Ski Lodge

Here is an example of a beautiful iPhone app and a simple promo website:

Ski Lodge (for iPhone)   

The UI is very easy to look at – little things make it obvious this was designed rather than just developed: like the wood grain background, bold easy to read fonts and navigation elements which have clearly been designed to be touched rather than clicked.  

I especially like the trail map link on the resort page which includes a bar chart showing the percentage of runs that are beginner, intermediate and advanced – a nice way to communicate a lot of information without adding lots of noise.

Their website is great too – a single page with screen shots and an obvious link to the App Store.  

At the moment they only cover the US and Canada, but according to ReadWriteWeb they have plans to add NZ and other countries soon.

Other apps from the same developers, all of which look just as impressive:

Also, something fun… check out Burn Ball by Tim Haines!

PS: If there are any aspiring iPhone developers out there looking for a project to get stuck into in 2009 drop me a note.

Mobile Banking [Guest Post]

This is a guest post by Jay Nielson from Kiwibank. Enjoy!

To coincide with the launch of the iPhone in New Zealand, we at Kiwibank decided to launch a new Mobile Internet Banking system. We knew from the start that we wanted to support many different devices, but unfortunately, we were stuck with a full timeline of just three weeks. We had this time to design, build, test and implement essentially a new Internet banking platform and we had one developer and one tester to do it.

My name is Jay Nielson and I was that developer and I’m hoping that this guest post that Rowan has allowed me to write will give a bit of insight into how we approached this project, some issues we came across, some of the tricks we found and lessons we learnt especially for developing for the iPhone.

We launched the first version of the site in July with basic support for the iPhone. Of course, we wanted full support for many devices, but the iPhone was going to bring the publicity that a basic site may not be able to. Behind the scenes we set up the architecture of the site to be able to dish out completely different code depending on the device.  We were able to include different style sheets as necessary and, of course, different images.

For example in the latest version, the login page is designed to fit the device if you’re browsing on an iPhone but is stripped down if you’re browsing on a simple Sony Ericsson phone.

iPhone Login Page

Mobile Phone Login Page

We knew from the start that there were other mobile sites out there but the difference between us and them is that we never meant to have just a single version of the site.

We had the basic design used on some of our other websites from our design company (Springload in Wellington) to use as a base. Because our current site is written in classic ASP (and I know that site inside out) I decided that the limited amount of time we had meant that the site was going to be built with the older technology, with a rewrite at a later stage.

I developed it with a very rudimentary controller/presenter system where I bought all the page logic out from the presenters and left them to render the page as they needed. This was the way I managed to easily add new device support – with the page logic separated out (and most of the presentation data bundled into classes) adding new device support was easy. As for detecting the different devices we found plenty of information on the net about which phones use which user agent strings, it was just a matter of finding the common attributes and taking them out. In all there are about 20 checks to determine the 6 different devices (iPhone, Browser, Windows Mobile, Mobile, PalmOS and Blackberry)

We decided to include the 90% most used features of our Java mobile application:

  • View Accounts;
  • View Transactions; and
  • Transfer funds.

We restricted funds movement to only within your own accounts, which allowed us to defer implementing the KeepSafe security used on our other sites.

The trick with all of this is getting the site working as a web page but looking like an iPhone application that people are familiar with. This meant big buttons, simple layout, uncluttered and to the point. Our friends at Springload helped immensely at this stage.

The biggest issue we had with the iPhone (apart from being able to only test on a Mac) was the fixed width.  Browsing the web on the iPhone is pretty simple. The device can render the page using Safari and you simply zoom in and out with a pinch motion with your fingers. Now, there are META tags you can add to the heading of the page to restrict the zoom levels and while they are pretty straight forward, but the device would never seem to return the text back to the font size it was to begin with after you rotate it to landscape mode. A bit of research was needed and we found the following code seemed to overcome it:

