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What is NFC? What is the smartphone mobile payments technology known as Near Field Communications? March 6, 2011

Posted by HubTechInsider in Ecommerce, Mobile Software Applications, Telecommunications, Wireless Applications.
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It has been several years now that I have been reading and hearing about mobile phone toting consumers being able to purchase soft drinks from vending machines through the use of SMS texts to the vending machine.

The possibilities of a mobile digital wallet, a North American equivalent of European Smartcards and mobile SMS payments systems, to be used as a payments service for smartphones, certainly include the hypothetical future displacement of the cash register as the payment method of choice for consumers on the go.

NFC, or Near Field Communication, may perhaps have such a potential.

Since the middle of December, in and around Portland, Oregon, Google has been handing out hundreds of NFC kits to local businesses as part of an NFC trial they are calling “Hotpot”.

The Google Hotpot kits include special NFC-capable window decals. NFC is a low power technology that beams and receives wireless information from up to four inches away. When consumers with NFC-equipped telephones such as the latest models of Android operating system cellular phones, scan a NFC-equiped window decal, they will be presented with information on their mobile device such as business hours, reviews, and more.

The hope is that the increasingly mobile consumer will willingly engage with local merchants using this new technology, allowing merchants to interact with the generations of consumers growing up with texting and mobile smartphones in their pockets.

2011 is really shaping up to be the year of NFC, with Google considering building an NFC-based payment service in the U.S. that could make its debut later this year. The technology would let customers pay for items by passing their smartphone over a small reader. A single NFC chip would be able to hold a consumer’s bank account information, gift cards, loyalty cards, and coupons, say the two people, who requested anonymity because the plans aren’t public. Google’s NFC scheme includes an advertising component that would allow merchants to beam a coupon or other reward to customers while they are shopping.

Of course, advanced smartphone owners can already complete mobile transactions by downloading payment applications. Paypal’s iPhone iOS application, for example, lets PayPal users transmit funds to other PayPal account holders. But NFC technology could potentially streamline such transactions. Users of advanced smartphones equipped with NFC technology don’t need to launch an application; they simply wave or tap their smartphone against a small reader device and enter a PIN number on it to authenticate their purchases.

A Google NFC network offering would encounter stiff competition from the start from the likes of companies such as Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, the three of whom in November 2010 formed a joint commercial venture called ISIS that plans to launch an NFC-based payments service by 2012. Visa is also field testing several mobile payment technologies, including NFC, and plans a commercial rollout later this year. It is rumored that PayPal, a division of eBay, may test an NFC service in the second half of 2011 as well.

Silicon Valley is hard at work on NFC technology too, with Apple having filed a patent for a process to transmit money between cellular telephones using NFC. Apple recently hired NFC expert Benjamin Vigier away from mFoundry, a startup that helps banks build mobile payments applications. If the next iPhone does come equipped with an NFC chip, then perhaps Apple will process mobile payments through Apple’s iTunes store.

The increased competition and jockeying for position in the NFC space is undoubtedly due to the high stakes involved, as the prize for whoever wins the NFC race is a dominant position in a small but fast-growing market that could displace the cash register in time. A leading market research firm, IE Market Research, estimates that by 2014, NFC-based payment systems will account for a third of the $1.13 trillion in worldwide mobile transactions.

In mid-December, Google, whose former CEO, Eric Schmidt, has said that NFC will “eventually replace credit cards”, in December 2010 bought Zetawire, a Canadian startup with several NFC patents to its name, including a novel method for diners to split up and pay a restaurant bill using their smartphones. If Google does decide to launch an NFC payments network, they would have the built-in advantage of its very large and rapidly expanding installed user base of Android smartphone owners. Every single day, around 300,000 people activate Android telephones, and they accounted for more than 25 percent of the new smartphones shipped in the third quarter of 2010, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The latest version of Google’s smartphone operating system, Android, capable of reading NFC tags is dubbed Gingerbread. Later this year, software updates to Android will let Android smartphones transmit information using NFC as well. In December 2010, Google introduced its Nexus S smartphone, based on Android Gingerbread and carrying an NFC chip onboard. In January 2011, Starbucks announced that customers would be able to start using a bar-code application on their smartphones to purchase coffee in some 6,800 of its stores.

