Manchester Digitals Collaborate @ FlyThe.Coop

Posted by: on Jul 30, 2010 in Industry News, Opinion | No Comments

Here at Clear Digital we’re all about collaboration and partnering with some of the best digital talent around, especially from the North West region.

Clear Digital’s roving reporter, Joseph, had a chat with Ben Gibbs of FlyThe.Coop to find out how co-operative work spaces are becoming more and more popular:

Like so many digital industry concepts, the idea of ‘co-working’ sprang to prominence in San Francisco several years ago, spreading across the States and Europe, with Manchester’s own FlyThe.Coop doing their bit for the city on Edge Street in the Northern Quarter.

Based in the same building as Manchester’s digital workshop Madlab, FlyThe.Coop’s key ethos is to ‘maintain a sustainable and active community of individuals, entrepreneurs and small businesses in the city centre, working together and sharing space’. They aim to represent a range of creative and technical industries, promoting collaboration and partnerships.

Four web developers Paul Robinson, Ben Gibbs, Andrew Threlfall and Ian Moss are the founding members of the co-operative, and as Gibbs explains, it has been an enjoyable and interesting journey to bring their project to fruition.

“It started four or five years ago when a group of people wanted to guage interest in co-working and organised monthly sessions at the Manchester Digital Development Agency,” he states. “There were only about 20 spaces for each co-working day and each month it was full, so it was clear that there was a demand.”

“About two years ago a few of us then decided to form a co-operative to promote and manage co-working in Manchester and we spent about 18 months trying to find the right venue to use as a co-working space.

Around October 2009 we started talking to Madlab, the Manchester digital laboratory, and they had found a building in the Northern Quarter. After some productive discussions we opened here at the beginning of January 2010.”

Like Openspace in Hulme, Old Broadcasting House in Leeds, The Cube in London and numerous other similar enterprises throughout the UK, FlyThe.Coop strive to bring together a healthy mix of permanent desk users and ‘hotdeskers’ from a variety of backgrounds in the name of innovation.

As Gibbs explains, “I’m a freelance web developer and the other permanent desk users range from a local poetry company, a web designer and some other web developers and then one of the desks is taken by Opera, the web browser, who have two employees who live and work in Manchester. They wanted an environment where they could work together, get things done and not be stuck in a coffee shop.”

“It’s quite a mix of backgrounds, and Fly The Coop is not exclusive to the digital industry but we just happen to be part of that community.

The other people using the space are hotdesking and one of the hopes we have for the collaboration is that if you have lots of different people coming in and out of the same space with different experiences, backgrounds, worldviews, skills and thinking, then you get a cross pollination of all of that. New, original or forward thinking products and services can emerge from the discussions in this space amongst these diverse groups of people.”

For further details visit FlyThe.Coop or contact Ben Gibbs directly, @bobop, ben@flythe.coop or 07811197374.

Android 2.2 – Froyo – Nexus One Testing from the UK

Posted by: on Jul 2, 2010 in Industry News, Opinion | No Comments

Tethering and Phone as a Wifi Hotspot capabilities look set to make this the greatest OS update to date. Expect the mobile networks to be keeping a very close eye on this one though…

Android 2.2, aka Froyo, and the 7th Android operating system release in less than 2 years was pushed out over the air this week to Google Nexus One users and first impressions are that the good stuff just keeps on coming.

