Monthly Archives: December 2016

14 Business Trends That Will Grow Stronger In 2017

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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In the United Kingdom alone, the total number of business companies (private) was 5.5 million, at the start of the year. Interestingly, nearly 1 out of every 6 of these companies were small businesses. Move on to the United States – and the business scenario over here is even more robust, with more than 18.5 million registered companies. As the number of companies surge and individual revenue/profit figures spike, new trends are being detected. Individual players are gradually adapting them as well – in a bid to gain one up over their competitors. In 2017, we expect these business trends to really gain momentum:

  1. Millennials to phase out Baby Boomers

    Irrespective of what domain they belong in, companies need to constantly improve their work processes, adopt more efficient approaches to the way they do business. Millennials are, in general, a creative lot – and they seem the most suited to take up this challenge. By the end of 2017, a large chunk of entrepreneurs around the world will be millennials, while the older ‘Baby Boomers’ will be pushing ever closer to retirement. The presence of relatively young people in different positions will also help in more innovations in workplace.

  2. Rise and rise of e-commerce/m-commerce

    Shopify, Vend, 3dCart, Magento – there are lots of excellent web-based tools available, that can be used to create and launch ecommerce platforms for business. A recent worldwide study found that, nearly 59% of all customers were more than willing to buy stuff from the web. With smartphone usage going up at exponential rates and mobile payments becoming more and more mainstream (think: Apple Pay), m-commerce will also be surging in 2017 and beyond. All that the businesses have to do is offer interesting perks and offers to motivate buyers…and sales figures will soar.

  3. App addiction to grow further

    The demand for mobile business apps is not an entirely new phenomenon. Over the last 2-3 years, entrepreneurs from all around the globe have launched company apps – convinced by the potential sales/exposure benefits that mobile technology would yield (many of these apps were not of particularly high-quality, but that’s a different matter!). In the next year and beyond, it is expected that practically every business will have their own mobile application. There will be greater emphasis on quality as well, and companies will be contacting specialized mobile app agencies to develop their apps.

  4. Business Intelligence for big data

    Companies, tech or otherwise, will become increasingly dependent on advanced business intelligence software tools – including digital dashboards and OLAP systems – for handling big data. These BI tools will go a long way in transforming random data sets into neatly organized, actionable information subsets (e,g., the buying habits of customers, or the latest market demand trends). Right from data curation and secure storage, to ready accessibility and visualization – the new-age BI tools will do them all, and companies will benefit hugely from that.

  5. Thinking beyond email for internal communication

    Emails are steadily losing ground to newer collaborative tools for internal communications within a business. By October this year, the total number of daily users of Slack had moved beyond 4 million, and this figure would continue to rise in 2017. The arrival of Slack (and similar other tools) in a big way has done away with the need for employees to pay close attention to their email inboxes and chat boxes for messages from the peers/seniors. However, Slack won’t be totally replacing business email anytime soon – and email will still be the primary medium of interaction for external communication (with clients, stakeholders, other relevant people outside the company).

Note: The importance of social media channels for external communication. With mediums like Facebook and Twitter, precision targeting will be easily possible for businesses – and interactions will become more personalized.

  1. Technology to be used by non-tech people

    Not every entrepreneur is a tech wizard, neither can they hope to hire the most skilled tech geeks in the world. However, the need to implement technological tools and solutions in business operations is higher than ever before. In such a scenario, it is only natural that user-friendly, not-too-technical platforms will be launched – to make it easy for those who have minimal technical knowledge to be able stay afloat with the competition. A classic example of this is the ever-growing popularity of WordPress – a content management system (CMS) that enables people to launch websites, even without the required technical knowhow.

  2. Need for responsive business websites

    If you think that almost every company worth its salt already has a web portal…well…think again. According to a LSA survey conducted earlier this year, it was found that around 45% of small businesses did not have any websites of their own. From the rest, many websites were not optimized for mobile-viewing (i.e., not responsive). Given that 97% of customers tend to look up products online and check features/reviews before making a purchase-decision, the unavailability of an informative, mobile-friendly website can seriously hamper the development of a company. In 2017, more businesses will avail the services of web design and development companies to create dedicated web business portals. It’s no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ option, websites are now a ‘must-have’.

  3. Online videos to draw in audience

    Blog posts are good, updated interactive articles are great – but in the next year, online videos will become the single most most important channel to get potential customers/clients onboard. On average, nearly 65% of all visitors arrive on a company portal after watching short online video clips. Businesses will also start to share messages with users through videos more – given that the latter are likely to be viewed till completion, unlike full blogs and interactive posts (56% vs 28% and 34% respectively). On a YoY basis, there has been a 80% spike in video-watching stats on the web in 2016.

  4. Business communications and markets to become more segmented

    Entrepreneurs are gradually coming round to the idea that generic, one-size-fits-all solutions do not work well at all in the business domain. In future, corporate communications (primarily, email correspondences) will become more personalized – with the recipient’s name in the top and other customized information, while those (rather irritating!) mass mailers will become less frequent. In terms of market segmentation too, businesses will start to target more niche markets in 2017 and beyond. This strategy will help them to fulfill the precise requirements of target customers, instead of trying to satisfy larger segments – where the needs of users would vary greatly. Till recently, business owners were wary of targeting segments that were seemingly ‘too small’. That fear is slowly dissipating.

Note: Physical stores that merely deliver products, without any related domain expertise or support, will lose value in future. In order to survive and thrive, these brick-and-mortar stores will have to start providing expert advice, 24×7 consultancy, grievance redressal, and other such add-on services.

