Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Construction of a Native Mobile User Interface

April 5th, 2022 by Ishan Geeganage

More 6.64 billion people across the globe are using smart phones (and the apps on them). The majority of people use mobile applications for banking, searching for and ordering from restaurants, health, news, email and engaging on social media platforms.

A mobile user interface is the graphical and usually touch-sensitive display on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet, which allows the users to interact with the device’s apps, features, content and functions.

In a mobile app, the icon is the first thing people see. The app icon design should aim to entice users to download the app, as well as help people quickly find the app on their device screen. Research has shown that an app icon can be a significant factor in the success or failure of an app.

App Design Considerations

Aside from the icon, when designing a mobile app, it is important to consider the following:

Navigation

Successful navigation is simple and intuitive, providing an obvious way to move between screens and functions. As many apps are used on very small screens, the effective use of screen real estate is very important.

Large touch area

Allowing sufficient space around controls will ensure that buttons, links etc are easy to tap using the thumb or finger.  Insufficient space and smaller controls will annoy a user and potentially cause them to make mistakes.

Simplicity

It is not necessary to display every possible piece of information on the interface. Organising content in a way that provides the user with a clear understanding of information, and allows them to drill down when they need more will allow you to reduce clutter and make using your app easier.

Larger text

It is important to keep text size in mind when designing for a mobile screen.  Designers work on a desktop computers to create app designs; it is important to constantly check that the text size will be easily readable once it is being seen on a mobile.

Use Native Controls

Many so-called native mobile controls are available to use within your app design.  These are controls, such as switches, list choices, buttons etc.  One of the benefits of building a native mobile app is that you have access to the native controls.  It is not a good idea to use simple web controls instead, as these are more difficult for the user to interact with, and the native controls are more expected by the user.

Available Components

Apple, unlike Android, does not have a dedicated “back” button.  When we are designing the user interface for a native Apple app, we need to address the Back button functionality.

In Messages, Mail and even Safari, a simple swipe right from the edge of the screen will navigate the user back to the previous window. This gesture also works in some third-party apps like Instagram.

Similarly, when we using the common screen elements like the Date Picker, Time Picker and Dropdown, we cannot produce the same look and feel for both iOS and Android apps. This is because these default components render a different look and feel in iOS and Android.

Use Simple Forms

Keep forms for user data entry to the simplest possible set of fields and options.  Use form controls to keep the need to type text to a minimum.  When building forms, there are various ways to help the user enter data, but keeping the design to the simplest possible in the first place is paramount.

Consistent Experience

If your site/app is present on both web and mobile, provide a consistent experience to the user.

Screen Structure

We need to consider the screen layout when designing the app. Apps can have different layouts, but there are many common screens which will usually have a layout something like the following:

mobile app layout

Images and Gradients

Wherever possible, instead of using images or image gradients, use colours and colour gradients to create in the same effect. Doing so will reduce the usage of complex images and therefore reduce the operational complexity of the app, thus improving performance of the app.

Building an App User Interface

Planning is very important before we write any code in order to convert an app design, into an actual functioning app.  The following activities are involved in building the design for a native mobile app.

Cutting up images

iOS

A standard-resolution display has a 1:1 pixel density (or @1x), where one pixel is equal to one point. High-resolution displays have a higher pixel density, offering a scale factor of 2.0 or 3.0 (referred to as @2x and @3x). As a result, high-resolution displays demand images with more pixels.

For example, suppose you have a standard resolution (@1x) image that’s 100px × 100px. The @2x version of this image would be 200px × 200px, and the @3x version would be 300px × 300px.

Android

To provide good graphical qualities on devices with different pixel densities, we need to include multiple versions of each image in your app—one for each density bucket, at a corresponding resolution. Otherwise, Android will scale your image so it occupies the same visible space on each screen, potentially resulting in scaling artifacts such as blurring.

For example, if you have a image that’s 48×48 pixels for medium-density screens, the following size images need to be included within the app:
• 36×36 (0.75x) for low-density (ldpi)
• 48×48 (1.0x baseline) for medium-density (mdpi)
• 72×72 (1.5x) for high-density (hdpi)
• 96×96 (2.0x) for extra-high-density (xhdpi)
• 144×144 (3.0x) for extra-extra-high-density (xxhdpi)
• 192×192 (4.0x) for extra-extra-extra-high-density (xxxhdpi)

app development

Using default icons

iOS and Android provide access to a small number of system icons. These built-in icons are available for common tasks and types of content. Every system-provided image has a specific, well-known meaning. To avoid confusing users, it’s essential that these system icons are used in accordance with its meaning and recommended usage.

iOS

standard app icons when building a mobile app

Android

Android standard app icons app development

Layout Construction

iOS

Auto Layout is a development tool for constructing adaptive interfaces. Using Auto Layout, we can define rules (known as constraints) that govern the content in an app. For example, we can constrain a button so it’s always horizontally centered and positioned eight points below an image, regardless of the available screen space.

Auto Layout automatically re-adjusts layouts according to the constraints we specify for certain environmental variations, known as traits. We can code an app to dynamically adapt to a wide range of traits.

auto layout use when building a mobile app

Android

Android provides an XML vocabulary for ViewGroup and View classes, which means that most of the user interface of an Android app is defined in XML files. The Android Studio’s Layout Editor is used to assist in the creation of the user interface; it writes the XML as the programmer drags and drops views to build out an app layout.  Fine adjustments can then be made within the XML if required.

building an Android mobile app interface

Code Manipulation of the user interface

iOS

The Interface Builder editor within Xcode makes it relatively simple to design a full user interface without writing any code. Simply drag and drop windows, buttons, text fields, and other objects onto the design canvas creates a functioning user interface.

We can independently design interfaces, separate from their implementations. User interfaces are actually archived Cocoa or Cocoa Touch objects (saved as .nib files), and iOS will dynamically create the connection between UI and code when the app is run.  It also assist developers to re-use common design elements.

Android

The Layout Editor enables us to quickly build layouts by dragging UI elements into a visual design editor instead of writing layout XML by hand. The design editor can preview a layout on different Android devices and versions, and we can dynamically resize the layout to be sure it works well on different screen sizes.

Supporting Libraries

We can develop custom screen designs without using third-party libraries, but certain libraries are very beneficial for efficiently building highly customised designs.

For both iOS and Android there are numerous libraries we can use for custom components like alert, popup, chat and animation.

iOS examples:
• LoadingShimmer
• ViewAnimator
• AnimatedCollectionViewLayout

Android examples:
• GarlandView
• InfiniteCards
• SparkButton

Testing

Once we have completed the build of an app – that’s implementing both the design and the required functionality – then it is imperative that we undertake thorough testing.  As a developer, I will thoroughly test my app, but it is also important that an end user tests it as well, as they are likely to uncover issues that I have considered.

Mobile application testing is very different from software testing and website testing. We need to consider the following before performing mobile application testing:

  • Screen resolution (different screen sizes in both iOS and Android)
  • Screen orientation (landscape, portrait)
  • Different devices’ manufacturers (only for Android phones)
  • Different operating system versions in both iOS and Android can have an impact
  • Changing a system settings like font size, themes and dark mode
  • Turning on/off GPS and incoming calls

This article provides a simple overview of what’s involved in building a design into a functioning mobile app. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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10 Pinterest Marketing Tactics for businesses in 2022

March 14th, 2022 by Heather Maloney

Pinterest – what is it, and how does it work?

Are you a planning a major life event? Or seeking some inspiration to redo your home?  If so, then you’re probably using Pinterest.

Pinterest marketing strategy and 10 pinterest marketing tactics

Pinterest users (aka ‘pinners’) generally create their own boards dedicated to a theme, and then pin images to that board.  Mostly their pins are images that they have found while browsing through other people’s public boards, collecting an ever growing set of ideas and inspiration over time.  You can make your boards private or public, and you can also upload images.

When you type something in the Pinterest search bar, you are presented with an array of aesthetic and inspirational content.  90% of Pinterest users, use the platform to constantly explore, discover new ideas and seek inspiration before making their next purchase.

Pinterest is a visual search engine, providing sophisticated technology which allows users to perform a visual search in order to find similar images to the one they are currently viewing.

Even if you don’t specifically carry out a visual search, Pinterest takes queues from what you have ‘pinned’ (i.e. added to your topic boards) to present similar images and categories to you, to keep you browsing.

