BlackBerry Live/Jam 2013

I’m at the BlackBerry Live Americas conference in Orlando. Why? Well primarily because of two reasons: 1) the dean asked me if I wanted to attend and is supporting my travel and 2) because I want to see how the company was going to try to regain some of its former glory.

Some answers were provided in this morning’s general session. Blackberry CEO, Thorsten Heins, started his keynote by stating that the turnaround had begun. He noted the accomplishments of getting Blackberry OS 10, the increase of the number of apps on Blackberry World, and putting together a global executive management team. What he didn’t say were, well….numbers. What is the market share? How many of the apps of the 120k they are reporting are just straight ports from Android? Those types of things were missing….and noticeably so.

What was apparent is their view of mobility. It seems that they are viewing a “mobile device” as just about anything. This is evidenced by their integration into cars. They brought out a Bentley that was totally tricked out and built on BlackBerry 10.

Another thing that stood out to me was their view of the mobile experience. The CEO stated that the mobile experience should be different from the desktop experience. This seems to be a very different position than the ones taken by Microsoft and Apple. For example, there is little difference in the user experience between different Windows 8 devices. It will be interesting to see if users will prefer a totally different experience over a similar one.

They also announced that they were extending Blackberry server to support iOS and Android devices, and opening up BBM globally. Both of these are good moves in my opinion, especially in the case of the blackberry server product as organizations struggle to deal with BYOD environments.

I’m currently sitting in the Blackberry Jam session now and they are bringing in people from SAP and Moog to tout their big corporate developer partnerships. It’s interesting to see how they are attempting to engage the developer community.

They are talking now about how their Android runtime can be used to port apps to the BB 10 platform by bringing out an executive from Songza. They used the runtime to bring their app over to Blackberry and are now developing a native app. The question in my mind is this: given the scant market share that Blackberry has, how many companies will follow Songza’s example and continue to develop a native version of the app? To me, if the market share isn’t there to justify the development of a native app, then why do it? The end result of this is a Blackberry World full of substandard apps that will translate into even less market share.

I’ll try to write more as the week progresses.

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The H-2-O Mobile Water Testing Application

I wrote a few days ago promising that I would let you know about the efforts of one of my teams competing in the Microsoft Imagine Cup.  Well, here it is in press release form (without giving away too much of the details)!

Little Rock, AR – Access to safe drinking water is a global issue.  In fact, less than 1% of the world’s water is considered safe for drinking  and 3.6 million people die each year from waterborne diseases.  The issue takes on even more importance in a disaster situation such as after Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti.  Many water sources once thought to be safe can become contaminated because of broken water lines, chemical spills, or other reasons.

Since the human body can survive much longer without food than it can without water, getting safe drinking water is one of the primary concerns of emergency responders.  A team of students from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock have created an innovative application to help emergency responders in this effort by using mobile pones to collect, analyze, and communicate water testing data so that safe water sources can be identified and resources can be allocated more effectively to those areas where the water is not safe.  The H-2-O Mobile Water Laboratory is the combination of a Windows Phone 7 smartphone, a portable microscope, a software application that resides on the mobile phone, data storage on Windows Azure Storage and SQL Azure, the cloud-based storage offerings from Microsoft.

 

The H-2-O Mobile Water Testing Lab

The H-2-O Mobile Water Testing Lab capturing an image of a sample

The H-2-O Mobile Water Testing Laboratory works by allowing emergency responders to easily collect and interpret the results of various water tests and to communicate them out to emergency responders.  For example, an emergency responder could use the application first to interpret the results of the tests of chemical properties of a water source such as Ph and nitrite levels, to identify malicious bacteria and parasites that may be present in the source through microscopic examination, and then geo-tag and communicate those results out to the response agencies so that they can get resources out to the areas where the water is unsafe.

The students chose to write a mobile application for many reasons.  One reason that mobility was chosen is because of its wide adoption.  Over 80% of the world’s population has access to cell phone coverage, and new technologies are only going to increase this number.  This means that the application has the ability to be used almost anywhere there is a disaster situation. Another reason for mobility was the capabilities that Windows Phone 7 mobile devices possess.  The students tie many of these capabilities (camera, phone, data communication, GPS, and processing) into a single platform through their innovative software design.