      10. On-demand services will grow

By the time 2017 is done and dusted, there will be many businesses that will not have any particular products of their own – but will simply connect customers with the things/services they are looking for (establishment of this connection will be their core business). Already, there are food delivery apps like Swiggy that do business in this manner – and have already become fairly successful. On-demand services, like the transportation services Uber provides, will be more and more sought after by users across the globe. It will be all about customer-convenience.

     11. Rise of cloud employees

Over the last 5-7 years, geographical boundaries have continued to shrink, at least in the business domain. Tech companies, in particular, will lend strength to this trend further – with the recruitment and management of ‘cloud employees’. The way in which this will work is simple enough: a company will contact a cloud-employee service provider (in another country) and share job descriptions. The latter company will hire workers accordingly, and projects will be completed at these ‘remote offices’. Such offshoring would a go a long way in enabling companies take up more work simultaneously, ensure high quality standards, and ensure that all projects are delivered on time. With communication tools like Skype being used on a regular basis everywhere, entrepreneurs would be able to monitor remote offices and the performances of cloud-employees with ease.

    12. Crowdfunding as a big help for startups

By the latter half of 2017, crowdfunding should surpass venture capital as the most important source of funds for startups (as well as for new product launches by established companies). Portals like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe are already used by many entrepreneurs (including even mobile app and game developers) to raise the necessary capital for their projects. What’s more – the use of these crowdfunding sites won’t be limited to fundraising either. Business analysts predict that companies will be able to validate their new products on these sites as well – bringing down the overall risk levels.

   13. More emphasis on data security

With businesses having to manage sensitive, personal customer information – they can no longer afford to be lackadaisical about data security standards. In the last couple of years, there have been several cases of high-profile data breaches in the United States alone. From 2017, Europay, Mastercard & Visa (EMV) should become an basic standard for making payments. Most credit/debit cards will have microchips, and the Point of Sale (PoS) terminals will be made completely secure. Companies will also start using other advanced data protection tools, to rule out all forms of unauthorized access and hack attacks. If a business does not pay attention to security standards, it might well be hurtling towards failure.

   14. Artificial intelligence and bots

Machine-to-Machine (M2M) learning is expected to grow rapidly in 2017 – and with that, many day-to-day business operations are likely to become automated. Bots, powered by high-end artificial intelligence (AI), is likely to play a big role in both logistics/transportation as well as peer-to-peer communications. Most large stores and malls will have sensor systems installed and monitored. For companies that are more into creative fields of work (design firms, graphic engineering, etc.), virtual reality (VR) tools will also prove to be useful.

Businesses have already started to shift their focus from simply selling products/services to customers, to establishing mutually beneficial connections with the latter. Most companies will start to view environmental considerations seriously too, and change up the tools/resources they use accordingly. Employee training will become more comprehensive, and individuals will be encouraged to develop their natural skills – instead of having responsibilities stacked on them by entrepreneurs. The trends highlighted here – along with many other new ones – will completely revolutionize the concept of business in 2017 and beyond. It’s going to be a fascinating watch!

 

 

[Guest Post] The 4 Essential Steps to Take When Your Business Starts Growing

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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(This GUEST POST has been contributed by Catherine Park, Content Writer & Editor at BackOfficePro)

 

Managing a business is one thing, but managing it when it starts to grow is something quite different. Business growth is a phase most sensitive to change and how you will react to and during it may very well shape the future of your establishment.

This is why we offer you this list of crucial steps to make if you want to sustain your business growth and reap all the benefits it brings to your organization.

Hire the Right People

With business growth comes the inevitable increase of demand. This also unquestionably creates more job openings in-house. This is why it is of utmost importance to hire the top talent in the field. The common mistake small and medium business establishments make in this phase is to hire new people as soon as possible so that the business process can continue.

Driven by the desire to stay competitive and not to lose this chance, they speed up the decision making process and end up hiring employees that have to go through a long onboarding process.

Focus on your Business Core

Business growth creates new possibilities for an organization. As it expands, all departments within it expand too. Some of the departments that are required to sustain the business growth may not even exist at that point, such as the marketing department.

Instead of going back to the business plan and hiring people for the departments you have no experience leading and organizing, consider outsourcing. While your outsourcing partner takes care of these projects for you, you can easily focus on the core of your business and make most out of this opportunity to expand your establishment.

Improve Efficiency

When your business starts to grow there is one more thing that requires immediate attention, especially in the small and medium sized business bracket. And that is efficiency. There are various methods and tools that could help you to drive efficiency within the organization. The best way is to implement new software solutions that have intuitive user interfaces, are easy to operate and have very short onboarding process.

One of those is project management software. It will help you get real-time insight on all ongoing projects and help you assign tasks and monitor progress for each one individually. On top of that, this software can be used as a collaborative and document sharing tool.

Invest into CRM

As your business starts to grow, the customer demographic also grows and may even change. In order to efficiently address customer satisfaction, retention and loyalty a good customer relationship management strategy is in order.

It will help you gather valuable information about your customers, which you can use to improve your product design, website, social media activity and other activities that involve direct contact with your customers.

By taking these four essential steps, you will be able to sustain business growth and increase your chances of success. One last piece of advice is to take care of your employees. Your employees are what makes your business tick, evolve and expand. Make sure to have regular meetings and organize team building events.

 

Author Bio: Catherine is content developer who works in BackOfficePro. A talented writer by day and a good reader by night. She expresses her feeling and thoughts with the writing. She is loathe discussing herself in the third person, but can be persuaded to do so from time to time.