There are obstacles to widespread consumer adoption, however. For an NFC-based payments network to really work, Google needs to convince not just Android smartphone owners but also local merchants who must install NFC readers to process mobile payments. Hotpot, which Google has been promoting heavily, introduces merchants to the NFC technology. NFC is already in heavy use in parts of Asia and Europe.


Want to know more?

You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies,software developmentAgile project managementmanaging software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projectsecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurshipecommercetelecommunications andsoftware development, I’m a Technical PMO Director, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of TwitterMiners.com & Tshirtnow.net.


Boston’s Apperian, a maker of mobile applications, raises $500k from CommonAngels December 17, 2010

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Boston’s Apperian, a maker of mobile applications, raises $500k from CommonAngels.

Acton’s Azuki Systems, a provider of a mobile media communications platform, raises $4 Million December 9, 2010

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Acton’s Azuki Systems, a provider of a mobile media communications platform, raises $4 Million from a group of investors including Sigma Partners and Kepha Partners.

Waltham’s Red Bend Software acquires Santa Clara’s VirtualLogix, for undisclosed terms October 4, 2010

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Waltham’s Red Bend Software, a provider of mobile software management tools, acquires Santa Clara’s VirtualLogix, a provider of real-time virtualization technology for mobile handsets, for undisclosed terms.

What is a User Story? How are they used in Requirements Gathering and in writing User Acceptance Tests? October 3, 2010

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What is a User Story? How are they used in Requirements Gathering and in writing User Acceptance Tests?

User Stories are short conversational texts that are used for initial requirements discovery and project planning. User stories are widely used in conjunction with agile software development project management methodologies for Release Planning and definition of User Acceptance Criteria for software development projects.

User Goals, stated in the form of User Stories, are more closely aligned with Business Priorities than software development Tasks and so it is the User Story format which prevails in written statements of User Acceptance Criteria.

An Agile Project Team is typically oriented to completing and delivering User-valued Features rather than on completing isolated development Tasks.These development Tasks eventually combine into a User-valued Feature).

User Goals are not the same things as software development Tasks. A User Goal is an end condition, whereas a development Task is an intermediate process needed to achieve this User Goal. To help illustrate this point, here are two example scenarios:

1. If my User Goal is to laze in my hammock reading the Sunday Boston Globe newspaper, I first have to mow the lawn. My Task is mowing; My Goal is resting. If I was able to recruit someone else to mow the lawn, I could achieve my Goal without having to do the mowing, the Task.

2. Tasks change as implementation technology or development approaches change, but Goals have the pleasant property of remaining stable on software development projects. For example, if I am a hypothetical User traveling from Boston to San Francisco, my User Goals for the trip might include Speed, Comfort and Safety. Heading for California on this proposed trip in 1850, I would have made the journey in a high technology Conestoga wagon for Speed and Comfort, and I would have brought along a Winchester rifle for Safety. However, making the same trip in 2010, with the same User Goals, I would now make the journey in a new Boeing 777 for updated Speed and Comfort and for Safety’s sake I would now leave the Winchester rifle at home.

· My User Goals remained unchanged, however the Tasks have changed so much that they are now seemingly in direct opposition. User Goals are steady, software development Tasks as stated on SOWs (Statements Of Work) are transient.

· Designing User Acceptance Criteria around software development Tasks rarely suits, but User Acceptance Criteria based on User Goals always does.

A User Story is a brief description of functionality as viewed by a User or Customer of the System. User Stories are free-form, and there is no mandatory syntax. However, it can be useful to think of a User Story as generally fitting this form:

“As a <type of User>, I want <Capability> so that <Business Value>”.

Using this template as an example, we might have a User Story like this one:

“As a Store Manager, I want to search for a Service Ticket by Store so that I can find the right Service Ticket quickly”.

User stories form the basis of User Acceptance Testing. Acceptance tests can be created to verify that the User Story has been correctly implemented.

User Story Card

Want to know more?

You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies,software developmentAgile project managementmanaging software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projectsecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurshipecommercetelecommunications andsoftware development, I’m the Director, Technical Projects at eSpendWise, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Tshirtnow.net.

Boston’s Mocospace, a provider of browser-based games for mobile devices, raises $3.5 Million from SoftBank Capital September 27, 2010

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Boston’s Mocospace, a provider of browser-based games, entertainment, and a social network for mobile devices, raises $3.5 Million from SoftBank Capital.

