Archive for the ‘App Ideas’ Category:

A potential game changer for Microsoft

We know ARM tablets won’t run old Windows applications, right?

What if they did?

Not by actually running them.  They won’t be up to doing that – at least not well.

But MS keeps talking about its cloud play.  About SkyDrive and about Azure.  About all the new features of Remote Desktop.  About the VDI things they could do.

So what if your ARM tablet came with the ability to subscribe (cheaply – and probably with a free trial) to an online service which gave you a virtual windows PC?  A Virtual PC you could install all your old software on, and run the software on.  Imagine they linked this to a ‘Desktop’ icon.  For most people, most of the time, they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.  All the documents could be synced by skydrive.  And you would get perfectly reasonable performance.

Could MS do this?  Why not?

Wouldn’t it create quite a stir when they announced it – especially if they managed to keep it secret right until the tablets were unveiled?  Your ARM tablet can run all your legacy software… but you won’t want to, because you’ll prefer to work with Metro.  And you’ll be able to run this software from any Windows computer… or Windows 8 Phone.

I’ve not heard any suggestion MS are thinking of doing this – but if they did, it would be the thing that would give them the greatest chance of winning the tablet wars.  A war in which, right now, they are not even considered a particularly important contender.

Feeling more Metro-politan : 10 things the Windows 8 Consumer Preview has made clear to me

Having played with the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 for a few days, I’m beginning to pick up a feel for it:  indeed, more than that, for the first time in years I’m beginning to feel like I want to own a windows desktop PC, because for the first time I’m realising I really want to develop software for Windows.  Its all down to the Metro interface – and how much smoother it has become to use since the developer preview.  I thought I would list 10 things I have come to understand about how Metro works – and how you work with it:

1) You live your life in Metro.  The desktop is a distraction.  You avoid it when you can.  Metro is where you prefer to spend your time – at least when you’re working with touch.

2) But the desktop now works with touch.  Unlike the developer preview, where I had to keep reaching for a stylus to do anything desktoppy, I can now control desktop applications with my fingers.  Touch works on the desktop – you’ll probably use it instead of a mouse most of the time, if you have a touch enabled monitor which is comfortably positioned.

3) You’ll probably wind up treating the desktop a bit like Metro.  When you pin the desktop to the side of your screen, you get each application listed separately.  Now, to be fair, you’ve had this with alt-tab for a while, but now you just touch to get to where you want.  It feel natural to treat each desktop app like a full screen application.

4) Linking online accounts works wonderfully, but feels a bit creepy.  I installed W8 on a VM, and logged in with my live id.  My face grinned back at me – a photo I had taken months ago with the developer preview.  I didn’t expect it to be at work.  Similarly, various apps started sucking information from google, facebook, linked in.  I had given them permission, but it all integrated too well – better than I had come to expect from my phone.  It crossed that line into feeling like I had less of a computer than I did a stalker.

5) But, that said, the ‘People’ App shows exactly how integration can be effective – and how Metro is meant to work.  I look at a live feed of my twitter and facebook statuses, seamlessly integrated.  Sometimes I click on a link someone has posted, and I’m taken to the web browser.  I may surf onwards, doubling back by scrolling to the left, and then when I want to get back to the People app, I drag it on from the left hand side – which is exactly where I expect to find it.

6) Metro is made for dashboards.  Right now, the only dashboards we are given are people (a social media dashboard), weather and finance.  Weather and finance are very similar, and probably shows what an awful lot of Metro apps will look like.  You scroll left and right to see the data you want, use semantic zoom to get to a table of contents, data is updated live from the net, you can flick between certain displays of data by touching onscreen buttons, and a summary of the most important facts are shown on the live tile when you return to the start screen.

7) There is no good way of taking notes – yet.  Evernote for metro is available, but doesn’t work in portrait mode (which is the most comfortable way to hold the tablet and type).  You can use your favourite desktop application, but for me, that’s gvim, and the touch keyboard doesn’t have an escape key, which kills its usefulness.  The skydrive version of Word doesn’t work properly (it won’t bring up a keyboard when you want to write), so right now, I’m left with either notepad, or Google docs.  Neither are a great choice.

