablet is further enhanced by the reliable 3000mAh lithium polymer battery. The device easily runs for 2-3 days on single charge – doing away with the need to keep the microUSB charger within reach at all times. Lucita is in charge of charging the nextPaper on Friday evenings…and we get through a weekend of some heavy-duty reading without having to charge it again.

Impressed by the features and capabilities of the digital paper reader, I also searched whether a mobile app version was also available. In fact, I put this query to the manufacturers – and was told that nextPaper indeed had an Android app. It has been created by Teksmobile, the company who has also made Story Time For Kids – by far Lucita and Ellie’s favourite storytelling application.

I am, for most purposes, a fairly old-fashioned person. I like reading books in their physical format – but times are changing. Digital reading is here to stay, and with high-quality e-readers like nextPaper, it is pretty straightforward for people like me to read books/magazines in electronic format. For my daughters too, nextPaper has been a great sketching, writing and reading tool. What’s more, the e-ink technology and digital paper is environment-friendly – offering paper-like reading/writing experiences, without using actual paper. I really wish the makers (Companion) all the very best for this open-source crowdfunding project…after all, coming up with a digital paper tablet that rivals (or even betters!) the powers of the Kindle is not a matter of joke!

Okay, I need to be off now…it’s time to drop the twins off to school. Did I tell you that I typed out this entire thing on the nextPaper?

How Good Is NB-IoT As A LPWAN Technology?

 

NB-IoT: Good as a LPWAN standard?

 

This is going to be a breakthrough year as far as proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) is concerned. According to Gartner, as many as 8.4 million smart gadgets will be in active use by the end of 2017 – and, for the first time ever, the number of ‘connected devices’ will exceed the global population. LPWAN (low-power wide area network) is set to play a key role in this rapid growth and adoption of IoT, with 1 out of every 4 smart devices likely to be connected by LPWAN technology by 2020 (there will be ~350 million connections in all). Narrowband IoT, or NB-IoT, the 3GPP radio technology standard, has been in the news for some time in this context. In what follows, we will analyze the merits of NB-IoT as a good, viable LPWAN technology:

  1. Support from the biggest telecom players –Also known as LTE-M2, NB-IoT is backed by the support of some of the top telecom companies in the world. The ball was set rolling back in 2014, when Huawei spent $25 million to acquire Neul (which was already working on LPWAN technologies, along with Sigfox and Ingenu; the LoRa Alliance was formed half a year later). Huawei also partnered with Ericsson to create the NB-IoT standard (which has a DSSS modulation, just like Weightless-W). Vodafone and Qualcomm have also joined in to pull their collective weights for refining this wireless radio technology. The industry support for NB-IoT is robust, and the technology has every chance of becoming more efficient in future.

Note: In 2016, the final specification of NB-IoT was frozen in 3GPP Release 13.

2. Bandwidth requirements – Compatibility with 2G, 3G and 4G (as well as the upcoming 5G generation of applications) is essential for any optimized LPWAN standard. The low bandwidth requirement of NB-IoT (200 KHz) enables it to seamlessly function in conjunction with the existing cellular networks. The 200 KHz bands that have been used for GSM connections previously can be easily used for NB-IoT modules. The technology, on average, ranks high on the reliability count – and can be considered ideal for low data throughputs (both short-range and long-range). NB-IoT can support approximately 200 Kbps of downlink and uplink traffic rates.

3. The cost factor – In comparison with full-fledged LTE-M1 resource gateways, NB-IoT components are much more reasonably priced. That, in turn, has shifted the attention of OEMs to chipsets that support only narrowband IoT (instead of being compatible with LTE standards as well). Silicon is being used by many of the manufacturers to create these NB-IoT chips. With increasing demand levels, 3GPP expects the unit cost of NB-IoT modules to fall to $5 or less – which will be a significant achievement. However, at the LPWA World Conference in May, it was announced that the average cost for NB-IoT currently hovers in the $11-$16 range, which is too high to be of any practical interest for enterprise customers. The technology is not expensive per se, but the cost figures need to come down further.

4. Excellent coverage – One of the most important attribute of any LPWAN standard is its overall coverage area, and NB-IoT comes up trumps in that regard. The average coverage of a properly functioning NB-IoT resource block is close to 22 kilometers, comfortably higher than both LoRa technology (14-15 kms) and Sigfox (16-17 kms). There is an added condition though – the connectivity has to be uninterrupted and strong enough, to allow NB-IoT reach remote, relatively difficult-to-reach locations. In an ideal environment, the 3GPP standard can deliver almost 20 dB more coverage than general GSM networks and can deliver top-notch penetration (e,g, through walls, metal surfaces, etc.). With advanced repetition and Power Spectrum Density (PSD) boosts, NB-IoT has the capability to be 10X more efficient in terms of coverage, than other comparable LPWAN technologies. Link budgets are also higher, while bitrates are better as well.

Note: Unlike LTE-M1 (also by 3GPP), the NB-IoT standard does not function within a LTE construct.

5.  Enhanced security – Both Sigfox and LoRa technology have been in existence for some time now, and have their own high points – but both of these technologies have one potentially serious drawback. They use unlicensed spectrums for data transfer and communications, which means that the security of the devices and the network remains rather suspect. In contrast, NB-IoT uses licensed spectrums. While there are additional costs involved for purchasing licensed bands – the greater security standards boost the viability of NB-IoT to global users (enterprise users in particular). Usage of licensed spectrums helps in pulling up the reliability of the technology as well.

6. Deployment modes – The NB-IoT standard can be deployed in three different ways, to establish a channel for low-power, infrequent data communication/transfer. In the standalone deployment scenario, new bandwidths are used – and support is extended to LTE/UMTS as well as GSM. The technology can be implemented in a Guard Band, where the existing bandwidths within the underlying LTE network are utilized. The final (and least popular) deployment mode for NB-IoT is in ‘In-Band’, in which the LTE carrier’s resource blocks are made use of. In terms of indoor coverage, standalone and guard band deployments are way more efficient than the In-Band application of NB-IoT.

7. Number of connections supported – The most important objective of LPWAN is to move towards the ‘Internet of Everything’ – with more and more connected devices being used in every household. That, in turn, makes it critical for any radio technology to support a large number of connections (in each cell). In an NB-IoT framework, more than 50000 devices can be connected per cell (the number, in select scenarios, can move northwards of 100,000), ensuring massive gains in terms of smart connectivity and better prospective use cases. In IoT applications that typically require low bandwidth (for instance, smart water meters), the enhanced connectivity of NB-IoT is a major advantage.

Note: The bi-directional data transfer via NB-IoT has less interference than most other LPWAN technologies. Global roaming features are available too.

8. Minimal power consumption – Just like LoRaWAN, NB-IoT also places very low power requirements on the system. Presence of the enhanced discontinuous reception, or eDRX, is an important factor – and power is shut off at all times except when data is being sent/received. Since NB-IoT has a simple, basic waveform, the power requirements are further lowered. All these factors, in turn, ensure that the battery life of NB-IoT can extend up to 10 years, on a single charge. On average, the deployment coverage of NB-IoT/LTE-M2 is significantly higher than that of LTE-M1 applications.

9. Use cases of NB-IoT – A full NB-IoT network will be rolled out in New Zealand in the first half of 2018 (as announced by Vodafone NZ earlier this week). One of the biggest advantages of this technology is its suitability in a wide range of industrial applications (anything that require low throughputs and works well with moderate latency (~10 seconds)) – ranging right from smart gas and water meters, smart waste disposal, and smart parking devices/sensors, to smart buildings and alarms (including predictive maintenance tools), pollution level tracking, and smart agriculture. On the consumer applications front, person tracking as well as goods tracking can be done with the help of NB-IoT. The technology easily overcomes the range limitations of most other LPWAN tools, and provided that the signal strength is fair enough, delivers high-quality data transfer services seamlessly.

Note:SARA-N2, by u-blox, is said to be the very first NB-IoT module. It was launched in June 2016 and it supports uplink and downlink rates of 21 Kbps and 227 Kbps respectively.

10. Availability of frequency bands – For effective indoor coverage and reliable penetration levels, low frequency bands are typically found to be more effective. In fact, that is one of the main reasons behind the widespread use of the 900 MHz band by telecom operators globally (mostly for GSM networks). Now, NB-IoT is mostly deployed in frequency bands like 800 MHz and 900 MHz (700 MHz bands are also used) – and that is an advantage, since there are no dearth of commercial networks (LTE) that already operate on these frequency bands (particularly 900 MHz). By 2015, there were as many as 14 such networks – and the number has only grown since then. These low frequency spectrums have solid ecosystems, and that works in favour of NB-IoT.

11. Device complexity – In terms of both cost as well as device complexity, NB-IoT ranks ahead of GPRS and GSM networks. As already mentioned above, the waveforms are simpler as well. Even so, there remains certain challenges on this front. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the non-availability of ubiquitous 200 KHz spectrums (required for NB-IoT) across countries. To tackle this issue, additional features and capabilities have to be built into the antennas and the system modems/routers/gateways.  There can be some IPR risks (intellectual property risk) involved as well, due to the licensing costs.

12. NB-IoT as a service – The LTE-M2 radio technology standard has all the capabilities to deliver carrier-grade communication solutions. It compares favourably with practically all other LPWAN platforms in terms of security, reliability, coverage, support for connected devices, integration of big data tools and applications, and even billing procedures. Cloud-based service provision standards and smooth network virtualization are among the most important IoT trends at present – and ‘NB-IoT as a Service’ offers complete support for both.

There can be some problems regarding deployability (since NB-IoT is not a part of LTE, thereby necessitating the use of side bands) – but on the whole, it has every potential to become a leader in the LPWAN domain in the next few years.