Pinterest will also send you regular emails, recommending new boards and pins for you, which match your browsing history.

Who is using Pinterest?

As at February 2022, Pinterest had over 431 million users using the platform every month – this number is around 6% down from the previous year, but is still more than the total population of the USA.

The platform has a slight female skew with approximately 60% of users being female, however, male users have increased as a percentage of the total in the last year, and Gen Z users are also on the increase.

How to best use Pinterest for Marketing Purposes?

Pinterest provides a great opportunity for businesses with highly visual products and services. In fact, 55% of users are specifically on the platform to find photos of new products, underscoring the importance of creating and sharing decorative and artistic content on the platform.

A well-curated Pinterest presence for your business will give it exposure to many new potential customers. Pinterest claims to be the only social platform where ads are additive i.e. people find what they love and it enhances their lives rather than interrupting them.

Pinterest, like other social platforms, also gives you the opportunity to advertise to a highly targeted audience.

Pinterest Marketing involves using tactics that insert Pinterest into your overall social media marketing strategy to tap into new audiences and increases the brand awareness of your products and services.

Distribute your Content

The #1 way to distribute your content on Pinterest is through Pinterest boards. You can have countless boards organised by themes, ideas, plans, or types of inspiration to make it easy for your audience to find the content they’re interested in.

If you find content from other pinners aligning with your own, you can invite them to contribute to your board – making your board a “group board”. Conversely, you can also search for prominent pinners in your niche and try joining group boards relevant to your industry. Once your request to join is accepted, you can alternate between posting organic content and sponsored content (product pins or promoted pins).

Pinterest digital marketing

Educate your Customers

Pinterest’s value proposition lies in the fact that it has abundant tutorials, infographics, how-tos, and links to additional educational content.

It is a powerful way to educate and engage your customers, all the while making it easy for them to remember you and share your product images with others.

Drive traffic to your website

Unlike Instagram, Pinterest allows you link through to other websites, making it possible for you to share both written and visual content and direct users to your website. This has encouraged many brands to start using Pinterest to showcase their best or newest range of products, that lead a customer to visit the brand’s website to find out more about the product – potentially boosting online sales.

Advertise on Pinterest - online ads

Record stronger performance on the metrics that matter to you

Pinterest offers a 2.3x more efficient cost per conversion and a 2x higher return on ad spend (ROAS) for retail brands, compared to other social media platforms. This has made it an enticing proposition for brands in many industries.

10 Pinterest Marketing Tactics

Pinterest marketing can provide value for businesses of any size, in any industry. This universal approach to marketing is one reason Pinterest is such a valuable social media tool.

1. Create pins in most popular categories and sub-categories.

Pinterest organizes similar topics and interests by category. Its algorithm is designed to create specific categories based on popular topics that people are searching for on the platform. For example, if you were looking for some creative gift ideas for Valentine’s Day, you can search for pins in that category and even place an order from a local brand.

The Pinterest categories are broken down into sub-categories (also called Pinterest interests) as there are billions of pins currently on the platform. For example, the ‘home décor’ category has sub-categories like room décor, home accessories, living room, kitchen, bathroom and so on. Knowledge of what categories are popular on Pinterest will you a better idea of what boards will work for your business.

2. Use unique images and videos.

It’s clear that Pinterest is a visual platform. Images are the cornerstone of any pin you share and, as such, should be used to tell a good story and make people want to learn more. Your content should help promote your brand, while standing out from others on the platform. Giving people a reason to stay followed to you should lie at the heart of your Pinterest strategy.

  • 82% of users browse Pinterest on mobile. Use high-quality, vertical images that will stand out in people’s feeds. If you opt for a video, shoot your videos for a 2:3 aspect ratio to avoid ending up with poorly cropped images.
  • Create and share branded videos to promote your products. 75% of Pinterest users say they’re likely to watch branded videos about topics that interest them.
  • Share images and videos that showcase your products in action (like how-to videos) so viewers can more easily imagine themselves using them.
  • Consider including SEO-optimised headlines and pin descriptions in your pin that reinforce your visual message and encourage users to click through to your website.
  • Avoid using too much blank/white space in your images — images with 30% less blank space in the background are pinned most.
  • Create videos between 30-90 seconds long as this video length provides the highest performance.

3. Try different Pin Formats

Pinterest offers advertisers different formats, both organic and paid, to reach customers. Pins can either be regular organic or full-fledged Pinterest ads.

  • Static Pins. These pins only feature one image. It is recommended to include a compelling description up to 500 characters in these pins to help get your pin in front of the right audience.
  • Standard width video Pins. These pins are videos that are the same size as a regular Pin. The video length ranges from a minimum of 4 seconds to a maximum of 15 minutes. You can include a title up to 100 characters and a description up to 500 characters. It is worth noting some pinners watch video with the sound off, and so you should use text overlay or captions to help tell your story.
  • Carousel Pins. These pins feature multiple images for people to swipe through. You can have 2-5 images per carousel, with the same character requirements as standard width video pins.
  • Collections Pins. These pins appear as one main image (the hero creative) above three smaller images (secondary creative), in feeds on mobile devices. Every collection pin must have 1 hero creative, and secondary creatives ranging from a minimum of 3 to a maximum of 24, with same video length and character requirements as standard width video pins.

4. Feature your blog post

Pinterest allows you to post Articles Pins through which you can promote your blog post and direct Pinterest users to your website. These pins come with a larger title with your brand’s logo, a description, and a call-to-action at the bottom with a direct link to your original site.

5. Add hashtags to your content.

Hashtags are a great way to organically reach your target audience. They help users identify pins and boards about a specific topic they’re searching.

Like other social media platforms, when you click on a specific hashtag, you can view all content ever posted on the platform tagged with that specific hashtag.

6. Carefully plan your boards

Since 97% of Pinterest searches are unbranded, your Pinterest board can help your audience learn more about the topics they’re passionate about. Through your board, you must communicate a strong understanding of what your audience values and supports. Brands will reap significant dividends from skilfully mixing useful, engaging, and inspiring content boards with boards that are more promotional.

7. Use SEO for Pinterest

You need a comprehensive SEO strategy centred around keyword research to ensure that your pins end up in front of your audience. We assist our clients to find popular keywords related to your business and your pins, and incorporate these within pins.

Once you have decided upon the keywords you wish to target, they should be used consistently throughout your Pinterest profile, posts, pins, and boards, making your pins more likely to organically appear in users’ feeds and searches.

8. Share your content via email and social networks

Sharing your Pinterest images and videos to other social networks improves your chances of being seen and followed. You can claim or link your Pinterest account with your Instagram, Etsy, YouTube, Facebook, and Google accounts so your followers can easily learn about the other platforms you’re on and how they can view more of your content.

We also recommend that you include a few of your latest pins in your newsletter, encouraging your subscribers to check out your Pinterest account.

9. Follow, engage, and interact with other accounts.

When you follow and interact with other Pinterest users and their accounts, you are showing that you care. Its considered best practice to directly address questions and respond to all comments posted by your followers. Try using their names in your response to make it sound like its coming from a human; not a company that is only concerned about profits. These small gestures will increase your word-of-mouth and encourage others to follow you as well.

10. Analyse your results

A Pinterest marketing strategy is never complete without detailed analytics. If you have a Pinterest Business account, you can use Pinterest Analytics to track, measure, and analyse key Pinterest metrics and audience behavior and gauge what content performs best and what content is a little less engaging.

Pinterest Analytics also provides you with additional audience insights such as gender, location, devices, and interests.

Case Study: Gayafores Australia

Contactpoint recently assisted our client, Gayafores Australia – manufacturer of high quality, Spanish porcelain floor and wall tiles, to utilise Pinterest. Pinterest is a great platform for Gayafores, given that the brand is all about aesthetically beautiful, and high quality, porcelain tiles.  Gayafores tiles effortlessly interpret the latest home-design trends to create timelessly beautiful looks, using high-performance tiles.

Gayafores Pinterest digital marketing melbourne

Using the right categories and creative assets, we were able to deliver stellar performance on Pinterest.

Gayafores pinterest marketing case study

During the campaign, data from the interactions enabled us to determine what type of content was performing and alter focus to capitalise on the areas of highest engagement.

Looking to start on Pinterest?

