Monday, October 18, 2010

eBay apps highlight differences between Windows Phone 7, iPhone, Blackberry, and Android UI

Windows Phone 7 devices are officially on their way now, and the new tiles and hubs User Interface has a lot of people talking (good and bad). I’ve been working on an app for about a month now (more info soon at or follow on twitter) and have gotten to play around with the device and have to say it does seem to flow pretty well. It is interesting to compare and contrast the approaches used when designing for Windows Phone7 vs iPhone, Blackberry, or Android. A great example of this is comparing the eBay application for different platforms.

The eBay application for Windows Phone 7 was added to the Zune marketplace today and features many of the new UI design patterns (Tiles, panorama, pivots, user customizations) and phone features (Messaging, real-time notifications, back button).



The iPhone eBay application has all the same features, and while it strikes me as a bit more polished than the WP7 version I do prefer the web style navigation in WP7 vs the various buttons/tabs used to navigate around the iPhone apps. Once you start using the hardware back/search buttons and Appbar icons you can easily navigate around any application on the Windows Phone 7 because things are very consistent.



The Android eBay application also has the same features, but looks a bit clunky, which is how I feel about most Java based user interfaces.


While the Blackberry application has most of the same features, the UI is designed to be used by the trackball or trackpad so it looks a bit different. It is still very functional, but I like the touch optimized UI better.


It also is interesting to look at the eBay iPad application and the Silverlight based eBay Simple Lister application for PC/Macs. They do a pretty good job of highlighting the strengths of each platform and are a great way to evaluate pros/cons of each. With the iPad you can really see why Live Tiles make sense over a “Sea of app icons”.  I guess it could be worse. :-P

Anyway, I am excited to see more competition in the wireless space, as it will keep everyone innovating and creating better products.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Windows Phone 7 = Pocket-Xbox!

I wasn’t going to post tonight, but Scott Guthrie said I had to, so here goes. You probably have figure out by now that smart phones are trying to replace all of the basic computer usage scenarios in our lives. Calculator… check, Music player… check, GPS Navigation… check, Recording studio… check. Not to mention more web browsing, social networking, and geo-location than you can shake a stick at! One area that I feel that phones have been lacking is hardcore gaming. Sure there are plenty of casual games (and fart apps), but give a 12 year old the choice between an iPhone and a PSP or Nintendo DS and you will quickly find out which one is the real gaming platform.

I think Microsoft has a chance to change this with their upcoming Windows Phone 7 line-up. The new phone will allow game developers to use the xna platform, which currently powers home-brew and indie games on xbox and windows, to easily build 3D games that would make an iPhone developer blush with envy. Microsoft sees this as one of their advantages and they already have more than a dozen big gaming titles scheduled for release with the launch of Windows Phone 7 later this year. Basically they want people to think of Windows Phone 7 as an xbox that fits in your pocket.

Not to be left behind… I plan on jumping on the mobile-phone-gaming-band-wagon myself in the near future. While I will not be creating a blockbuster 3D game, I will be exploring the world of social games that you can play using your phone with your real friends in real life, so stay tuned if you want more details.

Oh, and one side note: I have started using Google Buzz as a way of sharing videos and quick links that I find while browsing the web or my Google Reader feeds. Basically if something is hehe or haha funny it will probably show up on my buzz feed, where as if it is LOL or OMG funny I will still try and create a post here on my blog. If you want to see all of the things that I post you can follow me on Buzz by searching for Greg Bray: there are only 3 of us, and I am the funny (looking) one. :-P


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Natural User Interfaces on Mobile and Desktop Computers

Anyone who has an iPhone or Android handset can tell you that the standard method of using a keyboard and mouse for interacting with a computer is starting to be replaced with more natural and intuitive interactions. The iPhone has popularized the pinch-and-zoom and other finger based gestures that are commonly used on multi-touch devices, and Android has done a lot of work enabling voice based input to prevent having to enter text manually into the phone. Many smart phones use voice or touch for creating Natural User Interfaces on hand-held devices, but the transition to NUI in your home or office computer has been much, much slower.
On desktop and workstations I think that we won’t ever fully replace the keyboard and mouse, as they have proven to be highly configurable input devices with much better accuracy and precision and much lower cost than any alternatives. Over time though there are many cases where using speech or touch on a device larger than a phone makes sense. Microsoft started initially with their Surface device (aka the $10,000 coffee table), and has taken all that experience and added full multi-touch support to Windows 7 and Silverlight (when run on Windows 7).
It will take some time for the hardware to come down in price and be available in low-end consumer devices, but already you can find reasonably priced multi-touch desktop computers such as the HP TouchSmart line of all-in-one or laptop computers. These are designed to be used in a kitchen or as part of an interactive display in hotels and businesses where using a keyboard and mouse is not very effective. Microsoft hopes that lots of companies will start using these to attract customers or extend their brands, something that the Hard Rock Cafe has already done quite well.
Besides the hardware, another major factor holding back NUI is the ability for developers to create usable interfaces that compel users to let go of the keyboard and mouse and start using their fingers/voice instead. If you are a software developer, a UI designer, or just interested in seeing where human-computer interactions are heading I highly suggest watching this video from MIX 2010 about designing NUI on Windows. There also is a shorter follow up video on Coding4Fun where Brian Peek interviews NUI expert Joshua Blake.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hollywood Green-Screens and Disney Copy-and-Paste!

