Episode 14: Preview of Alpha Anywhere Tablet Features
00:00 Adam: Intro to episode 14.
01:14 Adam: Can you talk about usability and the form factor of tablets, Dan?
01:36 Dan: Standard HTML browser controls have been designed for a mouse, not for someone standing up.
02:15 Dan: We've been working on touch optimized controls.
02:40 Dan: Custom editors will take advantage of the tablet's ability to do data collection.
04:18 Dan: This will be aimed at field workers, factory workers, hospital workers, not at what a normal person needs for text messages.
04:39 Selwyn: Customized editors will solve the problems of keyboard entry across a large screen.
07:21 Adam: What other types of functionality do you get from these editors?
07:51 Dan: We're building editors for all kinds of data types, like photos and audio.
09:34 Adam: Will these editors be able to show up anywhere on the screen?
09:52 Dan: It will be up to the programmer.
10:15 Adam: How about very long forms that are multiple pages long?
10:46 Dan: The forms are live. Depending on the data it can hide or show different parts of the form.
11:23 Adam: Are you taking the app interface and making it more of a form metaphor?
11:40 Dan: You may want to drill down to multiple forms.
12:25 Selwyn: It would be simple to build a UX component that needs to move between forms.
13:08 Dan: The forms will be based on a new HTML template system that makes complex forms very simple to build.
13:56 Dan: You need to experiment with what you're building. You need to make the development time as short as possible.
15:29 Adam: You've made a big point of driving down the cost of tablet development.
15:51 Dan: Our goal is to be able to start from an existing database and create an application in a matter of minutes.
16:27 Selwyn: In a wizard driven environment you should be able to describe a hierarchical database and build a complex form automatically.
17:29 Selwyn: One of the key goals is to allow designers who don't know Alpha to customize the look and feel of forms.
17:51 Selwyn: Another goal is to build large forms that don't have a big impact on the DOM.
18:19 Adam: Can editors be based on blocks of data?
18:50 Selwyn: You could have editors that come into use for specific data.
19:18 Adam: That extends the original goal of Alpha to handle one-to-many relationships.
19:37 Dan: Think about doing inspections with multiple parts.
19:57 Adam: The details may be different kinds of mechanical components within a complex assembly.
20:23 Dan: Also the form definition can be changed on the fly.
21:00 Adam: So the forms are self-modifying.
21:08 Dan: And the templating system is extremely powerful.
21:15 Selwyn: Most form products deal with flat files, our forms initiative handles complex hierarchical data.
21:57 Dan: We should also talk about what we've been doing with photos.
22:30 Selwyn: Photos are very important in mobile applications. We will handle photo storage in the file system, so you can capture large numbers of photos while disconnected.
23:45 Selwyn: It will be better to push those photos to Amazon S3. This will reduce load on the alpha server.
25:12 Selwyn: The opposite is also true to pull down photos and videos from S3.
26:07 Dan: All the stuff Selwyn is talking about is built-in and automatic.
26:58 Adam: So it will just be a matter of clicking check boxes?
27:15 Selwyn: Exactly. You can set these properties when creating a photo field.
28:01 Selwyn: It's like connections to SQL databases.
28:40 Dan: And credentials are kept on the server, not the mobile device.
28:49 Selwyn: There is no possibility of exposing your credentials to someone using your app.
29:02 Adam: This also sounds like a large cost savings, since data is on a server. but the large media files are on S3. Amazon can worry about the storage.
29:36 Selwyn: There is also a delivery consideration, because S3 storage is optimized for delivering these files. You get better performance and reduced load on your servers.
29:57 Dan: At 5 o'clock when everybody comes back to the office and starts uploading their files, you don't have a heavy load on the corporate servers.
30:06 Adam: So S3 can handle a burst better than your own server.
30:16 Adam: What about tools for manipulating images?
30:36 Dan: We are adding ink as a data type, so annotations to images can be recorded and managed programmatically.
33:54 Adam: So ink is a data type stored separately from the image?
34:20 Dan: Yes. It's stored as a series of points or strokes, with details on the type of ink used.
36:12 Dan: Sometimes handwriting is best.
36:30 Dan: With tablets we can replace paper for handwritten notes.
37:32 Adam: From a database point of view there is a lot of potential for ink as data, such as combining annotations on a map from multiple people.
38:37 Dan: The information is there for that.
40:28 Dan: The tablet is opening up a lot of opportunities to do better data capture at the source.
40:44 Adam: This reminds me of the term "affordance" I once heard from you. It makes new types of operations possible.
41:08 Dan: Yes. Let's use it in this case.
41:11 Adam: So ink allows new types of visual, spatial applications to be developed.
41:36 Dan: I've seen people use handwriting for a lot of stuff that I never thought they'd use it for.
42:15 Adam: Can you give us an example?
42:17 Dan: A student with cerebral palsy could only write in large movements, but handwriting capture could would at a high zoom level and then shrunk down to normal size.
44:16 Dan: There are many different types of things people will be able to do.
45:30 Adam: You were telling me that pinching and other gestures will be possible.
45:38 Dan: You will be able to resize images and move them around.
46:26 Adam: What new features for back-end data integration will you add?
46:48 Selwyn: We're putting in a big effort to use REST API services.
47:48 Adam: So I could call an API to do face recognition on images?
48:20 Selwyn: If the service is available as a REST API, you could do that.
48:44 Adam: Any other major areas you want to talk about?
48:52 Selwyn: We're building on top of a very strong technology foundation.
50:09 Adam: This is going to take some evolution to go beyond standard clipboard data entry.
50:40 Dan: We think we are making this type of application inexpensive enough to allow experimentation.
51:47 Adam: The real-time ability for people in the central office to interact with data collected in the field has huge potential.
53:01 Dan: Somebody could be sitting at their desk and watch an image appear with an area circled and a handwritten note on what needs to be addressed. We want our system to do whatever they want quickly and inexpensively.
54:20 Adam: Every time I talk to you guys I start visualizing new use cases. We've talked about inspectors, but first responders would need these capabilities too.
54:55 Dan: You would expect the forms they'd use to allow fast and easy input from the field.
55:18 Adam: This is all very exciting. Let's do this again in a month.