8 ) In fact, there is still quite a lack of useful apps all around.  Hopefully this will be fixed soon.  Things I’m missing are:  A notepad.  A hypercard style thing for creating my own metro dashboards (as described above) and books.  A decent version of Amazon Kindle which takes advantage of Metro… right now I find the windows app running in the desktop to make particularly poor use of the tablet’s screen.  A metro calculator (in fact, I would quite like python and Idle for metro.  That’s probably a wish too far – especially as the lack of special keys on the metro keyboard is quite limiting).  A metro version of explorer.  A metro version of powershell.  And finally a metro iPlayer.

9) Lots of things are quite tricky to find – especially power features.  I tired to change set the APN so that I could use a data sim .  I managed it, but it took a lot of looking – and the old windows way of doing it no longer worked. (incidentally, for folks in the UK with a Build developer preview tablet, if you want to use mobile data, a giffgaff pay as you go sim works well in mine now I’ve figured it out)  Unpinning and uninstalling metro apps is easy once you know how [touch and hold a tile, drag it down slightly so it gets an orange border, then use the bottom of screen menu] – but I had to search the web to find out how to do it.  The menu bars remain quite unintuitive… they’ll probably get better as I get more used to it, but I can’t help feeling the design reflects how the Metro framework works internally more than what a user might want to do with it.

10) Ultimately, it feels good to use.  The developer preview didn’t.  Some of this is due to stability.  Some due to performance.  Some due to the ‘right click’ touch gesture is now far easier to do.  I’m not sure how convinced people will be when Windows 8 replaces their desktop, but for people coming in to Metro as a touch first interface, I expect it to be widely considered a good thing.

Lean Publishing and the Future Of Books

I’m very taken by some of the ideas behind lean publishing.  The idea is simple – start writing a book, and when you’ve got something written (it doesn’t have to be much – or indeed good) start selling it via  As time goes by you add to your book – either more information you’ve wanted to add, or in response to comments from readers.  You submit these updates, and all your books purchasers can access them straight away.  You also have complete control over book price, so you can raise the price as your book grows.

Leanpub also provide some technically very neat tools for converting your book to different ebook formats – but thats by the by.  Its more about the idea.

What leanpub lacks is the ability to sell your book for a trivial amount of money (say 1 cent) – this is probably an effect of the costs of payment processing… but its a shame, almost anyone could write a book worth 1 cent – by the time you reach 99 cents, you start needing higher quality.  They also lack the tools to keep engaged with the reader – not just by providing updates, you understand, but by having in depth conversations – I’m thinking the ideal leanpub type site would have a blog, a wiki and a forum system all built in.

I’ve wondered if you could go even further with books than this. In the same sense that the ideal TV program is now an app, perhaps the ideal book is too.

I’m talking about lots of things… if I’m reading my book on a computer, then I want references to webpages to be hyperlinks, and references to other books to take me to the right place on amazon.  But I want more – maybe I should get a discussion forum built in (possibly even a forum which knows how far I’ve got into the book to stop spoilers).  Maybe I should be able to shop for books the author recommends.  Does the author do occasional interviews about this book?  Then his podcast could be included too.

I’ve also long had a soft spot for sites like which give you chunks of books every day, either by email or RSS.  Something about this form of serialisation of books seems ideal to be for young adult reading… perhaps in a long series like Twilight or Happy Potter you would subscribe to a book, getting new stories as time moves on.

Of course, all these ideas could begin with writing via LeanPub – because all leanpub use for writing is markdown formatted text – and, once you had amassed sufficient text, if my ideas are right, there will be people out there who have written the app frameworks for the sort of ideas i’m talking about, and will be willing to let you use them in return for a cut in the profits – just like LeanPub do with their ebook update offering.

How TV Should Be

Lets say we wanted to reinvent TV (like everyone expects Apple to), how would we go about it?