Officially the headline improvements to the Android OS include:

  • Performance & speed: The new Dalvik JIT compiler in Android 2.2 delivers between a 2-5X performance improvement in CPU-bound code vs. Android 2.1 according to various benchmarks.
  • New enterprise capabilities: We’ve added Exchange capabilities such as account auto-discovery and calendar sync. Device policy management APIs allow developers to write applications that can control security features of the device such as the remote wipe, minimum password, lockscreen timeout etc
  • Faster, more powerful browser: We have brought the V8 JavaScript engine to the Android browser as part of 2.2. This has resulted in a 2-3X improvement in JavaScript performance vs. 2.1.
  • Rich set of new APIs and services: New data backup APIs enable apps to participate in data backup and restore, allowing an application’s last data to be restored when installed on a new or a reset device. Apps can utilize Android Cloud to Device Messaging to enable mobile alert, send to phone, and two-way push sync functionality. Developers can now declare whether their app should be installed on internal memory or an SD card. They can also let the system automatically determine the install location. On the native side, a new API now gives access to Skia bitmaps.
  • Additions to Android Market: Android Market provides Android Application Error Reports, a new bug reporting feature, giving developers access to crash and freeze reports from users. Developers will be able to access these reports via their account on the Android Market publisher website

However, from a practical perspective, some of the smaller touches are very much appreciated.

  • Permanent Phone/Apps/Browser buttons now appear on each of the 5 home screens. Not only is this actually useful but it also frees up space on the default home screen now the Phone and Browser icons can be removed.
  • Inserting of commas or other basic punctuation other than the full stop has been a slightly more laborious operation than it should have been requiring, as it did, either a hold down on the full stop key to reveal further punctuation or a press of the 123 button for the full range. Now, when pressing the space bar to continue to the next word, the area containing the usual word suggestions is populated with a ! ? , @ and (a bit oddly) _ which are all positioned correctly in the backspace next to the recently completed word.
  • The calendar has received a facelift, as has the Google email inbox. Calendar is more visually appealing, with the green timespans on monthly view replaced by blue, better, more defined, intra day highlighting and subtly clearer viewing of clear days v busy days. Gmail inbox is also subtle in its changes but again is easier on the eye, slightly more definition and has better next/previous features when in the mail itself.
  • The Google search box widget now has a big blue g (blue definitely seems to be the new green here) to the left of the search box which gives the option of splitting a search between “All”, “Web”, “Apps” or “Contacts”. Not completely sure how much more useful this is, but time will tell.

Biggest news of all, though, must be the introduction of USB tethering (the practice of using your mobile data connection to provide internet access for, say, your laptop which is a chargeable service across most mobile networks) and the ability to set your phone up as a wireless hotspot, sharing your data connection with up to 8 users.

  • USB Tethering: This worked extremely well using an unlocked Nexus One with an O2 SIM only unlimited data package. Connect USB cable to the computer in the usual way, there’s a 1 button press on the phone, no other setup. Windows 7 detected and began to use this connection with no prompting after about 30 seconds. All activities, Skype, IM, Web, working fine.
  • Phone as Wifi Hotspot: A bit more setting up to do on this one. Default setting is provided with an open connection however it is possible, and lets face it, advisable, to place WPA2 PSK security on the connection. Once setup though, the connection worked like any other. Connected to the wireless network through the computer and Skype, Web working perfectly. Just one glitch, no IM, which will require further investigation.

Overall this update, while hiding under the “2.2″ classification implying it isn’t a particularly major upgrade carries with it some seriously useful features.

Smartphone Apps for Beginners

Posted by: on Jun 21, 2010 in Industry News, Opinion | No Comments

From the initial appearance of prototype smartphones in the 1990s and the subsequent evolution of landmark BlackBerry, Sony Ericsson and Nokia technology, the mobile applications industry has exploded over the last two to three years due to the popularity of several key additional product releases, including 2007’s iPhone and 2010’s Google Nexus One.

Across the key operating systems, namely Symbian, RIM, Apple, Android and Microsoft Mobile, in addition to other platforms, hundreds of thousands of apps are now available via Apple’s App Store, Android Market, BlackBerry App World, Nokia’s Ovi Store, Palm App Catalog and Microsoft’s Windows Marketplace for Mobile.

According to research2guidance there were 65,000 new mobile apps released globally in 2007, with that number rising sharply to 505,000 in 2009 and another huge total expected in total in 2010.

