Monday, April 07, 2008

Breakout Session A (10): Making Services Mobile - Stuart Smith, Mimas

Before I start blogging this session I have to confess that my recording may be a little squiffy having just enjoyed a glass of bubbly at the first timers reception.

Delivering Mobile Services

About MIMAS: JISC, SRC etc. pay MIMAS to deliver services such as Census, etc - see

Unfortunately the break out room does not have wifi. You can access objects on mobiles can be found here:

Stuart designed the hairdressing service. He is also working on the MoleNet project - an FE initiative bringing mobile in. Also consulting with BBC on mobile. PLEASE use your mobile phone in this session!

Stuart asked about mobile use today: 3 people had used their mobile to access content today. He asked "what is the thinking between when you do or don't use them?" A couple of people responded that they just use them anywhere and everywhere!

Why mobile?
Stuart asked for some mobile scenarios and the advantages of delivering content via mobile.

• Medical Sector
• Student Engagement
• Yoof
• Digital Divide (eg developing world - NB UN report)
• Construction Engineers
• Communication (inc. speedy access)
• Use of "Dead Time"

However Stuart's main issue was:
User Engagement (using what users are already familiar with)

There are now so many devices with which to access content: mobile phones are now ubiquitous. However over half of those in the room have not used their phone for browsing.

Stuart says that his laptop today is not a mobile device. Asus Eee PC (answer to one laptop per child)- £200-£350 device - very powerful, very small (A5); PDAs; down to 2G phones (what many will be carrying). Also PSPs and Nintendo Wiis included in mobile devices here.

Mobile Connectivity
• Mobile Networks - 2G, 3G, HSDPA (sometimes called 3.5G - mobile broadband).
• Wifi aka Wireless
• Bluetooth

2G on most phones, 3G on most smartphones (not iPhone though).
Wifi, increasingly in cities, is a rival to 2/3G. You can go round with iPod Touch and Asus and use Skype

Bluetooth - many phones may reject some objects so problematic for roll-out of material.

Types of Services
  • Web services
  • Audio files
  • Video files
  • Java
  • Flash Lite and Silverlight

Web services shown with image from hairdressing service. Familiar layout - menus etc. However on a phone it doesn't work well, images big, wrong file formats and other issues for mobile devices. Many users for this service don't have internet or even computer access in their salons. They do have mobile access though. Amazon and Flickr repurpose their content for mobile, this is something that has been applied to hairdressing service - taking out file formats that won't work on 2G formats. More complex interactions can still take place on website.

Very successful and very innovative. £6 million project and the service works on all devices in the project.

Q: do you get directed to mobile site if you go to URL on phone
A: 2 URLS - and May use a "device sniffer" on the server to direct traffic automaticallt (amazon do this) - pros and cons of doing this. NB: the service is athens authenticated but you can request a short trial by emailing Stuart Smith.

One tension we weren't really aware of was that the tutor and the salon owner may not agree on an issue. The mobile service though allows students to show what has been tought to salon owner so that they can see where the difference is (if not agree)

Audio Files
• Not just iPods and iTunes
⁃ Mobile Phones
⁃ MP3 Players
⁃ Laptop and Desktop Computers

MP3 files work on almost anything. Can deliver lecture notes etc and deals with accessibility issues. Relatively easy to produce though production quality and longevity must be taken into account.

Video Files
• Production values?
• Slide shows voice overs
• Keep it short!

Handed round video from developing area of hairdressing service. Wouldn't see this as a streaming service but envisage students downloading video and taking away. Used written content and images and created a voice over to combine. Encouraging students to create/remix content in this way.

Pitfalls of video production?
Small files and low quality. High end phones are moving in the direction of higher quality. On the other hand large files = slow, potentially expensive etc. We are seeing low cost bundles on mobiles but could be anywhere between 10 and 50 pence per download though. Also companies in mobile sector use downloads as revenue stream. Some content works, some not. Slideshows work well, panning shorts of seascapes do not. Short also works better given screen size.

• Java Mobile (aka J2ME) but can use "full" java on UMPC
• Used a lot for games on mobile phones
• Can be used for "e-books"
• Wide variety of applications
• But need to be aware of different platforms and requirements

Many mobile games use java but can be used for all sorts of things (e.g. now defunct "Maxdox viewer" - nice usage for "book" style hairdressing).

Java is different dependent on phone. So wider the market, the less specific you can be with what you can do with those devices. If you target a specific phone then you're ok, otherwise not. This can make production expensive. It will work on lots of different platforms though (albeit at maybe a lower level).

Flash Lite and Silverlight
  • Flash Life is NOT the same as Flash - though from the same producers and similar in some ways (Flash content can also be ported to Flash Lite)
  • Flash Lite increasingly available on all phones
  • Silverlight - Microsoft's response to Adobe
  • Silverlight starting to become available on mobile phones

Flash Lite is widely available, it is easier to package than java, but doesn't solve all issues and screen size.

