Monthly Archives: May 2017

Android Go Set To Arrive: 12 Things To Know

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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Android Go main features

 

The response to ‘Android One’ – Google’s ambitious project for reaching out to users in emerging markets (the so-called ‘next five billion’) – has been mixed at best. Launched in September 2014, the project notched a disappointing sales figure of of ~3 million over the first twelve months, across 19 countries. In a specifically targeted country like India, the performance of Android One was particularly ho-hum – with the low-end, budget smartphones under the project making up less than 4% of the overall $50-$100 device market. At this month’s Google I/O annual conference, the company announced an interesting new project called ‘Android Go’ – to capture the low-end segment of the smartphone market. In what follows, we will look through some important points regarding Android Go:

  1. Not a new OS

    As pointed out by Google VP (product management) Sameer Samat, Android Go is NOT a separate new mobile operating system. It is, in essence, a ‘light’ version (an internal project) of the upcoming platform – targeted towards all handsets that have less than 1GB of RAM. In other words, all entry-level Android handsets (which are relatively cheap) with low RAM will have the Android Go platform installed in them by default. On basic Android phones, the ‘light’ Android Go version will give a serious boost to performance levels. An inexpensive phone will no longer mean a laggy phone!

  2. Size of the market

    At Google I/O 2017, it was formally announced that the total number of Android users worldwide had gone past the 2 billion mark. Emerging markets are contributing to Android’s growth in a big way. India, in fact, currently has more Android-users than in the United States – while usage figures are similarly robust in China and several other nations from the Asia-Pacific. According to a recent Counterpoint Market Monitor report, more than 25% of all smartphones shipped in 2017 Q1 had sub-1GB RAM. Although the corresponding figure in 2016 was higher (nearly double) – this clearly shows that there is a large enough market of low-spec Android phones that Google can effectively target with Android Go.

Note: In India, Android Go should also boost the number of people moving on from feature phones to entry-level smartphones.

     3. Data Saver on Android Go

On most low-level Android handsets, mobile data consumption is a common point of concern. The Android Go platform looks to address this issue with the built-in Data Saver feature – accessible from ‘Quick Settings’. In the Chrome browser of the devices, this Data Saver feature is activated by default. Of course, an Android-user might disable it – in case (s)he wants to do so (for instance, someone trying out Android Go on a Google Pixel phone). There is also a graphical representation of the total amount of mobile data saved.

    4. Compatible apps highlighted in Play Store

The Android Go devices will not have a separate version of the Play Store. Users will be able to access all the apps listed in the Play Store – with the ones compatible with low-end phones highlighted under the ‘optimized for your device’ category (for example, Skype Lite and Facebook Lite). The onus lies on third-party Android app developers to come up with ‘lightweight’ versions of their applications – which have lesser memory and bandwidth requirements, smaller APK, and use up less mobile data. The ‘Building For Billions’ initiative of Google aims at providing support to developers trying to come out with customized, ‘light’ versions of their apps. Typically, apps optimized for Android go are less than 10MB in size, and do not put any extra pressure on the device processor and/or battery. They should also retain their functionality offline (i.e., have ‘useful offline state’).

Note: Devices running on the Android Go platform will also have a streamlined Android kernel.

  1. Android One vs Android Go

    While both the Google projects are aimed towards connecting with the lower-end of the Android market spectrum, Android Go should not be taken as a simple extension of the Android One campaign. The latter is more hardware-oriented – with OEMs partnering with the project to launch new, entry-level models for providing users a plain-vanilla Android experience. In India, Spice, Micromax and Karbonn were among the manufacturers who teamed up with Android One. However, the project is no-longer targeted to the sub-$100 phone category (where its success has been modest). Google has collaborations with Qyocera and Sharp (in Japan) and General Mobile (Turkey) – and these companies have devices in the $400-$500 and $200-$250 price brackets respectively.

Android Go, on the other hand, is a purely software-driven project. There are no hardware specifications involved – and the platform focuses solely on improving user-experience levels by customizing the latest version of Android and facilitating app-usage from the Android app marketplace (via highlighting in Play Store). Android One no longer eyes only the entry-level segment of the Android market – while Android Go is exclusively focused on it.

Note: Google’s attempts to penetrate the low-end smartphone market started with Project Svelte for Android KitKat.