This isn’t just your typical contest entry.  The students are extremely serious about making an impact with this application.  They have already secured some funding in the form of a UALR Sustainability Research Grant and are applying to other funding sources to support the development of the application.  They have also worked with organizations such as Lifewater International to get technical assistance with the water testing aspects of the application and are seeking to partner with organizations that can provide better microscopic technology for the application.  Finally, they have applied for a patent on the H-2-O Mobile Water Testing Lab and formed a Limited Liability Corporation in an effort to bring this technology to market.

I wish the team much success as they compete in the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition this year!

The end of Innovation at Nokia…..really??

I have seen a number of posts on the blogosphere today stating that the newly announced Microsoft/Nokia partnership will stifle innovation at Nokia.  Some have cited the Yahoo!/Bing partnership as an example saying that Yahoo! just gave up the fight in the search engine wars.

Well, that is exactly what they did…and for good reason.  Yahoo! saw the writing on the wall and decided to focus on becoming a content provider rather than a search engine provider.  Partnering with Bing allowed them to offer a continuously evolving search engine product while focusing in on their new business strategy.

As far as Nokia is concerned.  They are a hardware company, not a software company.  They have tried to compete in the SmartPhone OS arena with Symbian, but it just wasn’t working out.  So why not partner with an established OS provider and focus in on what they do best…make phones.  The last time that I checked, there was still room for innovation when it comes to evolving the capabilities of mobile devices.  Without having to worry about making the hardware and the software, Nokia can now focus on just that.

So is today’s announcement the end of innovation at Nokia?  Probably not.  In fact, it might be its rebirth.

Great Windows Phone 7 Resource

A colleague passed this along to me today and I thought it worth sharing…

For all of you that are looking at getting into mobile development.  Charles Petzold has written an excellent text on developing for Windows Phone 7 and it is free to download from Microsoft Press.  You can download the text and code samples here.  This is a really cool eBook because you can highlight and add sticky notes in the PDF!

This resource is really good for those academics that are looking to add mobile application programming to your curricula or for Imagine Cup teams that want to leverage mobile devices as a part of their solution.  I thought that I would pass the information along!

Oh, and for those that weren’t aware, the Fall deadline for the Imagine Cup US competition is in 5 days!!  Stay tuned to see our project.  I am pretty stoked to share it with you all!!

Windows Phone 7 Competition for Imagine Cup

You may or may not have read my post on how the technology that you use can influence your chances in the Imagine Cup competition, but today that post was validated a little bit.  In the post that I am referring to, I noted that Microsoft has certain technologies that they like to have included in Imagine Cup projects.  Last year, it was Microsoft Azure.  This year, the focus has changed to Windows Phone 7.

To drive this point home, Microsoft has created an entire competition based on the mobile platform.  Information on the Windows Phone 7 competition can be found here.  Much like the Embedded Device competition, this one seems to be judged on the global stage only.  So it seems that there may be some additional opportunities to get to the World Finals for Imagine Cup for those Software Development Invitational (SDI) teams that do not win their national prize.  Provided, of course, that they developed their application on the mobile platform.

My university had a team do something like this last year.  Their application was not selected for the National Finals in the SDI competition, but they changed their concept and resubmitted to the Embedded Device competition and were selected to compete on the world stage.  So, if you are not selected for your national finals, just know this….the door has not entirely closed.  There are numerous ways to get to the World Finals in New York, you just have to be persistent and creative with your projects to take advantage of them.

Windows Phone 7 and Windows Azure: Foundations for the Next Client-Server Architecture?

I was having another conversation about my thoughts on adding Windows 7 Phone to the MIS curriculum with some friends of mine whom specialize in entrepreneurship.  When I mentioned that USA Today had reported that mobile business applications will be the #1 type of software being developed by 2010, they seemed skeptical.  “They don’t have the processing power required to run meaningful business apps,” was the comment that I received.  That caused me to really think.  Is the mobile device the next paradigm shift in computing?  I mean, these guys are very intelligent, they understand new innovations, and they are far from being Luddites.