UI Designer vs UX Designer: Understanding The Differences

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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How many times have you come across online ads looking for ‘UI/UX designer’? Such references make the terms UI and UX seem absolutely identical. However, using the two terms interchangeably is erroneous, for, while the roles are broadly similar (as part of design processes) – there are important inherent differences between the two. Over here, we will list out some of these differences between User Interface (UI) and User Experience Design (UX):

 

  1. Scope and coverage

    Purely from the respective scopes of operation of UI designers and UX designers, the latter cover a much wider area than the former. UX covers the overall user-experience with any product, how people interact with it, and how their needs are being fulfilled (and obviously, UX need not be necessarily associated with tech products). UI, on the other hand, works on a more ‘micro’ level – dealing with the actual appearance and feel of the product, the buttons, tabs and clickable areas, and all the other elements that make up the overall user-experience. In a nutshell, UX is about optimizing the user-experience, and UI is about how it is done, on a granular level.

  2. Design motives

    A UI designer is typically concerned with the visual appeal of the product (say, a mobile application). (S)he combines different forms of typography and colors to satisfy the the precise requirements of clients (note: the final user is NOT the chief point of concern here). A UX designer typically is more interested in human-centered design principles – how the implemented design impacts the interactions with the product. Instead of fonts and colors, (s)he is more involved in broader aspects, like task flows and simulated environments/scenarios.

Note: UI designers answer the question ‘How a product looks?’ UX designers are concerned about ‘How a product feels?’

    3. Tools they work with

Given the basic similarities in the roles of UI and UX designers, it is not surprising to note that the set of tools/software tools they work with have a lot in common. For instance, both are likely to be proficient in using Adobe Illustrator, Adobe PhotoShop and Sketch. However, tools for mobile/web prototyping (InVision, for example) are exclusively in the domain of UX designers. They frame out the overall behaviour flow for a product, while the onus is on UI designers to maintain the consistency in the visual designs, and ensure that the plans laid out by the UX professional are properly implemented.

     4. The Good and The Bad

If a website or a mobile app is beautifully designed (very creative splash screens, great home page/screen et al.), that’s a great example of a ‘good UI’. However, that does not automatically imply that the said site or app has a ‘good UX’ as well. For that to happen, the usability of the site/screen has to be optimized, so that users get the best possible experience from accessing it. By the same token, an app with a ‘good UX’ in theory might have a ‘horrible UI’ (think about elaborate flowcharts and design plans falling in the hands of inept designers). Both UI and UX are necessary, and neither of them are sufficient without the other.

Note: UX is more of a concept, the way in which people are expected to use a product. UI is more technical, and is related with actual, physical elements on the product.

  1. Thinking prowess

    Designers, whether dealing with the UI or the UX of any product (once again, let’s stay with our example of apps) have to be creative – there are no two ways about it. However, UI designers also need to be masters at ‘convergent thinking’, for identifying and deciding the ideal design elements/interactions to be used on a product. For UX designers, ‘critical thinking’ abilities are more important. With the product at the center, they have to zero in on a uniform, optimal, predictable behaviour of the user. A UX designer simply has to be present in a project right through, while the task of a UI designer is limited to a stage.

  2. Multiple stops vs Complete journey

    UI design would be the former, while UX design would be comparable to the latter. UI designing involves multiple tasks (adding a button here, designing a screen header there) – all of them contributing to the complete journey of a user while using the product. In the interface, the specific design guidelines and instructions (generally given by clients) are adhered to. To put it differently, UI focuses on the product itself, while UX is more about the user who would use it. The UX justifies the UI elements used by a graphic designer.

  3. Project deliverables

    Everyone involved in a mobile app development project has deliverables. UI designers and UX designers are no exceptions either. Project sitemaps, prototypes and high-fidelity mockups, storyboards – all of these fall under the deliverables of a UX personnel. The UI designer works on a more micro level, and is generally responsible for delivering all the individual visual elements, as well as defining the behaviour/flow between them.

Note: Contrary to what many believe, the role of a UX designer is not a market research-oriented one – although there are certain basic similarities between the tasks of UX experts and market researchers.

  1. Subset and superset

    UX-designing is an exhaustive, all-encompassing job – and UI is present as a subset within it. Also included in the domain of User End experience are information architecture, audio, video and text content, interaction designs (user-product interactions) and industrial designs, in addition to visual designing. UX can be summarized as ‘Designing For Emotion’ (as done by Mailchimp’s lead UX designer) – in the sense that, it ‘influences’ the emotions and ‘conveys’ a message to the user, when (s)he uses the concerned product. UI designing is one of the many design responsibilities under UX.

  2. Overall responsibilities

    We have already established that the UX is a more ‘macro’ concept than UI, and the scope of operations of a UX designer is much more elaborate than that of a UI designer. Let’s here take stock of the actual responsibilities of the two sets of professionals: Determining the look and feel of a website or a mobile app (including the branding requirements) is the responsibility of the UI expert. (S)he also has to look into things like cross-device compatibility, prototyping, animations and the overall responsiveness of visual elements. UX designers, on the other hand, handle the conceptualization and implementation of design/behaviour strategies, and perform all the user-analysis and competitor research required for that. Goal-tracking is another important responsibility, and UX designers have to work in close collaboration with UI experts and software developers (web/mobile). In essence, the UX designer is almost like a ‘project manager’.

  3. UI is tangible; UX isn’t

    Every element in the user interface of a mobile app can be seen and touched. These are the tools with which a user interacts with the application, the way in which (s)he can control it. UX is, however, intangible – and deals with the overall experience (good or otherwise) that a person has while using the app. For instance, if a button on the mobile screen is easily visible and tappable, that amounts to a good UI – but if it takes a long time for the next screen to load, the user-experience is ruined.

Note: UI is limited to individual mobile or web screens. UX, in most cases, has no such limitations – and it views the application as a complete package.