What’s the difference between a Graphic Designer, an Information Architect and an Interaction Designer? September 15, 2010

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Information Architecture is the study of the organization and structure of effective web systems. Information architects study and design the relationships between internal page elements, as well as the relationships and navigation paths between individual pages. They combine Web design, information and library science as well as technical skills to order enterprise knowledge and design organizational systems within websites that help Users find and manage information more successfully. They are also responsible for things like ordering tabs and content sections of a web-based software application.  They try to structure content and access to functions in such a way as to facilitate Users finding paths to knowledge and the swift accomplishment of their User Goals with the System.

Graphic Design is the skill of creating presentations of content (usually hypertext or hypermedia) that are delivered to Users through the World Wide Web, by way of a Web browser or other Web-enabled software like Internet television clients, micro blogging clients and RSS readers. Graphic designers study and design graphic elements, logos, artwork, stock photography, typography, font selection, color selection, color palettes and CSS styles.


Interaction Design is the process of creating an interface for the user to engage with a site or application’s functionality and content. Interaction designers are concerned mainly with facilitating users’ goals and tasks, and use a systematic and iterative process for designing highly interactive user interfaces. Their methodology includes research and discovery techniques such as requirements analysis, stakeholder analysis, task analysis, as well as prototyping, inspection and evaluation methods to define the structure and behavior of a web-based software system.


What’s the difference between Design and User Experience?

  • Design is about changing understanding; user experience is about changing behavior.
  • Design is about intent; user experience is about purpose.
  • Design is about style; user experience is about substance.
  • Design is about the platform; user experience is about the person.
  • Design is about the present; user experience is about the past and future.
  • Design is about action; user experience is about impact.

Boston’s Skyhook Wireless maps the physical meatspace world so your smartphone can know its location in a minute without slow GPS satellite fixes August 23, 2010

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Boston’s Skyhook Wireless maps the physical meatspace world so your smartphone can know its location in a minute without slow GPS satellite fixes and tap into the new wave of nascent geo-location services.


Skyhook Wireless software loads onto mobile telephones and other portable devices like netbook computers and tablet computers and in most urban city locations can pinpoint a user’s location within 60 feet, obtaining a position fix in around one to two minutes, much faster than traditional GPS, or Global Positioning Systems, are able to obtain positive location information or even connect, while inside buildings.


When a Skyhook-enabled smartphone checks on its location, it will use the Skyhook Wireless software to scan for nearby cellular towers, Wi-Fi hotspots and available GPS satellites. The smartphone then sends that data to a Skyhhok Wireless server and within seconds can get a positive position fix on where in the world that smartphone is. This three-pronged approach is superior in the field in many instances for obtaining a position as opposed to reliance on GPS alone, which can take minutes to obtain a position fix.


But Skyhook Wireless must continuously update its location database as people move and new hotspots emerge and cease. The biggest challenge is not getting the data, it is managing the chaos that surrounds the shifting database of location-fixing data.


Skyhook Wireless software is part of a thriving emerging market for location-based services. These services include mobile social networks like Facebook Places, Gowalla and Foursquare, which enable “checking in” and broadcasting your location information to friends, announcing, for example, your arrival at a neighborhood restaurant.


To make this possible, Skyhook Wireless has amassed a database of more than 50 billion scanned records of Wi-Fi, cellular tower and GPS signals. This “map” of locations captures nearly 80% of the geographic areas in which the population of the US lives and works daily. In order to gather all of this information, Skyhook Wireless, on any given day, employs 500 drivers to cruise around with laptops and wireless antennas that read Wi-Fi and other signals and correlate them with locations. The company’s ultimate goal is to obtain baseline scans of all the roads and cities across the entire globe.


Skyhook Wireless has among its customers the manufacturers of mobile phones and other consumer devices. Skyhook Wireless software is installed in tens of millions of consumer gadgets, including some netbook computers, cameras, and until very recently, every iPhone, iPad and iPod that Apple shipped. In April, Apple began using its own location data it had been collecting for this purpose over years of iPhone use. In July of this year, Skyhook Wireless inked a deal with Samsung for its smartphones and has agreements with Motorola and Dell as well.


