Alpha DevCon Engineering Roundtables

Adventures in Alpha Land

Episode 18: Preparing for the Tablet Beta Test

Our discussion of the Tablet app development project continues with an overview of the features planned for the first beta test.
Show Notes

00:00 Adam: Introduction to episode 18.

00:15 Adam: Beta test overview.

02:00 Selwyn: The foundation of the tablet system is the new form view control. This requires quite a few steps to create a tablet app.

02:48 Selwyn: Our vision is to create a super genie, which operates above this control, allowing users to specify the form without knowing all the detailed steps required.

04:00 Dan: You can always drop down into raw HTML and CSS to configure the form as well.

04:52 Adam: The overall stack includes editors at the core, then the form view, and then a builder will be introduced in a couple of stages to manage these components.

05:42 Selwyn: This is similar to the way users specify Javascript with Action Javascript, and never drop down to the underlying Javascript. They will create a form without having to look at the underlying form component.

06:53 Adam: The model you are building towards is levels of users, with less technical users defining the form, and then having a consultant customize the details as needed.

07:28 Selwyn: Correct. Using the genie you can select from pre-defined editors, but a skilled developer might choose to build a custom editor.

08:15 Adam: So you reach a less technical audience, and also allow greater depth for consultants to add value.

08:33 Dan: The form system gives you great control over the appearance of the form with CSS.

09:04 Adam: So another group of developers on form projects will be CSS designers who define the look of a form. This is a team model, which fits an enterprise approach with different people working at their own skill level.

09:44 Dan: Along with HTML and CSS, you'll be able to use off the shelf tools that are also HTML based.

10:35 Adam: Some of these extra tools might be CSS templates or jQuery plug-ins.

11:04 Dan: The tools might be open source, but there are custom designs available that you can purchase.

11:33 Adam: This provides an economic incentive for 3rd party developers to get involved in an Alpha ecosystem.

12:02 Dan: We're releasing the actual code for this system, and also sample apps that can be used as starting points for complete tablet applications.

14:43 Adam: The sample apps are not just training tools, they are starting points for development.

15:01 Dan: We expect them to change the labels, add and remove fields, etc., but they will have a working app to start with.

16:48 Adam: So the overall goal of the first beta is to get people started with the underlying technology, and have them use the sample apps to start building the type of apps that the genies they get later will build for them. This lets them start promoting Alpha-based tablet apps in their company or to their clients right now.

17:33 Dan: Just trying the apps will let them see how we are tuning apps to the tablet.

18:28 Adam: The beta test users will be an integral part of creating the graphical building tools. We need developers who understand the tablet goals to tell us if we are solving their problems.

19:41 Dan: We need their feedback on the sample apps to make sure we are building the right type of apps.

21:55 Adam: One of the underlying technologies the first beta will have is Ink for annotating images. Can you talk more about the current status of Ink?

22:49 Dan: The goal of Ink today is being able to use it to create a great experience to take handwritten notes. This will address the reluctance of users to switch from paper forms.

26:56 Dan: We've been working n the user interface of capturing Ink, and I think it will be great. This will be in the first beta.

28:21 Adam: We have to keep in mind that we need to satisfy two groups of users: the people in the central office who want data captured faster and more reliably, and the people in the field who will actually use these forms. The user experience has to be better than paper.

29:53 Selwyn: A lot of our competitors are trying to create an exact replica of a paper form, but the user experience is horrible. We have reimagined how using these forms can be delightful.

31:39 Adam: The analogy of Quicken applies here. They made entering and managing checks smoother and faster than a paper checkbook.

32:37 Dan: Prior systems were aimed at accountants. Quicken was designed for people who didn't like paying bills.

33:05 Adam: We have the same issue with form tools, because the intended users have never used a computer out in the field.

33:30 Dan: They have to use paper custom devices, because a laptop doesn't work well for them in the field.

34:38 Adam: We are trying to address people with new experiences: the developers and the users. That's a challenging goal.

35:40 Dan: That's why we want to give people sample apps in the first beta. We are tuning this for tablets, even if the forms can be used on other devices.

37:21 Adam: That's why this beta is so important. We need them to build pilot projects and get them into user's hands.

37:40 Dan: We've been working on cleaning up the underlying technology for months. Now we need real-world users.

38:47 Adam: This also ties into the Alpha Dev Con in September. We will have a Birds of a Feather session to get the beta testers together there.

40:01 Dan: If people take this first release and build a simple app first to get experience, those discussions will extremely helpful.

40:55 Adam: We need to explain the process of experimentation. This is a new form of computing, unlike creating laptop data entry apps.

41:49 Dan: In the old days data entry programming was about copying the paper form. Now we need to make filling out forms on a tablet into a new experience.

43:22 Adam: We can speculate on what peple will do with a tablet, but there will be new experiences we need to learn from.

43:57 Dan: With Ink we had the advantage f my being in that area for a long time, but we have a lot of innovation in this product. We need feedback from this beta.

44:53 Adam: Once we have the beta out we should run webinars even before the Dev Con.

45:11 Dan: As people start using the beta, they should contact us with feedback.

45:57 Adam: That makes it clear that we have lots of new features and need advice.