Right now I susbscribe to some number of cable packages (lets count the Beeb’s licence fee as one of those…), I may also download from the various iplayeralikes, and buy content (mainly from itunes in my case).

What if apple (or a rival) could convince the TV companies to allow people to have pay as you go subscriptions – something along the lines of this:

At any time you may purchase 1 month of our channel’s programming – which you can watch when you want during the month – but when the months up, its gone.  That isn’t too different from the iplayer and standard cable models.

Also, you can buy any of our top programmes – either as a rental (a week to watch, but it vanished 48 hours after you’ve started watching… in the same vein as sky boxoffice) or for good (like with itunes)

And since we let you do that, why not let you buy or rent films…

We would probably start getting new channels – after all, netflix fits into the new monthly model.

We could also add ‘oyster card – like’ deals (if you rent enough of our content, everything else you buy from us over a given period will be free)

All we need is for the tv set to have a single payment mechanism which everyone agrees to use.  Which is where the monetization strategy comes in.  Do this well, and in time, you’ll be able to give widescreen tellys away for free.

The TV could recommend programs that you can watch for free – or programs you would like which will cost you money (there are ad dollars to be made with the latter).   Add the social media features I’ve suggested before, and you have a new TV model, which democratises the platform in a range of interesting ways.

But of course, this isn’t the future.  Because in the future, the new program will be the app.  We know this, but it’ll be a long time before channels figure it out.  If the right TV manufacture gets this right now, they can get everyone onboard… and then become the app store!

One Inbox

Productivity gurus have long argued the benefit of having only one inbox – one place for all your to-dos to gather.  As I find myself increasingly pressing deeper into the technological firmament I’m finding myself wanting somethign similar:

I want a single inbox for everything I do electronically.

By this, I mean, I want one place to go to… one web page on which I collate all my tweets, facebook updates, linked in messages, emails, usenet posts, and rss feed updates.  Not to mention all the events my calendar is telling me about.  And also my text messages and phone calls.  I want just one place for all of this.  And lets throw in instant messaging, video chatting, requests to share my desktop and meeting invitations.

Now, we’re clearly not talking about an inbox of the sort outlook of gmail provides you with.  The inbox I’m talking about needs to be smarter.  When I receive an email, not only does it need to look at other emails – to provide threading for the messages – it also needs to associate the email sender with every other part of my electronic life the sender lives in.  It also needs to figure out how important it is I read the message… for example, it is vitally important that the second an alarm is set to go off, that my inbox tells me about it – loudly and persistently until I comply.  When I get an email, sometimes I need to know about it quickly – other times, it can wait.  Good metrics might rely on size of email, who sent it, how quickly I usually reply to emails with similar fingerprints and how recently I last sent an email to the sender.  Meanwhile twitter tweets might expire if I havn’t read them for a while, and RSS feeds might wait until I done everything important.

The problem is, no one is going to offer this inbox.  Why?  Because everyone is trying to tie you in to their own inbox.  Google – who would be the ideal provider of a multi-service inbox – are the worse offender.  I have at least 4 different inboxes with Google – they seem to want to add more, not let me coalesce what I already have.

So we probably need a new player here.  We need a startup.  Someone who, right now, are too small to bother with if they let people start scraping their facebook feeds and pulling their emails.  Its a real opportunity – you can provide the message right now:

“All we do is give you access to your inbox.  We don’t own any of your data.  If someone does inboxes better than us, go to them.  There is no lock in”

The right provider would provide APIs to allow people to add new services to the inbox. It wouldn’t require the provider to do all the work to connect to each website that comes along – and it could be paid for by an app store, a monetization strategy built into the platform.  I would also have  an API to get everything from the inbox so that they can write applications that use it.  So my phone can notify me and provide basic services, while I can do things more powerfully and fluidly on my tablet or PC.

But with that message, and an open API, the inbox provider will be providing something stronger.  They’ll be providing a message that we don’t care about anyone elses inbox.  They’ll be sending the message that we aren’t tied to anyone else’s inbox.  I have a facebook account, not because I care about facebook, but because of the other people who use it.  If I had this inbox, suddenly it wouldn’t matter what website those people used – I would see them, and interact with them via my inbox.  And if they wanted to move away from facebook, they would be no more tied in than me.