A Huawei five-year forecast put the estimated revenues from NB-IoT applications in Germany at a whopping $1.67 billion – with smart city applications and smart logistics/automotive systems right at the forefront. The US market, on the other hand, paints a contrast – since AT&T and Verizon are invested in LTE-M1, and the overall demand for NB-IoT is likely to remain low. The main reason for this is the fact that NB-IoT is not based on LTE.

From our analysis, it can be concluded that 3GPP’s NB-IoT is, arguably, the most powerful LPWAN tool – at least on a theoretical level. Practically though, there are a few points of concern, with Huawei and Ericsson reporting problems in the interoperability of their narrowband services. In several major European markets (Netherlands, Ireland), NB-IoT has missed its proposed rollout dates – opening up opportunities for competitors like Sigfox and LoRa. Vodafone’s plans to ‘crush’ LoRa and Sigfox with NB-IoT have been put to the back-burner for the time – and all eyes are now on how the lingering issues with the technology can be ironed out. It remains to be seen whether NB-IoT, an otherwise excellent LPWAN-tool, can indeed become as successful as was once expected.

 

 

 

 

 

Recap: Roundup Of The Biggest Announcements At Apple WWDC 2017

What would a world without apps look like? Apple offered a sneak peek at such a hypothetical (and fairly alarming!) scenario with a hilarious ‘Appocalypse’ video, to kickstart this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC; 5-9 June). The video was followed by the two-and-a-half hour long keynote, with a record 5300+ registered Apple developers in attendance. Several important announcements were made during the keynote, and we will take a look back at them here:

 

  1. Homepod – Apple was widely expected to showcase a new smart home speaker at this year’s WWDC, and the Cupertino tech giant did not disappoint in that regard. The sleek, Siri-enabled Homepod was announced – with the speaker having a wide range of smart functionalities. For starters, the ‘home entertainment speaker’ can customize audio playback depending on the area and type of room it is placed in. A four-inch woofer, together with a 7-beam tweeter array, offers excellent audio quality – while other essential features, like echo-cancellation (multi-channel) are also built-in. Powered by the Apple A8 processor, the Homepod also has the capability to answer questions (thanks to the ‘Hey Siri’ support), start timers, fetch news and schedule reminders. It can be paired with other Homepod(s) as well. The special ‘Musicologist’ feature helps in streaming audio from Apple Music, once a user has requested Siri to play something. Apple Homepod will be available in black and white body colors, and will start shipping from December 2017 (the price is $349). It combines the best features of Sonos and Amazon Echo – and should emerge as a worthy rival to both.
  2. watchOS 4 -Although tvOS 11 did not make an appearance at WWDC 2017 (more on that later), Apple did come out with an update for its smartwatch platform. The fourth iteration of watchOS has many new additions – with the interesting watch faces being worth a separate mention. Apart from the cool Toy Story character faces (Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jesse), there is also a ‘trippy effect’ kaleidoscopic face and the innovative Siri watch face. The latter can display personalized information, based on the precise location, time and preferences of users. As expected, more activities have been added in the built-in Activity app, while the Workout application has also received workouts (e.g., high-intensity interval training, enhanced swimming training). Third-party app developers have also been kept in mind, with watchOS 4 having lots of new APIs. The blinking light mode and the flashlight mode are also interesting additions. The Music app in Apple Watch has been redesigned, the new ‘Gymkit’ functionality has been included, and the platform will also allow people to make payments through Watch (person-to-person payments).

Note: The Siri watch face will bring in artificial intelligence (AI) to the watchOS platform.

3. iOS 11 – The newest version of the iOS platform was, of course, announced at the Apple annual conference – as is the custom every year. The final version of iOS 11 will be launched in September, and it will be present on this year’s iPhone 8 (or will it be iPhone 7S?). Several tweaks have been made in the latest iteration of iOS, with the redesigned Control Center – with toggles becoming 3D Touch-enabled and the entire set of controls becoming viewable on a single sheet. A new ‘Apple Pay Cash’ card will be made available, to facilitate person-to-person payments via Apple Pay. Syncing across multiple devices will become easier and faster than before, with iMessages being made a part of iCloud (with end-to-end encryption). Live images can be modified/edited, while images will be compressed in the HIEF format (which are visually at par with JPEG images, and require about 50% less space). The Notifications panel and the lock screen have been merged into a single display area in iOS 11, while there is also a special ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode for users – which will mute all notifications and send automated messages, when they are driving. Airplay 2 will make audio sharing and playback on paired devices an absolute breeze.

4. 10.5” iPad Pro – Last year’s 9.7” iPad Pro was a big attempt on the part of Apple to revive the flagging fortunes of the iPad. At this year’s WWDC, an upgraded version – the 10.5” iPad Pro (along with the 12.9” variant) – has been announced. The new model has a display screen with much narrower bezels, and can easily fit in a full on-screen keyboard (the company has been trying to create a ‘handheld computer’ experience with iPad Pro). The A10X Fusion processor (6-core) delivers optimal speed and performance. The 10.7” iPad Pro will also support HDR videos – a first in the history of iPads. The revolutionary ‘ProMotion technology’ will enhance the refresh rate of the screen to an amazing 120 Hz – making activities smoother, and significantly reducing the latency of Apple Pencil. The new iPad Pro model will have the same camera specifications as iPhone 7 (12MP rear camera with optical image stabilization…yay!). Shipments of the Apple tablet might have gone down over the last couple of quarters – but Apple is not going to give up on it anytime soon.

5. macOS High Sierra – We moved on from OS X to macOS in 2016 (the first version of the latter was called macOS Sierra) – and this year, we have got an upgraded version of the platform, in the form of macOS High Sierra. Apple is looking to make web browsing easier and faster than ever on Mac computers – with the Safari browser now having the capability to block autoplay videos (it also has an ‘intelligent tracking prevention’ feature. The in-built JavaScript engine has been billed to be close to 80% faster than Google Chrome – an impressive feat indeed. The 64-bit APFS (Apple File System) – which debuted on iOS 10.3 – is coming to the macOS platform as well. The Photos app has been revamped, while the split-screen functionality in the Mail app will add to the convenience factor. At the event, Craig Federighi also mentioned that both Metal VR and Metal 2 graphics engines will be coming to macOS High Sierra, along with the Steam VR SDK (much to the joy of the developers attending WWDC). What’s more, the platform will also support Unreal Engine and Unity.

6. More intelligent Siri – Siri on iOS has been getting consistently smarter – and its performance is set to climb a couple of notches higher on iOS 11. With the help of SiriKit, the mobile digital assistant will support more external apps than before. Contextual search will be boosted by proactive suggestions, while Siri will also be enabled to ‘read’ texts off the phone screen (thereby making the task of understanding difficult words easier). The recalibrated Siri has an enhanced natural voice, with ‘intelligence’ levels being buoyed by on-device learning. On devices running on iOS 11, Siri will also be able to translate user-commands and queries to different languages, like Spanish, English, Chinese, German, and many more. The assistant will also be able to pull up VR codes, and perform banking and task-management activities.

7. iMac Pro – Easily the biggest of the Mac-related updates announced at WWDC 2017. An all-new iMac Pro (for professionals) is set to be launched, with uber-powerful eight-core Xeon configuration (ten-core and eighteen-core options will be available). The size of the iMac Pro will be 27”, and it will have a vRAM of 16GB. The high-quality VR environment will be a big plus for this computer, which will have the breakthrough Radeon Vega GPUs. The 27” iMac Pro will be available in Space Grey, and will start to ship in December.

Note: Apple CEO Tim Cook referred to the iMac Pro as ‘pretty badass’. It is being touted as the most powerful computer the Cupertino company has ever made.

8. More about Macs – Prior to the conference, there was plenty of buzz about the Intel Kaby Lake processors (7th generation) coming to Mac computers. These processors have indeed been included in the refreshed lineup of Mac systems. The 21.5” iMac can be upgraded to have the Fusion Drive storage system (it is standard on the 27” model). The new models will also have higher memory and storage capacities – a maximum of 32GB and 64GB for the 21.5” and the 27” iMac computers respectively. The computers will have two new Thunderbolt 3-compatible USB-C ports, come with Radeon Pro GPU processors, and the Iris Plus graphics configuration. According to reports, the SSD of the revamped Mac systems function almost 50% faster than their predecessors. The 27” iMac will boast of 5.5 teraflops power for processing. New chips and drives were also announced for Macbook, Macbook Air and Macbook Pro – offering significant speed boosts.

9. Amazon Video app on Apple TV – Rather surprisingly, not much was announced by Apple regarding its smart TV platform (the much anticipated tvOS 11 was not showcased). However, there was big news – about Amazon Prime Video finally becoming available both on Apple TV and the TV app of the iOS platform. With Amazon and Apple burying their past differences and getting together, the content source of Apple TV will expand considerably – something that all Amazon Prime subscribers can rejoice about. ITV Hub and All 4 remain the other popular video apps that are not yet on the Apple TV roster.

10. Redesigned App Store – The App Store is being redesigned by Apple for the first time this year, to enhance its user-friendliness. The changes are being made as a component of the overall iOS 11 update. The UI of the App Store will become neater and more streamlined – with every app/game being presented in separate ‘product pages’, and greater visibility for in-app purchases. The overall layout resembles that of Apple Music, with the content-separating tab ensuring easier browsing. Information about all the new games (including gameplay tips and help) will be available – while there will be a new ‘App Of The Day’ tab feature, to highlight the specially recommended application on any day. There is something for iOS app developers too – with the ‘phased releases’ option making it simpler to release relatively large updates.

Note: It was also revealed that Mountain Valley 2 (by Ustwo Games) will be present in the restyled App Store.