The nature and scope of these apps can be fascinating in itself with products varying from the potentially life changing (instantly accessible First Aid guides, Sat Nav prodcuts with live traffic info), the very useful (free wifi finders, daily newspaper delivery, iPark:
Never lose your car again) and the trivial yet brilliant (two hours of Pacman or Angry Bird anyone?).

Widely reported data earlier this year valued the global mobile application market at just under $2bn in 2009, predicting an increase to more than $15bn by 2013, with the same study estimating that smartphone user figures of approximately 100 million may rise to one billion globally during the same period.

Apple’s App Store saw more than three billion application downloads from its launch in July 2008 to January 2010, but there have been an additional two billion more doanloads since the start of the year according to Apple themselves. There are now more than 200,000 different apps available on the App Store.

Meanwhile, since the iPad’s release in April the product apparently spawned 10,000 new apps itself in the initial six weeks following its launch.

Interesting trends to keep an eye on therefore will be how the development of tablet technology affects the apps landscape and how the inevitablitity of a ubiquitous cloud will bring mobile web forward, perhaps ultimately slowing the growth of the applications market.

Smartphone Dominance Set To Become Four Horse Race?

Posted by: on May 19, 2010 in Industry News, Opinion | No Comments

The latest research from Gartner for Q1 2010 shows that of the 314.7m mobile phones sold worldwide, 54.3m of them were smartphones, up 48.7% from Q1 2009.

Smartphones now account for 17.3% of all mobile handset sales (Q1 2010), this is up from 13.6% (Q1 2009).

The battle for market dominance is looking like a shootout between current market leader Symbian, with their extensive reach across the Nokia network, Research in Motion’s Blackberry devices, the iPhone and Android who have leapt from 1.6% to 9.6% of smartphone sales in the space of a year thanks release across a wide range of devices including the Google Nexus One and Motorola Droid.

Biggest mainstream casualty, Microsoft, is the only major player to see the overall number of devices sold fall quarter on quarter. The release of Windows Phone 7 clearly can’t come soon enough for the desktop giant.

Table 2

Worldwide Smartphone Sales to End Users by Operating System in 1Q10 (Thousands of Units)

Company

1Q10

 Units

1Q10 Market Share (%)

1Q09

 Units

1Q09 Market Share (%)

Symbian

24,069.8

44.3

17,825.3

48.8

Research In Motion

10,552.6

19.4

7,533.6

20.6

iPhone OS

8,359.7

15.4

3,848.1

10.5

Android

5,214.7

9.6

575.3

1.6

Microsoft Windows Mobile

3,706.0

6.8

3,738.7

10.2

Linux

1,993.9

3.7

2,540.5

7.0

Other OSs

404.8

0.7

445.9

1.2

Total

54,301.4

100.0

36,507.4

100.0

Source: Gartner (May 2010)

While the figures for smartphone uptake continue to be encouraging and strengthen the market for mobile applications and development of solid mobile strategies, agencies still need to be reminded that with over 80% of the mobile phone market still to make the switch to smartphones, the direction in which the overall market will go is still unclear.

A huge number of early adopters in this market purchased Blackberry devices, swiftly followed by dramatic iPhone take-up as phone design leapt forward under Apple’s leadership with Android phones tagging along as a credible alternative. However will the average person in the street, who owns a non-smart phone probably made by Nokia or Samsung, be willing to change from their usual device of choice? Much will come down to price, marketing, and the telecoms network provision. Nokia and Samsung will be tough to shift in this department.

Microsoft Do It Again – Unfortunately

Posted by: on Mar 21, 2010 in Fun Stuff, Opinion | No Comments

If a measure of advertising success is to get people talking about your latest ads then Microsoft have certainly succeeded with their UK adverts for Bing.

Unfortunately though, all they appear to have achieved is to produce an annoying campaign which doesn’t differentiate their search offering whatsoever. It’s search, referring to Bing as a decision engine isn’t fooling anyone.

Amazingly, the search results for “Clutch Bag” from Bing and Google are remarkably similar. Go figure?