    11. Other related tasks

A UX designer typically servers several other functions – like functional analysis, program management, and even content strategist. A UI designer can easily double up as a graphic expert, a website designer and (in select cases) a front-end app developer. Designing the visual branding elements (logos, images, colours, etc.) is also something that the UI personnel have to handle. More importantly, the UI designer and the UX designer should not be the one and the same person. The reason for this is simple: UI is not equal to UX!

 

UI (at the granular level) and UX (at the overall level) are both vital cogs in the field of software designing and the future of web/mobile development. What’s more, the two are interdependent on each other as well. Optimized UI and UX are vital for the ultimate success of a mobile app – and it would be a folly to neglect any of them in favour of the other.

 

 

Home Automation: Trends To Look Out For In 2017

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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Between 2014 and 2020, the smart home industry is projected to grow by more than 406% ($400 billion vs $79 billion). A recent statistical report revealed that, the total number of home automation units sold globally will cross 9.5 million in 2017. Revenues from smart home components will, expectedly, spike as well – moving beyond the $1.3 billion figure. With smart home integration platforms like openHAB steadily gaining in popularity, this industry will grow at accelerated rates over the next 5 years or so. Over here, we will do a roundup of the most interesting trends in home automation to look forward to in 2017 and beyond:

  1. Remote adjustment of lights

    The Hue Bridge devices from Philips already do this, and the technology should get even more sophisticated in the next year. Users will be able to switch on the lights inside their homes from outside (say, from inside their cars) – simply by tapping on a designated app on their smartphones. This service will be particularly convenient for people returning home at night (and had not left the light switches on when they had left in the morning). No more bumbling ahead for keys and lights in the dark…a swipe on the phone screen can switch on the bulbs, even before the user enters his/her house!

Note: Lights can also be switched off/on remotely via Apple HomeKit, with the help of voice commands to Siri.

  1. Cool 3D printing solutions for home renovation

    Customization is something most (if not all) homeowners seek for, at the time of renovating their houses. Smart home experts as well as developers feel that advanced 3D printing techniques will have a big role to play in this, come 2017. What’s more, 3D printing should bring down the average home renovation costs as well, while delivering ideal, personalized solutions to owners. It will be easier than ever for people to create their so-called ‘dream homes’.

  1. Smarter, more aesthetic thermostats

    Over the next 12 months or so, adoption of ‘zone-based thermostats’ should witness a surge. These thermostats help in saving power, by heating only the room(s) which are occupied by people (no more heating the entire house for no one). These thermostats will be programmable as well, allowing users to set the temperatures through their tablets or smartphones. Yet another great thing about these new-age thermostats is their visual appeal. Most of them nicely match the overall interior decor of rooms, unlike their older counterparts. Comfortable and beautifully designed, that’s what smart home thermostats will be in future.

Note: The smart, self-learning thermostats can, on average, save 15% on cooling expenses and around 13% on heating expenses.

  1. Home security systems to get an edge

    Security is already a big part of the smart home setup – and it is going to become more cutting-edge in 2017. Apart from receiving timely alerts and notifications on phones/tablets, people will be able to view live video feeds of their homes (say, when the fire alarm goes off), and even check their pets – whenever they are not at home for extended periods. The remote home monitoring systems might even let parents make sure that their kids are back from school/college on time. In essence, ‘connected homes’ will gradually become synonymous to ‘safer homes’ over time.

  1. Growth of voice technology for smart homes

    Lutron and NEST have already shown the way – and it should not be long before practically every component of home automation becomes controllable with voice commands. Right from home entertainment systems and thermostats, to smart lights and other ‘connected’ household devices – people will be able to use them all with their voice. All that the homeowners will have to do is ‘speak’ out their requirements, and the smart gadgets will do the task. The adoption figures of voice-powered assistants like Amazon Alexa will soar higher.

  1. Smart gadgets for a better sleep

    How about relying on technology for making your daily beauty sleep just that bit better? In 2017, this is going to be a big thing – with ‘smart sleep gadgets’ expected to become a $126-$130 million market. Using these systems will involve attaching a small clip on the pillow – which would monitor the quality and duration of sleep, as well as sleep disturbances (if any). The sleep gadgets will also adjust the humidity, sound, light and temperature levels at optimal levels, to ensure sound sleep. If you are feeling drowsy, you won’t have to drag your feet across the hallway to switch off the TV either – the home automation tool will take care of that.

Note: Oh, and how about the coffee-maker being automatically switched on, as soon as you get up? That’s going to be a possibility too!

  1. Connected kitchens

    Over the last half a decade, kitchen appliances have come a long-way in terms of efficiency, performance and energy-saving capabilities. The next couple of years will witness the launch of many kitchen tools and equipments that will be adjustable through mobile applications. More basic stuff, like getting notifications when the laundry is complete or when the refrigerator is empty, will add to the convenience of homeowners as well. Kitchens are going to get smarter than ever before!

  1. Advanced door locks

    Consider this: a person is returning with two heavy shopping bags, he has to fish out the door keys from his pocket, and then open the door. Not a particularly easy task, right? Well, with home automation becoming more and more futuristic – there will soon be more ‘intelligent’ door locks. These locks will be programmed to identify the approaching footsteps of the owner, and get unlocked in a handsfree manner. Obviously, security remains a concern for these door locks – but the system is expected to become more foolproof by the end of 2017.

    9. Smarter sound systems and home theaters

    In connected homes, the concept of home entertainment systems will undergo a complete overhaul. With new and powerful sound systems, residents will be able to listen to music, sounds and even audiobook narrations – while performing their daily household chores. The speakers will be adjustable with dedicated mobile apps. Several new models of home theaters are also likely to hit the markets next year, and people will be able to set them up at almost any section of their house – from the basement and attic, to guest rooms and garages.