11. ARKit – The war in the augmented reality (AR) space is hotting up. In April, Facebook launched its AR-focused ‘Camera Effects’ platform, while Microsoft has also launched its very own platform for AR developers. After several months of subtle hints, Apple finally announced at the recently-concluded WWDC that it is going to join the game – with the all-new ARKit suite. The platform will provide tools and resources to app developers for creating high-end AR applications (for iPhone and iPad). In a live demonstration at the conference, Apple showed how augmented reality can be used to enhance the real world, by placing virtual objects in it. The company, as Tim Cook has repeatedly said, is looking to make inroads in the AR market. After implementation, ARKit has the potential to help Apple surge ahead of its competitors.

12. iPad-specific updates – iOS updates do not often have specific new features for the iPad. An exception to this was iOS 9, which introduced split screen multitasking for the tablet. iOS 11 will also come with a fairly large number of ‘for iPad’ updates – ranging from a revamped Files application, innovative multi-app views and smooth document markup options (with Apple Pencil), to a redesigned app dock and built-in capability to ‘recognize’ handwritings in the Notes app. It remains to be seen whether the new iPad models (10.5” and 12.9”) can bring about a turnaround in the fortunes of the device.

At WWDC 2017, Tim Cook officially announced that the total number of devs registered in the Apple Developer Program now stands at 16 million. The keynote was one of the most interesting in recent years, with all the software and hardware announcements mentioned above. The CEO summed up things by saying ‘Apple is doing great’ – and this year indeed looks big for the company.

 

 

How To Ensure IoT Security?

iot security tips

Anything that can connect to the internet, will connect to the internet

That, in essence, is the spirit behind the exponential growth rate of Internet of Things (IoT) worldwide. Going by a recent BI Intelligence report, there will be close to 35 billion ‘connected devices’ in active use by the end of this decade – with business being the biggest sector to use this technology. However, in the rush to come up with new and innovative IoT tools, platforms and gateways – the importance of ensuring proper security standards is often relegated to the background. In 2016, the number of ransomware attacks increased by an alarming 36% (YoY) – with as many as 17 million samples of new malware being detected in the third quarter of the year alone. The time has obviously come to give more attention to the security aspect of IoT – since the consequences of the ‘wrong person having access to the wrong internet resources’ scenario can be serious indeed.

The importance of internet security in general, and the safety protocols of IoT in particular, is not lost on the present-generation business professionals. On average, 3 out of every 4 senior managers/decision makers feel that there will be further spikes in cybersecurity attacks in the next 18-24 months, while nearly 50% business owners list security as among the biggest potential problems in new applications. A large number of IT security experts also opine that the existing standards, policies and protocols are not adequate to cope with the ever-increasing cyber security threats. In here, we will offer some basic tips and pointers for ensuring the security of IoT applications:

  1. Maintaining an inventory of connected devices – By August 2016, an average North American household had 8-10 connected devices. That number will push towards 50 by 2020. The number of smart IoT business applications is also increasing at a rapid clip. In this scenario, it is vital to keep track of all the tools and gadgets with web-connectivity that are being used (apart from, of course, computers and smartphones). The list of IoT devices being used by any person/group/business should be regularly updated, and all types of media players and microphone/camera mounted gadgets should be included. In addition, the volume and type of data each IoT tool has access to should also be noted. Maintaining a systematic inventory report of IoT applications and their components makes it easier to identify probable sources of vulnerabilities.
  2. Using updated firmware – The IoT routers/gateways as well as all the connected devices in a network should have the latest security patches and updates. The onus is on the users to regularly check for these updates (from the makers’ websites, for instance) and install the same whenever they become available. If and when possible, this checking procedure can be automated too. New types of malware and hacks are being created practically every day – and unless you are using the latest firmware versions, your IoT network is at a risk.
  3. The importance of passwords – Passwords are probably the biggest security tool in the hands of the users. Plenty of people make the mistake of selecting the same password for all of their IoT devices – making the task that much easier for professional hackers (if the password of any one system is hacked, the other systems connected to it also become accessible). Hence, it is of immense importance to select separate passwords for each IoT tool. Also, the individual passwords need to be strong enough and not easily guessable. There are several advanced password manager apps currently available, where all the passwords can be stored. Users should never forget to change the factory-set passwords (‘12345’, ‘password’, etc.).

Note: Over 1 billion Yahoo! User accounts were hacked in 2013. The next year, a further 500 million accounts were breached.

4. Staying wary of DDoS attacks – A 2016 NexusGuard report found that, between the first and second quarters of the year – the number of distributed denial-of-service (or, DDoS) shot up by a whopping 83%. In 2016 Q4, reports of DDoS attacks came in from as many as 80 different countries (China had the lead with most attacks, with USA and South Korea taking up the second and third spots respectively). Any business that has a proper website (websites can also be a significant source of revenue) needs to be aware of a potential DDoS attack. The trick here lies in selecting an internet service provider (ISP) that offers robust security against such attacks. If funds are not a point of concern, a internet hosting firm with specialized DDoS mitigation plans can be opted for (their services are often relatively pricey). An attacker might target an entire ISP or any particular user – and your IoT environment should be powerful enough to repel such threats.

5. Encryption is key to security – The volume of confidential, personalized data – right from names and contact information, to bank account/card information and transaction details – being stored on the cloud is increasing with time. During data transmission, nearly 82% of all cloud service providers offer secure data encryption services. While that seems pretty good – a closer look reveals a much more worrisome stat: less than 10% of the stored information is encrypted during rest (i.e., when it is not being transmitted). Not surprisingly, this is the state which attackers tend to target – seriously compromising cloud security as a whole. Before uploading/storing any information on a IoT network, users need to ensure that it would be encrypted properly. It is not easy (at least, it ain’t a quick job!) to decrypt well-encrypted information – and that enhances the security assurances manifold.

6. Consider whether continuous internet-connectivity is required – It would be surprising to note how many IoT devices and gadgets can be disconnected from the network at different times – but users (from business and consumer sectors) do not take the trouble of doing so. Something like a smart thermostat, or a personal smartphone, might need to be connected at all times – but the scene is different (at least it should be) for automated coffee-makers, or smart lighting systems, or audio/video streaming devices (smart TVs, for instance). The longer an IoT device remains connected to the network – the greater is the time a hacker gets to plot an attack on it. Whenever a smart gadget is not being used, it is advisable to disconnect it from the network.

Note: Not all IoT devices need to be connected to the cloud. In any case, over-reliance on the cloud network can increase security risks.

7. Deactivating Universal Plug and Play – Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is, in theory, a very useful feature. It helps smart devices without any specific configuration settings to ‘discover’ other, similar tools in the network. However, this ‘universal discoverability’ comes with a serious corollary too – since it becomes easier for hackers to find and target IoT devices. Even if a user has no intention of making his/her device(s) visible to everyone, it can be done by certain customized search engines (which locate everything connected to the web). Given these vulnerabilities in the UPnP protocol, it is a good idea to turn the feature off – on the router as well as all connected smart devices.

8. Multiple networks and a ‘Guest Network’ – Instead of using a single router and hoping for the best, IoT security experts generally recommend having multiple routers – particularly when there are several IoT gadget/appliances to be connected. Having several routers automatically ensures segmentation of the network – and that, in turn, diversifies the potential security threats. Even if a network segment (and the devices within it) is compromised, the other parts remain secure. It is also important to create a separate ‘guest network’ with the help of wifi routers. There is no way to predicting which users will want to get on an IoT platform at any time – and to keep the main network safe, unknown visitors should be routed through this ‘guest network’.

Note: Different smart home devices, like printers and surveillance cameras, were used in last October’s Dyn cyber attack – the biggest internet attack of its type. Github, Spotify and Reddit were among the websites affected.

9. Being aware of the risks of BYOD – By the end of this year, 1 out of every 2 companies in North America will support BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies. Markets&Markets has estimated that that value of the global BYOD market will go beyond $180 billion this year. While bringing personal devices to office for work-related purposes definitely has its benefits (from lowering the stress on workplace devices to helping employees enjoying a more ‘involved feeling) – doing so is fraught with security risks. A personal smart device is not likely to have the requisite security features and encryption standards – and as such, it can put valuable business information at risk. An individual device with suspect security can be easily targeted to get unauthorized access to company databases. A scary thought, indeed!

Note: As the number of smart devices used for work (company-owned plus personal) increase, keeping track of them on a real-time basis becomes difficult. That is yet another reason to limit the BYOD practices within a business as much as possible.

10. Staying away from unknown wifi connections – Unsecure wifi networks (public wifi networks that are not password protected, for instance) are perfect tools for hackers to spread malware. While the attractions of logging on to such an ‘open network’ can be considerable (saving on mobile data…so, yay!) – such networks can be dangerous from the security perspective. Users should, as a rule of thumb, view all wifi networks without passwords as ‘vulnerable’, and refrain from using them on their handheld devices or any other smart gadgets. Use your own routers and networks – and have strong passwords for them.

11. The time factor – Implementing security parameters on IoT devices is not a ‘one-and-done’ job. Over time, the effectiveness of IoT security depreciates – and users have to continually keep track of the latest technologies and protocols and how they can be used to make the network ‘safer’. Tackling new threats with urgent software updates and patches is all very fine – but the focus should firmly be on following the latest manufacturing models for any smart device or IoT gateway. In other words, the IoT security considerations should follow a ‘bottom-up’ path, with manufacturers being responsible for incorporating updated security features in new tools and gadgets. In the fast moving domain of the World Wide Web, device-makers can no longer afford to just create a smart device and then provide security patches on an ‘as required’ basis.

Note: When a manufacturer exits the market, all the devices created by it stop receiving the necessary software updates. In such cases, it is prudent to replace the concerned devices (which are now unsecure).

12. Minimal personal data and code obfuscation – As the world is getting more and more connected, the amount of personal information out in the wild (often without the owner(s) being aware of it) is increasing. For instance, the GPS system of a smart car can give away its precise parking location details – and when that information falls in the hands of a hacker, car thefts become a very real possibility. The same goes for home automation systems and IoT business tools as well. Users should minimize ‘disclosing’ such information that can be traced back to them. Maintaining a certain level of obscurity on the internet platform is important.