Just a reminder to not believe everything that you see. Here is a video about Hollywood use of green screens on popular tv shows.


The lies don’t stop there though, take a look at Disney’s blatant use of copy-and-paste :-P

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Analog Computers are Wicked Cool!

I spent some time this afternoon clearing out my bookmarks and found a Channel 9 video with Brian Beckman talking about his history with computers and the history of analog computing. The most interesting part was the links to some old training films that show the different mechanisms used to create analog computers to allow navy ships to compute bomb trajectories in real time. I grew up in an era of integrated circuits and TI-89 calculators, but it is absolutely fascinating to see how mechanical parts can be used to create multipliers, integrators, and differentials that can be combined to instantly calculate the launch angle and speed required to hit a given target. The videos come in Part 1 and Part 2 with each being about 20 minutes long and highly recommended. Check it out!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Anders Hejlsberg at TechDays 2010 in Belgium: Trends and future directions in programming languages

I watched a great talk by Anders Hejlsberg at TechDays 2010 today about how programming has evolved since he first created Turbo Pascal back in the 1980s. It is a bit long (1 Hour 9 Minutes) but it covers moving from assembly to managed code, the merging of dynamic/static/functional/declarative programming models, and new tools for tackling concurrent programming. Check it out:

Monday, March 22, 2010

AMD is releasing a dozen cores on a single CPU… now what to do with them?

We have all heard that multi-core computing is the way of the future, but with AMD announcing that production of their 8- and 12-core AMD Opteron 6100 Series processors are underway it won’t be long before you can have access to some very serious computing power all from a single server. In fact, AMD has a contest right now asking what would you do with 48 Cores on your server, which piqued my interest and got me thinking about the possibilities. Most general purpose computing can only utilize a few cores at a time, so aside from running a massive database/web server or consolidating a few dozen virtual servers into one physical machine it is difficult to think up a use case for the 105.6GHz of raw computation that would be available from 4x12 core CPUs. Even altruistic ideas like setting up thin-client learning environments for starving kids in Ethiopia don’t really fit very well, as that problem is much better addressed by other means (not to mention CPUs don’t taste very good :-P).

If you ask me, that kind of power is best displayed the same way it was in 1997 when Deep Blue won a chess game against a reigning world champion (Garry Kasparov). Deep Blue ended up losing 4-2 overall, but it still showed that computers were capable of completing head-to-head with a formable human opponent. Deep Blue was essentially a massively parallel computer with 30x120MHz nodes and 480 special “chess chips” that allowed it to evaluate 200 million positions a second and find the best move by brute force. Now days Chess is a well studied game with even mobile phones being able to compete at the grandmaster level.

I was never much of a chess player, but I have spent a fair amount of time working on computer software for Texas Holdem, which has a much more complex game theory with lots of unknowns and many different playing styles. I think that poker will be the next big arena for computer vs human competition, and while computers are already used for collecting and analyzing player poker hands and playing virtual tournaments they still are not quite up to the task of competing with human players.

With 48 cores though you would have the ability to run many sub-process that could make predictions and, once validated, be used to profile a player and quickly create an optimal offensive strategy for each hand. A full poker table may have up to 12 players, but considering there are 4 cores for each player, that seems like ample computing power to create neuro-networks that model each player to try and predict their next move. Each network is independent, and the four channels of DDR-3 for each AMD Opteron processor should give great bandwidth throughput. I have already been able to evaluate in excess of 20,000,000 hands per second on a basic quad core system, so the power of 48 cores is simply the next logical step!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Microsoft PhotoSynth: 2500 square feet of deliciousness!

About 7 or 8 months ago one of my very good friends started his own Ice Cream and Coffee shop in Park City Utah. Ever since then I have been wanting to create a PhotoSynth of the shop to help drum up business and see how the process works. PhotoSynths have recently been incorporated into the Silverlight version of Bing maps, so you can literally go from a satellite view to bird eye view all the way down to a synth of someone’s living room. This weekend I finally went up to Yellow Snow Ice Cream and Coffee and took over 700 photos to turn them into a PhotoSynth. I think the results are pretty good actually! Check it out:

Monday, January 11, 2010

2010: The year of the eReader?

The 2010 Consumer Electronics Show is over now, but there were some pretty cool devices on display (best of CES awards). While many people are gawking at Google’s Nexus One phone or Apple’s tablet pc, I see eReaders as coming into their own this year as the technology matures, the prices go down, and more content becomes available. I almost bought one for Christmas, but just didn’t feel that they were quite ready yet (Non-color displays, limited books, no web browser, etc).

Today on channel9 there was an interview with Ray Kurzweil, who has been working on electronic reader technology for a long time now and is pretty good at predicting where technology will take us in the future. His company is releasing an eReader platform, but instead of focusing on the hardware they instead built software and algorithms that utilize existing hardware to provide a great electronic reading format. It is based on XPS (Microsoft’s competitor to PDFs) and can be used to merge audio, video, and interactive content into a electronic book format. The Blio software is set to be released in February, but I highly suggest checking out this video to see what’s coming:


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