Could be worse though:

Makes no sense whatsoever.

Of course. The answer is simply that in the UK we have inherited the US campaign rebadged for our audiences.

One of 2009′s US campaigns:

Thanks for the effort Microsoft! Oh, and still waiting for Clear Digital to rank anywhere for the terms “Clear Digital” – doesn’t seem quite right not to don’t you think?

Nexus One Review, One Month In

Posted by: on Feb 19, 2010 in Opinion | No Comments

Having lived and worked with the Google Nexus One for over a month now it’s time to follow-up on our first impressions of the Nexus One published in January.

“First and foremost, I am a huge fan of this device” said Clear Digital Director, Stephen Frater. “It is incredibly easy to use, extremely powerful, and due to the high resolution screen has almost completely replaced my netbook for casual internet browsing.”

Major PointsGoogle Nexus One fits into the hand nicely

  • It works great as a phone!. Yes, as a phone the Nexus One works very well indeed. Sound quality is excellent both with the handset held to the ear and when using the supplied headphones. During a recent trip to a remote area, a Samsung phone on the same network was unable to find a signal while, with 2 bars, a clear conversation could easily be held.
  • Battery life. So far so good on battery life. Daily charging is not always necessary under normal use. Our Nexus One is Google account push enabled, sync’s to an alternative IMAP account every 30 minutes and is used for twitter, occasional web browsing/maps/online apps and about 1 hour of music playback. Rarely does the battery degrade by more than 30 to 40% in one day.
  • Cool stuff!. While the apps market may be immature for Android, there are still some great applications to keep anyone happy, including: Maps – Google maps are still the coolest, and the latest incarnation on the Nexus One is a stunning application.
    Google Skymap – one of the cleverest apps we’ve seen combining GPS and internal sensors to display or search for the stars/planets/constellations as you hold the phone to the sky. Point it to the ground and you see the Southern Hemisphere (from the UK) – it’s incredible.
  • Screen Resolution. Video playback on the Nexus One is simply stunning. The built in Youtube application works well for high quality streaming video, but the quality of compressed and converted video played directly from the memory card is incredibly bright and clear with very high resolution. The Nexus One’s display is as expected the biggest drain on battery life so common sense is required.

Overall

The Nexus One is without doubt one of the strongest mobile devices on the market today. It easily retains its 9/10 rating and is pushing for 10/10. More apps would be good please!

Nexus One Review, First 24 Hours

Posted by: on Jan 15, 2010 in Opinion | No Comments

Having waited 5 months for a smartphone to be released that would truly profess to rival the all conquering iPhone, Clear Digital’s Stephen Frater finally gets his hands on a Google Nexus One. Here he shares his thoughts having lived with the device for the first 24 hours:

First up, I’ve never owned an iPhone. I’ve bought one, unpackaged, setup and handed on, but never lived with one as my own device and as such this cannot and will not be comparison with Apple’s hugely popular device.

Why Nexus One?
Google Nexus One fits into the hand nicelyThe sensible approach to replacing my HTC Tytn running Windows Mobile would have been to jump straight to the iPhone 3GS which had just been released. However the self confessed aversion to Apple products in general (I still cannot believe they get away with some of the stuff they pull simply because they’re well designed) and an equal aversion to signing up for any technical device for 2 years made me hold out for something a bit different.

The Motorola Droid looked to be the answer to this wait but the poorly designed and seemingly underpowered device did not live up to the overwhelming advertising campaign, and at this point I actually had the forms in my possession to change to the iPhone. But then some good old fashioned rumour… Google were going to bring out a device, and not only that but it would be based on an HTC phone that was earning rave reviews handling Windows Mobile. Stick Android on it and surely it will fly?

So I decided to wait and sure enough, the phone was released to the world on January 5th 2010.

Fortunately, living in the UK which is one of only 4 countries Google are shipping to on launch I was able to secure an unlocked version.