Hack attacks, in most cases, involve reverse engineering of the underlying codes in IoT applications. An effective way to tackle this is via code obfuscation (i.e., the technique of over-elaborating and complicating machine codes to make reverse engineering difficult and way more time-consuming). Among the popular programming languages, while C/C++ are often used in the security-related sections of IoT apps – developers generally avoid using JavaScript.

Less than 38% of all organizations worldwide have a proper IoT strategy management policy in place (according to a PwC report). This clearly highlights the fact that there is plenty of catching-up to do for businesses – to minimize the security-threats and hack attacks. The task has to start from training individual users about the types of malware and threats they might face – and how they can work around them. Using VPNs (virtual private networks) to enhance the security of IoT devices is also a good idea. Websites and mobile apps that involve monetary transactions (for example, shopping portals) should have proper Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) support.

IoT will continue to evolve – and unfortunately, cybersecurity threats will grow with it too. It is up to the product manufacturers and end-users to work together and keep such threats at an arm’s length, at all times.

Smart Parking: Nature, Trends And Benefits

 

Smart parking trends and benefits

 

 

The world is going to have more than 2 billion cars on the road by 2020. Add the ~770 million trucks that would be present as well – and you will get a fair idea of how busy the traffic system would be, and how challenging it will become to find convenient, safe parking spots. A recent Goodwin survey found that, nearly 30% of traffic congestions in urban downtown areas are caused by drivers frantically looking for spaces to park their vehicles. Things can, potentially, get very chaotic.

Smart Parking To The Rescue

As we move towards smart cities (in January 2016, there were as many as 235 smart city projects), the importance of smart parking and traffic management is increasingly coming to the fore. To put things in simple terms, ‘smart parking’ can be defined as an automated mechanism that helps car-owners/drivers to locate and navigate to available parking slots in their locality. The real-time data is transferred from sensors (placed in the parking areas strategically) to dedicated applications installed in the handheld devices of users. In addition, the smart parking management setup can also help individuals book parking slots in advance, by automating payments. The objective of deploying smart parking systems is straightforward enough – to reduce the driving time required to find parking spaces, and to make optimal use of available parking slots.

Latest Trends From The Smart Parking Markets

Smart parking has, over the last few quarters, emerged as one of the most important sub-domains of Internet of Things (IoT) and in the creation of truly ‘smart cities’. In a recently published report, the global smart parking industry has been projected to move beyond the $26 billion mark by the end of 2021, with the market CAGR hovering around 18%. M-payments (e.g., via Apple Pay) for making payments to parking authorities are also expected to increase significantly. The United States, rather expectedly, leads the way in terms of adoption of smart parking systems, with the American parking management market predicted to reach $9.3 billion by 2021. Use of low-cost, long-range sensors (many of them working on LPWAN technologies like LoRa) will grow at a CAGR of 18.28%.

Components Of A Smart Parking Setup

With the number of motor vehicles on the roads increasing by the day and uncertainties over the availability of secure parking facilities increasing – the need of the hour is to come up with a smart, automated system that can:

  1. Accurately and reliably predict the availability of parking slots to drivers, and
  2. Navigate the drivers to those parking slots.

An advanced smart parking system architecture needs to have the following:

  • Parking sensors/Occupancy sensors – In each and every parking facility, a set of RF sensors have to be installed. These sensors would relay real-time data about the availability (or otherwise) of slots to nearby drivers. These ‘occupancy sensors’ need to run on battery (wire-connectivity is impractical, given the high number of sensors that have to be used), have long-range RF capabilities (either with a mesh network or with LoRa technology), and offer excellent accuracy. The number of ‘false positives’ generated by a sensor have to be minimal.

The other point of concern related to the parking sensors is related to the durability of the latter. If they are placed outdoors (as they often would be), care has to be taken to make sure that their functionality is not hampered by weather elements (direct sunlight, humidity, rain, etc.), and there are no damages when a car moves over them. The power management algorithm (for the longevity of the sensor batteries) and the actual positioning/placement of the sensors are also vital.

  • Gateway hardwareChanges in the availability of parking slots will be reflected through a status change of the sensors – and that, in turn, will be collected in a gateway. Unlike the sensors, the gateways have to be operational round-the-clock (the sensors are functional only when their status changes). The data collected in the gateway are then sent on to the centralised server.

IoT gateways are not particularly cheap – and authorities need to rely on long-range, low-power RF technologies to ensure that efficient use of each gateway. On average, every smart parking gateway should be able to handle data from 450-500 parking sensors. High-quality enclosures and power/voltage protectors can increase the life and performance of gateways.

  • Server – The server in a smart parking setup needs to have 2-way communication protocol support. On the one hand, it will receive the data from the gateways – to generate updated information about the free and occupied parking slots in any facility. At the other end, it will send real-time notifications to the dedicated mobile app in the user’s device – to guide them to the parking area, and the particular ‘vacant’ parking slot. A detailed map of the parking facility will also be sent from the server to the user, for additional guidance.

Depending on the drivers’ location and preferences, they might need ‘off-road parking’ or ‘on-road parking’. The computations performed within the server and the information sent by it to mobile applications have to vary accordingly, to provide personalized service to each driver. Country-specific parking regulations also have to be taken into account.

  • Mobile application – The final component of the smart parking architecture is the dedicated mobile app – which serves as the touchpoint for the final users (the app can be installed on smartphones and tablets). After receiving notifications from the server, the app would help the driver to navigate to the empty parking slot (no more confused driving around and resultant frustrations!). For this navigation, the application will either rely on the tools placed in the parking slots (off-road parking) or the phone GPS (for on-road parking).

Users can provide a confirmation on the parking application, after they have parked the vehicle in the scheduled slot. This stored data would help people find their parked cars later (once again, the app would guide them to their vehicles). In essence, a mobile car parking app – working inside a smart parking architecture – helps users locate a parking slot, arrive there, park their cars safely, and find their cars later on.

Key Drivers For Smart Parking

The need for implementing smart parking systems has already been established. Let us now turn our attentions to the key factors that are driving up interest levels in automated parking management systems worldwide:

  • Popularity of Intelligent Transportation Systems – Smart Parking can well be referred to as a subset of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). The trend of rapid urbanization is apparent in most major countries across the globe – and by 2030, around 62% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. There will be urgent requirements for end-to-end analysis and secure sharing of networked resources, to improve the standard of public transport solutions – and that can be delivered by custom-built ITS systems. The growing awareness about, and the implementation of, ITS is boosting the popularity of smart parking technology.
  • Surge in the automobile industry – In the entire 90s decade, 39 million cars were sold across the globe. Cut to 2017, and the corresponding figure is projected to reach 77.83 million units. To put things in perspective – the number of cars sold this year alone will be nearly double of that sold between 1990 to 1999! The value of the overall automotive supplier market in 2016 was nearly $675 billion – with Volkswagen, GM and Toyota among the forerunners.

A related point, and one associated with the growth of the smart parking market, has been the unprecedented growth of connected cars worldwide. According to a Gartner report, 20% of all on-road vehicles will have network connectivity in some form by the end of this decade – and close to 10 million self-driving (fully autonomous) cars will be in active use. Vehicles will be able to communicate with each other real-time, for smoother traffic maintenance, safer driving experience, and obviously, easier parking.

  • Availability of powerful sensors – Thanks to the rapid advancements in IoT and connectivity standards, there are different types of data sensors currently available in the markets. Many of these sensors support 2-way M2M communication – and hence, can easily be used in the smart parking architecture. Information on availability of parking slots is shared from these sensors to ‘connected cars’ instantaneously. The availability of high-quality LPWAN gateways is also going up – contributing to the spike in the smart parking sector.
  • Greater emphasis on telematics data analytics – This is where the leading telecom companies in various countries come into the picture. By collaborating with the top OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) from the automobile market, they can generate in-depth analytics services for all the telematics data generated. This analysis reduces traffic congestion risks, offers personalized services to drivers of connected cars, and opens up great savings opportunities for smart parking service providers.

User Roles In A Smart Parking System

We have already deliberated on the different components of smart parking setups. Let us summarize the user roles of all the parts of a full-fledged parking management software here:

  • Smartphone/tablet – The personal device which has the parking app installed in it. It receives data from the server, navigates drivers to available parking slots, and also serves as payment gateways.
  • Parking provider – Smart parking is, in essence, a M2M application – and it is provided to users by the ‘parking providers’. These providers have to arrange for both ‘off-road parking’ and ‘on-road parking’.
  • Service Platform (M2M) – This is the platform on which the occupancy sensors, the gateways, and the server can seamlessly interact.
  • Parking sensors – The sensors that are positioned in the parking facilities. These M2M devices directly communicate to gateways as soon as their status changes.
  • Parking meters – These devices calculate the total amount payable by the drivers as parking charges. In smart parking, third-party human touts have no role to play – and users only have to pay for the exact amount of time they use the parking service.

Note: The parking bills are issued by the designated ‘billing provider’.

  • Law enforcement unit – These are, generally, the nearest police centers. These units track probable violations of smart parking regulations, and determines fines and penalties.

