Web App fail?

The first round of testing that Karlyn performed was a resounding… well, fail to be honest.  I received a phone call bright and early one morning with the results of Karlyn’s testing.

To be honest it just didn’t work for her.  After a fairly disappointed chat we figured out what the problem was – is – might be?

Our testing has been done with WI-Fi and with iphone 3gs’s, and whenever we have done tests they are under lab conditions with the watchful eye of Petra or myself.  Outwith those lab conditions it turns out that the world of mobile and web apps is a bit fraught.

The main issue was getting a consistent and reliable signal at 3g – without this our application doesn’t work so well.  This is probably true of almost all mobile applications that need an internet connection but particularly for us as we are getting back data from a couple of sources and presenting it.  One web service call and another direct HTTP connection but that is for each tile, so we are basically sending a whole lot of HTTP requests and over GPRS this is not so good.

We came up with a couple of ideas on how to solve this – 1) try the Google Maps 3 API which is a little more mobile centric 2) some caching

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lack of blogging – must mean we are busy

Since getting back from the JICRI conference we have been very quiet on the blog.  This doesn’t mean we haven’t been up to much (quite the opposite) but we have been a bit busy with other project commitments but I thought I better get blogging.

First of all thanks to everyone who spoke to us and voted for us at the JISCRI event.  Our cheeky little nerdy gag about Deloreans found a home.  We were able to hold our heads high as second place in the 20 second pitches, even after Pat’s rather brilliant phone based pitch.

So I thought I would do a couple of short posts on what we have been trying and what were up to as we have our prototype wandering into the users hands.

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Minutes of project meeting, 7th September

I was about to post the minutes of our most recent meeting when I noticed I hadn’t posted those of the previous meeting.  So not only are we presenting historical maps, we’re blogging historical meetings.  The paperwork must be done!

Present: Chris, Ian, Karlyn, Dave, Peter, Petra, James.

JISCRI Programme Meeting
Peter, Petra and Chris attend the JISCRI programme meeting in Manchester on Sept 3 & 4.  The meeting was useful in providing hints for development and for finding what other people are working on, especially in the Geo area.

In one sesssion, each project had to give a 45 second pitch.  Walking Through Time were voted 2nd out of 56 projects, which backs up our belief that our proposal generates a lot of interest.

Work Package 3
Our third development cycle, titled “Server-side Technologies and Data Ingest”, achieved the intended goals:

• Ability to Upload GPS route data
• Ability to add new locations
• Extensive Investigator field-testing, including route data and location information.
• Simple note tagging reinstated
• More work on UI – follow-me functionality, simplification of UI

Work Package 4
Our fourth cycle was on User Engagement and Advocacy.  Originally we were planning to involve the M.Sc. students at this stage but they were too involved with finishing their dissertations, so instead the investigators did more concentrated field testing themselves.  This gave useful feedback to the development team.

The meeting with the Historical Society is planned for the 18th.  This will be led by Karlyn and will give us feedback from non-academic users.

So far, the key problem is speed of presentation.  The new iPhone 3GS is fast enough.  iPhone 3G is a bit slow. Dropping from 3G to EDGE as you walk around makes performance too slow.  The problem is primarily on the client rather than server-side; we’re downloading too much data for slower networks.  So our work in WP5 will have to address this.  This is where agile management is giving us a win; we were planning for WP5 to be led by the feedback we received in WP4 and this is what is happening.

Work Package 5
As noted above, WP5 will concentrate on speed.  We will try using the new Google Maps API, which is supposed to be faster.  We will otimise our Javascript and HTML files to reduce their size.  We might also switch to a larger server.

Possibly we could also provide a bare-bones version with less functionality to download.

In addition to the performance work, we will also continue to improve the admin interface in response to feedback.

AOB
Ian will develop a route for testing.
James will see whether the historical maps provided by the National Library of Scotland are available as a WMS.
James will find other groups that could test, potentially elsewhere in the UK.