Review

Ordering Process: Order placed January 7th. Phone received January 13th.
So, 6 days in total which I was generally pleased about. Some initial confusion as DHL tracking started late on January 8th but there was no subsequent movement of the device until late on January 11th. DHL customer service could shed no light on this as delivery was International Next Day, and as has been well documented there is no Google support whatsoever (filling in the ‘Status of my order’ form leads to an automated response asking you to look at your Google purchase order) – however once the package did get moving it appeared as expected.

Score: 7/10 (happy but if it was Amazon I’d be complaining)

Package:
Google have done a good job here. The box is blatantly inspired by Apple’s iPhone, and it does not match up directly in terms of absolute quality but it is very cool in its own right. The Nexus One does come with something the iPhone does not however, instructions, albeit a single piece of card advising you to charge the device before attempting to switch on together with some very basic low level instructions on the reverse.

Inside the box we have the phone itself, a case (nice touch), instruction card, boring technical info from HTC and warranty statement, USB cable, US power adapter, and headphones which include remote control for music (as yet untried).

I ordered the UK power adapter for an extra $19.99. On opening the box I regretted this choice having seen the US power adapter which I could place into an international adapter plug I suppose and also I had forgotten about the USB power socket I own which could be used to charge through the USB cable. However on considering further, the leave a charging option at home while retaining further charging abilities in the office outweighs the small amount of additional cash.

The phone itself of course just looks fantastic, there can surely be no criticism of the basic design even from the most avid iPhone user? It is almost identical in size to the iPhone and as seen in the photograph above it fits well into the palm of the hand.

Score: 9/10 (everything you need and the bonus of a case)

Setup:
Google Nexus OneInserting battery and SIM card were very straightforward and as would be expected with any handheld device (except for the ridiculous “stick a pin in it” iPhone of course).

Having waited for the charging light to turn green, which took about an hour, switch on and you are immediately invited to log in to your Google account, which fails initially because no internet access has been setup. This does seem a little odd to be the very first thing to do, however I imagine the phone as sold through network partners will be hitting the internet straight off the bat. Joining the office wifi connection was, though, simplicity itself. Once connected this immediately starts syncing and pushes email/calendar events to your phone.

Connecting to the internet over the phone network was not so straightforward as the phone is not supported by the UK networks, however a quick search online revealed the O2 web settings that I needed. Still not on 3G yet, although whether this is my SIM card (new one on the way) or the well documented Nexus One 3G problems, will have to wait and see.

Within a few hours I had setup additional IMAP email into my Clear Digital account, was syncing my Outlook calendar via the Google calendar sync application and felt comfortable enough to leave my laptop in the office for the first time in months.

Score: 9/10 (very straightforward, problems unrelated to the device itself)

Usage:
Experienced iPhone users will probably have a lot to say here. For me the device is very simple to use, has a logic about it which makes sense, and with the ability to turn the keyboard on its side is easy to type. Getting the right pressure on the touchscreen has sometimes been an issue, but I’m guessing that’s simply something to get used to.

From my limited iPhone experience I think the devices are very similar. The Nexus One does have the ability to maintain multiple applications at once, and so far I have not experienced any slowdown in the device.

The link through to the Android Market is good and installation of applications is seemless, although with a bewildering array of applications available, have kept installation down to a minimum so far.

Screen resolution is excellent with very small text easy to read. Colour and brightness are spot on for a very rich experience. I haven’t used the camera much but it appears to work well with high quality (at 5MP).

Overall, it’s a smartphone, it does what you’d expect a smartphone to do and so far it does it all extremely well.

Nexus One battery life – the ultimate question. From my HTC Tytn to the many many iPhone users I know. Battery life is a function of how much the device is used. If your battery burns out in a few hours, chances are you’ve been hammering it so get over it. That said I believe the Nexus One battery life to be good. From first charge, initial play with the device lasted about 3 hours all on wifi. Further play at home on wifi and GPRS, then left on overnight. Next morning the battery meter was showing 39%. Initial experience appears to be that if you leave the device on standby then the batter meter simply doesn’t move so, as I’m sure it is with the iPhone, common sense should prevail.