Advantages Of Smart Parking

Think of a very common scenario: you drive to a posh shopping mall, but then face frustrations to find a suitable parking slot. With a smart parking system in place, you can easily bid adieu to such irritations. There are several other benefits of smart parking, to which we turn our attention next:

i) Parking slots found quickly – Researches have revealed that additional driving required for searching parking areas can be reduced by 21% – when a properly functioning smart parking system is in operation. The time required to find a vacant spot for parking goes down by a whopping 43%.

ii) Avoiding traffic congestions1 out of every 3 traffic jams are caused by irate drivers looking for public parking spaces. When there is an automated system to directly navigate them, such on-road congestions would obviously go down.

iii) Optimal usage of parking spaces – In a normal (read: traditional) parking regime, it is impossible to ensure that the parking facilities available are being efficiently utilized. Due to lack of information, some slots might remain empty – but drivers might not know about them. With the real-time information from parking sensors, that problem goes out of the window.

iv) More fuel-savings – When parking slots are found quickly, extra driving is not required – and hence, less fuel/gas gets used up by cars. Experts from the field of IoT have estimated that this fuel-savings are likely to reach 0.22 million gallons by 2030, and a massive 0.3 million gallons by 2050.

v) Greater revenues – Smart parking involves the use of advanced monitoring, information transfer and data analytics methods – leveraging the IoT ecosystem to the fullest. The real-time management and intelligent decision-making capabilities help in generating more revenues.

vi) Pay as you use – The parking meters and billing providers collaborate to notify the users about the total parking fees they have to pay. There are no chances of a person being charged more than what (s)he should.

vii) Accuracy – Minimal ‘false positives’ and highly accurate predictions/tracking of empty parking slots are key characteristics of any good smart tracking setup. There are no uncertainties involved – and car-owners can (nearly always) find a parking area in their locality, as and when they need.

viii) Less frustrations – Driving around in search of parking slots is not only a waste of time and fuel – it can be acutely stressful too. In China, the average number of people in a car is 6.75 (the corresponding figure is 1.4 in the US) – and things can get very frustrating indeed, if the lookout for a parking space goes on for too long. Smart parking promises a quick and satisfactory getaway from such troubles.

ix) A cleaner environment – The more you drive, the more will be the emissions from your car, and the more polluted the environment will become. Smart parking solutions can reduce emissions by up to 30%.

x) The safety factor – The presence of sensors and real-time parking management systems ensure that risks of car thefts and other forms of unauthorized vehicle access is close to zero. Aided by the smart parking system, a person can park his/her car without any worries, and find it later with ease.

Smart Parking System: Challenges

While there is no scope for doubting either the need for smart parking systems or the benefits these IoT tools can deliver, there are certain challenges that can crop up during the implementation stage. For starters, the authorities have to be ready to make the required investments for the sensors, the gateways and the server(s). The total expenses are not likely to be too small, and there are often hidden costs involved. What’s more – incorrect positioning of the gateways and/or damages caused in the sensors can drive up costs significantly.

The reliability of the LPWAN technology to be used for a smart parking system also requires close scrutiny. Unless a sensor can: a) detect whether a car is present in a parking slot or not, and b) send the info on a real-time basis to the gateway, it is fairly useless. LoRa technology, when implemented optimally, can yield the best results.

Region-specific and user-specific factors can also pose constraints in the path of smart parking. It’s all very fine to plan for big cities – but in smaller, less sophisticated locations in developing countries, a significant section of the population might not own smartphones. The idea of having to download a new app and having to share card information on it (for parking payments) might not seem particularly attractive to everyone either.

There can be challenges in the enforcement of smart parking regulations as well. Say, a car driver books a parking slot in advance for four hours, but leaves it within two hours. Ensuring that (s)he gets charged for only the two hours (and not four, as recorded in the parking meter) is important. The sensors have to efficiently track the arrival and departure times of vehicles from a parking facility.

Lastly, there lies the factor of mental change. We have been used to decades of traditional parking practices – and suddenly changing over to a wholly automated setup can seem strange to many. The change has to be gradual, awareness levels have to be increased, and the convenience factors/benefits of smart parking have to be emphasized – to make IoT-driven parking management systems a success.

The potential for expanding the smart parking industry is enormous, and the technology has several important advantages too. As with any new technology, there are some challenges – but as we move towards better M2M communication standards and a more ‘connected world’, the issues can be resolved and car parking can be made easier than ever before!

How To Optimize Your Android App At Google Play Store?

Last February, the total number of apps available for download in Google Play Store had breached the 2 million mark. Cut to March 2017 – and the overall app-count here is already up to 2.8 million, an increase of around 40% (YoY). On average, 8 out of 10 app downloads in the Play Store happen through organic search, highlighting the importance of following effective app store optimization (ASO) strategies. The percentage of ‘zombie apps’ (i.e., the ones which are not discoverable through organic search) in Play Store is rather alarmingly high – and in what follows, we will highlight some tips and pointers to ensure proper optimization of your new Android application at the store:

  1. Use keywords intelligently – Do some research to find out the terms and words that people are likely to use while searching for the type of mobile app you have developed. For instance, if yours is a children’s app, phrases like ‘mobile app for kids’ and ‘Android app for children’ should feature in your targeted keywords. There are several good keyword planner tools – like Wordstream, Appcodes, Google Keyword Planner and Wordpot – which can help you jot down the best set of keywords for any particular application.
  2. Keyword placement – Unlike the descriptions in Apple App Store, those in Google Play Store are indexed and are searchable by online search engines. Hence, it is of paramount importance to place your selected keywords in the app descriptions here. The main keyword(s) should be present in the description about 4-5 times. Make sure that the words go with the flow of the description, and do not appear forced. Do not get too eager and spam the description by overusing the keyword(s). Also, the main keyword should be present in the title/name of the app. That bolsters discoverability manifold.
  3. Length of the title – The length of the app title you choose should not go beyond 30 characters (for iOS apps, the benchmark is 50 characters). Flouting this regulation would result in a part of the app title not being visible to people – serving as a distraction, and lowering the chances of downloads. According to a recent Fiksu report, using keywords correctly in the title can boost an app’s ranking in Play Store by 90-100 positions (potential downloads increasing by close to 300%).
  4. App description – Most smartphone users will take time out to get an idea about what a new app does, before taking a call on whether to download it or not. The description section is the place where Android developers get the opportunity of convincing users about the merits of their software. In the Play Store, two separate descriptions have to be created for your app. The maximum length of the ‘short description’ is 80 characters, and it should be able to capture the attention of viewers rightaway (precise verbs and descriptions are essential). The ‘long description’ on the other hand, can have up to 4000 characters. Use bullet points and short, crisp paragraphs to outline the main features and benefits of your application. Use the keyword(s) optimally over here. Doing so can take up the ranking of your app by 8-10 positions.

Note: Placing a keyword more than 5 times has no additional advantages – and can, in fact, be detrimental (due to spam considerations).

5. Create and add a Promo Video – Probably the biggest ASO tool in the hands of Android app development experts is the ‘Promo Video’. A short YouTube video – highlighting the main USPs/features of an app – can be easily added as the first visual asset of the app’s page in the Play Store. Make it a point to focus on the most unique properties of your app in the ‘Promo Video’. Researches have shown that using a suitable video and featured graphics can pull up the conversion rate of an app (the ratio of actual downloads to the number of page visits) by nearly 26%.

6. The icon factor – When anyone searches for an app, the first thing (s)he sees in the results is the icon image. The icon you use should be nicely designed, and it should convey some idea of what the app is all about to prospective users. Ideally, there should not be any text present on the icon – simply because that would interrupt with the visibility of the image (i.e., no keyword(s) on icon). A good app icon – something that your audience can understand and relate to – can be a great visual boost. Clickthrough rates (CTR) and download count can go up significantly.

7. The importance of great screenshots – The screenshots you upload in the store (along with the Promo Video) serve as the first points-of-interaction (PoI) between your app and its probable users. You can upload a maximum of 8 screenshots in the Play Store (as opposed to 5 in Apple App Store). Highlight the most important screens here…the ones that showcase the key features of your app. Small lines of text/captions – explaining the screens – can also be present. The app screenshots you submit have to be 24-bit PNG or JPEG images, with a minimum dimension of 320 pixels. High-quality screenshots enhance the visual appeal of an app, and explain the software to users as well. Separate screenshots have to be submitted in case your app has a customized for tablets (i.e., to be featured under ‘Designed for tablets’).

Note: For apps that have versions for Android Wear and Android TV, additional screenshots (one and two respectively (minimum)) have to be uploaded.

8. Meta description of Play Store apps – On Google, the ‘title’ and the ‘meta description’ tags are vital for app store optimization (just like in SEO). The initial 167 characters of your app description are automatically included as the ‘meta description’ by the search engine. That, in turn highlights the importance of placing keywords optimally in this section of the description. The keywords you select should ideally have high search volumes and relatively low competition levels. Optimized meta descriptions are instrumental in enhancing the organic discoverability of apps.

9. Reviews and testimonials – Peer opinions matter a lot, when it comes to deciding whether to download a new application or not. Nearly 89% Android phone users check out the existing ratings and reviews on an app’s page, before taking the next action (either download or move away). Make sure that your app is good enough to garner 4-star or 5-star ratings from users. The importance of proper app testing should be reiterated in this context. It is easier to get a buggy app approved on Play Store (than on App Store) – but such bugs would inevitably hamper with user-experiences, and lead to low ratings and negative feedback, putting paid to your ambitions of getting it featured at the store. Keep monitoring the ‘growth of downloads’ metric for the last 30 days. That, along with the total download volume, and the number and level of ratings, are important components of the Play Store algorithm.

Note: Don’t just rely on users actually coming back to the store to review your app. Actively ask for feedback, and ensure that reviews/ratings can be submitted from within the app. Reminders can also be generated as pop-ups from time to time.

10. Create a strong backlink profile – The similarities between ASO and SEO continue with the relevance of backlinks for organic search. Try to get your Android app reviewed/mentioned in high-traffic app-related websites (and get links from that page, to your app’s page in Play Store). Any good mobile app company will have its own web blog as well – and a new app has to be written about in detail over there as well. Avoid trying to get links from low-quality, spammy sites. They will do more harm than good in the long-run.