Pinterest is a powerful marketing tool that allows you to organically improve your reach and brand awareness while creating long-lasting relationships with your customers.

Need help with Pinterest Marketing? Contact the Pinterest Marketing Experts at Contactpoint.

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An Update on React Native – the cross platform app Javascript framework of choice

February 25th, 2022 by Ishan Geeganage

What is React Native?

React Native is a popular JavaScript-based mobile app framework that allows an app developer to build a natively rendered mobile app for iOS and Android.  The framework lets us create an application for various platforms (Apple, Android and more) by using the same codebase.  This reduces the cost of development for our clients, because we don’t need to build to same app twice; once for iOS and once for Android.

In early 2015, Facebook first launched React Native, a framework for building native apps using the React Javascript library.  Since its initial release it has become one of the most popular solutions used for mobile app development.  React Native is used to power some of the world’s most used mobile apps, including the mobile apps for Facebook, Instagram, Shopify and Skype.

What’s in the latest version of React Native?

React Native is aiming to provide more frequent releases of new features and fixes, and engaging more regularly with the developer community.  Upcoming product releases will focus on fixes and as well as improvements.

The latest version of React Native is 0.67.  Below are some notable changes and fixes provided in this latest version:

  • Removed DatePickerAndroid – the component to interact with the selection of date and time is now the same for both Android and iOS.
  • Various 3rd party components used by React Native have been updated, including Kotlin, Gradle.
  • Various issues that were present in the previous version of React Native have been corrected, including bug fixes for animations in specific scenarios, as well as:
    • Android specific fixes: alignment of screen elements along the baseline, scrolling to a particular screen element checks the current position before scrolling, ability to trigger an event when a number pad button is pressed, text input field selection and an issue selecting the last item in a list, and much more.
    • iOS specific fixes including corrections to the behaviour of scrolling to a particular screen location, correcting the movement of the cursor for multi-line text boxes, handling all font family names, and more.
  • Added new features:
    • Android specific: ACCESS_MEDIA_LOCATION permission now available, meaning that an app can be given access to media files on the local mobile device, support for Android 11 which includes a new Locale API, and more features which are specific to the development environment.
    • iOS specific: ability to change the colour of a cancel button, additional control over progress bars, and more features for specific 3rd party software.
  • Removed unnecessary files and global variables.

Why is it important to maintain your React Native app?

Upgrading React Native to its latest version improves performance and security of your apps, as well as ensuring that your app supports the latest changes in the operating systems running of your customer’s Apple and Android devices.

The JavaScript ecosystem is particularly interesting in this aspect as it changes very quickly.  If your app is not kept up to date on a regular basis, it is likely that your app codebase will end up being so far behind that upgrading it will become much more difficult, time-consuming and therefore costly.

How to improve the performance of a React Native app?

To ensure that your React Native app performs well, performance requires careful attention.  Performance is one of the main reasons why we sometimes recommend that our client’s build their apps natively rather than using cross platform languages such as React Native.

One of the changes in the latest release of React Native is the removal of the Android specific component for allowing a user to choose date and time, in favour of utilising the same component for both iOS and Android.  While this may be annoying from the viewpoint of app functionality, it will help the performance of the app by reducing the size of the codebase.

During development of a React Native app, we ensure that we focus on the following to help deliver a high performing app:

  • Provide appropriate navigation strategies – code re-use and minification are important here, as well as usability.
  • Avoid rendering overhead and unnecessary renders – rendering is where the screen is “re-drawn” to refresh information shown to the user.
  • Avoid use of ScrollView to render huge lists. There are several ways to display items within scrollable lists in React Native; two of the most common ways are use ScrollView and FlatList components.  When implementing very long lists (or lists that might grow to be very long), is better to paginate, splitting up the call for information to manageable smaller collection of information and using the FlatList method.
  • Scale and resize images.  The following improvements can be applied to optimize images in a React Native app:
    • Using PNG format instead of JPG.
    • Using smaller-resolution images.
    • Using WEBP format for images – this can help reduce the images’ binary size on iOS and Android by nearly a third of the original size.
  • Cache images – using cache speeds up the display of images that are already in the device local cache.
  • Avoid arrow functions. Arrow functions reduce the number of lines of code required to achieve a particular app behaviour, but slows performance of the app.  This is a bit technical, but to explain further, the arrow function causes each render to generate a new instance of that particular function.  React Native needs to reconcile the function instances, finds a difference due to the use of the Arrow method, and therefore cannot re-use old references.
  • Avoid passing inline functions as properties. Similar to the above, while this coding style achieves the required functionality, it does so at the expense of app performance.
  • Use style references correctly. Similar to the problem caused by arrow functions, when we use object or arrays for styling, React creates new instances with each new render.  Instead we use a Style Sheet in React Native, which always passes a reference instead of a new object or array.
  • Remove console statements – console statements are used to help us test the application during development. These are removed prior to publishing the app; even though they are unseen by the end user, if left in place they impact upon the speed of the app.

The above strategies are also applied during maintenance of our client’s apps.

If your mobile app is built in React Native, and hasn’t been updated recently, we strongly recommend that you take corrective action as soon as possible.

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What’s new in the world of Vue?

February 14th, 2022 by Jimmy Bui

web application development using VueJS

First, what is Vue?

Vue is a JavaScript framework for building user interfaces. It builds on top of standard HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and provides a declarative and component-based programming model that helps you efficiently develop user interfaces, be it simple or complex. Vue has big and strong community to support with many good plugins.  Contactpoint often chooses VueJS to develop our client’s web and desktop applications, to facilitate fast development of modern user interfaces.

By way of summary, Vue has the following characteristics:

Progressive Framework

Vue is a framework and ecosystem that provides tools to create most of the common features needed in development of user interfaces. However, the web is extremely diverse – the applications we build for the web may vary drastically in form and scale. With that in mind, Vue is designed to be flexible and incrementally adoptable. Vue can be used in different ways, for different scenarios, including:

  • Enhancing static HTML without requiring the HTML to be compiled – this allows a modern user interface component to be added into a pre-existing website.
  • Embedding as Web Components on any page. Again, this makes it possible to add a new component, with a modern UI design, into an existing website or application.
  • Single-Page Application (SPA) – the name given to an application which has only one “page” (i.e. one address) but presents a completely different set of screen elements depending on the way the user interacts with the application.
  • Fullstack / Server-Side-Rendering (SSR). Fullstack refers to an application which is split into layers due to complexity and ensuring maintenance and performance.  Those layers include user interface (aka ‘frontend’), API layer through which the frontend sends or requests information, Server layer where the core logic resides and draws on data within a database or other data store.  SSR refers to rendering the Vue component with data fetched into static html – this is important for SEO of pages using Vue because it ensures that the data within a page is visible to the search engines.
  • JAMStack / Static-Site-Generation (SSG). A pre-rendered, self-contained application, which with Vue can include sophisticated user interface components.
  • An application for a desktop device, mobile, WebGL or even a terminal device.

In summary, there are many ways that Vue can be used!

Single-File Components (SFC)

SFC is a defining feature of Vue, and the recommended way to author Vue components.

SFC allows us to define the HTML/CSS and Javascript (JS) of a component, all within a single .vue file.

A single-file component is composed of three parts:

  • The <template> section which contains the component’s markup in plain HTML.
  • The <script> section which contains all the JS logic within that component.
  • The <style> section which contains all the component styles. Alternatively, it can make use of an external css file, which we will often lean towards for code re-use.

Your application can then access all the properties of the SFC via an instance of the component, which contains the data, methods, computed properties, lifecycle hooks, etc.

An example of the SFC is shown in the screen grab below:

Performance

Vue is designed to be performant for most common use cases without much need for manual optimisations.  However, there are always challenging scenarios where extra fine-tuning is needed.  In which case, Vue enables the developer to override and adjust a particular component to meet the specific needs of the application.

New Features in Vue 3

Vue is undergoing constant improvement, which ensures that the framework keeps pace with the latest trends in user interface development, and hardware / operating system updates.

The new features of Vue 3 are also heavily targeted towards improving the ability of developers to create easy to maintain applications, and achieve high performance applications.