     10. Smart ovens

These grabbed eyeballs in a big way at this year’s Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) consumer electronics trade show in Berlin. Going by early interest levels, it can be reasonably expected that these smart ovens – often with built-in recipes (downloadable) – will show robust adoption figures and sales between 2017 and 2020. Yet another cool feature of these ovens would be the in-built temperature probes, which would allow users to adjust cooking remotely.

Note: From the home automation domain, the spin-cycle and temperature-adjustable washing machines showcased at IFA 2016 are also worth a mention.

      11. Greater focus on energy-efficiency and sustainability

For all the technological advancements and use of automated tools, sustainability will remain at the core of smart homes. In the next year, usage of paper insulation in construction is likely to really grow in popularity – given the many advantages it has on offer. For structural frames and beams, bamboo is likely to become a frequently-used material. The new home automation devices are all geared towards lowering the overall carbon footprint levels and average energy costs. LED lights, triple-pane windows and solar panels are all set to become regular fixtures in smart homes.

     12. Remote home cleaning

Robotic vacuum systems are already available in the market (a good example would be the Roomba 980), and these will make their way into smart homes in 2017 and beyond. Powered with advanced sensors, these systems will have the capability of cleaning every corner of the home – and users will be able to control the vacuum via their smartphones. The vacuum systems will also have user-friendly dashboards, where the cleaning process would be displayed.

     13. Smart sprinklers and garden equipments

The principle of the new garden sprinklers is simple enough: they offer more features without forcing the owners to spend more time monitoring them. Apart from drips and timer features, these dynamic sprinkler systems will adjust themselves according to the soil nature, weather & rainfall forecasts, humidity levels, and other external factors. For homeowners who love their gardens, these sprinklers will work like a charm!

With home automation tools evolving at a rapid pace, smart homes seem all set to enter the mass markets next year. Artificial intelligence will have a mighty important role to play in transforming the present-day ‘connected homes’ into truly ‘ubiquitous homes’ by 2025. The scope of Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to expand next year, with smart homes being one of the fastest growing sectors in it.

 

Top 20 Tech Products To Look For In 2017

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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From the iPhone 7/7 Plus, to HTC Vive and Oculus Rift – a lot of mighty impressive new gadgets hit the markets in 2016. Among users worldwide, the love for technologically advanced gadgets have soared to unprecedented levels already. According to a recent Cisco report, the average person is expected to own as many as 5 gadgets (with some form of internet connectivity), by the next year. In the United Kingdom alone, each person uses 9-10 tech gadgets, with the cumulative gadget-count over there being well in excess of 600 million. 2017 promises to be an equally exciting year for gadget-lovers across the globe, and over here, we turn our attentions to some cool new tech products expected (and widely anticipated) to launch over the next 12 months or so:

  1. A new Google Pixel phone

    Launched in October, the all-new Pixel smartphones from Google are off to a strong start. Within the first week of release, the Pixel XL handset already outperformed the Nexus 6P in terms of user-adoption (within the same time-frame). There is every chance of Google coming up with an updated Pixel phone sometime in the second half of 2017. The new phone, when it arrives, should have quite a few hardware enhancements. It seems like Google is on to a winner!

  2. Smarter home automation tools

    2016 was widely believed to be the year when the concept of ‘smart homes’ really took off. Fair to say, the growth has not been as per expectations – with only a small percentage of users worldwide actually trying out the available home automation solutions. The next year should witness the launch of a wide array of cutting-edge smart home tools (eShower, anyone?). The growing popularity of integrated home automation platforms like openHAB, together with the new tools, should push up the total number of global users significantly.

  3. An update to the Surface Pro series

    Since the launch of the 1st-gen Surface Pro detachable tablet in 2013, Microsoft has released new versions of it every year – barring 2016. Expect that to be set right in 2017, when the company should release a new Surface Pro model, with a slew of powerful features and capabilities. The Surface Studio PC will be officially launched in December this year, and we will probably have another version of the tablet in the markets before 2017 runs out.

  4. Internet to become more mainstream than ever

    If you thought that the ‘global internet population’ is already at an all-time high, well…think again! Taking 2012 as a base year, the total number of internet users across the world will have grown by 3.7 million+, with new connections becoming available on close to 20 million devices. The quality of web service is constantly increasing too. Between the 2012-2017 period, average broadband speeds should show almost a four-fold increase. The total IP traffic from 1984 to 2012 was around 1.2 zettabytes. In 2017 alone, the IP traffic is expected to be close to 1.5 zettabytes. The Web is spreading!

  5. New virtual reality headsets

    2016 has mostly been a ‘year of learning’, as far as the domains of virtual reality and augmented reality are concerned. The next year should see a spurt in VR-adoption figures. Vendors like Asus, Dell and Lenovo are all set to launch new, powerful Windows 10 virtual headsets, which would be: a) easily pluggable to PCs, and b) at a starting price of $299, quite a bit cheaper than most other existing headsets (for instance, the starting price of Oculus Rift is $599).

  6. iPhone 8

    This year’s iPhone 7/7 Plus have witnessed robust early sales – but they haven’t quite matched up the early adoption figures of 2014’s iPhone 6/6 Plus. General users as well as professional software/mobile app developers also feel that the iPhone 7 is rather ‘too similar’ to last year’s iPhone 6S. With 2017 being the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, Apple will be really upping its game for the iPhone 8 (due for the usual September release). The sharp LED (organic) display, the removal of the home button and the all-glass body have already made news – and the Cupertino company is also working on including special augmented reality features for applications. There might just be variants of iPhone 8 with new screen sizes as well.