11. Translations for global exposure – English is far from being the only language you should concentrate on, while optimizing your Android application. In terms of downloads and revenue, Japanese, Russian, German and French are all important languages – and if you wish to target global users, your app should have separate descriptions in different languages. Instead of depending on Google Translations (which is often erratic), avail the services of a professional linguistic expert for the purpose. It is only natural that if a person cannot understand the app’s description, (s)he won’t bother downloading it…a simple extension of the ‘cannot read, will not buy’ rule of thumb.

12. Optimize the featured graphic – The importance of ‘promo videos’ of apps to get viewers engaged has already been highlighted. Whether people actually click on the ‘Play’ button of the video depends a lot on the quality of featured graphic image you create. This feature is no longer optional – and more importantly, the featured graphics are often displayed in organic search results as well. The graphic you upload should be of 1024×500 px, and it should include the name of the app (along with a few descriptive words). Leading Android app makers put prime importance on the role of the featured graphic in making a favourable first impression on target users.

In addition to the ‘on-site’ Play Store optimization strategies discussed above, ASO for Android apps should include ‘offsite’ activities as well. These include publishing press releases and guest posts about a new app, going for app review exchanges on Facebook and G+, and regular tweets on various interesting points about the software. Robust pre-launch marketing is also necessary, to create a buzz about your app. The Android app marketplace is extremely competitive – and unless your ASO strategies are strong enough, your product might get drowned in the crowd.

 

Google I/O 2017: A Roundup Of All The Expectations From The Event

The 10th annual Google I/O conference is set to kick-off on the 17th of May, at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View (CA). Last year’s event had witnessed the presence of more than 7000 attendees – and the number of delegates at the 2017 edition is likely to grow further. Interestingly, and encouragingly for the global tech community, the percentage of women attendees at Google I/O has been rising each year – and reached 23% in 2016. As it happens every year, there are already quite a bit of speculations about the announcements that Google will make at this year’s developer conference. We will here look at all the major expectations from Google I/O 2017:

  1. Expansion in Google Assistant functionalities – Google Assistant debuted at I/O 2016 – and it received the thumbs-up from general users and mobile app developers alike – thanks to its powerful features and excellent contextual awareness. CEO Sundar Pichai had also talked in detail about AI (artificial intelligence) and machine-learning. At this year’s I/O, it can be reasonably expected that Google Assistant will get an update – with its functionality being expanded to smart cars, smart TVs, and other high-end gadgets. The underlying voice assistance technology might undergo some improvements as well.
  2. More on Android Wear 2.0 – Announced in May 2016, Android Wear 2.0 sure took a long time in getting released. It was finally launched in February 2017 (Android base 7.1.1) – and with the global market for wearable technology heating up, more is expected to be heard at this year’s Google I/O, on Android Wear. Multiple new features can be showcased, including quick replies for smartwatches, more wrist gestures, and a separate, properly functional Play Store for Android Wear applications. Other things, like handwriting recognition and a brand new UI, may be showcased too. For starters though, Google needs to explain the rollout plan for Android Wear 2.0 in detail.

Note: There are no chances of Android Wear 3.0 making an appearance at I/O 2017.

3. Android O – Google has traditionally used the I/O platform to reveal interesting new features about upcoming Android versions (last year, Doze battery saver and split-screen mode for Android Nougat were highlighted). This year, more light will be shed on the capabilities of Android O (i.e., Android 8.0) – including how the new platform will manage notifications and enhance battery/device performances. The first alpha developer preview of Android O was released in March – and we will probably get to know which dessert ‘O’ stands for sometime in June.

4. Firebase – Google’s Firebase has been hailed as an excellent cloud platform for managing a wide range of app services – right from app development and tracking, to overall controlling/monitoring. According to reports in various Android forums on the web, Google I/O 2017 will witness important upgrades to Firebase, for improving app availability figures over the cloud, bolstering the business models of cloud developers, and making things more systematic and streamlined. Attendees might also be acquainted with the best practices for using Google Cloud.

5. Augmented reality with Project Tango – Given the attention augmented reality (AR) received at CES 2017 (in January), it can pretty much be assumed that it will be dealt upon at the I/O event as well. Google has been working on the ambitious Project Tango platform for close to three years now (the platform was launched in June 2014) – and it would not be surprising if new AR-based mobile apps and devices are presented at the upcoming conference. The Tango technology creates a completely customized 3D world via depth sensing and motion tracking – over the physical environments of users. It will be fascinating to find out how Google plans to take this forward.

6. More software and hardware for Daydream – There will be a special section at Google I/O 2017, where the advantages of using Unity 3D game engine for virtual reality (VR) applications will be deliberated upon. There are also chances of Google taking this opportunity to announce new, cutting-edge hardware tools and software solutions for its Daydream platform – allowing a smooth progress beyond Google Cardboard. Claude Zellweger, the design lead of HTC, joined the Daydream platform (as the Head of ID) this January – and there have been reports of Zellweger and his team having started work on an advanced Google VR headset. Expect to know more about that in the conference.

Note: Asus Zenfone AR is one of the several ‘Daydream-ready mobile phones’ already launched by different original equipment manufacturers. More Android Nougat devices will be made compatible with the Daydream platform.

7. Google Allo to be updated – Last year’s Google I/O conference saw the launch of Google Allo – an all-new built-in messaging app for Android users. Since then though, things have remained mostly static on the Allo front – with Google not bringing any significant updates, and usage figures remaining on the lower side. In all probability, a more powerful and well-rounded version of Google Allo will be showcased at the 2017 event – with built-in integration with the complete version of Google Assistant (Allo currently can be used with Assistant to a limited extent). The smart replies of Allo might get an upgrade too, along with the app’s capability of grasping information from pictures. The focus will be on motivating users to give Allo a try – and Google will be ringing the changes for that.

8. New collaborations for Google Home – Yet another technology that was first presented at the 2016 I/O, and did not manage its way to the markets until much later. The Google Home smart voice assistant hit the US markets in November 2016, and it will arrive in the UK this month (there is no news about the worldwide release of Google Home yet). Experts from the field of Internet of Things (IoT) fully expect Google to announce several new, high-profile partnerships and collaborations to expand the capabilities of Google Home. What’s more – the usability of Google Assistant in Home will also be enhanced. The $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest in 2014 proved that Google is serious about entering the IoT domain. Google Home will be an important cog in that wheel.

9. Project Fi for more devices – This is only an outside chance – but the announcement of Project Fi for more devices (in addition to the Google Pixel and Nexus phones) at the forthcoming Google I/O conference cannot be ruled out either. Project Fi has already become relatively popular as a reliable cross-carrier network – and users have liked the auto-switching of carriers for faster, better mobile data usage. It is indeed time for Google to roll out this tool to more Android handsets.

10. More on Google Duo – The personalized video-calling app that Google announced at I/O 2016 has failed to make much of a splash till now. Although the option seeing live video stream of callers before receiving a call (the video continues during the conversation as well) is interesting enough, Google Duo has not found many takers – and the company will surely looking to set that straight at the 2017 conference. According to many leading Android software and app developers, Duo might be integrated with Hangouts, to boost adoption rates and engagement. Also, with Hangouts becoming more business-oriented, the opportunities for Google Duo to become popular have increased. There should be some information shared on this at the conference.

Note: The video-streaming feature of Google Duo is called ‘Knock Knock’. The app, of course, is available on both Android and iOS.

11. The road ahead for Chrome OS – Google’s stand on Chrome OS is rather confusing. Although it has been confirmed that all Chromebooks launched in 2017 will support Android apps, there are no chances of Chrome OS and Android to get unified in the foreseeable future (as reiterated by Hiroshi Lockheimer, a Senior VP at Google). There is, however, a probability of the OS getting some new features and user tricks this year. At the I/O conference, some more devices running on Chrome OS might also be announced.

12. A tease about Google’s autonomous cars – The venue of the annual Google I/O event was shifted from San Francisco (2008-15) to Mountain View last year, probably with a view to test out the company’s fleet of self-driving cars. The project received a serious setback last September – when a modified Lexus SUV was involved in a mjaor accident (at Mountain View). However, the fault was not due to any shortcomings in the technology (it was more of a human error). In December 2016, the self-driving vehicle project was spun into a separate company named Waymo – independent of Alphabet Inc. In I/O 2017, there are some (albeit slight) chances of more information about Google driverless cars becoming available.

13. A stronger Android Auto ecosystem – Google also has scopes to to make Android Auto more powerful and feature-rich. By the end of 2022, it has been predicted that the total number of connected car units will inch close to the 40 million mark – and with Apple Car reportedly eyeing a 2019 release, Android Auto needs to improve fast. Not much has been heard about the ‘intelligent navigation system’ from Waze after it was first discussed in 2015 – and it can well be discussed at Google I/O 2017. More likely are the announcements of the arrival of more new vehicle models in the Android Auto ecosystem. Hyundai already offers support to Blue Link and Google Auto.

There are no practically no chances of any fresh information on Project Ara – Google’s modular smartphone – at the upcoming conference. While the project seemed promising enough in 2013, it kept losing steam, launch dates kept getting pushed back, and Google finally suspended the project in September 2016.

At the I/O 2017 conference, attending developers will get the opportunity to check out the latest Google APIs, communicate on a one-on-one basis with Google executives, and build their peer networks. Billed as an ‘outdoor developer festival’ – Google I/O has always been one of the most exciting events in the annual tech calendar, and this year is not going to be any exception.

How Should You Test A Mobile App?