Licensing Skyhook Wireless technology can cost as much as $2 per device. Forbes magazine estimated the company’s 2009 revenues at $25 Million. Skyhook Wireless has around 35 emplyees, was founded in 2003, and has raised around $17 Million from investors to date.


Skyhook Wireless is competing against Apple, Inc., as mentioned previously in this article, as well as giants Google and Nokia, which have both also developed and acquired similar services that use multiple locataion data inputs, like Wi-Fi hotspots for mobile location fixing. It may be significant that in April of this year, Motorola choose to license the Skyhook Wireless technology rather than use Google’s free location software.


The CEO of Skyhook Wireless is Ted Morgan, age 43, the company’s founder.

The Hub Tech Insider Glossary of Mobile Web Terminology August 21, 2010

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Well, as all of my regular readers know, and most casual readers of these pages can probably easily surmise, I am an ecommerce guy.

I have been designing, programming, managing, and just about everything-ing, ecommerce sites and companies for well over 15 years at this point.

I started my first ecommerce site in 1994. My first web site was an ecommerce site, the third web site in the US state in which I was living at the time. So building online stores is something I am super passionate about.

Sometime ago, probably around 2003 or 2004, I became convinced of the inevitability of the mobile web, and mobile web browsing for ecommerce sites.

I never really believed that the mobile browsing and online purchasing experience, or typical use case, for mobile browsing would be the same as the browsing experience on the desktop PC-based web. It just seemed to me that the mobile version of an ecommerce (or any other content-serving web site, for that matter) site would have to be optimized for a person on-the-go.

The appearance of the Apple iPhone really got me fired up about the mobile web, because I saw Apple driving mobile browsing to the fore of the public’s attention. There were several other factors that were, to my mind, inevitably driving the adoption of mobile web browsing.

So I set out to learn everything I could about mobile browsing, browsers, devices, standards, everything about mobile ecommerce and mobile web design.

At this point (summer 2010), I have set up several mobile versions of ecommerce sites. The mobile version of one of  my latest ecommerce projects, tshirtnow.net, is currently responsible for around 9% of that site’s orders, which I find amazing. I expect this number to grow over time.

My employer, eSpendWise, (I am Director of Technical Projects there) is in the midst of developing a very thoughtful mobile portal into the eSpendWise ecommerce and eProcurement platform used by many Fortune 100 companies, like Apple, Inc., Nike, and others. Optimizing the mobile portal for the nomadic browsing experience (picture a store manager approving a shipment of cleaning supplies on their smartphone while running to help a cashier) while still preserving the power and flexibility of the eSpendWise platform, as you might well be able to imagine, dear reader, is a challenging task to say the least.

A recent study by mobile commerce analysts at Morgan Stanley projected that within five years, the number of user accessing the net from mobile devices will surpass the number who access it from PCs.

Because the screens are smaller, such mobile traffic is trending to be driven in the future by specialty software, mostly apps, designed for a single purpose. For the sake of the optimized experience on mobile devices, many users will forgo the general purpose browser for specialized mobile applications. Users want the Net on their mobile devices, but not necessarily the Web. Fast and easy (specialized purpose-built mobile applications) may eventually win out over flexible (the current desktop browser-oriented world wide web).

One thing I recommend is designing to web standards for your mobile applications or portals. In this way, you have the best shot at “future proofing” your mobile optimized content and applications.

During the writing of Functional Specifications for some of the mobile projects I have been involved with or responsible for, I have created a Glossary of mobile web terms and terminology I wanted to share with my HubTechInsider.com readers so that it may serve as a reference for their own mobile web design efforts.

Please don’t hesitate to send me an email with any questions or additions / corrects you may have for me, and please send me a short note with links / information about your own mobile web design efforts!

The Hub Tech Insider Glossary of Mobile Web Terminology

3G – 3G stands for Third Generation and refers to the latest phase in mobile technology. 3G enables much faster connections to the Internet so that you can get richer multimedia experiences such as video messaging.

4G – 4G stands for Fourth Generation and is a somewhat vague term used to describe wireless mobile radio technologies that offer faster data rates than current 3G (third generation) technologies. 4G networks are also more data-centric and based on standard Internet technologies such as IP. Voice service is typically provided using a special form of VoIP. WiMAX and LTE are examples of 4G technologies.