  7. Artificial intelligence to arrive in a big way

    The number and types of services and web/mobile applications with artificial intelligence is all set to explode in 2017 and beyond. By 2019, there will be more than 112 million AI-powered consumer gadgets available in the United States alone. Enterprise-focused AI solutions will also grow in a big way. What’s more, practically every aspect of Internet of Things (IoT) will be backed up by AI.

  8. Google smartwatch

    With all due respect to Android Wear devices, Apple Watch still has a stranglehold on the domain of wearable technology. Expect Google to try and make a dent in it, by launching its very own smartwatch, sometime in 2017. There will be software updates for Android Wear as well. The Google Watches will have circular displays and should bolster the interest levels in wearable tech products even further.

  9. Growth in M2M communication

    Compared to 2012, the total number of M2M communication nodes in the world will grow by nearly 192%, by the end of 2017 (2.8 billion vs 960 million). The volume of M2M IP traffic will also show a whopping 20-times increase. Over the last 5-6 years, the number of M2M connections have also tripled. 2017 will be a really big year, as far as machine learning and M2M communicability are concerned.

  10. New iPad Pro

    The ambitious iPad Pro tablets (both 2015’s 12.9” model and this year’s 9.7” model) pack in a lot of powerful features – but they have not been really effective in reviving the flagging sales of Apple tablet. In a bid to breathe a fresh lease of life to the iPad lineup, Apple will launch a 10.5” iPad Pro 2 in 2017. A Bloomberg report has also suggested that there will be improvements in the Apple Pencil as well.

  11. Galaxy S8

    Samsung, the arch-rivals of Apple, stumbled on an absolute howler in the form of the Galaxy Note 7. The company will be desperate to make up for some of the lost ground, with next year’s Galaxy S8 (although the prospect of a Galaxy Note 8 remains far off). The built-in mobile digital assistant in S8 will be powered by Viv, and it should add an additional efficiency layer to the phone. Samsung needs a successful flagship, after the Note 7 debacle.

  12. New Fitbit gadgets

    You wear the Fitbit activity trackers on your wrist – and that’s the end of the story, right? Well, 2017 can hold a surprise for you in this regard, since Fitbit has already promised a line-up of gadgets with new form factors. It will be interesting to see what changes Fitbit actually incorporates in its products next year.

  13. Accelerated digital transformation for businesses

    The importance of digital transformation for enterprises, for getting the most out of new technologies as well as making daily workflows more efficient, will emerge in a big way over the next few years. There will be a noticeable increase in the adoption of these methods in 2017 – and by 2019, the total investments (on a global scale) on digital transformation drives will touch $2.3 trillion. Cloud-based services for businesses will also become more commonplace, and adoption of big data tools will soar.

  14. Google Andromeda OS

    As per early reports from Android Police, Google is likely to launch a new laptop in 2017 – running on the breakthrough Andromeda operating system. The new OS will be available for tablets as well. According to industry experts and software/app-makers, the Andromeda OS will be a torch-bearer for the future of Google Chromebooks. A new Google laptop with brand-new OS – what’s there to not like about it?

  15. New Mac computer

    The chances for Apple releasing a new iMac model in 2017 are remote – but the company might just spring a surprise. There have been reports that the Cupertino tech giant is planning to add the USB-C port to Mac computers, and a new model may arrive in the fall of 2017. Of course, the macOS 10.13 update will also be coming next year.

  16. More apps. Many more apps

    By June 2016, the total number of apps in Google Play Store had shot up to 2.2 million. Apple App Store also has well in excess of 2 million applications. These numbers will swell further over the next few quarters. According to estimates, the total number of app downloads will be more than 268.7 billion in 2017 (a 16% rise over this year’s figure). Downloads of both free apps as well as paid apps will go up – to 254 billion and 14.7 billion respectively. App developers will also be launching many new applications for new-age gadgets like smartwatches and smart TVs.

  17. Foldable smartphone

    This has been in the news for long, and there is a strong probability of Samsung actually launching it sometime in 2017. The fact that a patent has already been registered by Samsung adds further credence to this rumour. While not much is known about the precise features and capabilities of the device yet, it will have a bendable display – the first-of-its-kind on a smartphone.

  18. Surface Book 2

    The Surface Book, launched in October 2015, was the very first laptop from Microsoft. Contrary to initial predictions, it has become fairly successful as well (even with its rather high price tag). There is every chance that Microsoft will try to build on this success with a new, more-powerful Surface Book 2 next year. It won’t be a rival of Apple’s Macbook anytime soon, but Microsoft does have something to work on here.

  19. Improved network services

    A key factor behind the expected surge in internet traffic is the higher broadband speed level that users are going to get. By the end of 2017, 84% of all broadband connections will have at least 5Mbps speed, 56% will offer 10 Mbps, and around 3% connections will be 100 Mbps. The web-browsing/video downloading experience will be better than ever.

  20. Nintendo Switch

    January 2017 cannot come quickly enough for video game lovers in general, and Nintendo fans in particular. That’s when all the details about Nintendo Switch – an all-new gaming console with portability as a major feature (it also works on TV sets) – will become publicly available. The console itself will arrive at the markets in March.

There is an outside chance of driverless cars becoming commercially available in 2017 as well, although the much-hyped Apple Car won’t be ready till a couple of years later. Internet of Things (IoT) will grow more advanced, there will be advances in the field of ‘smart cars’ and ‘smart homes’ – and the API economy will continue to grow stronger. Many other new flagship smartphones, from different vendors, will also be released. 2017 will be yet another great year for tech-enthusiasts the world over, and it remains to be seen how many of the products listed here actually make it to the market.