Silver Light is Microsoft rival to Flash Lite. Programming in C Sharp. They have just done a deal with Nokia to put Silver Light onto.

I (your blogger) asked about Opera Mini and other browser solutions to repurposing content for mobile and why they weren't being more widely adopted.

Stuart responded that there is a trend towards to browser led solutions - e.g. Opera Mini. It's a transcoder - when you call a webpage you normally call the server and browser renders it. Opera sends data to their transcoder which converts site for mobile and sends to your mobile phone. Why not adopt as standard? Have to pay for Opera licences. Also if website badly coded it will still look very poor on Opera browser, large images can still be an issue. Latency in system. Not necessarily a magic wand. Does deal with a lot of issues but not perfect. As far as delivery quality service it's important not to rely on other people's browsers/software. Phone companies starting to package phone with browser though.

Usability and Design chart
I can't really reproduce the diagram here but have included relavent bullet points here. Essentially it looked at the question of whether mobile delivery is fit for purpose?

Creating Web Mobile Web Services:

Asset Ordering
At first Stuart put image at top and text beneath. problem is that picture renders slower so you wait rather than seeing text/content first.

Most phones are 1-4Gb, 8Gb max. home computers now around 100Gb. 8Gb very little in terms of multimedia.

Fat Client - your device does a lot of the work - eg laptop.
Thin Client - your device does little - Assus is a thin client relying on the internet and external storage, as do PDAs

Video - mobile video standard is called 3GP - many commercial hosts don't recognise this type of file, just get interpreted as 1s and 0s and sent to browser as that.

  • Screen Size an issue - text volume (input interface), picture size, linear layout (mobile CSS);
  • URL - one of the reasons for diff. hairdressing URL is to reduce keypad impressions and to make more memorable (potentially). Big arguements with JANET about getting a short URL. Often it's overlooked in service delivery.
  • Accessibility - (Manchester University are doing accessibility transcoders)

Stuart asked what accessibility issues are raised by mobile?: visual (screen size/colours/etc); sounds (louder). Mobile devices don't work for everyone. In some circumstances though it will be ideal. Possibly more accessible for some than for others.

Peter Burnhill of EDINA (MIMAS's sister organisation) added that if someone can SMS in and get a text message back with URL etc. you can integrate some issues automatically. SMS can be exploited to make extra accessible. BBC Mobile do this with their services.

Stuart also added that you can use a tag element for SMS.

Other advantages of mobile: phones are small and light. Deaf usage of SMS very interesting and useful - real boon especially with MSN, GoogleTalk etc now on mobiles.

You can never have an entirely accessible mobile phone or laptop etc. etc. Some excluded groups - young people not in education, training or employment for example are happier to communicate via mobiles than face to face.

Q&A / Discussion Session

Stuart asked delegated about their downloading of the hairdressing objects and asked about issues faced.

Stuart talked about interesting issues. Mark Parenski - Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants. Stuart takes issue with this. Parenski says that young people are at one with and naturally good with digital technologies. The rest of us (over 35) struggle. We often adopt technologies most useful to us. Many of us never, as children, learn to program washing machines. Many young people's technology is leisure focused. That's where one of the problems lies. Parenski is teasing at this but overlooks the fact that adoption is much more based on usefulness.

Discussion: at work you may not be a luddite but you don't neccassarily do digital for fun. Also issue that if using work mobile etc. you may not want to use that type of technology for fun.

Peter Burnhill added that he thinks it illustrates again that hairdressing service is good service as home mobiles used at work (no divide for that). But registering mobile phone numbers of students etc. must include something in it for them, they may not want intrusion for, e.g. overdue library books. Its finding where in the value chain people want technology.

Stuart feels intelligent service providers need to find where its most relavent and appropriatte to move information onto mobiles. Stuart looking at RSS for example as way of working with other platforms. Also looking at user generated content and capturing that. A lot of work done on MySpace and Facebook - happens in FE although sites often blocked and there are issues.

Peter Burnhill: Subscription agents and publishers might be more interested in delivery than librarian. Stuff delivered must be relavent to location/need at a given time. Market must be segmented to get best value.

Stuart's consultancy work includes saying to some people "mobile isn't suitable for your content".

All photos used in this presentation from Flickr (all licensed under Creative Commons)

In closing: could be out there publishing onto a platform and delivering worldwide with a £200 computer and a £100 phone. Want to use more the creations and interactions and comments of users of services.

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Anonymous Stuart Smith said...

Thanks for the really useful write-up Nicola of my presentation. Very nice job of live blogging and a good illustration itself of some of the concepts I was discussing!

6:31 pm  
Anonymous Tim said...

Good Job! :)

2:18 pm  
Blogger  said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:47 pm  

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