A-GPS – Assisted Global positioning System. This is a mobile-based location technology. The mobile uses A-GPS to work out location with the help of both GPS satellites and local network base stations.

AFLT (Advanced Forward Link Transmission) – AFLT is a mobile-based location technology. AFLT does not employ GPS satellites to work out locations. Instead, the phone measures signals from nearby cellular base stations and reports the time/distance readings back to the network which is then able to work out your location.

BROWSER – Software that allows you to view Internet content on a web-enabled device.

cHTML, C-HTML, Compact HTML – cHTML is a subset of HTML for i-mode browsers.  cHTML is used only in Japan. cHTML is considered technical superior to WML. cHTML was replaced at W3C by XHTML Basic.

CTI (Computer Telephony Integration) – CTI is an optional set of applications that integrate your business’ telephone system with a computer.  Features can include video conferencing, one-click dialing, incoming call routing, and a variety of other timesaving features that could be appealing to large businesses.

EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) – This is an enhanced modulation technique which increases network capacity and data rates in GSM networks.

FEATURE PHONE – A cell phone with lightweight web features, not smartphones.

GSM (Global System for Mobile) – This is the digital network that mobile phones have used to make calls and send text messages, as well as the standard network available across much of the world. The data connection to the mobile internet is a phone call (similar to a fixed line modem) and it is billed relative to the duration of the call.

HDML(Hyper Device Markup Language) Computer language format used to create wireless websites. HDML is the oldest markup language for display on mobile devices (circa 1996). HDML has a very simple syntax. HDML was never standardized, but was influential in the development of WML. No longer used on mobile phones in North America and Europe.

iDEN – a mobile telecommunications technology, developed by Motorola, which provides its users the benefits of a trunked radio and a cellular telephone. iDEN places more users in a given spectral space, compared to analog cellular and two-way radio systems, by using speech compression and time division multiple access (TDMA). iDEN is an enhanced specialized mobile radio network technology that combines two-way radio, telephone, text messaging and data transmission into one network.

i-mode – NTT DoCoMo proprietary wireless Internet service. Provides mobile devices access to web, e-mail and packet data. NTT DoCoMo I-mode is available only in Japan.

IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identifier) – This is 15-digit number which identifies an individual phone to the network operators.

Java (J2ME: Java 2 Micro Edition) – Java or J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition) enables users to download tailor-made software applications onto their phones e.g. mobile games.

LTE (Long-Term Evolution) – An effort to develop advanced wireless mobile radio technology that will succeed current 3G WCDMA/HSDPA/HSUPA technology. Although “LTE” is not the name of the standard itself, it is often used that way. The actual standard is called 3GPP Release 8. LTE is considered by many to be a “4G” technology, both because it is faster than 3G, and because it uses an “all-IP” architecture where everything (including voice) is handled as data, similar to the Internet.

MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) – Also referred to as picture messaging, MMS works much like text messaging but with a greater capacity so you can send larger quantities of text as well as attaching images and audio files from your phone.

NATIVE APPLICATION – Mobile phone software compiled into a compatible binary format, stored in phone memory and run locally on the device. I.e. web browser, email reader, phone book.

PORTAL – A website accessed by desktop or wireless device that provides a wide selection of information from a single place.

PREDICTIVE TEXT (T9: Text on Nine Keys) – Predictive text allows you to enter text by pressing only one key per letter. When you try and text in a word, the phone will automatically compare all of the possible letter combinations against its own dictionary and predict which word you intended to type.

ROAMING – Making or receiving calls (or using wireless data services) outside your home airtime rate area. Additional fees may apply, depending on your calling plan.

SERIES 60 / SERIES 40 – Series 60 is based on the Symbian Operating System and is a major platform for smartphones. Series 60 was developed by Nokia for their own smartphones but they also license the platform to other mobile manufacturers. Series 60 mobiles tend to have a large color display and a large amount of memory for storing content. Series 40 phones tend to have smaller screens and less memory.

SIM CARD – This is the small card that slots into the back of a mobile phone underneath the battery. The SIM card controls your phone number and the Network that it works on.

SMARTPHONE – A smartphone is like a combination of a standard mobile phone and a PDA. Smartphones have their own complete Operating Systems but differ from PDAs in that they have a standard phone keyboard for input instead of a touch screen and pen.