A buggy mobile application can pose serious problems, and not only for the person who downloads it on his/her device. Researches have shown that, nearly 45% of users immediately uninstall mobile applications that are apparently buggy (causes battery drain, overheating, screen freezes, lags, etc.). In addition, over 95% people actually take the trouble of leaving a low rating (and a bad review, to boot!) for that app at the store. This negative word-of-mouth publicity, in turn, kills off all chances of success of the concerned mobile application – and soon enough, it becomes a ‘zombie app’ at the stores. Before submitting any new app, developers need to thoroughly test it. Here are some useful pointers on how to go about it:

  1. Focus on the core functionality – Each mobile application needs to have a core feature – the reason that would motivate users to give it a try. App testers need to ensure that this core functionality is implemented and accessible in an optimized manner in the app. The software should not have too many features – which would dilute the very purpose of its existence, and would confuse end-users as well. If the most important feature of an app is incorrectly implemented and/or too complicated, it would be a recipe for failure.
  2. Factor in the varying screen sizes – This is a particularly important factor for Android app developers. Phones of varying screen sizes are available (launched by the various OEMs) – and a new app must deliver the same performance across all of them. There should not be any cases of portions of app screens getting hidden, or ‘bleeding out’ of the display area. The placement of in-app ads has to be carefully tested as well. Testing iOS applications is easier in this regard, since iPhones come in a standard size.

Note: There should be separate, customized versions of an app for mobile phones and tablets (and smartwatches, if required). Using the same version across different smart devices generally does not yield an optimal experience.

3. Consider the OS versions and backward compatibility – While testing a mobile app on emulators, there is always an outside chance of forgetting the various versions of an operating system it is supposed to be supporting. Testers need to find out the backward compatibility limit of an app (i.e., the oldest version of the OS for which the app has been built) – and make sure that it is working properly on all the target versions (for instance, iOS 6.0 or later). Once again, the extreme fragmentation in the Android market poses a greater challenge. At any time, developers have to test a mobile app on 6-8 OS versions here.

4. Test on actual devices – Testing applications on iOS simulators and reliable Android emulators (like, say, Genymotion) is all very fine – but developers need to get a first-hand feel on how an app performs on an actual device. This brings to light the importance of any good mobile app company having the latest smartphone models (iPhones and Android phones) available for testing. In addition to phones, testers should also have access to tablets, phablets, smart TVs and wearable devices to test apps, as and when required.

Note: Ideally, Android testing should start simultaneously on at least two devices. The testing devices should be running on different OS versions.

5. Network speed and offline performance – If an app requires strong wifi connectivity to work properly, developers need to inform that to the users at the very outset. An important aspect of the capabilities of a new application is how it performs under varying network connectivity speeds. In case the app loses its main functionality in areas with no coverage (e.g., Uber or Facebook), it should notify the users about the same. On the other hand, applications that do not require internet for their core feature (for instance, Candy Crush needs internet, but only for playing with FB friends) should retain their functionalities even while working offline. Testers also have to be mindful about how the app ‘behaves’ when the cell signal drops due to any reason.

6. Replicate the actual production environment – An app should be subjected to the same data loads in the test environment, as it is expected to perform in the actual world. For example, if an application is supposed to work in 15 countries and corresponding languages, testers need to check it for the entire data-set – and not only for 2-3 sample countries. Unless the real-usage scenario is replicated during testing, it would be impossible to find out if there are any glitches in the app. Mistakes can remain undetected in a scaled-down, ‘dummy’ version.

Note: At times, an app can seem to perform fine, when working with small data volumes – but show lags when the full data load is applied. Testers have to be wary about that.

7. Mind the battery monster – Both iOS and Android have built-in tools for monitoring the battery consumption of each app installed on a device. According to a recent survey, more than 56% smartphone-owners revealed that they have faced issues with apps that cause heavy battery-drainage. Prior to submission, app developers must make sure that their software does not hog too much of battery juice or memory space. Smartphones do not offer great battery performance in any case – and no app is worth carrying a charger along all the time!

8. Go for cloud-based testing – In addition to test simulators/emulators and actual devices (as highlighted in an earlier point) – apps should ideally be tested in the cloud environment as well. That would make it simpler of the QA teams to check the software on a wide range of virtual devices as well as platform versions. It is close to impossible for any app company to have ALL the target devices available for testing – and cloud-based testing can plug that gap.

9. Integration with other apps/device features – In many cases, a new application might have to interact with another app – to deliver its services. A classic example of this would be the various image editor apps, which collaborate with the built-in camera app of devices. Depending on the nature of an app, testers need to find out whether it can work as desired with the other applications. In addition, a newly downloaded app should not adversely affect the performance of a device (or of other applications) in any way. A great app is one that seamlessly fits into the users’ handsets.

10. Emotional engagement is a must – There are 2.2 million apps in Apple App Store, and well over 2.6 million apps in the Google Play Store. Developers have to provide enough motivation to users to actually download a new app – and stay engaged with it over time. This is precisely where the emotional quotient of an app comes into the picture. Testers should ideally take the help of a carefully chosen focus group to find out whether final users are indeed likely to feel the ‘need’ of using their application. There are plenty of apps that are launched only once on devices – and a vast majority of them lack in this emotional engagement factor.

Note: An app like Pokemon Go serves as the perfect case study of how emotional connections can be built with users.

11. Test-driven development – Test-driven development (TTD) is a vital cog in the overall wheel of agile app development practices. Android or iPhone app developers should not wait for an application to be built completely – before starting out with the testing. Instead, the app should be tested at every stage of the development process – right after a prototype or a minimum viable product (MVP) is ready. That way, it will be easier to flush out bugs and errors…and testers won’t be burdened with too much during the final testing phase. The time-to-market, in turn, will be shorter.

12. Follow the platform-specific guidelines – Developers also need to carefully abide by all the guidelines and regulations specified by Apple and Google – to minimize rejection risks as well chances of user-dissatisfaction. Both the platforms offer detailed ‘Human Interface Guidelines’, along with other ‘Developer Guidelines’ (Apple developers have more guidelines to follow than their Android counterparts). Right from the UI features, graphics and animation, loading speeds and in-app navigation, to app monetization strategies, ads and in-app purchases – everything has to be planned according to these guidelines.

Bonus Tip: Developers working on apps with multi-lingual support have to be extremely careful about the content published in the different versions of the app (everything should be consistent across versions). What’s more, there are several regional conventions and practices to consider – like the format in which dates are written, the date/hour format, and the visual elements (images/icons/videos). The varying socio-cultural backgrounds of users from different geographical areas must be factored in as well.

Excelling in the field of mobile app development is all about living up to user-expectations with every new application. Being thorough while testing apps is vital for this – and the tips shared here should come in handy for developers/testers.

How To Create A Great Infographic? Here Are Some Tips!

Infographics have emerged as really effective tools for simplified visual representation of various forms of big data. On a year-on-year basis, usage of infographics for business-to-business (B2B) as well as business-to-consumer (B2C) content marketing has been increasing steadily over the last 6-8 quarters. Researches have shown that, infographics have up to 3 times more potential shareability on social media, compared to regular posts. In today’s discourse, we will provide some handy tips and pointers for making focused, high-quality infographics:

  1. Create for your audience -A good infographic is one that manages to become popular among its niche audience. You need to be absolutely clear about the target group of people who would be interested in your infographic. Stay away from the mistake of putting generic content in your infographic, in a bid to reach out to everyone. Every infographic has a specific purpose and should appeal to a particular set of people. If you make something too generic, no one will be interested in it.
  2. Prepare a point of focus – For an infographic to be engaging enough to viewers, it has to capture their attention first. Ideally, you should prepare a central graphic element, that would draw in the audience from the very outset. Once that is accomplished, the other graphics and text content can keep the viewers on your infographic. It’s all about getting your users onboard, and keeping them there.
  3. Tell a story – Every infographic should have a central theme – with every section following a story narrative. Make sure that the different sections of your visual graphic do not seem unconnected in any way. The infographic should have a proper structure and a smooth flow – which would be easy to understand and follow for general viewers. All the different elements (graphics, text, images, etc.) should be related with each other.
  4. Pay attention to the graphics – An infographic is supposed to showcase ‘information’ through ‘graphics’, right? If too much of text content is crammed in an infographic – with the presence of graphic elements being fairly weak – that would defeat the very purpose of making the infographic. Start off with determining the type of graphics you would like to include – and make these the most important component of your infographic. Remember, ‘visual information’ should always get precedence over ‘written information’ in infographics.
  5. Keep things organized – A poorly formatted infographic is a worthless infographic – it’s as simple as that. Avoid trying to include too much of information within a single infographic, since that would (understandably) make it appear cluttered. You can break up your infographic in separate (connected) categories, and add the visual elements under each category. The infographic needs to be easily scannable – and people should get an idea of the information it contains even BEFORE reading the text information.
  6. Go for consistency – The color palettes you use in an infographic, the fonts you add, the images you include – all of them have to follow a consistent theme. Do not make the infographic too colourful (!), and stick to a few set colours throughout. The font sizes and styles should remain constant as well (obviously, the more important points or headers should be in larger font). The overall stylization of your infographic should be consistent and neatly streamlined. Too many variations – and it might start looking unprofessional.
  7. Small information. Important information – That’s what each section of your infographic should provide. Keep in mind that most people casually glance through infographics they come across the first time – and they typically look for byte-sized, valuable information. Do not club in too much of information in a single section. Your audience might simply skip it.
  8. Whitespace is your friend – There is a difference between making optimal use of the available space, and filling it all up with complex stats and figures. Make it a point to keep sufficient white space/blank space in every section of your infographic – so that the reader has no difficulty in scanning the information presented in them. As a rule of thumb, the smallest font size you use in your infographic should be easily readable. Smart use of whitespace makes infographics readable at a glance – and that is one must-have quality.
  9. Make use of visual metaphors – Professional graphic designers opine that visual metaphors, when used correctly, can go a long way in livening up an infographic. For instance, ‘race metaphors’ (a set of figures running towards a finish line on racetrack) can fit in well, in an infographic on how fast different countries are growing. While designing an infographic on mobile app development, consider presenting the information on the screens of different smart devices (phone, tablet, etc.). In a real estate-related graphic, how about attaching the information to building figures?
  10. Choose the ideal size – Infographics that are too small are hardly of any use. Those that are too big have to be resized/downsized – which often affects readability. Ideally, the height of an infographic should never go beyond 5000 pixels, while the width has to be within 740 pixels. In case you have lots of valuable information to present, you can create a longer infographic – but never cross the 8000 pixels mark (that’s where you will start to lose viewers). Keep in mind the filesize of your infographic too, which should not be more than 1.5-1.7 MB. Make sure that your infographic loads easily even on slow connections, and is properly viewable on all devices.
  11. Headline matters – A strong, attention-grabbing headline is worth its weight in gold in an infographic. Keep all the headlines within 70-75 characters (3 to 4 words), and use appropriate colours and styles to make them stand out. Also, the heading of a section should drop hints about what information is present under it – and not simple state it. If the heading has all the data, why would anyone bother to read through the graphics that are present under it?
  12. Focus on the quality of data – Research is easily the most important task before you start to design an infographic. Pull up data from authentic, reliable sources and ensure that they are presented correctly through the graphic elements used. Avoid using any information – however interesting it might be – that is outdated. Instead of focusing on inferences, place more importance on presenting raw data (percentages and decimals and numbers). The human brain can process stats more easily when they can be viewed (instead of, say, heard).
  13. Mention your data sources – This is an extension of the previous point. Unless you specify the sources from which you have sourced the data in your infographic, the latter might not seem credible enough to the viewing audience. You can place the sources either within the infographic (right at the bottom), or just below it. You know that the information you have provided is authentic…and the users have to be convinced about the same too!
  14. Don’t get too funky with graphic formatting – You can present data in all sorts of wacky ways in an infographic. However, not all of these styles are equally easily readable – and generally, bar graphs and pie charts still work the best. To make sure that your infographic does not seem boring, use custom 3D graphics on the bar graphs, data cards, and other visual elements. Make your work original, but do not make it too unique for its own good.
  15. Make the infographic easily shareable – If your infographic goes viral, there’s nothing like it. Give your audience all possible opportunities to share an infographic on social media channels. The social sharing buttons should be present right next to the infographic, making things convenient for viewers. You need to do your bit of sharing as well – on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and, if possible, on SlideShare. To enhance the reach of your infographics, you can embed it in your blog posts too.