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Thoughts and reflections

Ok so a list to begin with of things that need attention. Then the next post might be the order, but lets get them down first…

1. speed (i know, i know, but its the big one)

2. feedback on buttons, because its slow, the temptation is to push a button more than once because you’re unsure if a service is on or off. If its a matter of graphics – tell me i can make some on/off versions very quickly. Key buttons are…

a) footprint

b) explore – somehow a way of knowing that ‘markers’ are on. Many times you will be in an area and there will be no markers, but you’re unsure if markers is on or off. So a way of telling the user that the markers are definitely on would be good.

c) Same for Route, although obviously you’re taken to their start point, but if you move away from the start point then you may forget that the routes are on and are obscuring other ways of seeing markers (for example).

3. I know this may be impossible to resolve, but its irresistible not to want to zoom into further than the maps allow. The 2 zoom levels are great, but can we have more? even if the bitmap just gets bigger? Plus you can get lost when you are too far out – you never know how many levels you have to click thru before you find yourself in an olf map again.

4. On my iphone there is a white bar at the bottom under the menu bar. Is that due to platforms standards? screen size? can we put anything in there?

5. Do we need a link anywhere to a project website? sounds like more buttons, but i wonder if people would need access to a help page.

6. Follow me is slow – i know this is a speed thing but to get the audience ‘really’ into the map then the follow me should be very responsive indeed. On my google map app, the blue dot feels like me cos it moves reasonably quickly after i do. This may be very hard to do on a web app.

7. Really picky – the balloon graphic top right on the screen could be cleaner (really picky! sorry)

8. When you click on a marker, some seem to be truncated – scott monument for example

9. Marker filling is great – fast and simple. Only the amount of text that is displayed is a problem – the page could be cooler i guess.

10. At some point we might want to develop a product site and a brand (probably my job) but like for comob, it would involve buying a URL and developing a micro site to ‘push’ the product. (www.comob.org.uk).

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Cross Platform?

One of our goals was to try and produce something which worked cross platform.  We recognised this was a bit of a steep call but our lofty goals haven’t stopped us this far.  As a lot of our earlier work was focused on exploring navigation techniques and ideas we got a little swept up in iPhone mania (I blame Chris personally) but worry not…

android Video

I gave it a spin in the android simulator and well … it works …

Kind of, a lot of the functionality which we are relying on api’s for doesn’t seem to work in the emulator but what does work is the very basics of the application – which is really, really encouraging

Please excuse the crudely put together flash video but I was so excited that I a) got the emulator to work and b) the application worked, I felt a need to share…

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Testing Times Ahead!

Chris is going to have good play with the version 1 of the application.

So we have produced a very quick summary of the available functions in the first phase of testing

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Routes and markers in time

Petra and I have been looking at the idea of routes and markers in time.

This is an interesting visualisation of that particular problem using insects and street lights

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Time travel motion sickness?

I read this article yesterday evening, when people are made to think about travelling in time it may cause anger

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Work on the Basics

With our recent successes in prototpying our next step is to get the basic functionality agreed:

Create Database Model -> 1 day
follow the user – > poll position – 1 day
Navigation across the top – to change the map layers – Fixed – 0.5 day
Query and display of markers – API – 2 days
Simple Route – 3 days

This is what we are looking at for our first bigger release of the software.  Our prototype at the moment is running away quite nicely at the back of the room but we are looking to build in the database functionality as our next big step.

In the loose set of requirements we identified for next bigger phase, include the following:

Routes Administration
Edit Landmarks
Settings and displays of application
Adding Notes to Landmarks
View by Notes – Using the Notes against a landmark to drive the navigation in terms of tagclouds etc
View by Landmarks – Sizing of the landmarks with the time period relating to size.
Make the routes more complex – changing the layers as the user progresses through the route.

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Screen grab

Looking good. Starting to work.

I was actually standing in the ECA quadrangle so we seem to be 3-400 metres SW of target. But pretty good progress so far.img_1215img_1216

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