I was feeling a little less secure in my convictions when, in the midst of a conversation with another faculty member on Imagine Cup projects we are involved with, the answer became evident.  It was all reminiscent of the shift to client-server computing from mainframe computing.  Clients had no where near the processing power of a mainframe, but they had some processing power and could connect to more powerful servers when they needed more resources for processing or storage.  In other words, mobile devices didn’t need to be powerful enough to run meaningful business apps, they just needed to be able to connect to something that could.  That something, in my mind, is Windows Azure.

In my opinion, Windows Phone  7 + Windows Azure  applications may be indicative of not just a shift to mobility, but rather a shift to the next generation client-server architecture.  Windows Azure can provide an powerful, scalable platform for the parts of mobile business applications that need to do the heavy lifting, and the mobile apps can provide the processing that is needed to localize and personalize the application or to locally manipulate whatever data have been retrieved from the cloud.  Windows Azure also, via SQL Azure,  provides tremendous storage capacity and analysis services not currently available in mobile devices.

The really funny part of all this is that my students are already doing something to this effect in our Imagine Cup project.  I just didn’t see it from the client-server perspective. The end result of all of this was that my faith was restored that mobility is something that MIS (as well as CS and IT) programs can’t afford to ignore, but also that a shift to mobility is going to open a lot of other possibilities for businesses to leverage IT for competitive advantage.  I even felt better about my Imagine Cup team’s project to boot…and that, my friends, is a good thing.

 

Windows Phone 7 for MIS Programs – A Chance to Build Inter-departmental Synergies

Over the past week or so, I have been very interested in leveraging the new Windows Phone 7 platform in MIS courses.  In prior posts, I have made my case as to why it is an incredible opportunity for IS programs and shared my initial vision for a phone curriculum.  I would like to focus in on one of the courses in the initial curriculum that I envision and share with you some thoughts on how it (as well as other courses in the curriculum) can build synergistic relationships between MIS programs and other departments on campus.

Much of my argument for why my curriculum made sense was that it was very open in who can take the courses because the technologies that are taught in the curriculum are utilized by different platforms.  Take the XNA Framework, for example.  This framework is leveraged in the mobile platform, for game development on the XBox 360, and also for DirectX games.  This means that with a single course, you can attract students from MIS programs,  CS/IT programs, and even possibly from some digital media programs!  The students will benefit by interacting with students from other programs and sharing each program’s unique perspective on technology.

This brings me to the course that I want to discuss today: Technology Commercialization.  In my prior post, I think I called it “digital entrepreneurship” or something to that effect.  The name change was a result of a  discussion with a colleague of mine  in the Management department at my university.  I pitched the idea of the Windows Phone 7 curriculum and why it made sense for us to consider adding it to our program.   I also told him about my idea for the digital entrepreneurship course,this is when he suggested that naming the course technology commercialization would be more appropriate because by the time the students reached this course, they would already have a product in hand.

He also commented on the types of material that could be covered in such a course.  Yes, there was the standard information on how to market the product that you would expect from a course like this, but he also suggested covering such items as licensing and patents.

This really got my attention!  These are items that not generally covered in most MIS program curricula, and if they are the coverage is cursory at best.  I would also go out on a limb to think that the coverage on these topics is even less present in IT and CS programs.  Yet all students will need to deal with issues such as licensing when they get out into the workplace.  When I took my first position as an IT manager for the state government, I knew that we had to have a license for software.  What I didn’t know was how many types of licenses there were or the benefits/restrictions of each type.

This is what I mean by synergistic relationships.  By reaching out to another discipline (in this case Management and Entrepreneurship), we can fill a gap in our student’s knowledge on the software development process from beginning to end. If we teach our students how to build a software application, we are only getting the job part way done.  Our students need to have some idea what happens after the final build of the software has happened.  It really gets back to the old silo vs. process perspective.  If we exist in a silo and only know our job, then we will do our job well, but we may be dragging down the performance of the entire process because we don’t take into consideration what happens to the product after our part of the job is complete.  By reaching out to others in your university, you can create synergistic relationships that will ultimately benefit your students.

However, this is sometimes difficult.  Sometimes we get so blinded by technology that we forget that there are a lot of other things that students need to know in order to be successful.  Just take a look at all of the dot com startups that failed.  They had tremendous technical knowledge, but possessed little competency in the other areas that were needed to make them successful as a team such as business and customer service skills.  This is why I chose to be an IS professor rather than a CS or IT professor.  I love technology, sure, but I am equally entranced by the other elements that interact with the technology to make it work.