The inbox company themselves would make money on advertising (there is personal data in that there inbox.  And Ads in the inbox may not be as offensive at it might at first feel), and perhaps premium services – along with integration into corporate networks.


An open inbox service wouldn’t just be a productivity tool, it would be a way to reopen the communication channels which we have spent the last decade blocking up.

Raspberry Pi Idea : Hotel Router / Corporate Presentation Box

To be fair, in the US it seems hotels are now generally coming with free wifi.  In the UK this is less true.  Anyhow, the device I want could, presumably, be built from a Raspberry PI, 2 usb Wifi dongles and a bit of love)

1. The device should be able to run a wifi network with NAT that you log into like you would a hotel network.  Maybe with a bit more security on top if it can be done in a user friendly way.

2. The device should be able to connect by wire – or by another wifi dongle to the hotel or company network you are visiting.

3. The device should bridge the networks.  Now all your wifi attached devices will work wherever you are without having more than one lot of tricky config to do.

4. The device should be entirely controlled by web pages (which you can access from your phone or PC… because its doing DNS and NAT)

5. But the device should be able to output graphics over its video out port.

6.  With this you have the beginnings of something that can be used to control projectors wherever you go.  And your phone can now double as the clicker… but can also let you do things like data entry if you want to personalise a presentation on the fly.

App Idea: Full Screen Phone

I’m noticing that my phone is particularly good at being a notification device – something similar to what we used to use icons on the right hand side of the windows task bar for – telling me when I have something  I have to pay attention to.

Meanwhile my monitor, keyboard and mouse are still where I live most of the time, and where I get the most done.

Ideally, when my phone notifies me I have something I ought to pay attention to, then I should be able to make it pop up on my screen – giving me something like a VNC session with which I can control my phone (and yes, it should also mean my PC speakers become my phones speakers, and my PC microphone becomes my phone  microphone – that way I only need to use one headset).

The connection could – for all I care – be over the network – cell or wifi.  But since I leave my phone plugged into my computer by USB cable all day, that would also be fine (moreover, it would be a good way of knowing that I’m PC attached)

Extra points for giving me an API I can use so that I can make reading and responding text messages from my PC friendlier than just using a VNC-alike connection.

Extra extra points for letting me communicate from my phone to my PC while in this mode – for example, when I open a web link, give me the opportunity to open it (I undertand fonleap are doing something along those particular lines, but its only part of what I require.  Someone make a phone that does all of this, please!)

Where is the new TV Guide? (Redux)

I recently asked “If apps are the new channels, where is the new TV guide?” and today there is a bit of buzz about zeebox.

So, is zeebox the new TV guide?

In short:  Not yet – but its the sort of thing that could be.

Zeebox is currently aimed at social networking while watching broadcast TV, with a bit of discovery thrown in.  Its also a wireless remote for a limited number of Freeview TV sets.

They say that in the future there will be support for Android, PVRs and things like iPlayer.  So I don’t see why they shouldn’t add support for apps, if apps do become the new channels.  What they will need to do is provide a way for apps to pass info back to zeebox – which will be harder to get people to take up than it would for Amazon, because zeebox don’t control the platform.

Quite how you support the chat functionality – which seems to be at the core of zeebox – on things like PVRs and iplayer, I don’t know… but if they could have a way of commentary messages turning up at the point in the program where they were written, that might be quite cool.  It would also allow enterprsing people to do their own directors commentaries – or indeed their own MST3K style spoofing.

And if they can add support for PVRs, why not for DVDs?

Then add a shop where you can buy the DVDs it recommends you watch, and we have a bit more of a monetization strategy.  They could have their own marketplace for apps-as-channels too.

Unless they can build streaming (or some other form of content delivery) into their app, I don’t see a long term future for zeebox as a standalone thing.  However, if their endgame is to get bought out by Facebook, TV manufacturers, Apple, Sky or Amazon, zeebox might be onto a winner!