  1. YouTube Go

    With Android Go, Google has also tweaked around the features of some of the native Android applications. We have already talked about the ‘data saver’ feature being turned on in the Chrome browser. On handsets running on the lightweight version of Android O, ‘YouTube Go’ will be present (instead of the general ‘YouTube’ app). People will have the option of previewing frames to decide whether to watch a video or not, and check out the amount of mobile data that will be used up by viewing a clip (not applicable if a user is on wifi). The option of downloading YouTube videos for watching later in offline mode – currently a paid feature in YouTube Red – has also been made available for free on the Android Go version. The quality of video-streaming can also be chosen by the user. The peer-to-peer (P2P) video sharing feature is yet another convenient add-on in YouTube Go. In general, several of the native Android apps will have slightly changed configurations – while there will be a few (like YouTube Go) with entirely new versions.

  2. No restrictions

    There are no restrictions whatsoever on who can or cannot use the Android Go software. Right from the users of a low-end phone like Micromax Canvas A1, to advanced Nexus or Google Pixel users – everyone can check out ‘Go’ on their handsets. Also, all smartphone-users on the Android platform will have access to the same Play Store – and can download any of the apps uploaded there (i.e., the choices for an Android Go user are not limited to the apps that are highlighted as optimized for his/her device). The new platform might be targeted towards entry-level phones, but it is usable by everyone.

  3. Reference point for Android Go hardware

    There are no set-out hardware plans for Android Go (Google clearly is looking forward to the innovations that the different OEMs can bring to the table). The Moto C handset, which was launched in India earlier this month, does offer a fair idea on what the first set of devices running on Android Go will be like. The phone has a modest 5” display screen (lo-res) and a 5MP camera (along with a 2MP selfie camera). For the moment though, Google is concentrating only on the software aspect in the Android Go program. In the absence of any reference hardware, there are no expected price points of Android Go phones either. According to Sameer Samat, OEMs will be allowed to create basic, low-spec handsets that deliver optimal Android experience – at as low a price point as practically feasible.

  4. The challenge

    India is likely to be one of the principal markets for the Android Go project – and the market for $50-$100 phones is shrinking here (as mentioned earlier). What’s more – several entry-level phones, like the Xiaomi Redmi 4 (2GB) and the new Gionee A1 (slightly more pricey, but with 4GB RAM) offer higher RAM than the 1GB cut-off point for Android Go. It remains to be seen how much of a market Android Go can carve out for itself…with new, sub-1GB RAM (512MB, maybe?) handsets. Current users of feature phones who are planning to upgrade to smartphones will be an important segment of the Android Go market.

Note: The emphasis on mobile data usage comes from the fact that most users in developing countries are on prepaid plans.

    10. Revamped GBoard

Google Keyboard was renamed GBoard in December 2016 – and on Android Go, it is going to be more user-friendly than ever before. Translations will be smoother, thanks to the presence of Google Translate inside the keyboard (at Google I/O 2017, a English-to-Hindi translation was showcased). All that the users will have to do is speak out words phonetically – and GBoard will immediately translate the spoken words into the script of the pre-specified language. For people who have to regularly work with more than one language, this is a really handy feature.

   11. Fueling the fragmentation problem?

Fragmentation is one of the biggest problems of the Android platform. At the start of May 2017, the adoption rate of Android 7.0 stood at a measly 6.6% – with Marshmallow, Lollipop, and KitKat (in that order) remaining the three most popular versions. The arrival of the Android Go platform, however, is not likely to make this fragmentation worse. For starters, it will have the same API number as the main ‘Android O’ version. Also, the differences in the build configurations between Android O and Android Go are minimal. Manufacturers of entry-level Android phones are likely to find it easier to concentrate on a single, customized Android version (‘Go’) than having to consider all the different versions of the platform.

   12. Android Go in 2018

While there has not been any official word about it, Google is looking at a 2018 launch of Android Go, on low-end, budget smartphones. The target markets are also yet to be announced – although it can safely be assumed that India will be included in the program. The Android Go update will be exclusively available on new devices – and will not arrive on currently active entry-level phones. There are several months to go before the arrival of ‘Go’ – and it will be interesting to note all the announcements Google makes during this period.