The most recently added features include:

  • Async Components: in large applications, we may need to split the app into many smaller components and only load a component from the server when it’s needed. To make that possible, Vue 3 has a defineAsyncComponent function which is similar to lazy loading to improve the performance of your application.
  • SSR rendering: the speed of server side render has been improved considerably compared to Vue 2. SSR can be very important from a search engine optimisation point of view, as well as performance of the application.
  • Composition API: The Composition API new in Vue 3 makes it easier to extract repeatable parts of the code along with its functionality. The Composition API focuses on the Javascript (logic) side of application code and combining the logic of related code together, which is more conducive to code maintenance.
  • Portals: a new feature which allows the application to render a component, or part of a component faster, in a different place in the DOM (document object model) tree.
  • Fragments: Vue 3 supports multiple root node components in a template without any issues using the new Fragments API, which is easy to maintain the code, without using unnecessary wrappers.
  • Multiple v-models: This change provides a directive to achieve two-way binding on a component, which is a shortcut to passing in values and listening for an input event.
  • More advanced components: there are more complex and good components with full support from Vue 3 community.

Contactpoint has built numerous sophisticated applications using Vue.

If you are considering the creation of a desktop or web application, the use of Vue JS may be the appropriate technology to use.  Feel free to get in touch with Contactpoint to discuss your application requirements.

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Spot the Odd One Out & User Interface Design

January 30th, 2022 by Heather Maloney

Do you remember playing the game “Spot the Odd One Out” when you were a kid? I used to love that game (yep, there’s a reason I ended up working in information technology) and it turns out that this is an important skill when working on user interface design for software and mobile apps.

As websites and web applications grow over time to fit in new information / functionality, our clients can be tempted to say something along the lines of “just add new function / information x into the menu / screen y”. The fact that they needed to say “just” is a strong indicator that it doesn’t actually fit there … they are introducing “the odd one out”.  It’s at this point that the rot is setting in! What started out as a well thought through information architecture has just been muddied. One quick decision, or many little decisions like this over time, will lead to a confusing user experience.

But how to explain the Macca’s kiosk app, and the location of the Decaf option?

One of the outcomes of the pandemic has been the expanded installation of kiosk machines at the front door of MacDonalds, which patrons are encouraged to use to place their order rather than walking up to the counter and telling the assistant what they want.  [I hope they disinfect the screens regularly.]

Have you ever tried to order a decaf? [Okay, I know that particularly if you are in Melbourne you are saying in your head “What??!! – decaf? Of course not!” but go with me on this, some people do actually drink decaf even in Melbourne.  In my case, caffeine just interrupts my sleep.  Sometimes I like a hot milky drink, and don’t want to load up with sugar (i.e. hot chocolate) so a decaf is great.

These are the steps to order a decaf via the Maccas kiosk machine:

  1. Press the Start Order button.
  2. Choose McCafe Drinks.
  3. From the McCafe Drinks menu, choose from:
    1. Cappucccino McCafe
    2. Latte McCafe
    3. Flat White McCafe
    4. Long Black McCafe
    5. Mocha McCafe
    6. Hot Chocolate McCafe
    7. Espresso McCafe
    8. Macchiato McCafe
    9. Piccolo Latte
    10. McCafe Deluxe Iced Coffee
    11. Iced Chai Latte McCafe
    12. Iced Mocha McCafe … (there are more options)
      I want a Decaf Flat White, so I choose #3.
  4. Choose your type of milk.
  5. Click Customise (on the assumption that you actually noticed that button, and didn’t end up on the order summary screen before it was too late).
  6. The top of the customise screen allows you to choose how many espresso shots are in your coffee.  Then underneath that is a list of additional ingredients.  This list starts with sugar packet, chocolate powder and Splenda.  You have to scroll down past the bottom of the screen to finally arrive at Decaf.  Press the up arrow for the number of shots to choose Decaf.
  7. Press the Save Changes button at the bottom of the screen.
  8. You are then presented with the “May we suggest…” set of options i.e. would you like fries with your order.  Press ‘Not Today’.
  9. You are then presented with Your Order.  Press Complete Order.  (There are sub options on this page for donating to a charity).
  10. You are then presented with the payment options screen, in which you have to choose either you want to pay by card or pay at the counter.  Press the large ‘Contactless’ button.
  11. Via the PIN pad next to the kiosk make your payment.

That is a total of 11 steps.  But, if you are like me and you choose Drinks first, before realising that it doesn’t contain the coffees, and you miss seeing the ‘Customise’ option and have to find that from the order summary screen, you can add another 3 – 5 steps to the above.  Feeling charitable, add a couple more steps again.

user interface design for mobile apps

It took me about 5 trips to Maccas to figure out that you could order a decaf via the kiosks.  In prior trips, I either went without, or bailed half way through my order and went up to the counter and ordered in person even though they wanted you to use the machine instead.  Once, a staff member tried to show me how to order a decaf via the kiosk, but gave up in favour of going back behind the counter and placing my order from there.

Perhaps the reason it took me so long to figure out is because, to me, Decaf is a different drink, it’s not a customisation of a coffee, just like Peppermint Tea is a different drink, and not a customisation of black tea.  If I wanted to order a decaf, why would I ever think “oh, I’ll start by choosing a caffeinated coffee?”  The McCafe Drinks menu includes hot chocolate, so why not Decaf?  Now that I have turned my mind to the question, I think I know the answer; it’s because it is conceivable that I might want a decaf latte, or a decaf long black etc.  Maccas probably don’t sell enough decafs to worry about including a decaf version of all the different types in the main set of options, so they added it to the list of customisations instead.  So my frustration is caused by inappropriate categorisation of items, and an obscure customisation process.

I’m very computer savvy, but it takes me (even without getting a decaf) about 3 times longer to place an order through the machine than it does to place an order via the person behind the counter.  This is in part the result of the kiosk user interface being filled with upsells and question after question.  At the counter, I can place my order with one statement (“May I please have a standard, flat white, decaf, with regular milk”) answer one question about taking away, and then tap your card.  Done.

Maybe the kiosk should allow you to speak your order to the machine?  I wonder what the Macca’s store statistics are telling them about the success of their new kiosks as the primary customer interface?

The above anecdote shows why careful thought needs to be given to user interface design.  Your website’s navigation menu is a user interface, just as much as the screens of a mobile app or kiosk software.  The general public will probably put up with a less-than-ideal user interface in a Macca’s store, because they are already there and know what they are going to get, even if they are frustrated when placing their order.  But a person using your website / app might not be quite so patient with your organisation.

Good user interface design will ensure that all the most commonly used tasks are intuitive for the user to accomplish, and involve the minimum number of steps.  Buying a decaf was probably, rightly, low on the priorities of the Maccas kiosk software designers.  What do you think of the kiosks, or are you skipping them in favour of drive through (voice ordering), or another vendor altogether?

What’s the most frustrating user interface you have to use?

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Humanising the Digital Experience

November 30th, 2021 by Heather Maloney

Zoom meeting after Teams meeting, click and collect, no choice but to buy online, bots to answer your questions, layers of IVR questions to call through to the right department … they can all lead to absence of humanity in your interactions with organisations. Absence of humanity can lead to disengagement.

After many months of lockdown, people are starved of human interaction.

We are all using technology to support our organisations and businesses, in many beneficial ways. It is vital that we add to our humanity, not diminish it, in the process.

Humanising digital technology

One result of being starved of human contact is an overcompensation, whereby you attempt to be constantly connected to what is going on everywhere.

Constant Partial Attention … it’s a Thing!

How many Zoom meetings have you attended where most people are just a tile with their name (full name if you are lucky) written on it? They never ask a question – including in the chat – or show their faces. How does it make you feel?

Constant Partial Attention (CPA) is where a person is constantly scanning what’s going on, but not taking the information in at a deep level. When the term was first coined, it was attributed to a fear of missing out on something, rather than an attempt to be productive.

CPA has been accused of making people tired and unproductive; and that was before lockdowns and Zoom meetings began!

Are you accepting invites to online events because you can attend them while you cook the evening meal, or while you are getting exercise? Are you working on a document, with your email open on the other screen so that every time you hear the email notification ‘ping’ you can quickly see who the new email is from, and what it is about? Are you having lunch with a friend, but constantly looking at your phone, making sure that you respond to social posts at the same time? Is your phone (and maybe also your watch) set to notify you when you receive a new message in your Teams Chat, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google News, WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal …?

