People have been asking me for months when we are going to see an Android tablet that challenges the iPad. Probably the next best hope for Android has arrived in the form of Google’s Nexus 7 which is actually made by Asus. I don’t think it’s going to dent Apple’s market dominance too much but it certainly appears to be the best Android tablet currently available. I was quite amused by this montage of unboxing videos that some reviewers are so keen on doing.
If the Nexus 7’s build quality is as well constructed as its packaging then that bodes well I suppose.
When websites or mission critical services go down they can sometimes make headline news. O2 were taken off the Conduce Christmas card list last week when their nationwide mobile phone outage affected almost our entire team. At Conduce Software we have a number of measures in place to ensure our web applications are as resilient and robust as possible, but it never possible to be assured of 100% reliability. We’ve been using the PRTG Network Monitor tool to help us keep an eye on our various web and server assets for a while. This does a great job of keeping us alerted, but it’s quite a complex and technical tool that we wouldn’t necessarily want to present to our customers.
The main driver to improve visibility of application status has been our new etechlog application. This is a mission critical system for our customers with users potentially anywhere in the world accessing the system 24/7. To help assure users of application status in the event of a problem I designed a “Server Status” screen which we wanted to include in the management application dashboard.
This morning Mark completed the first phase of development of the monitoring application. Here’s a live view of the actual etechlog application status page.
We use the PRTG Network Monitor API which delivers the status of each device sensor that we have in place. Mark has developed a quick and simple web application that allows us to add some additional meta-data about those various sensors and deliver those to a simple web page which refreshes every 60 seconds. I wanted the status page to be as simple as possible where it was obvious if there was a problem and where a description is given as to what the consequences would be for a specific issue. The idea is that we can drop that status content into an iframe on to any web page as I have done here. For the etechlog we are in the process of adding this page to the dashboard of the management application. We’ve set up sensors for all of our other customer’s hosted applications and have created an Application Status page on our website so that they can view the status of their system at any time.
The next phase will see us show a status history and include additional status values such as server response times and database query results. Let me know what you think.
If you have ever used any kind of business software you will be familiar with data being displayed in the form of lists, tables or grids. Spreadsheets have penetrated just about every business function and nearly everyone knows how to instinctively use a grid. However we’re not fans….
Most grids are just too one dimensional. Bombarding the user with rows and rows of text and numbers is just so 20th Century. Isn’t it about time that software designers moved on a bit? There will always be users who demand a grid or an export to Excel button, which is fine, but we always try to offer alternatives for more progressive users. Most people often make the mistake of requesting more and more columns being crammed onto the screen and wind up with a pointless overload of data that is practically useless to most users.
Much better is to display data in the form of visual tools that contextually relate to how the data is intended to be consumed. This may take the form of graphs, dashboards and other visual tools which when well designed help users to work more efficiently and effectively. Take a look at the following two screen shots which are two alternative views of the same reliability data in our new eTechlog application.
The traditional grid is improved by conditional formatting which aids management by exception.
However the same data has a greater impact when displayed as a map.
In this case we’ve retained the conditional formatting by using coloured pin-point icons to highlight problematic locations. Instead of overloading the user with all the data we allow locations to be clicked to reveal the details. Which version of the same data would your users prefer to use? In our application, if you’re not a fan of the map you can always switch to the traditional grid.
Grids or lists themselves can be improved greatly with a few simple enhancements. The use of conditional formatting, icons and auto-refreshing can improve usability and user experience. Apps like Clear for iPhone and Wunderlist have raised the bar for user expectations when it comes to re-imagining something as mundane as a list or a grid.
Clear for iPhone by RealMac Software
Our own application YBoard for iPad attempts to add a second dimension to a simple note taking app. Notes can be made on sticky notes and then placed anywhere on a blank canvas thus allowing users to organise their notes and lists in two dimensions rather than just one.
YBoard for iPad by Conduce Software
As business software becomes more and more consumerised users will become less and less reliant on traditional concepts such as grids and demand more imaginative solutions to problems. Hopefully most progressive software designers have already recognised this and we have seen the beginning of the end of the lists and grids that we all know and hate…