<meta name="viewport" content="user-scalable=no" />

<meta name="viewport" content="initial-scale=1.0" />

<meta name="viewport" content="maximum-scale=0.6667;" />

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width" />

<meta name="format-detection" content="telephone=no" />

The first four lines dictates that with width and zoom levels are to be static while the final one stops our accounts numbers being turned into phone numbers for auto dialing!

iPhone Accounts Page – with option to rotate to widescreen for more detail

With the iPhone version of the site working it was release time. We got it live the day before launch and have received positive reviews. As far as marketing it went, we decided to keep it a little low key and went more for word of mouth with a single press release rather than full page newspaper ads. It worked well. As far as our estimates are concerned, we had about 10% of the iPhone sold in New Zealand logging in and the only limiting factor was that no one could buy any more – we’re still waiting for our three to arrive!

Something else we tried which we haven’t done much before is to be quite open about it. We posted on blogs, answering questions people had and set up email addresses for feedback. We knew this was going to be an iterative process and took steps early on to get the feedback from customers that we needed.

With the launch a success we looked to the future. We had given out an email address for people to post their ideas about the site and the number one requested feature was support for Windows Mobile, so of course that was a priority in the new release. There were a few layout issues as well we needed to fix, but we also decided to try out hand at multiple language support.

A little addition that I wanted to sneak in was changing the page layout to display more information if the iPhone is rotated to landscape. There are a few issues at this stage, but the concept works perfectly. On Rowan’s post about us, the comments got into renaming accounts. I added that functionality in as well after the discussions there.

The latest version of the site, launched this week, now has the extra features we wanted including support for multiple languages, starting with English (the default), Russian (as the tester’s wife could speak Russian and it was a perfect way to test international character sets) and my favourite, Swedish Chef Bork Bork language, for a bit of fun (Bork! Bork! Bork!). All the language strings needed to be taken out and are stored in a database which is then cached in the session for the customer when they first log in (or change their language). I created a C# GUI front end to that database to allow us to update/add new string values without a full release of the code. In reality, we could release Arabic tomorrow without any updates to production. The language strings are per device and per language. So for mobile, if needed, we can summarise a lot more text as it has a smaller screen real estate.

Login Page – Russian

Login Page – Swedish Chef!!

The new version of the site works on the iPhone, Windows Mobile devices and mobile phones with sufficient browsers.

To top it off we have even been nominated for three TUANZ awards, including innovation of the year so wish us luck on the 28th.

We’re always looking for new ideas and feedback and would love to hear it. You can email us at mobile.ideas@kiwibank.co.nz

From Rowan:

Given that most of their competitors measure their progress in months or even quarters, I think it’s great to see a bank turning something like this around in just three weeks.  And also to iterate quickly – already they have released a second version which incorporates a lot of the feedback they’ve received following the launch.

Plus can you imagine any other bank launching a Swedish Chef version of their site?  It’s fantastic!

What do you think?  If you’re a Kiwibank customer, how do you find this application?  If not, would a good mobile app be enough to make you switch?

I’m interested in your comments.

Also, if you’re interested in writing a guest post here about something you’re working on please feel free to get in touch.  My email address is on the right hand sidebar.

iPhone Upgrade

I picked up a 2G iPhone when I was in the US earlier in the year.

I’ve been meaning to write a review here for a while.  

Here is the short version: I love it!

Upgrading to a new 3G model doesn’t really interest me for now. I’ve added 200MB of mobile data to my existing cheap plan, and have never come close to using all of that.  So, I don’t need to upgrade to get on a better plan … in fact, it would cost me more and I’d be locked in, so I don’t really see the incentive there.  

And it doesn’t really seem to me that there are any really compelling functional, or even aesthetic, reasons to switch.  

Am I missing something?  

Until yesterday, I haven’t even felt the need to upgrade my software.  

Then Cultured Code announced an iPhone version of Things which syncs with the desktop.  That will do it for me.

So, I’m looking for somebody who can help me upgrade.  

According to iTunes I’m currently running v1.1.3.  I’d be interested to talk to anybody who has done this successfully.  I’m hoping it’s as easy as the initial unlock and jailbreak.