Individuals need to take responsibility for their use of technology. You can discourage constant partial attention during meetings and events that you are holding over Teams / Zoom, by employing some of the following strategies:

  1. Agenda. Have an agenda / plan for your meeting, displayed within the meeting for the duration. Refer to the agenda as you go along.
  2. Outcomes. Briefly agree on what the desired outcomes will be from your meeting, at the start. That will encourage more active participation from attendees, as they are reminded they are there to strive for an outcome and not just being kept in loop. This also helps toward an efficient meeting that aims at the goal and works towards it.
  3. Notes. If possible, make notes during the meeting which everyone can see (helpful if notes are taken by someone other than the main presenter or facilitator). Whilst you want to keep the notes very brief, it will also again help people to keep focused on the goals of the meeting.
  4. Small Groups. For a longer online gathering, punctuate it with useful breakouts into smaller groups e.g. to discuss how what you have just heard applies to you, or to work on solving one problem while others work on another, or to brainstorm a topic and then come back to the group to discuss. Make these instructions easy for the group members to re-read after they have moved into the group. These smaller groups help to engage people in doing, not just listening, and can produce some excellent results from the collective minds “in the room”. Ask a representative of each smaller group to give a summary of the group’s thoughts on return to the main room.
  5. Use Collaboration Tools. Sharing your screen to look at online data or a problem, or sharing the PDF you are discussing, helps to keep everyone “on the same page” literally! It helps to focus people into the meeting, rather than having a talk fest.
  6. Ban Lurking. If you are going to be on a video meeting, make sure everyone is showing their face. Knowing that people can see you will help ensure that everyone is present, not taking another call, reading emails, working on something else, walking out of the room, folding the washing etc.

Other ways to add some humanity back into your use of digital technology are suggested below.

Chat with a Human

You might be selling online, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be there at your customer’s side to answer their questions while they browse. Done well, this will be much less annoying than the shop assistant who sidles up to the happily browsing customer, making the customer want to leave the shop … or is that just me?

Chat bots have been around for years now, and the best of them combine automation as well as real people. The automation tries to help get the right answer quickly to the enquirer, when the humans are busy, but makes it quick and easy for humans to step in to answer questions any time of the day. We have implemented online chat within Enudge to help people get help fast. It gets used much more than by people picking up the phone or sending an email asking for help. Service businesses, not just online solutions such as Enudge, should be implementing chat support. When people are looking at your website and have a question, it is very helpful when they can chat immediately with a person in your organisation.

You do need to be organised to have the chat solution monitored by appropriate staff members. This doesn’t mean they need to sit at that screen all day, though, as you can usually set up alerts to your own most in-your-face messaging platform (Slack, Teams etc) to make sure you know about the chat request as quickly as possible.

Chat tools usually also give you the option to quickly refer customers to articles that answer their questions in more depth, or you can simply ask for a phone number so that you can call and discuss the problem right now.

We also incorporate chat tools into the mobile apps and web applications that we build for our clients. Chat tools can be configured to gather useful information about what the user was just doing before they asked for help, which will make it much easier for you to diagnose the issue and assist the customer.

Video (that doesn’t have to be Universal Studios quality)

It may make you feel uncomfortable at the thought of doing this, but scrappy, personalised video conversations to your team or your customers can make a huge impact. Video will be much more personal than a well written email. Over the pandemic, some large organisations have started sending out video addresses instead of written updates, to provide a message to their team that is much less likely to be misinterpreted.

In the last few years, video tools such as Vidyard have popped up, making it quick and easy to record a video introduction or follow up to send to sales prospects. These videos have shown to provide great cut through, because they have a much more human touch than a written follow up email.

The article “Why Should Brands Keep Making ‘Scrappy Ads’ Post-COVID” describes how the pandemic has forced fashion brands to allow the creation of much simpler ads, and the results of these low cost ads has been the same or even better than big budget productions. If your products and services are targeting a younger audience, they will likely engage more with scrappy ads.

Social influencers, also mentioned in the above article, are followed by many people because of their way of engaging and bringing people together around shared interests and values. That’s why we engage influencers to participate in real use of products, particularly to help promote consumer products.

Podcasts / Audio

Even easier to create than video, are podcasts or simply, voice recordings of the message you want to deliver. Your voice recording can be easily delivered for playback when your audience has a couple of minutes to tune in. It’s likely quicker to listen to your message than read it, and is a great replacement for requiring everyone to join into a Zoom meeting to get a one way update.

An audio message can be used in a similar way as the “scrappy video” mentioned above, to follow up on leads as a salesperson (for when you only have an email address). Of course, if you have their phone number, picking up the phone is a great way to connect also!

Creating a podcast channel, in which you regularly talk with people in your niche to add value and progress excellence in your field of expertise, can be very powerful to engage your audience. Podcasts lend themselves to storytelling about your experiences. People resonate with, and remember, stories. For more thoughts around the effectiveness of storytelling, you might like to read: storytelling in podcasting which was posted in 2020.

The Sound Cartel blog post on Ford’s Hit Podcast deeply explores the use of storytelling.

Invite Interaction, and then Engage

People want to voice their opinions (just look at every main news story these days, and that will be obvious).

You add humanity back into your use of technology, when you give people the opportunity to engage, and then respond and keep the conversation going. You might do this on your social media platforms, or in your blog comments.

It is important to be authentic. People will smell disingenuous a mile away. But if you really do care what people think, then give them lots of ways to provide that information to you, even when you can’t meet in person.

Keep the Conversation Going Offline

You may still be constrained by lockdowns or social distancing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep the conversation going by telephone or other offline means.

Sending something physical to a person might even shock them! It will certainly be memorable!

Ecommerce stores that take the time to nicely wrap, and slip in a little gift, are appreciated and remembered for much longer after the delivery. Compare that with goods that arrive poorly wrapped with a stained picking slip shoved in the box. Again, it’s the human touch that counts.

In Summary …

People are starved of real, human interaction. Help people re-engage again, with you and your team. I expect it will help your bottom line, as well as do a very nice thing for the world at large.

For more reading on this topic, I recommend:

4 Strategies for Building a Hybrid Workspace that Works – HBR article which looks at the way the physical layout of offices and use of the office, is likely to change because of our forced working from home.

Are you paying attention … really? – article from Lingford Consulting on the impact of CPA (continual partial attention) and how to combat it.

‘You can’t show empathy over email’: Business leaders turn to internal podcasts to stay connected with workforces – Digiday article on how podcasts have been embraced since the pandemic to better engage with employees.

Your Turn

Please share with everyone reading this blog by posting your comment via the ‘Leave a Reply’ form below on how you have felt the benefit of humanity being injected into the digital world. I promise I will respond!

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Technology updates for mobile apps

June 25th, 2021 by Ishan Geeganage

The iOS operating system for Apple devices, and the Android operating system for Samsung and many other brands of mobile devices, are constantly being updated to provide tools to allow developers to implement new features supported by new hardware, and to improve the performance and security of apps on iTunes and the Google Play store.

This article provides an overview of some recent enhancements to the operating systems and developer environments, which will flow through to app features and opportunities for your future mobile apps.

Wearables

Both Apple and Google have recently enhanced the libraries and opportunities available for developers to provide richer experiences on wearables, such as the Galaxy watch and the Apple iWatch. This is in response to the increase in proliferation of wearables (watches, rings, fitbits etc) and the internet of things, whereby devices such as TVs, motor vehicles, gas meters, watering systems and the like are internet enabled.

Now 3rd party apps are able to add tiles to the watches bringing to the front of the user experience information from your app, where that was previously only available to proprietary apps. In addition, 3rd party apps have more access to notifications, including the ability to break through “do not disturb” features. However, we need to bear in mind that, particularly in the case of Apple, the review process is very stringent and Apple will be guarding the use of these features very carefully to ensure that they are only used in the most appropriate circumstances.

App Store Promotion

Apple, which lags behind Android with regard to the ease with which apps can be promoted, have announced that they are improving the Apple Store Connect to allow app owners to test images used within the app store, to select those that attract the most downloads, and promote events related to their apps also from within the app store.

Apple are now supporting promotion codes to be used by app purchasers in order for app owners to run promotions to provide a discount or free app usage for a period of time. However, Apple and Google continue to have differences in the way promotions run (Google being more flexible) which ultimately constrains the marketing of apps particularly when you want to be “fair” to all segments of the market. Google Play Store’s promotion code and discount functionality offers more flexibility than iTunes, and in fact Apple will no longer allow you to build in your own promotion code facility, even when all payment for the app is taking place via the Apple payment system.