SMS – (Short Message Service) Send or receive messages (up to 160 characters each) using your wireless device.  SMS is also known as “Text Messaging”.

SOFT KEYS – Soft keys can be used for many different functions according to what is displayed on your mobile at any one moment e.g. ‘Select’ and ‘Exit’. They are commonly found right under the display.

SYMBIAN – Symbian is made up of a group of companies (Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, and Psion) who create operating systems for mobiles and personal digital assistants (PDAs).

SYNCHRONIZED ACCESS – Some companies create a scaled-down version of their website for PDAs. A copy of the site is stored on the PDA and updated each time it is placed in its cradle and synchronized.

TEXT MESSAGING – Send/receive messages (up to 160 characters each) from your wireless device. Text Messaging is also known as “SMS.”

TRI-BAND – A GSM mobile of which there are two major types (European and Americas) and supports three of the four major GSM frequency bands. This type of mobile functions in most parts of the world.

U-TDOA (Uplink Time Difference on Arrival) – U-TDOA is a position-location technology for mobile phone networks. It works out your exact location by using triangulation techniques i.e. by measuring your distance from two known points.

UMTS – UMTS is one of the standard technologies used to enable 3G mobile services e.g. video on your phone.

WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) – This is the technology that enables mobile phones to browse the Internet. Open standard for network communication that allows mobile devices to access the Internet. WAP is a lightweight protocol providing primitive Internet support (from a desktop point of view). WAP was criticized for fragmenting the Web into Desktop and Mobile variants.

  • WAP 1.x – WML
  • WAP 2.x – XHTML-MP

WEB APPLICATION – A web application is an application that is accessed via Web browser over the Internet.  Application runs on a web server. Markup documents are typically rendered on the User’s phone. No binary compilation or persistent local storage.

WiMax – (802.16a) WiMax is the trade name for a family of new technologies related to the IEEE 802.16 wireless standards. WiMax has the potential for very long range (5 – 30 miles) and high speeds. The initial version, based on 802.16a, is designed for fixed (non-mobile) applications only, such as a wireless replacement for home DSL or cable modem service.  Newer versions, such as 802.16e, add support for mobility, potentially making WiMax a competitor for certain 3G or 4G cell-phone technologies. WiMax uses OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing), an increasingly common type of digital wireless technology that is also used in some digital radio and television standards. WiMax operates at higher frequencies than mobile phone networks. WiMax technology can operate in the 2.5 or 3.5 GHz licensed bands, or in the 5.8 GHz unlicensed band.

WML (Wireless Markup Language)–  Computer language format used to create websites that can be viewed on a wireless telephone or device. WML is a XML-based markup language for mobile phones. WML has a very simple syntax. WML was standardized by W3C. WML is considered to be a legacy markup language for mobile devices. Implements WAP.

WTAI (Wireless Telephony Applications Interface) – A protocol used in conjunction with the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) to allow a phone number to be linked to a web page.

WURFL (Wireless Universal Resource File) – WURFL is an open source directory and APIs for programmatic discovery of mobile device capabilities.

XHTML – XHTML is a HTML markup language in XML-compliant syntax.

XHTML Basic – W3C-standardized subset of HTML targeted for mobile devices, pagers and set-top boxes.

XHTML-MP – Superset of XHTML-Basic defined by the Open Mobile Alliance industry group. XHTML-MP is considered to be the implementation of WAP 2.0. XHTML-MP is a very popular markup language for mobile devices and carrier sponsored applications and portals.

Want to know more?

You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies,software developmentAgile project managementmanaging software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projectsecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurshipecommercetelecommunications andsoftware development, I’m the Director, Technical Projects at eSpendWise, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Tshirtnow.net.

Pyxis Mobile, the Waltham based maker of mobile applications for the financial services industry, raises $2 Million June 28, 2010

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Pyxis Mobile, the Waltham based maker of mobile applications for the financial services industry, raises $2 Million from a group of investors led by Ascent Venture Partners, Egan Managed Capital, and Brook Private Equity.

Boston’s SCVNGR, location-aware mobile games maker, raises $4 Million January 3, 2010

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Boston’s SCVNGR, a maker of a mobile software platform that lets you build location-based games compatible with any mobile phone, raises $4 Million from a group of investors including Google Ventures and Highland Capital.