Also, while I’m at it …

Prior to the iPhone I used a Windows Mobile phone, and used Missing Sync to sync with my address book and calendar.  When I say sync I’m talking mostly theoretically.  It never really worked properly, randomly changing contact details around and dropping appointments into the ether.  

Very frustrating, and not really recommended at all!

What’s more, even though the software is now removed, it’s left some muddy footprints in my network settings:

There are literally hundreds of those dead connections listed.  I can only guess that it created a new entry each time I connected the phone to sync, and never cleaned up after itself.  It’s a pain because it means that this settings page takes forever to load, and I’ve also noticed that my Mac takes a long time to switch onto a different network connection (e.g. when I move between wi-fi points, or disconnect an ethernet connection).  Perhaps it’s somehow working through this list to check which connections are available?

Does anybody know a quick way to remove these?  

Any help with this would be much appreciated. :-)

1984

I picked up an iPhone in San Francisco.

In the queue at the store was mostly Europeans and Antipodeans, which doesn’t bode especially well for AT&T I guess.  Invalidating the warranty was much easier than I expected. :-)

When I checked my email I found a message from Apple asking me to rate the customer service I got at the store. Obviously they had matched my credit card details to my previous purchases through the online store back here and got my address that way.

Their service in store was fine, but their CRM system is weirding me out a little.

Meanwhile, Budget let me down and didn’t have any GPS units left when I picked up my rental car, so I’m really loving having Google Maps built into the phone.  I would literally be lost without it.

Design matters

Do you remember what MP3 players were like before the iPod was invented?

I wonder if the same will be true of the smart phone:

“The iPhone won’t do anything that can’t be done with devices that are currently on the market. For that reason it won’t appeal to gadget freaks, but the Apple’s innovations on the user interface will ensure that the iPhone appeals to those who would otherwise not have considered buying a smart device.

Remember that digital music players already existed long before the iPod, but the iPod has been hugely successful because everything before it was perceived as being awkward to use and best left to those with a good understanding of the underlying technology.”

From: http://www.geekzone.co.nz/forums.asp?forumid=40&topicid=14275

As it happens, design matters.

If people don’t think it’s easy to use it’s unlikely to be used.

Sim-locked

So the iPhone hype (iHype?) is reaching fever pitch.

I’m struggling to get excited … yet.

I’m guessing it’s going to be years before they are available here in NZ.

And it doesn’t look good for those who were considering using something like Shipbuktu to get their hands on one …

“Then there is the issue of the iPhone being sim-locked. And I don’t just mean that the phone is locked, nope, the sim is locked physically into the phone! It can’t be removed. Seemingly there is a way to map your existing number to the sim in your iPhone – this will be part of the activation process. But you can’t take your sim out of the phone for any reason. What happens when you want to upgrade to a new phone? No idea. Presumably this will be straightforward if your new phone is another iPhone – but if it is not…”

From: Tom Raftery’s Social Media

Those in the US need to sign up for a two-year contract at US$60 per month.

Now that’s lock in!

UPDATE: (from this thread on GeekZone) apparently this video shows that you can actually remove the sim by poking a paper clip into this hole.  So, not easy, but possible.

Touchy feely

This coming week is the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in the US.

Expect the buzz around the upcoming launch of the iPhone to reach fever pitch by the time Steve Jobs takes the stage.

Check out this competition, where people had to make their own iPhone advert (via Michael Gregg). Amazing free publicity for a product which isn’t even released yet.

This entry is a bit wacky:

I could swear those are kiwi accents too. :-)

And so the anticipation builds.

Meanwhile, for those sitting on the Windows side of the fence (or for that matter Apple fan boys in NZ who will no doubt be waiting a while for the local release of iPhone) … no need to feel totally left out of all this touchy feely stuff.

Check out the just launched HTC Touch, which runs Windows Mobile and has a touch screen interface.

Sounds great in theory. But when you look closely at the photos of the physical design of the phone or see the user interface in action, it seems to lack the final 1% which makes the iPhone appear magical.

As Joel Spolsky wrote this week: it’s a games of inches.