Apple do like to promote their own ecosystem at the expense of others – not surprising really! Another example of this is if you allow users to sign in to your app using a 3rd party authentication mechanism such as a Google account or Facebook account, you must also allow them to use their Apple ID to login. This means that you require custom code in your cross platform app to remove the Apple ID login for Android users, and you need to support Apple ID login even if you aren’t expecting many users to want to login this way.

Google are also planning improvements to the Google Play Store with regard to promoting apps for wearables, and making it easier for people with wearables to install apps on their watch or other devices.

Privacy

Both Apple and Google are focusing on enforcing privacy for users of apps. We discuss the privacy changes on the Apple platform in another blog post about the launch of iOS version 14.5. Google’s Android version 12 (still in beta) is also giving privacy a boost in what it calls “Private by Design”. A few of the changes include Bluetooth scanning for nearby devices no longer requiring location services to be switched on, and where location services are required, allowing the user to only report an “approximate location”. In addition, users will be able to permit an app to take an action “this time only” instead of for all time.

Concurrency Supported Natively

Apple have released an updated version of Swift – the language in which developers now build iOS Apps – which allows concurrency (the app executing more than one command simultaneously) within the language. This is a big win for future app performance, for example, depending on your app concurrency could allow the user interface to continue to present new information to the user, while their previously submitted information is being processed. Kotlin – the language of choice for native Android development – has supported concurrency and threading for some time.

Compiling iOS Apps in the Cloud

Another important step forward in the iOS app development ecosystem is the announcement of XCode Cloud. Whilst still in beta, Xcode Cloud will facilitate continuous integration and continuous delivery for building apps and automatically send notifications to testers. This will be possible when XCode Cloud is used in conjunction with a git source code repository. It will also allow developers to compile the app in the cloud, rather than taking minutes / hours to compile on the developer’s computer, effectively preventing them from doing any work while that is happening.

Both Apple and Google are improving developer tooling to help developers test parts of their application through better emulators e.g. the new CarPlay simulator for Mac, and the new virtual heart rate sensor in the Google emulator.

Better support for Augmented Reality (‘AR’)

Google announced in March an overhaul of their Google Maps functionality, including the improvement of their Live View Augmented Reality feature which allows you to point your phone at the surrounding buildings (in large cities that have been mapped) or within buildings (such as inside airports) in order to figure out where you are, and get live on screen directions pointing you to where you need to go.

Apple has recently launched the RealityKit 2 library, in order to allow the creation of high-quality, photo-realistic 3D models of real-world objects in minutes by taking photos shot on iPhone, iPad, or DSLR and transforming them into 3D models optimized for AR. Google also has made recent improvements to the app developer environment for easier implementation of AR within Android apps.

AR is clearly an area where both platforms are keen to press forward and provide richer user experiences, and not just for gaming!

Foldables

With the release of foldable mobile devices such as the Galaxy Z Fold 2, the Android development libraries have been enhanced to allow developers to customise the user interface in different ways for foldable devices, and mobile devices with larger screen sizes.

All the above changes are welcome enhancements, but many of the features rely on users updating their phone operating systems or hardware. Still it is good to keep the above improvements in mind when considering functionality for your new app, or upgrades to an existing app.

If you would like to discuss your app idea, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Google and Apple Updates Affecting Digital Marketing

April 26th, 2021 by Phil Le

Businesses – both small and large scale – have been using digital marketing channels to target and reach potential customers for a long time now, often at a much lower cost compared to traditional mediums such as TV commercials or radio advertising. However, like most technology, digital marketing channels are evolving at a rapid pace and require digital marketing tactics and strategies that keep up with the change in order to get the best results.

In this blog, we will take you through the most recent major technological changes which will have a significant impact on how you execute your digital marketing plan.

Google Ads

In February 2021, Google announced changes to keyword bidding types. Once the rollout has completed, advertisers will no longer have a choice of broad match modified (BMM) or phrase match as two alternate keyword matching strategies. Instead, BMM & phrase match will be rolled into the one “updated phrase match” bidding strategy. As the name suggests, BMM allowed advertisers to choose the words which were required for their ad to be shown to searchers, but also allows the ad to be shown where additional words were used by the searcher and some of the words were not present.

Google stated that they have removed BMM in order to save advertisers time and effort in the management of their campaigns. The diagram below from Google’s explanation of the change shows a practical example of a search for “moving services NYC to Boston” and the outcome after the change.

PPC campaign management

Google stated that the change will ensure that more relevant ads are shown, as determined by the searchers’ entered keywords, boosting both users’ experiences and advertisers’ conversion rates. The new keyword matching system is easier to use because there are less choices. However the trade-off is less control for advanced users.

If you have been using BMM and getting great results, we recommend leaving those campaigns as is, and monitoring your results – Google will apply the changes to your existing setup. On average, we are expecting a slight decline in ad impressions, clicks and costs. It will be important to keep a close eye on the outcome, and continually review your keywords because the order of words within the phrases you are bidding for will now be more important.

If you have already been using phrase match, we expect you will experience a significant boost in ad impressions, clicks, costs and perhaps conversions (people taking the desired action after clicking on your ad), because the keywords are now more flexible and reach traffic which they could not in the past. However, you should monitor your budget closely because the costs could increase substantially, reducing your expected ROI.

We are still monitoring the impact of this rollout; whilst Google’s stated intentions are simplification and improved results, ultimately they make significant revenue from their ad platform and any change is also likely aimed at strengthening their share of ad spend and revenue.

Apple iOS 14.5 update

From 26th April 2021, Apple officially released iOS 14.5 for iPhone and iPad. The operating system version prompts users to opt out of pixel tracking within apps they install on their device. Prior to this change, the user had to be aware of this possibility, and manually find the setting to stop their behaviour and data being tracked and collected by 3rd parties such as Facebook. This is the sort of tracking is very powerful and has lead to situations like Target knowing that a teenage girl was pregnant before her father was told.

It has already been noted that the vast majority of iPhone and iPad users are opting out of the tracking of their behaviour and collection of their data after updating to iOS 14.5. Facebook is very concerned about the impact on their ad platform, and have started an advertising campaign to encourage small business to push back, stating that their tests have shown that a significant number of people have opted out of tracking.

We expect that as more people opt-out of tracking on iOS devices and become aware of their privacy options, performance reporting for your ad campaigns will become negatively impacted for both app and web conversion events.

With less tracking and behaviour data being applied to your advertising campaign, it will take longer for your ad campaign to build an audience or optimise for conversion, and therefore you will likely achieve a lower return on investment particularly in the initial phase of your campaign. In addition, the size of your target audience may be reduced as more people opt out of being tracked (and therefore won’t be served your targeted ads).

For Facebook advertising, even if iPhone and iPad users do opt in, event data is being limited to a maximum of nine campaigns (and five ad sets per campaign) for every Facebook account.

As an alternative to relying on the Facebook pixel, it is possible to implement the Facebook Conversion API to track user behaviour on the app server or web server (server-side) but implementation costs will be much higher and will likely deter small businesses wanting to test the usefulness of Facebook ads via a relatively low cost campaign.

According to Facebook, Apple are keen for you to invest in their ad platform instead, however their platform obviously limits your campaigns to Apple users.

Google Algorithm update – Search Engine Optimisation

If implemented well, Search Engine Optimisation (‘SEO‘) is one of the most cost-effective digital marketing tactics you can implement, yet it is the most complicated tactic to comprehend and execute successfully.

The main reason for this is Google (by far the most popular search engine, at least in Western nations) does not make known the finer details of their search algorithm. It requires trial and error to determine how to best setup your website to rank well for popular search terms, and the methods change all the time.

Google does not divulge the details about their algorithm, because they are trying to serve the needs of the searcher, and don’t want to empower businesses to outsmart their algorithm, and rank higher than another more deserving website. Instead, they give pointers and guidelines that are aimed at providing the best user experience for consumers of web information, and they are also constantly adjusting the algorithm to achieve better outcomes. Some people suggest that Google is also motivated to make SEO difficult because they would like to push more website owners over to using their Google Ads platform to deliver additional traffic, thus generating additional income for Google.