(As an afterthought :  adding comments to a programme / DVD / YouTube clip based on fingerprinting the audio or images might be an interesting challenge – it would mean your comments would work on any edited form of the show, and could be inserted at exactly the time you wanted to see them, no matter how you chose to start / stop / pause the programme.  There are lots of ways one could go about doing this, depending what exactly you wanted to integrate with)

App Idea: What should we do tonight?

Lets say I’m at home and at a loose end.  I go to my app “What should I do tonight” and it suggests a location I should go to.  It suggests this based on a recommendation engine, based on my prior nights out and how I have rated them.

So far, so tripadvisor

But after I have said I plan on going to a particular location, the app knows who I enjoy hanging around with (they all have this app too), and it might suggest they go to the same venue.  It might even alert them saying “I have a suggestion of where to go tonight”

The app doesn’t even have to know who my friends are.  If we always check in (or at least let the app know where we are when we have a good time) it can figure out other app users around us – and build our gang of people who are always around without our obvious involvement.

Monetization?  Think advertising.  Think money off coupons and special deals. Think being able to track where else your bar’s regulars go.

If apps are the new channels, where is the new TV Guide?

John Gruber says “Apps are the new channels” and he is right.  Spot on.  Its one of those clear statements that, when you hear it, seems to sum up how the media is moving.  The app is the new channel – not just a TV channel, but a media channel.  There no longer needs to be a difference between National Geographic the magazine and National Geographic the TV channel.

What are the implications of this?

Channels will become smaller – there is no point in a BBC app – but there might be lots of value in a BBC News app.  I don’t care less about most of the entertainment on ITV, but give me an X Factor App (I know, I know, its social anthropology, honest, I’m not just easily please) and I’ll watch it that way.  Most of the time it will be “One app per show”, occasionally you might get something bigger like a “Discovery Science” app or a “Film 4″ app.

We are going to need apps to move between devices.  If I install National Geographic on my tablet to read on the train, I also want it installed on my TV set.

We need apps to communicate between devices – so when I’m reading an article in a magazine and want to see a film on my TV, I can just click and let it play

We need syndication of app messages in really clever an innovative ways.  I’m not sure what form this might take yet, but if there is a new edition of my favourite magazine, or a new episode of my favourite show, I want to know about it – and I don’t want to have to go to that show’s app to find out.  Something clever needs to tell me what I’m able to watch

We also need discovery.  Which will be a combination of reddit, stumble-upon, facebook and digital spy if it is really going to work.  Something will have to tell us when new interesting things we don’t currently have apps for turns up.

Commercials might be dead.  Its possible we can get advert supported versions of apps – but I feel more and more that this isn’t the only way.  We are going to have to pay to watch episodes of shows.  But sometimes it might be in the network’s interest to get us watching for free before jacking up the price.

Indie TV will become more plausible without having to fit into a channel’s framework

Apps will become more interactive and less linear – if you want them to be.  While I expect to be able to watch the X Factor in exactly the way I do now with my X Factor App, I also expect to be able to choose which video’s to watch again, skip the boring bits, choose to buy downloads of the tracks I likes, see extra interviews with people I like, vote for the winner, discuss the X Factor with other social anthropologists like myself and bet on the outcome (aha – maybe you finally see my hidden interest.  I think I’m already well into profit this year)

There will cease to be boundaries between software, TV, movies, games and magazines

Someone out there is going to make a lot of money by being the new media hub.  It might be Apple – they’ve clearly made a lot of inroads. Google don’t seem to quite know what the game is and the old guard with their Hulus are way off base.  If I had to put my money on anyone, right now Facebook is where the future of TV is – or, maybe – just maybe – the BBC and iPlayer might manage some sort of coup (but thats more likely to be blocked by the powers who be and financial shortages).

Or there is always Amazon.  Who own Lovefilm in the UK.  And have all the pieces they need except a TV interface.  Kindle TV?  It would be a logical next step to their domination of my life.  And I might welcome it.