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Pyxis Mobile develops mobile applications for the hot mobile software market from their headquarters in Waltham, MA June 12, 2009

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6 billion wireless applications will be downloaded to smartphones by 2014, and Waltham, MA-based Pyxis Mobile is aiming to have a large piece of that market.

The company began selling software for mobile telephones in 2004.

The top picks for development environments in the mobile space seem to be RIM’s Blackberry platform, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, and Apple’s iPhone platform. RIM leads among business users, having sold 17.5 million Blackberry devices used for business last year, compared with 11.6 million Windows Mobile devices, 9.8 million telephones running Symbian, and 3.9 million iPhones. Google’s Android platform is a new competitor in this space, with several new Android handsets coming onto the market this year.

Pyxis Mobile is concentrating most of its development efforts on the Blackberry platform, but also has versions of its software available for both the iPhone and Windows Mobile.

Why designing for a VUI is more difficult than designing for a GUI May 11, 2009

Posted by HubTechInsider in Mobile Software Applications, VoIP, VUI Voice User Interface, Wireless Applications.
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Despite the fact that many Automated telephony and IVR vendors advertise that their web-based SaaS offerings can seemingly make the development, testing, deployment and maintenance of an IVR application seem easy and straightforward, this over-confidence in the VUI design abilities of untrained, non-technical business analysts and enterprise services managers is woefully misplaced. This mistaken impression is borne out by the simple fact that just because a software tool may be easy to use (even though all of these SaaS web-based vendors provide VUI tools with horrific interfaces and GUI designs, such as reliance on stone-age Java applets) only cursory thought, if any thinking at all, has been invested into how these untrained resources should use that tool. This can and often does lead to catastrophic results.

I frequently encounter the mistaken prevailing notion that designing a VUI consists of nothing more than taking a GUI and “simplifying it” for use on the telephone. As the thinking goes, we can all talk on the telephone; Not all of us can navigate a complex forms-based web site. But despite this mistaken general impression (perpetuated by IVR and automated telephony vendors and many software development teams within them, as well as their clients), some basic realities persist in shattering these ill-conceived concepts: People can read faster than they can listen with comprehension, speak faster than they can type, and talk much more quickly than they can process the meaning behind spoken words. So even though, based on initial impressions, designing an effective VUI might seem easier than designing a first-rate GUI, the converse is true: designing a great VUI is far more difficult than designing a GUI.

A VUI is inextricably linked with Time

When a user is navigating a GUI, they can read text at any location on the web page or application screen. The user can skip ahead visually to the section they are interested in. With a VUI, the user is a “prisoner” of the VUI design. The attention is captive: they must listen with (or without) patience to each word before they can hear the one that follows it. With this in mind, some best practices for VUI design emerge:

1. Long prompts are Bad: The longer the prompt, the more the user’s patience is being taxed. Introductory or “tutorial” prompts explaining how the system works may be required for an outbound IVR application or alternatively provided for the benefit of novice users, however they should not be forced upon returning visitors or outbound IVR call recipients that have received similar IVR communications in the past.

2. Long VUI menus are Bad: Again to use the GUI as a contrasting example, on a web page you can present many menu options to the user, even hiding numerous options in a drop-down menu. A VUI menu, on the other hand, should never exceed five or six items at the most.

3. Get to the gist of the communication quickly: Forcing your captive “audience” to listen through introductory marketing copy written into an outbound IVR or inbound VRU script will become annoying very quickly to the user. Script your important information into the beginning of your prompts.

4. Allow ‘barge-in’: Expert users who know how to use the system and know what they want to do desire the ability to speed up the automated interaction with the system. Allow them to issue their commands to the system without forcing them to wait for the system to finish talking.

5. Give expert users global hotwords: Global “hotwords”, or application-level shortcuts, allow users to “cut to the chase”, enabling them to cut through menus and enjoy the feeling of enablement that a responsive VUI system can provide.

6. Allow the user to pause the interaction: The GUI has another crucial advantage over the VUI – the ability to stop and start again exactly where you left off after an indeterminate interval. While providing the exact same level of interaction control to the user is impossible in a VUI, if within your VUI design you are asking the user to provide the system with a membership number in a COB (Coordination of Benefits) automated telephony call for a health care provider, or asking them for their account number in an inbound VRU application, or if the system wants the user to write down a confirmation code or other information, then design your VUI so that the call recipient or caller can get their pencil and paper ready, find their membership card, and say “continue” when they are ready.