One of the factors in ranking well in Google’s search results is web page experience, which encompasses many factors including mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, etc. Six months ago, Google announced that from May 2021, Core Web Vital Metrics (a range of metrics covering page load speed, interactivity and visual stability) would become more significant factors in the ranking of websites. If your website is poorly designed or taking too long to load, your website’s ranks will be adversely impacted.

The purpose of Google’s major algorithm update is to provide to searchers the most relevant websites with the best design and user experience. If your website is not ranking well in Google, even when you are providing valuable content to potential visitors, it is likely that core web vitals or user experience issues are causing your website to score poorly against Google’s algorithm.

Over the last 6 months our digital marketing team has been focusing on core web vitals for our clients websites for whom we provide SEO services. However, we will be carefully assessing the impact of the change which is still being rolled out by Google.

If you have concerns about any of the changes described above, please don’t hesitate to reach out and have a chat. We’d be delighted to assist with all your digital marketing requirements.

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Custom Technology or Packaged Solution – which path should I take?

March 14th, 2021 by Heather Maloney

Contactpoint has always operated in the custom technology space, helping our clients with ideas for unique technology solutions to marketplace challenges, to make those ideas a reality. We are currently in the middle of building some significant pieces of custom tech, and we have just finished the complete re-build of a custom solution for Deaths and Funerals (we built the previous version of the solution many years ago, and the requirements had changed significantly).

However, not all of our work involves custom technology, and as much as possible we utilise pre-existing, proven technology and components to reduce the cost of custom development and ongoing maintenance. In addition, we are currently assisting several long term clients to move away from their own custom technology which we built for them, over to a packaged (aka ‘off-the-shelf’ solution). At the time when we built their original solution, that was the right option.

We recently discarded a custom technology that we had built for ourselves over many years in favour of a packaged solution – that technology is our project management software. On the other hand, we continue to support and enhance another custom technology solutionEnudge – which we built to service a very particular need in the marketplace, and of course we continue to use it for ourselves. You are probably reading this blog because we emailed you about it using Enudge.

All of the above begs the question: when should a business choose to develop a custom technology solution, and when should they choose a packaged solution?

To answer that question, I will take you through the advantages and disadvantages of custom technology.

Advantages of Custom Technology

Own the space
Creating your own custom technology, if successful, can allow you to be the dominant player in a particular market; that’s what I mean by owning the space. Your solution is unique to the particular problem you are solving, allowing you to do it better than your competitors, and therefore to stand out from your competitors. If you are using a packaged solution purpose built for your industry, then it will not be a factor in your market differentiation … you will have to look elsewhere for uniqueness.

Innovate
Most likely you will choose to build a custom solution because there’s nothing on the market that does exactly what you want – you want to innovate compared to what is already available because you have worked out a way to do it better, to achieve better business outcomes and better results for your customers.

Having control of the solution you are using gives you the opportunity to continue to innovate. Many of the packaged solutions that are available for your purchase were originally developed by a business who wanted to operate better, and then they realised that the solution they had made had widespread appeal for other businesses, so they pivoted (or spun off) into a software company instead of their original business.

Competitive Advantage
Innovating / improving the standard way things are done can give you a competitive advantage. Perhaps you can operate cheaper than your competitors, allowing you to perform the same service for a lower cost, and still achieve the same level of profit, or you can achieve a better / quicker result at the same price.

Where most businesses in a particular industry are using the same processes and technology solutions, then you can’t gain a competitive advantage from your technology.

A warning though: when your uniqueness in the marketplace is largely delivered through your software solution, you need to keep on your toes as many software solutions which just involve what is known in the industry as CRUD operations (create, read, update and delete) are relatively easy for a competitor to copy. In this situation, continually innovating will be essential to keep you ahead of your competitors.

Packaged solutions also continue to innovate, but every business using that solution will gain access to the same innovation at the same time. You might have the opportunity to pitch an innovation to the packaged software vendor, but they will have a very long list of planned features – whether your suggestion is ever implemented will be unknown. And if they do, all your competitors using the solution receive the advantage as well.

Agility in the Marketplace
The economic and legislative landscape in which you operate will change over time. Customer behaviour will change with fads and trends. If you control your technology, and if you have the funds, you can be the first to take advantage of a new opportunity that arises as the result of a new trend.

Reliability into the future
Finally, and something I expect businesses are thinking less and less about that the moment because of the largescale move to cloud technologies which force you to rely on the big tech companies, owning the technology, and having control over it’s future, gives you certainty for the future operation of your organisation.

I don’t expect the big tech companies to disappear anytime soon. However, what about the packaged solution you are using for, say, your project management. What would be the business impact of your organisation if that company decided to sell or close down? This is a factor you need to consider when choosing a packaged solution and is largely resolved by building your own.

Disadvantages of Custom Technology

Expense
There’s no getting around it; building your own software, even if you hired a teams of designers and developers directly, will cost considerably more than buying a packaged solution.

Nearly all software runs on hardware and/or platforms that are built and managed by other businesses. That means that your custom-built software solution will need to be continually maintained in order to ensure it will run on newer hardware and will continue to operate correctly when the platform is updated including web browsers (where your software is run through a browser).

When you are the only organisation using your software you may not be able to achieve the economy of scale that a packaged solution can. Selling the one solution to a large number of companies is a way to amortise the cost of the development and ongoing maintenance.

Organisations for whom we build custom software will often have the potential to apply their custom software to multiple businesses, or to a franchise, or are indeed intending to have a significant share of a large market.

An Ongoing Project

I’ve already touched on this under the topic of Expense, however, the other disadvantage of custom software is that you can’t just build it, and then enjoy using it. You have to be committed to the software over the long term. You have to be willing to dedicate time and effort to maintaining the solution to keep the benefits you have gained from your investment – this time and effort may be a distraction from your core business.

As a minimum, your software will need to be maintained to continue to work with new versions of the hardware and/or platforms upon which the software is running. You will need a good software partner (like us!) to continue to maintain and support your solution on an ongoing basis.

If you have moved into the business of delivering a software solution to other organisations, then you need to continue to innovate in order to stay at the top of the list of solutions. Similarly, if your technology solution is your competitive advantage, you will want to focus on ongoing improvements to keep your competitors at bay.

In conclusion …

By way of summary, the advantages are all about opportunity, and the disadvantages all relate to investment (time and money).

It is my view that you should embark on creating custom technology when both of the following are true:

  1. There is no well-supported packaged solution that fulfils all your most important requirements or complete ownership of the solution is vital for your competitive advantage, and
  2. You have the ability to fund not only the initial development but also ongoing maintenance and enhancements. This might include revenue generated from the sale of the solution if that’s part of your strategy, or it might be that your solution will reduce your costs, or enable you to expand into new markets without increasing your costs.

Where our clients are now moving away from their own custom technology to a packaged solution, it is because there is now available sufficiently robust solutions to meet their key requirements, and / or they no longer have a good enough reason to maintain their own solution. In addition their custom solution no longer provides a competitive advantage and is not their core differentiation in the marketplace. It may also be too expensive to maintain, or too distracting from their core business.

There is one other alternative that should also be considered for creating a custom technology solution: using a configurable platform, instead of building from scratch. A platform that enables you to combine components which, together with an underlying data store and workflow rules, creates your required technology. Often these platforms are low code or no-code solutions, providing drag and drop user interfaces to create the system. There are myriad models for such solutions. WordPress is a kind of this solution, whereby you can add plugins to your existing WordPress website to achieve additional functionality often without needing to write any code. Hosted form builders, including Microsoft’s Sharepoint combined with Power Automate and Power Apps, is another example applicable to organisations using Office365.

Cloud platforms such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Computing are also helping the development of custom software solutions more accessible to small business via the pre-built components they provide in their cloud platforms – we make use of these for many of our clients to reduce the cost of development of custom solutions.

Making the right choice of platform on which to build your custom technology solution, or choosing the right packaged solution, is a very important decision. Making the wrong decision can be very costly, either in opportunity and position in the marketplace or in dollar terms. If you would like to discuss your idea for custom technology, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We are invested in your success, whether that’s pointing you to a packaged solution or helping you create the technology to underpin your invention.