There are also political issues that may inhibit the creation of these synergies that may need to be worked through.  Remember that enrollments equal revenue to academic programs, and some people don’t want to share revenues even if it means that they will have the opportunity to gain even higher enrollments in the future.  For these issues, I have no easy way to handle them.  Political issues are difficult by nature because of the varied nature of the issues and the players involved.

Regardless of the barriers that may be in place, I would encourage those of you that read this to seek these opportunities to create synergistic relationships with other disciplines.  You students will only benefit from it.

How I Envision a Windows Phone 7 Curriculum

Yesterday, I made the case for including Windows Phone 7 as a part of an IS curriculum.  Today, I would like to expand on that thought a little more and offer up a course sequence that I believe most universities can sell as a “Mobile Development Specialization” or something to that effect that will serve as a value add to their base curriculum while opening opportunities for other value add specialization opportunities.

Why do I Even Care?

I guess the first question you are asking yourself is why you would want to even look at adding something like this to your curriculum?  This is probably especially the case for my colleagues at the larger, more research oriented schools, that put a premium on research productivity rather than pedagogical innovation.  My answer to this question is a simple one.  Look at an IS program from the perspective of a business.  Much like the business needs revenues in order to function, an IS program needs student enrollment.

As we all know, enrollments in IS programs have fallen over the past 5 years (although they seem to be making a slight comeback), and this has resulted in some IS departments being merged into other departments, faculty being released, or the total elimination of the IS program all together.  If you don’t think it could happen, just ask my friends at my alma mater, Central Florida (UCF).  At the time of it’s demise, I believe that UCF was #5 in the world in research productivity.  They had the most prolific publishing researcher in MIS on their faculty, as well as the editor-in-chief of the #1 ranked journal in the discipline, MIS Quarterly.  However all of this was not enough to save the program when it came time for the budgetary axe to fall because enrollments did not justify keeping it around.

So, without digressing too far from the topic of this post, which is what a curriculum could look like, I wanted to stress that even if you don’t add Windows Phone 7 (or any other mobility platform) to your curriculum, you need to look at how you can make yourselves more attractive to students.  Remember that students equal revenues, and revenues allow you to stay in business whether that business is research focused, teaching focused, or a blend of the two.

The Method to this Madness (or the Logic Behind the Design)

Just as you would not want to design a system to be monolithic and non-flexible, you don’t want your curriculum to be that way either.  That is another reason why I love the Microsoft set of technologies in the Windows Phone 7 toolkit for developers, they all can be leveraged elsewhere.  For example, one of my reasons that Windows Phone 7 made sense for IS programs was that it was a natural extension to what is taught in many object-oriented programming (OOP) courses.  The same can be said for other elements of the Windows Phone 7 toolkit.  While differences exist in the Silverlight associated with Windows Phone Apps and traditional Silverlight, a course in the technology can be leveraged in value added specializations that deal with mobile development, game development, and Web development.  The same can be said for the XNA framework that supports Windows Phone, XBox360, and the Windows OS.  Again, you can see that one course can be taught and leveraged in several different areas.

However, it is not just about one course being used in multiple areas, it is about student enrollment.  Having a course on a technology that can be leveraged in different specialization areas means that students from different areas can all take the same course.  This is critical to justifying the existence of the program.  Let me provide an example.  Let’s say you have 5 students interested in game development and 15 interested in mobile development.  If you teach one class that focuses in on the XNA framework for gaming and another focusing on the XNA for mobile development, the gaming course is likely to be cancelled because of low enrollments.  This will leave these students pretty ticked off and more than likely you will lose them from your planned specialization area, if not your major all together!  Luckily,  if you use the Microsoft technologies,  you can teach one course that serves both interests and avoid losing students from your program.

A Sample Curriculum

The core course in my curriculum is the OOP course.  This is a core course in the major and can be used to recruit students into whatever specializations that you choose to implement.  A few of the other courses that I would like to offer are:

Silverlight with Microsoft Expressions – this will be a course that covers both Silverlight and Silverlight for Windows Phone 7.  It could also be a course in any gaming or Web development type specializations that you might choose to add to your program.  You may even find that you can pull some students from IT, CS, and even graphic and web design programs that may be interested in learning the technology.