The One-way Temporal Flow of the User

Of course, the spoken word is not only temporally linear, but also one-way. In the same manner in which time is a “one way street”, so is speech a “one way medium”. When you are listening to a prerecorded voice prompt, you can’t easily hit the nonexistant rewind button on your telephone. A VUI is not like watching a ball game on your DVR or Tivo, either. You can’t easily go back and listen to the prompt again. This is in stark contrast to the GUI world, where the user can jump back-and-forth within the text on the page or screen. Three simple techniques can help to alleviate this conundrum:

1. Always let the user ask to have the system repeat the prompt: Perhaps the most elementary technique to mitigate the one-way temporal flow of the user is to have the system offer to repeat the last prompt. The user must be made aware of the fact that they can have any prompt repeated to them at any time during the IVR interaction.

2. Make Help available to the user: Information or instructions that are crucial to the task completion ability of the call recipient or caller presented at the beginning of the interaction must be made available to the user at any point in the IVR interaction. Offer help to the user not only at the beginning of the call but also at moments where the user seems to have arrived at an impasse in the interaction. The need to offer help to the user is acute at “no input”, “Out of Grammar (OOG)” or “no match” states.

3. Present a summation of the gathered data: In form-filling dialogs or IVR interactions where the caller is being asked to provide information to the system, a marvelous approach to overcome the one-way temporal flow nature of the IVR interaction is to offer the call recipient or caller a summation of the data that has been gathered from them during the course of the IVR interaction so far.

Persistence in a VUI is not visible to the user as in a GUI

Callers or call recipients perhaps show the most frustration when they feel they have lost track of “where they are” in the course of traversing a scripted IVR inbound or outbound interaction. Aggravation mounts as the user becomes increasingly unsure of what to do next, and what the system expects the user to do next. Whereas a web page or application screen typically provides a multitude of visual ques, such as a menu tree, “breadcrumb” navigation path, or something similar, even something as simple and effective as a URL web address window on a browser is unavailable in the VUI world. Some approaches to mitigate these factors emerge to the experienced VUI designer:

1. Auditorily “Announce” the user’s position in the IVR exchange: In the same manner that a properly designed web page or application screen will tell the caller or call recipient where they are in terms of navigating a site or application, so should a well-designed voice interface let the user know their exact position in the IVR interaction. A simple and efective technique for providing the user with such “mental markers” is to use a word or two to announce this position to the user: “Main Menu”…”Here’s the drugs in your prescription refill:”, etc.

2. Audio breadcrumbs: The VUI version of the “breadcrumb navigation” trails that are featured so prominently on web sites in the GUI world can be emulated in the VUI world, where they prove no less useful. Each “voice page” that requires interaction with the user can be associated with a “position page” that announces the user’s position within the dialog tree. “Prescription, Reorder, Address”, as an example, would very nicely indicate to the user that they chose “prescriptions”, then “Reorder”,a nd are now confirming their prescription reorder address on file with the system. A “Go Back” provision or option should be offered to users at these “position page” states.

3. Audio Icons: Auditory icons, or “earcons”, are VUI equivalents of the GUI’s icons. These audio icons can be extremely useful to both the VUI designer as well as the call recipient or caller by either annoucing to the user that a particular action is about to be undertaken or positioning the user within a IVR menu structure or transaction path. “Wait audio”, or sounds played to the user to indicate that the system is busy performing a record lookup or other function can prevent the user from interpreting a system crash or IVR interaction end when faced with an absolute extended silence.

GUIs present one fundamental advantage over VUIs: the user navigating a web page or an application screen has control over the medium, the message, and the interaction itself. Although a poor GUI can make the user feel helplessly confused, a VUI faced with the challenges outlined above has to be near-perfect to prevent the user abandoning the IVR interaction entirely by the simple and universal act of hanging up the telephone. VUI designers should always be aware of the significant differences between designing an effective and useful GUI and VUI. It would be ill-advised to enter into a VUI design task or project of any size while carrying into the endeavor the familiar GUI design assumptions.

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About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurshipecommercetelecommunications andsoftware development, I’m the Director, Technical Projects at eSpendWise, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Tshirtnow.net.

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