The second developer preview of Android O was released on 17 May – and the full release is expected in the third quarter of this year (as is customary for new Android versions). Many software and mobile app developers opine that Android Go will actually provide a thrust to the adoption figures of Android O – simply because it will motivate OEMs to use the ‘lightweight’ version of the latest android version, instead of persisting with an older version on a brand-new entry-level phone. Android Go is very well-researched project – and it might well help Google capture a large percentage of new smartphone-users across the globe.

 

 

Top 12 Drone Industry Trends To Watch 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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Latest trends from the drone industry

 

2016 was a big year for drone technology. On average, sales of drone units grew by an amazing 60% – with nearly 2.3 million drones being shipped overall. The momentum of growth is set to grow stronger over the next few years – and Gartner has predicted that the worldwide drone market will become a $11 billion+ industry by the end of 2020 (nearly double of the $6 billion figure estimated for 2017). Compared to 2016, drone production will witness a ~40% jump this year, and more than 3 million units are expected to be manufactured. During the 2016-2020 period, the CAGR of the consumer drone market will be 23.4% – suggesting significant growth. In today’s discussion, we will put the spotlight on some key trends from the drone industry in 2017:

  1. Drones with sensing capabilities

    Drones were firmly in focus at CES 2017, where the latest evolutions in the technology were highlighted. Collision avoidance was something that was specifically highlighted – and a series of new unmanned aerial vehicles (or UAVs), with additional redundancy, have hit the markets. Artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision ensure that these drones can keep functioning even when their default ‘vision system’ fails – thanks to the extra sensory capabilities. In this context, the Inspire 2 drone (a cinema drone) from DJI and the Yuneec Typhoon H drone warrant a special mention. While the former uses state-of-the-art infrared sensors to minimize risks of collisions, the latter eases navigation by creating 3D maps of its paths – with the help of the RealSense 3D camera technology. Drones are becoming smarter than ever before – and automation standards are improving fast.

  2. Drone mapping on cheaper units

    As drone technology has evolved, the average cost of units on which drone mapping is done has been going down. In 2017, nearly 85% of all mapping will take place on units that have a sub-$1500 price tag. Quadcopter drones are particularly popular for mapping purposes (in applications related to oil, gas, agriculture, etc.) – while the usage of fixed-wing drones in this domain has gone down to a measly 3%. The recent advancements in the technology have provided greater battery-life and better hardware assurance on multi-rotor drones – and that has resulted in them finding widespread adoption for drone mapping.

  3. The ‘Selfie Drone’ market is upon us

    Only time will tell whether this is a passing fad or not – but for the moment, ‘selfie drones’ (small, portable, lightweight models) are definitely a rage. At the CES 2017, multiple new selfie drones were exhibited – like the Wingsland S6, the Dobby S and the Hover Camera Passport. In essence, these models lie midway between full-fledged consumer drone units and tech toys. Over the last 2-3 quarters, several new companies have started making ‘selfie drones’ – in a bid to boost sales figures.

Note: While the ‘selfie drones’ do have impressive features (the imaging quality is a big ‘yay’), they do not have 4K image stabilization. Unless new models with this feature arrive soon, these drones might just run out of steam.

    4. Rapidly overlapping markets for personal and commercial drones

There are clear-cut differences between consumer drones and industrial/commercial drones. The former typically have much shorter flight-times (generally, less than 60 minutes) than their commercial counterparts – and also have a much wider target market than the latter. However, commercial drones are more expensive than personal drones (generally priced below $5000). However, in spite of these clear-cut difference – the markets of these drones are getting overlapped. Many vendors of consumer drones are working on low-priced models – and trying to enter the commercial drone market with these products. Given that personal drones are increasingly being modified into 3D mapping tools and surveillance devices – expect the line of difference between consumer and commercial models to get blurred even more in 2017 and beyond.

    5. DJI to consolidate its position as market leader

Chinese company DJI has firmly established itself as the leader in the global drone industry. In the next couple of quarters or so, it is expected to consolidate its position of dominance further (SenseFly is one of its competitors, but is still a long way off). According to a Skylogic Research report, DJI holds pole position in the $500-$1000 camera drone market – with a staggering 36% share. The sheer level of dominance becomes all the more clear as we move to the $2000-$4000 and the $1000-$2000 markets in North America, in which DJI holds 68% and 67% market-shares respectively. In fact, DJI does not have a strong presence only in the sub-$500 toy drone segment. Smart pricing policies, an excellent R&D team (with more than 1500 people) and excellent strategic partnerships (for instance, the one with Sony) have all contributed to boost the performance of DJI.

