the evenings out here - Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

Mobile Design and Development

at long last a definitive work on mobile development

in Mobile , Monday, August 17, 2009

Mobile Design and Development, by Brian Fling, is hot of the presses at O’Reilly. In fact the publication date isn’t until next month, but it can be read in digital form at Safari Books.


I’ll say it right away, this is a 5-star, thoroughly excellent book. The biggest puzzle is why it has taken so long for somebody to write the definitive text in this space, but anyway, Brian Fling has nailed it.

Written in a deft and engaging style, with a touch of weary cynicism about the old operator-dominated order of the mobile space, and the legions of executives who neither get it, nor accept that anybody else does, this is an absolute must read for anybody getting into mobile development of any kind on any device. I really get the impression that every page has been obsessed over, that the author really, really cared about getting it as good as he could - which I’m afraid to say is not too common in the field of technical books, and especially some about the mobile web.

The author covers pretty much all aspects of building mobile applications, from a discussion of the ecosystem (which should be a real eye-opener to newcomers), to the all-important topic of context, to mobile-specific information architecture, usability, interaction and visual design. Despite the big changes heralded by the iPhone and it’s competitors, the book is right up to date, including discussion of WebOS and Android.

What I really like is the way he avoids sitting on the fence. Rather than surrender to the calls for lowest common denominator design, he encourages designers to be creative and take risks. In my opinion, there’s a strong argument for going out on a limb aiming to build an application people will upgrade their phone to be able to use, rather than be dragged down to level of 120 by 160 pixel monochrome devices - who’s owners are unlikely to be big data services users anyway.

Some parts could be a bit clearer. For example, when the author discusses the concept of teasing the content to improve user experience, I’m pretty sure I know what he’s talking about, but the illustration given (figure 7.6) is so unclear that I’m half sure it’s an editorial error. Or it could be a case of over-channeling the lauded, but in my opinion, unnecessarily opaque, Jesse James Garrett.  Surely an actual example with page screenshots would be a better way of getting the point across ?

I’ve been working in this field for over 7 years, and I’ve experienced most of the frustrations described in these pages. There isn’t actually much in this book which is really new to me, but seeing things spelled out so clearly is refreshing and encouraging, and provides some very timely reminders.

If you’re developing for any mobile platform, iPhone included, you will be well rewarded for the you invest in reading this book. Brian Fling has suffered so that you don’t have to ... well, not too much anyway.


All a Twitter: good read

At least I can admit when I’m wrong. Sometimes.

in Technical Book Reviews , Monday, July 27, 2009

My previous post displayed me at my sarcastic best, with a cheap jibe at a book I hadn’t actually read. When I actually started reading the book, I soon discovered this…

This Book Is Written in More Than 140 Characters

Yes, I’ve heard that joke. I’ve heard it often. If you are at a book signing and are thinking of asking me, “So is this book written in more than 140 characters?”, please reconsider. The fact that this book is as thick as it is and has thirteen chapters should be the hint that there is a bit more to Twitter than you might expect.

And just tonight, as I was writing this, someone cracked that joke. So, please, don’t make that joke. It’s just not working for me anymore. Thank you in advance.

...and felt suitably embarrassed.

Well, the case for the defence rests on the fact that there is an awful amount of new-agey, geeky, shallow idiocy written about Twitter - amazingly, not all of if by Tim O’Bookshifter - and I just expected this to be another bloated hagiography. Well, I was wrong.

“All a Twitter” is actually rather good. Tee Morris explains the mechanics of Twitter as a web application, and critically examines various tools you can get hold of to enhance your experience. But beyond that it takes a reasoned, balanced view of the “why” of Twitter, and encourages readers to decide for themselves what benefit they could get by joining in - or not.

You may think that Twitter is something that young people today waste their time on, or you may think that it is the biggest revolution in personal communication, like, EVER. Or you may think that it is a healthy social lifeline for the millions of people who spend their waking hours, at work or at play, in front of a computer screen.

You may also be turned off by the crass levels of self-promotion which various public and insider figures have indulged themselves in. Well, the author deals with them, gloves off, and makes it clear that their egocentric behaviour reflects themselves, not the wider community.

Personally, I’m still not sure if Twitter is for me - and especially vice-versa, but I’m better informed now than I was on Friday. Wherever you stand, if you’re at all interested in this social phenomenon, “All a Twitter” is a remarkably interesting, well written and thought provoking book that deserves a wide audience.