Score: 10/10 (Simply brilliant)

Final Rating: 9/10 – has lived up to all my expectations so far.

Will follow up in early February with a one month in review.

Droid Does But Droid Will?

Posted by: on Nov 4, 2009 in Industry News, Opinion | No Comments

Motorola seem to be hanging their future on the new Droid smartphone released on Verizon in the US on November 6th.

The very heavily marketed campaign which targets Apple’s iPhone head on appears to be a desperate attempt by the once mighty Motorola to break an Android powered device into the mainstream to stem the seemingly unstoppable march of the iPhone’s for applications and functionality.

On a recent trip to the US, Clear Digital Ltd Director Stephen Frater observed:

“The Droid Does campaign was everywhere, TV, billboard and online and struck an immediate chord with its clear use of the Apple style to attack the iPhone. While Motorola have always been more popular in the US than the UK, the company has seen its units shipped slide dramatically* while the once must have Razr device has been passed by the iPhone.

“It would be great to see what this device can do once released and if it is a true challenger, I would certainly like to get my hands on one should a UK version be forthcoming. However, if it cannot live up to the hype, this must surely be the beginning of the end for Motorola?”

*Motorola units shipped fell from 30m to 16.5m between Q1 2008 and Q1 2009 which reflected a market share downturn from 10.2% to 6.2% (source Gartner)

iDon’t/Droid does advertising:

Latest “Stealth” advertising campaign, switching focus from anti-Apple to cool:

Clear Digital Attend TEDx Manchester

Posted by: on Oct 3, 2009 in Company News, Events, Opinion | No Comments

The afternoon of Friday 2nd October 2009 saw the TEDx North series of events come to Manchester and Clear Digital were there to see what all the fuss was about.

Organised by Codeworks, TEDx is an initiative from the people at TED to encourage the self-organisation of TED style events around the world.  The opening video from TED explains that TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, with the x representing the unlikely ‘independently organised TED event’.  So, to be clear, TEDx stands for ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design independently organised TED event’ – yes, really.

Location for the event was the very impressive concert auditorium in the darkest depths of the BBC at Oxford Road.  No doubt donated, the speaker list was dotted with BBC hierarchy.

With three core themes during the afternoon: What the Past Teaches us, Perspective and Knowledge, Ubiquity and Behaviour, the audience, which appeared to number at least 200, were treated to TED videos of JJ Abrams to lead the opening theme and Alain de Botton introducing Perspective and Knowledge.  Unfortunately the live speakers on the day were always going to find it tough to compete with such charismatic presentation, however ex Granada TV producer turned architecture commentator Phil Griffin and the last minute BBC for BBC replacement Hugh Garry were excellent, while graveyard shift presenter Paul Coulton’s mobile games presentation was the only watchable ‘powerpoint’ presentation.

Disappointments were, unfortunately, numerous.  The other BBC speakers, which included the anticipated dream speaker: Matthew Postgate, Head of Research & Development for BBC Future Media & Technology, were sadly boring, while the talks on the Future of Journalism and Dr Mariann Hardey’s ‘how to use facebook’ lecture failed to inspire much more than general twitter disquiet on the traditional #tag .  Equally disappointing were the members of the audience who decided to take the precious time allowed for questions to embark on speech after speech of self-opinionated rhetoric that reduced the twitter chatter to fever pitch and singularly failed to tap into any of the speaker’s expertise.

The full programme can be seen here: TEDx Manchester

For more opinion on the day, try Louise Bolotin’s excellent blog posting.

Was good to experience what this kind of event has to offer and, disappointments aside, we’ll be back, with altered expectations and an appreciation of what can be gained from such an event – some excellent speakers and the chance to connect with many in the Manchester digital community who were out in force.