XNA Framework – This is included for many of the same reasons that we just listed with Silverlight.  It is applicable to many different specialization areas.

Securing Mobile Devices – Security is an important concern for all business organizations, and it is a difficult enough goal to achieve within the organization’s walls without the added elements that mobile devices bring.  This course will focus on those added issues and instruct students on how to mitigate security issues specific to mobile devices.  It may be a good place to leverage the Security Development Lifecycle (SDL).  However, I am a firm believer that the SDL should be leveraged in all IS coursework, but that is a topic for another post.

Digital Entrepreneurship – This course was born as a result of some discussions with my colleagues at UALR.  It would be, in essence, a capstone course for the specialization and would involve the students taking the knowledge that they learned in the other courses and leveraging it to market and sell a mobile app (or even a game) on the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace.  Remember that IS is all about the blend of business and technical knowledge.  This course would be an excellent opportunity for students to do that, and maybe even make some money as they could keep the profits from their work!

Here is how I envision the courses fitting together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, these are just my initial thoughts on the subject.  You could alternatively skip the courses on Silverlight and XNA and cover those items in mobile development if you do not have the flexibility to add those items as extra courses. I plan on talking a lot to fellow faculty members, students, and people in the business community to see if they see the value in this type of program.  However, I can tell you that I am excited about looking at this and I feel that it (if done in a thoughtful manner) will be a valuable addition to any IS curriculum.  If you have any ideas on the subject, I would love to hear them!

Why Windows Phone 7 Makes Sense for MIS Programs

Windows Phone 7  was released yesterday to the world to some rave reviews.  So what?  Mobile platforms have been around for the past few years and Apple and Google have a pretty strong foothold in the market.  Why should MIS programs care about the release of the Microsoft mobile platform?  Well because, in my opinion,  it is best thing to happen to the discipline in a very long time.  Let me give you three important reasons for adding Windows Phone 7 to your IS curriculum makes good sense.

  1. It is the future – According to an article in USA Today, mobile business application development will surpass all other types of application development by 2015.  This is enormous for a discipline that has been searching to find its competitive advantage in the academic marketplace.  As MIS programs compete with the more techno-centric IT and CS programs for students, business applications require the skillset that is unique to the MIS discipline.  The increased demand for business applications will also translate into more jobs that require the skillset that MIS students possess.  Training your students in mobile development now will prepare them for these jobs and make your program’s job placement rates look pretty good in the process.
  2. It’s a natural extension of current curriculum – Many MIS programs teach VB.NET or C# as the programming language in their object oriented development course.  Guess what platform Windows Phone 7 uses?  Yep, you got it, C#.

    If you are currently teaching C#, then you just have to add an elective or special topics course on mobile development to your curriculum.  This adds an exciting new dimension to your program with little to no effort and it reinforces the OOP skills that you teach your students while making them more valuable in the market.  Try doing that with the Apple or Android platforms.  Mobility could also be integrated into other courses in the program (especially systems analysis and design). It’s truly a win-win-win for students, faculty, and industry.  Do you feel that?  That feeling is relevance.  It happens when industry is beating down your door to get to your students…and it feels good.

    If you are teaching VB.NET, then the translation to C# is a very easy one for students and faculty to make as the languages are very similar.  Additionally, if you are looking to migrate your OOP course to C#, well then this is the time to do it as you gain a more robust programming language for the Web and you gain the ability to teach mobility as well.

  3. No additional expense – In a time where budgets are stretched to the max, teaching mobility on the Windows Phone 7 platform doesn’t require any additional investment on the part of the department or the students.  Many students have access to the Visual Studio platform through MSDNAA or through Dreamspark.  The same is true for the development tools for Windows Phone 7.

So, there it is.  An opportunity to increase the relevance of your program by teaching cutting edge skills that are valued in the marketplace, that requires little prep on the part of the faculty, and comes to you with little to no dollar signs attached to it.  I am sure that there are other relevant reasons that I missed.  Mobile development  is literally the opportunity of a lifetime.  So what are you waiting for???