And yeah, it’s written in more than 140 characters.


Designing for the social web

A quick review of Joshua Porter’s new book

in Technical Book Reviews , Friday, May 16, 2008

I've just read Joshua Porter's book, designing for the social web, in under 1 day. I wish I had had it to hand 1 year ago. Porter manages to pack a huge amount of insight and great advice into under 180 pages. His style is easy to read and concise. I've discovered quite a few new tricks which could be, and should have been, incorporated in Playyoo. I'm also relieved to say that I discovered a few things we've done right, or at least not too wrong. In the whole book, I only found one thing I disagree with. Discussing user feedback, he says:
Actually, there is a third choice. If you really don't want to succeed, you can disagree with the feedback.
This, I think, is a little extreme. It also conflicts with the idea that any product, including a web application, benefits from a strong vision. Obviously, disagreeing with all feedback would be plain stupid, but I can't quite accept that all feedback is relevant. Anyway, this is a minor point. Designing for the social web is a great little book, and deserves to become a classic. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Mobile Web 2.0

in Technical Book Reviews , Thursday, October 05, 2006

mobileweb.jpgI've just finished reading "Mobile Web 2.0" by Ajit Jaokar and Tony Fish, published by Futuretext. The authors have a wealth of experience of the mobile telecommunications field between them, quite enough to know what a nightmare it is for application developers to engage with mobile operators. In a nutshell, the message from this book is to bypass the walled gardens and the endless hurdles put up by the telcos, and go direct to the customer using the web. So far so good. Obviously, there are certain limitations associated with the mobile web, in particular the fact that practically nobody in the real world uses it. Partly this is because of usability issues, both in devices and in delivery, partly because of cost, but I suspect largely due to the lack of any compelling reason. Well, perhaps we can at least do something about the last part, and the authors do, to some extent, point the way. However, although the authors may be industry experts, I'm afraid their writing and editing skills are seriously substandard. This book puts me in mind of the "I'm going to read your my Powerpoint bullet list slides" experience. It is disjointed, repetitive, hopelessly formatted (really, it is straight out of Microsoft Word, and incompetent MS Word at that). It isn't just the mechanics of writing which are at fault. Often they start to present an argument, and just. Er, stop. The frequency of either "so what ?" or "pardon me ?" moments increases as the book goes on. The endless clumsy incremental summaries are also pointless filler. It isn't so much that they don't what they're talking about - I wouldn't want to imply that - but one does wonder if they ever reviewed any part of this serial braindump. I'm not expecting Shakespeare, but even technical writing needs to come up to a certain standard of literacy and layout. Especially when it is being sold. There are other issues that annoy me: there is a strong underlying theme of playing to the "Web 2.0" gallery: these guys so much want to be the Tim O'Reilly of Mobile Web 2.0. Fine, but cut this out and the book would be far more readable and considerably shorter. Another thing is on consumer created content (same point really)... I'm sorry, but no way does Joe Bloggs in Seat 54, Row 91, Stand A, filming a World Cup game with his SonyEricsson V800 compete with a professional cameraman on the touchline. Get real guys - do you seriously think FIFA was worried about this stuff ? Never mind "spot the ball" - you'd be lucky to spot the pitch! Even if we accept the ridiculous statement that mobile phone video is up to "DVD quality" (actually a meaningless statement, but never mind), and even if we rule out the difference between a camera phone lens and a broadcast quality zoom, the skill of the operator plays an extremely significant part. I know you want to be quoted and loved by the Blogosphere, but come on....get real. The emphasis on mobile TV seems way off-topic. DVB-H, DMB etc are broadcast technologies on a totally separate layer. It has nothing much to do with mobile communication, it simply co-exists. If we define "web" as a collaborative medium enabled largely by TCP/IP, then DVB-H doesn't come into it. As a free download, or a collection of blog postings, "Mobile Web 2.0" would be worth a read. But at £20 from Amazon, sorry, it isn't worth it.

Dream come true

in Technical Book Reviews , Friday, June 02, 2006

"With icConcept, you can capture requirements both manually and automatically." Wonderful. Let's buy this, then we can just turn it on in the morning, browse the web a bit, have a few coffees, go out for a couple of beers, catch a movie, and pop back in in the evening to turn it off and collect the complete system requirements. IT Marketing - It's a whole new planet.
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