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The Winds of Change Howling around Big Tech

January 26th, 2021 by Heather Maloney

Big Tech – namely Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook – are increasingly under pressure due to their vast impact on our lives. The way they exercise their impact and influence is coming under pressure in many ways, including the following:

  1. Privacy concerns surrounding the sale or misuse of personal data.
  2. Monopolistic concerns, including their control over digital advertising and the digital landscape, and their control over retail.
  3. Free speech and dissemination of information, particularly with regard to the influence of social media, censorship and algorithms that fuel division rather than understanding and unity.

The above points may sound negative or alarmist, however, it is important to see that all change provides opportunity, so let’s look at each of the above and the potential opportunities they present to Australian businesses.

Privacy Concerns

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a prime example of strong pushback against the use of private data by the big tech companies. Prior to the GDPR coming in across Europe, Facebook and Google seemed unabashed in their use of data they had captured from people using their platforms to specifically tailor ads and recommend content.

The pressure they are being put under with regard to privacy, and their various breaches of privacy for which they are being sued, has made the general public more aware of concerns about privacy. This can only be a good thing, particularly for the younger generations who embraced social media and other apps in which they shared their personal information seemingly without concern for how their personal information could be used.

The outcome of the use of browsing behaviour by Facebook algorithms to continue to feed people with more and more sensational articles that agree with their perceived view, has caused greater polarisation of viewpoints between two sides of an argument, less empathy between opposing sides, and provided the opportunity for digital terrorism in the form of de-stablisation of western democratic countries by nations who stand to benefit. Interference in elections, using stolen electoral information, is of particular concern.

Opportunities:

  • Peer to peer solutions that allow individuals to benefit from the collaborative nature of cloud technology, at the same time as keeping their data away from big tech.
  • Providing alternate digital solutions that keep data firmly in Australia, away from the big tech companies. This is a strategy that we have employed for Enudge – our in-house built email and SMS marketing platform.
  • Alternate platforms for groups that wish to deliberately avoid using big tech platforms and any potential control they may have in future over their data.
  • Anti-cybercrime solutions.
  • Online voting solutions that can be relied upon!
  • Online community that brings people of different views together to develop empathy rather than division, and to take positive steps forward to improve the lives of all.

Monopolistic Concerns

As the world has become increasingly reliant on the internet to find products and answers to questions, Google in particular has gained a huge percentage of the market share of advertising budgets across the globe. Competition between advertisers has naturally driven up the cost of advertising on digital platforms. With such a monopoly, it is easy to see how Google could significantly increase it’s revenue by a small change in pricing. Advertisers may feel that they have no real alternative to be found online.

In 2019, research confirmed that out of every $100 spent on digital advertising by Australian businesses, $53 went to Google, $28 to Facebook and $19 to all other websites and ad tech. Last year, Google made $4.3bn in advertising revenue in Australia, and Facebook made $0.7bn.

With a monopoly situation, malicious actors can have a much faster and more detrimental impact on an organisation. There are many publicised cases of businesses being the recipient of fake, nasty Google Reviews – presumably by competitors – even for businesses that have not yet launched. Google isn’t always very fast in taking down even the really obvious fake reviews. The damage on businesses can be significant, and requires better responsibility to be taken by the platform to support the reputation of businesses.

Aside from professionally, and accurately, responding to all reviews, a way to reduce the impact of malicious negative reviews is to ensure that you have a large number of reviews from happy customers, so that one or two bad ones will be diluted by the good.

Even within the USA there are concerns with regard to the monopoly held by each of the 4 big tech companies. Most states of America want to see Facebook split off Whats App and Instagram to reduce their monopoly.

Multiple lawsuits have recently been commenced in the USA against Google in relation to anti-trust – basically anti-competitive behaviour, misusing it’s stronghold on search advertising and other online advertising to retain it’s stranglehold on the market share. An interesting article in Business Insider describes the impact of a similar court case against Microsoft 22 years ago, which Bill Gates has given for the reason that the Windows phone did not succeed, and he ultimately stepped down as CEO.

In 2020, Apple was forced to payout millions of dollars to iPhone customers due to slowing down older phones via software updates, without telling customers that is what their updates were going to do, which resulted in many customers purchasing newer phones.

In August 2020, litigation against Apple was commenced for antitrust violations and anti-competitive behaviour in relation to removing the game Fortnight from their app stores. Apple took this action when Epic Games launched a new version of their game app which processed payments for in-app purchases on their own platform, rather than using Apple in-app purchasing, in contravention of Apple’s terms and conditions. Epic Games has been pushing back against the 30% cut of sales that Google and Apple take from purchases made through the app stores. Apple has since announced a reduction of the commission to 20% for small businesses.

Amazon is under fire for the way it allows harmful products to be sold through it’s marketplace, and then claims that they are a mere facilitator of a sale, despite the fact that they promote the product, warehouse the product, take the order, and deliver it to the customer. Though perhaps Amazon isn’t too concerned given the significant increase in revenue they achieved on the back of the pandemic.

Opportunities:

  • Make sure that you capture information about your contacts, such as their phone number and email address, so that you can market to your audience outside of social media and Google remarketing – thus controlling your message and reducing your advertising spend.
  • Stand out by advertising in lesser known digital locations to reduce your dependence on Google, which will also reduce the monopoly of Google.
  • Keep a close watch on your Google and Facebook PPC configuration and level of spend, to ensure you are getting the best ROI.
  • Stand out by advertising your products and services is non-digital ways – consider local radio and billboards – these may also be cheaper forms of advertising right now with the reduced number of commuters on our roads.
  • Build a local, physical community around your products and services, focusing again on grass roots and communities, rather than the masses.
  • Build an application that provides an alternate to the USA hosted big tech solutions, for a niche market.
  • Ensure that the way you describe your products and services makes it clear where they are made, what they are made from, who its sales are supporting etc.

Free Speech and Accurate Reporting

Newspapers have all but been replaced by digital versions. Media organisations around the world are under continual pressure to retain their place in society, with everyone having a voice in social media, and “social influencers” having potentially more sway than the voice of soundly researched news.

The more recent censorship of Donald Trump by social media giants should send fear into the hearts of any advocate of free speech and democracy. This was perhaps a result of the July 2020 boycott of Facebook by many large advertisers as a protest against hate speech and misinformation published on the platform. The boycott by mostly very large advertisers only reduced Facebook’s revenue by around 12% for that month, and the linked article mentions that many of those who boycotted will be back at the same level of advertising after July because they are so reliant on the traffic it brings them.

Amazon is also involved in the furore, having terminated the web hosting services provided to Parler, an alternative social media platform also around the events leading up to the inauguration of Joe Biden.

The Australian government is seeking to force Google and Facebook to negotiate a fair payment with news organisations for using their content in Facebook’s newsfeed and Google’s search, rather than just benefiting from these news sources and using them as a free service. The Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020 was tabled by the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, in the last sitting week of 2020. It is hoped that the required payment from Google and Facebook for using the news, will help the media companies make up for their dramatic loss of income from the sale of ads, which has moved largely over to Google and Facebook, and sure up the ongoing provision of quality local news. France and the UK have similar changes underway. You can read more about the code that is seeking to give Australian News Media Companies a framework within which to negotiate with the tech giants via this article: Australia is making Google and Facebook pay for News – what difference will the code make?

Opportunities:

  • Niche community building tools that don’t require Facebook membership to operate.
  • Build relationships with local media and journalists to make it easier for your news to reach the world through traditional media channels.
  • A potential backlash against Google and Facebook advertising may see a return to Australians consuming more online news, and therefore more likely to see your ads within their publications.
  • Don’t be afraid to advertise in lesser known platforms – these may give you more cut through of your message, and give you access to new audiences.

A replacement internet?

As this article in the India Times states, Tim Berners-Lee (father of the internet) has expressed his distaste at how major corporations have taken what was supposed to be a free environment and placed restrictions on it. He doesn’t like how groups like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have effectively centralized the Internet, nor how they control people’s data. So he’s instead working on a new platform and startup that’s declaring war on Big Tech. The new platform is called Inrupt, and is based on people who use it controlling all their own data via a pod rather than having your data harvested and controlled by the big tech companies.

Berners-Lee is making the platform open source and isn’t looking to make money out of it. He plans to tour across the globe over the next few months, tutoring developers on how to build their own decentralized apps using Inrupt. So here’s another opportunity waiting for startups!

Where else do you see opportunity arising from the pressures being applied to big tech?

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