   6. Drones for smart cities

Drones are currently in active use in 160-odd countries across the globe. With IoT advancements fueling the development of smart cities, the unmanned aerial vehicles have important roles to play in this sector. Right from smart traffic management, accident reporting, and seamless cellular/GPS connectivity, to autonomous navigation, predictive maintenance (in construction sites) and other civic technology-related tasks – everything can be performed with drones. In the next 3 years or so, drones will start to be widely be used for tasks that are either too monotonous or too dangerous for human beings. In the global ‘smart city revolution’, the importance of high-performance drones simply cannot be overemphasized.

    7. Generation of more job-opportunities

Obviously, as drone pilots. While the implementation of artificial intelligence has slightly brought down the required skill levels of pilots (i.e., by lowering the barrier to entry) – there has been a surge in the number of registered drone pilots worldwide. Last December, there were as many as 29000 registered pilots of commercial drones – and by 2021, close to 421000 drone pilots will be licensed. On average, more than 2000 registrations are submitted everyday. As a result of the increase in job opportunities as a result of the ‘drone revolution’, economies and entrepreneurs have benefitted in a big way.

Note: The average earning potential of drones used for mapping purposes is $168 per hour. This is significantly higher (~17%) than drones used solely for aerial photography and video services.

  1. Adoption in different industries

    According to a recent PwC report, commercial drone applications will be worth $125 billion globally, by the end of this decade. In 2017, the construction industry remains the biggest user of drone applications, with agriculture, surveillance and governmental activities taking up the next spots. Use of customized, smart drones is also increasing in the insurance, education, and fuel-refining (oil/gas) sectors. Many day-to-day activities are being done with the help of drones – and industry operations in all of these sectors are becoming more agile.

Note: The DroneDeploy app market was launched in November 2016. Within the first six months, the total number of app installations from this market (with 30+ apps) has gone beyond the 22000 mark.

  1. China at the fore

    An important factor behind the overwhelming market domination of DJI is the leadership position of China in drone-making. Close to 46% of all drone units in use in the United States are sourced from China – and experts feel that this percentage will rise further in 2017 and later. The expertise of Chinese companies were pretty much apparent at CES 2017 too, where several manufacturers from the country (ProDrone, Autel Robotics, Hexo, etc.) participated as exhibitors. The possibility of mass creation of drone clones is a risk, however.

  2. Hype over delivery drones to taper off

    Since the early stages of the ‘drone revolution’, there have been lots of interest and hype over delivery drones (i.e., drones that are used for package transportations). However, logistics-related problems are affecting the performance of these drones – and as per reliable estimates, these delivery drones will occupy less than 1% of the commercial drone market. Not all is doom and gloom for these drones though – since they are likely to find more usage for B2B services, where logistics is not a major point of concern.

Note: Industrial applications are expected to take up around one-third of the commercial drone market.

    11. Security considerations and insurance

For any smart device or gadget, security is a big issue – and drones are not an exception to this either. With drone technology getting more and more advanced and usage of drones expanding to a myriad of fields, users are increasingly becoming more aware of the security features in drone units. While security standards are already available, the big challenge lies in implementing them on drones in the best possible manner. Since the release of the Part 107 waivers by FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), the demand for proper insurance provisions in commercial drone contracts is also going up – since risk-awareness levels are now at an all-time high. The FAA has made sure that every operator now has a fair idea of the legal regulations of using drones.

    12. Personal drones to dominate in terms of unit sales

By the end of 2017, there will be around 175000 commercial drones and 2.8 million personal drones in use (the YoY growth will be 60% and 40% respectively). Close to 95% of the overall sales will be made up by personal drones, with commercial units accounting for the rest. However, the commercial drone units (which, incidentally, represent only around 6% of the total number of drones) will have the upper hand in terms of revenue-generation. Hobbyist drones, on the other hand, will also grow rapidly – with over 3.3 million units estimated to be present in 2020.

There is considerable excitement at present over racing drones as well – with models like the Connex Falcore and the UVify Draco (with first-person view, or FPV) taking fly-racing to the next level. Manufacturers are constantly trying to enhance the quality of images and videos that can be captured by drones – and over the next couple of years, 4K video recording on drones is likely to become mainstream. Modular drones are also set to grow in popularity, while we should also see greater implementations of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) on drones (e,g., for virtual tours of construction sites, or in rescue missions at remote locations). Drone technology is here to stay – and it will grow more powerful and multi-layered in future.