While presenting data comparisons, select the correct scale (particularly important when the compared data vary widely). On the web, you can consider adding interactive features in an infographic as well. Arranging big, complex data ‘beautifully’ on an infographic is hardly difficult – and with these tips, you can get started easily.

 

Swift 3.0: Top 14 Features For iOS Developers

Earlier this month, the third major iteration of Apple’s Swift programming language was released. The first developer preview has been bundled in with Xcode 8.0 beta 1, and there are a fair number of new features and improvements in the latest version of the language (which is still, of course, under active development). Swift 3.0 is also the first update to be launched after the language became open source in December 2015. In the following discussion, we will do a roundup of the best new features in Swift 3.0 for iOS app developers:

  1. Moving to Swift 3.0 – First things first, coders have to migrate to the new Swift platform. To facilitate this, Xcode 8 has been provided with a smart Migration Assistant, which manages most of the API name changes (in Cocoa) at one go. Certain changes, however, have to be made manually – since all the Cocoa APIs need to have separate names for Swift and Objective-C. A minor update – Swift 2.3 – has also been included in Xcode 8, to make the the migration process smoother. Swift 2.3 supports all the new Xcode features and software development kits (SDKs), and developers can use it to submit apps (instead of Swift 3.0) in the stable release of Xcode 8 as well.
  2. More compact coding – The open-source Swift started to ‘omit needless words’, and Swift 3.0 takes significant further steps in that direction. Words that are self-evident and self-explanatory no longer have to be written (for instance, ‘attributedString.appendAttributedString(String 2)’ becomes ‘attributedString.append(String 2)’ and ‘let red = UIcolor.redcolor()’ has to be written as ‘let red = UIcolor.red()’). As a result of this, word repetitions in strings (in particular) can be minimized.
  3. Swift on Linux and Windows – There were enough hints about Swift coming to platforms other than Apple as soon as the language became open-source. The speculations have been more or less confirmed by Craig Federighi at WWDC 2016. Coders should be able to port Swift 3.0 to Linux to start with, and Windows portability should be coming soon as well (Windows 10 already has Ubuntu Linux in the system). Swift was named in a StackOverflow survey as the ‘most loved language’, and app developers would certainly love the idea of it becoming portable to multiple platforms.

Note: The way in which Swift coding is used to make apps on macOS systems/Xcode will be different from how the language is used on Linux/Windows. Also, the chances of Google ditching Java in favour of Swift as the base language for making Android apps cannot be ruled out.

4. Revamped API design guidelines – In essence, three basic principle frame the new guidelines for API design in Swift 3.0. First, more weightage has to be given by iPhone app development experts on the clarity of their codes (instead of trying to make their codes as brief as possible). At the call site (or, the point of use) too, absolute code clarity has to be maintained. Finally, awareness about the various contextual cues is important, since they would have a vital influence on how the app codes are to be framed. The changes are pretty much easily evident when a code is run in a Playground with the Swift 3.0 migrator.

5. A swift-er Swift – Mobile app developers feel that the upcoming version of Swift will be faster than ever before. There are several solid reasons behind this belief – right from porting objects to the stack from the heap (a speed boost of nearly 25x) and string dictionary brushups (around 4x speed boost), to reduction in the volume of compiled code via Code Size Optimization (a whopping 75x speed boost). In Swift 3.0, multiple files can be cached by the compiler at a single time – and that enhances the performance factor as well. Swift was always a faster language than Objective-C, and with the latest update, the difference is going to increase quite a bit.

6. Mandatory labels for function parameters – Apple is constantly changing the naming convention of labels in methods in the Swift language. In Swift 2.2, those who make apps did not need to provide a label for the first parameter – because the method name already had the name built-in. That has been tweaked around in Swift 3.0, and now every single function parameter (including the first) need to have their own label names. Coders can simply change the last part of the method names to specify the corresponding labels. There is an option to work around this requirement as well. More power to Apple developers!

7. Binary interface stabilization – Another improvement coming to Swift 3.0 that hints at the availability of the language on other platforms. The upcoming version of Swift will be able to seamlessly interact with different operating systems – thanks to the much-improved and considerably more stable Binary interface (ABI). The interaction will take place at the binary level – and that, in turn, will make the portability of Swift 3.0 easier.

8. Lightweight Generics from Objective-C – The lightweight generics of Objective-C could be viewed in Swift 2.x and earlier versions – but the import process was complicated, and the final view was, at times, confusing. This issue has been addressed in Swift 3.0. To cite an example, an iOS application developer working with Swift would see [String], when

NSArray<NSString *> * is declared in Obj-C. The overall implementation of generics (via the libraries) will also be more complete in Swift 3.0. Mistakes while using NSLayoutAnchor can also be bypassed by developers who migrate to the latest Swift version.

9. Simpler handling of Core Graphics – Before Swift 3.0 rolled in, writing Core Graphics in Swift was a frustrating experience for many Apple software and app makers out there. Much to the delight of the developer fraternity, this is no longer the case – with the reworked C API making things a lot simpler. The Grand Central Dispatch (GCD) in Swift, which is mainly used for complicated threading tasks, has been overhauled as well. The process in which the UI can be freed up by using different threads for activities is rather straightforward in Swift 3.0.

10. Line control segments and Attribute arguments – The changes in these will probably be glossed over by many developers, and that would be a pity – for the new guidelines for line control segments and attribute arguments in Swift 3.0 are vital. The #sourceLocation(file:Line) syntax is required to be used in the line control statements. On the other hand, colons have to used in all attribute arguments in the latest iteration of Swift. Mistakes here will lead to errors being thrown, and detecting the same (particularly in a long piece of code) can be a tough ask.

11. C functions can be imported quickly – This is an excellent new feature for the library authors. The new attributes for C-functions in Swift 3.0 allow users to customize the way in which the functions will be imported. The functions now get directly mapped to the property method(s) of their corresponding objects. The new version of Swift does away with the need to call the same function/function name repeatedly, and performs method calls efficiently.The C-function mapping is accurate, time-saving and a handy tool for developers.

12. More focus on English – The latest iteration of the Swift language requires certain changes in how English language is to be used while coding. The imperative of verbs have to be used to name the mutating methods of operations, while for the non-mutating part, a suffix (‘ing’ or ‘ed’) is to be added. Whenever the latter is not possible (i.e., not grammatical), the verb has to be used in its present participle form. App makers, hence, need to be more careful while coding – and stay away from probable confusions while sorting arrays.

13. Arrival of #keyPath() – While writing long key-value observing (KVO) codes in Swift 2.x, there was always the chance of typos being made and remaining undetected. To make the task simpler, Apple has introduced the #keyPath() expression in Swift 3.0. Unlike in previous versions, the new expression allows static-type checking and supports autocomplete as well. A cool way to lower the chances of developer mistakes and resultant program crashes.

14. Properties/enums with lowerCamelCase – In Swift 2.2, certain parameters and properties had to be started with UpperCamelCase. These were more of exceptions, since in general, UpperCamelCase was meant for structs, enums and classes, while lowerCamelCase was to be used for parameters and properties. With Swift 3.0, things have become, thankfully, a lot more consistent. Both enums (which are like properties, anyway) and properties – without any exception – now have to be initiated with lowercase letters. Errors due to mistaken use of Upper/lowerCamelCase have little chance of cropping up.

Like the 2.2 update, Swift 3.0 comes with Apache License 2.0. While Objective-C programmers can migrate to the Swift platform with ease, the language is not going to become interoperable with C++ anytime soon. iPhone developers feel that quite a few other new features will arrive to Swift 3.0, between now and its final release. One thing is for sure though – the Swift language continues to evolve!