 

REST APIs, OAuth2 Security and Apigee Edge – FAQ

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
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The API economy is growing rapidly, there are no two ways about it. According to estimates, APIs will, on a global scale, form a USD 2.2 trillion industry, by the end of 2018. Within the next two years or so, 3 out of every 4 Fortune 500 firms (on average) will start to operate and manage their very own application program interfaces. For big players like eBay, Expedia and Salesforce, APIs are already a major revenue source (60%, 90% and 50% respectively).

With the growing popularity of APIs both in the enterprise and the general domains, certain misconceptions about them have also surfaced. Lack of thorough knowledge can affect the standard of platforms created by API providers, and can hinder their optimal utilization by mobile app developers. Today’s discussion is divided in three sections – each being a FAQ section on the basics of REpresentational State Transfer (REST) APIs, OAuth2 security standard and the Apigee Edge platform:

REST APIs – FAQ

     1) What is a REST API?

 

REpresentational State Transfer, or REST, refers to a lightweight architectural approach for the development and deployment of web applications and services. The simple URL-based (standard HTTP) structure of REST has contributed in it gradually becoming more popular than the XML-based SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) architecture. Any application program interface created by using REST standards is called a ‘REST API’ or a ‘RESTful API’.

     2) Which HTTP methods are supported by REST?

POST and GET are the two simplest forms of HTTP methods in the REST architecture. The former submits the data that has to be processed, and generates the new information/resource. GET, on the other hand, is used for requesting a resource at the URL-level. From the request-URL, resources can be removed with the DELETE method, and updated with the PUT method. Metadata can be displayed with HEAD, while OPTIONS highlights all the methods/techniques used to access the concerned API.

      3) Is there any rule regarding the naming of a REST API?

There aren’t as such any particular restrictions in this regard. However, from the design perspective, API developers typically recommend using ‘nouns’ (instead of ‘verbs’) in the base URL of the API. This practice goes a long way in preventing method calls from becoming confusing – owing to the presence of many related resources/objects – later on.

      4) How important are the HTTP status codes in REST?

Extremely important. Incorrect usage of HTTP status codes can seriously hamper the performance/reliability of an interface – and can also introduce a lot of redundancy in the architecture. The following codes have to be used in the correct manner:

  •          401 – to be returned when there are problems/errors in the input data.
  •          404 – to be returned when the requested resource is unavailable.
  •          201 – to be returned for a successfully created operation.
  •          405 – to be returned when an inappropriate HTTP method is used.
  •          400 – to be returned for bad requests.
  •          403 – to be returned as a response to unauthorized access of resource.

Note: There are several other REST-specific HTTP codes. Read up on them before starting to work with the REST protocol.

      5) What type of HTTP headers should be used?

That depends on the exact features and capabilities of the API under question. For instance, if you are building a platform that will support server-side response caching, ETag headers will be suitable for it. In general, API providers use either Accept-headers or Content-headers for platforms that are compatible with several data formats (JSON, XML, and others).

     6) How is REST different from AJAX?

For starters, the REST protocol requires continuous interaction of the customer with the backend server – something that is not essential in the AJAX framework. Unlike REST, which is a software architecture style, AJAX is a technology set (for UI-updation dynamically). Responses in AJAX are created with JavaScript.

     7)  Which API library should be used for RESTful APIs?

JAX-RS is the standard API library that is invoked by developers for server-side communication (within the Java framework). For SOAP APIs, the standard library for communication is JAVA-WS.

     8) REST or SOAP – Which one is faster?

Given its heavyweight nature, it is no surprise that SOAP APIs are typically offer slower performance than their REST counterparts. What’s more – the reads/responses in REST can be cached (not possible in SOAP). Compatibility with a much larger set of data formats (multiple in REST; only XML in SOAP) is another big advantage.

     9) Is versioning important for REST APIs?

Yes, very much so. Apart from the API name and the names of operations, the version details should also be included in the API signature. Proper versioning ensures that the performance of the app (which uses the API) is not affected/broken when the API is updated. Even for new APIs, versioning is an absolute must.

      10) What are the integration methods used in REST?

Asynchronous message swapping, database sharing and the batch file transfer mechanism are three application integration styles often used in the REST architecture. In certain cases, developers can also go with the Remote Procedure Call (RPC) process.

To get an insight into the need for API strategy optimization, click here.

OAuth2 – FAQ

     1)What exactly is OAuth2?

 

OAuth2 is a popular authorization framework or protocol, relied upon by software developers worldwide. Through the framework, web and mobile applications can access information from user-accounts (to a limited degree). A good example of OAuth2 in action would be when apps request for certain access permissions from the social media account(s) of a user. OAuth2 is used for establishing the security standards of third-party desktop, web and mobile applications.

      2) What are the ‘Tokens’ in the OAuth2 system?

Tokens, or ‘access tokens’, are used by the client-side applications to access and utilize information from user-accounts (a form of permissions). The tokens are generated by the server, following a validated request by the concerned third-party app. It should be noted that OAuth2 complements the Open ID protocol.

     3) What are the defined ‘roles’ in OAuth2?

There are 4 specific ‘roles’ or ‘elements’ in the OAuth2 framework. The ‘Authentication Server’ is in charge of verifying and authenticating the owner of a resource, and delivering access tokens to external applications. The app itself is called ‘Client’ – and it has to be authorized and validated, before limited access to protected data is granted to it. The user is the ‘Resource Owner’, in charge of authorizing the permission requests and the degree of access. Finally, the ‘Resource Server’ is where all the user-account information is hosted.

     4) What are the ‘grant types’ in OAuth2 authorization?

Once again, there are 4 different types of ‘grant’ available in the OAuth2 security system. For general login purposes, ‘Passwords’ are provided. ‘Implicit’ grants are given for web browser-based as well as mobile applications. For apps working on web servers, OAuth2  generates ‘Authorization Codes’. For actually accessing information, ‘Client Credentials’ are required.

    5) What is a CSRF attack threat in OAuth2?

CSRF, or Cross Site Request Forgery, is a serious security threat that can affect OAuth approvals. The technique is used to access information from user accounts, without the consent of the concerned users. On the authorization server, hackers can validate authorizations to their own secure resources, and then manipulate the client redirects. To minimize CSRF-attack risks, state parameters should be bundled in with all requests to the authorization server.

    6) How to register an application for OAuth2 service?

Signing your app up for OAuth2 support is fairly easy. All that you have to do is fill up the registration form (available from the website). Apart from the name of your app and its website (along with, maybe, a short description), you also have to specify a Redirect URL (where the app will redirect to, after the access permission is granted). Post-registration, a Client ID and a unique Client Secret are allotted to every user.

    7) Apart from CSRF, are there any other security issues in OAuth2?

Unfortunately, yes. SQL injection, phishing and even owner impersonation are all fairly common methods for breaching the authorization framework. The good thing is, there are ways to avoid these risks as well. For example, using an encryption method while storing credentials does away with SQL injection threats. Provided that the servers have valid security certificates (i.e., on HTTPS), chances of phishing are also negligible.

    8) What is the reason behind the presence of so many risks?

The security threats in OAuth2 do not stem from any weakness or loopholes in the framework itself. Rather, the problems can crop up due to improper implementation of the same. Note that, OAuth2 does not provide native security assurance and requires the support of other protocols (Secure Socket Layer, for instance) to ensure completely secure data exchanges.

    9) How is OAuth2 different from OAuth1?

OAuth2 is a significant improvement over its predecessor, on multiple counts. Unlike OAuth1, it is not optimal for only desktop browsers – and can deliver equally robust authorization solutions for mobile apps (including gaming applications). OAuth2 is much more easily scalable than the earlier version as well. The base authentication system is also made simpler in Oauth2 (HTTPS in place of the confusing signature requests).

10) Do any of the big players in the IT domain use OAuth2?

Oh, yes…and how! From Facebook and Twitter, to Yahoo, GitHub and Google – most of the big players rely on Oauth2 to provide information from user-accounts on their servers (to third-party client apps). In fact, a key driver behind the launch of so many social networking apps in the recent quarters is the presence of the OAuth2 tool.

 

Apigee Edge – FAQ

    1) What is Apigee Edge all about?

 

Apigee Edge is an advanced cloud-based API management tool/service. It is used to both create and manage API proxies, which, in turn, deliver a series of value-added services. Web and mobile app developers who need to use the backend are the primary customers of the proxies managed by Apigee Edge.

    2) Are there any variants/packages of Apigee Edge?

Yes. The basic package is called Apigee Edge Start, while the pro-level package is called Apigee Edge Enterprise. The latter, understandably, has certain important additional features.

    3) How secure is the Apigee Edge platform?

From the security perspective, Apigee Edge is right up there. It is compatible with the OAuth2 authorization framework (discussed above), and also has separate throttling rules to do away with replay risks. Developers can also prevent any particular IP address from accessing the API, with this tool.

   4) What is the importance of the API Proxies created by Apigee Edge?

The proxies serve as an additional layer of authentication. They map the backend with a custom HTTP endpoint – doing away with the need of app-makers having to connect with the backend directly. Apigee Edge depends on these API proxies to optimally perform a wide range of tasks – right from authorization and monitoring, to data security and monetization.

  5) Can custom codes be used in Apigee Edge?

The user-friendly extension policies of Apigee Edge ensures that app developers can use their custom codes without any hitch. Java, Javascript and Python are some examples of coding languages that can be used within the Apigee Edge system. Also, the tool makes the overall API development cycle shorter.

   6) What are the main elements of Apigee Edge services?

Broadly speaking, the Edge services can be classified under the following three heads:

  • API services – These include both the development as well as the consumption of APIs (by app developers).
  • Developer services – These are all about managing the communities of internal and external developers who are using the backend services through API proxies.
  • Analytics services – Errors, call information, latency and all other important metrics information related to APIs are collected and analyzed by the Apigee Edge analytics service. Short-term/long-term trends in these are studied as well.

    7) Does Apigee Edge reduce the total amount of coding required?

Yes, the system does offer the ‘less-coding-to-do’ advantage for API providers. The basic structure of a REST-based API proxy can be created quickly – and there are many other customized configuration solutions available as well. Response message assigning, request variable extraction, OAuth policy execution – all tasks can be performed with ease, thanks to these XML-based configurations.

     8) What is Apigee Edge on the cloud?

Apart from its ‘on-premises’ offering (officially known as Edge for Private Cloud), Apigee Edge also has a dedicated cloud-hosted version – which manages the overall cloud environment. This version operates like a software-as-a-service (SaaS). The cloud-version is available on both paid and free Apigee Edge accounts (unlike the on-premises version, which is available only on paid accounts).

     9) How does Apigee Edge enhance API performance?

The ‘response time’ and the ‘per-second transactions’ are key indicators of the overall performance of any application program interface. Apigee Edge can boost this performance level, by either saving values in the memory cache, or by full response caching. The tool ensures seamless management of API calls, at all times.

    10) Are there any built-in tools to convert JSON into XML?

With the help of built-in custom policies, JSON can be transformed into XML (and vice versa) on Apigee Edge. In addition, incoming data in any parameter (JSON, XML, other normal form parameters) can be easily parsed by the tool. Large media files can be streamed by Apigee Edge as well.

These are not, by any stretch of the imagination, exhaustive lists of all that there is to know about REST APIs, OAuth2 and Apigee Edge. However, going through the FAQs here will give you some idea about these products/tools – that’s for sure.