Optimizing Chatbots: 14 Tips To Get The Most Out Of Them

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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Chatbot optimization tips

 

Among the emerging technologies in the news at present, chatbots are easily one of the hottest. At a recent survey, it was found that nearly 8 out of every 10 businesses across the world have plans to start using chatbots by the end of this decade – with these bots already put to use in some form or the other by many of the respondents. The chatbots, which simulate human interactions on the basis of machine learning, are a part of the rapidly growing application-to-person (A2P) messaging industry. In fact, the value of the global A2P market has been estimated to reach a humongous $58 billion by 2020. The demand for customized, efficient, AI-powered chatbots is very high – and the onus is on software and app developers to cater to these requirements. In here, we will discuss certain basic rules of thumb for building and optimally using chatbots:

  1. Select the right bot platform

    For smooth deployment and best performance of a chatbot, you need to build it on a suitable bot platform. Fortunately, there are many such developer-friendly, multi-featured frameworks currently available – with the Facebook Messenger Platform, Chatfuel, PandoraBots, Chatty People and the Microsoft BOT Framework being some of the most popular ones. Wit.ai is yet another bot platform that has found widespread favour among developers – with 100000+ developers onboard by this April. Both free as well as paid platforms are available (it is always advisable to start small), and there are differences in the degree of coding required, tools used (universal or domain-specific) and whether programming with SDKs is supported. Chatbot-makers have to select the platform that would be best suited for the precise type of bot application they are planning to create.

  2. Avoid open-ended questions

    A chatbot, for all its merits, is not a human being. It can ‘converse’ with end-users within a ‘fixed set of rails’ (the programming is done accordingly) – and whenever an unexpected response is received, there is every chance of erratic responses and resultant embarrassments. To keep these bot interactions streamlined, most queries to the users should be presented with alternative response options, or clear, single-phrase answers (i.e. ‘what is your shirt size?’ or ‘Are you looking for this jeans in a) blue or b) black?’. Do not let the chatbot ask any questions for which the probable answers cannot be anticipated.

  3. Trigger emotions with images/videos/gifs

    A long, boring text-only conversation with a chatbot is not a particularly exciting proposition for anyone (even if the bot under question is very prompt). Researches have shown that introducing a visual element in the conversation – with the help of rich media content, like HD photos and videos – can emotionally appeal to customers, boosting up their engagement levels. This also enhances the convenience factor of end-users – particularly when they are on a large online shopping portal. Instead of having to search for the right section and category, buyers can check out images and videos of items right inside the chat box.

  4. Provide data analysis capabilities

    One of the key drivers of the ‘chatbot revolution’ (2016 was dubbed as the ‘year of the chatbots’) has been the rapid improvements in artificial intelligence (AI) standards. With advanced machine-learning capabilities, chatbots can now collect and analyze customer data – helping in the creation of the correct promotional and marketing strategy for each user. Make sure that your AI-powered chatbot can indeed handle user-information – and provide personalized browsing/chatting experience to customers. The bot should be able to ‘learn’ from the previous browsing behaviours of a user, to provide contextual chat services and easy access to the stuff that the user is interested in.

  5. Bot downtimes should be minimal

    A chatbot should be (unlike human customer representatives) ‘always online’. This 24x7x365 availability is a big advantage of chatbots for businesses. What’s more – since chatbots (in an ideal scenario) is available at all times, they can easily replace humans at lower levels/first interaction points with customers. While setting up your chatbot on your chosen platform, find out the likely performance and the possible downtimes of the bot server. The effectiveness of a bot crucially hinges on the quality of the server on which it is hosted. If a chatbot frequently remains ‘down for maintenance’, it is not of much use.

  6. The security factor

    By the end of last year, the total volume of financial transactions performed through Google Assistant, Siri and other mobile digital assistants was nearly $2 billion. People are also increasingly providing personal information – like bank account details, card information and online orders/purchases – to chatbots. Developers, on their part, have to ensure that their bots deliver cutting-edge security assurance to customers – through proper data encryption, authentication and authorization standards, and use of access tokens (if applicable). Keep in mind that hackers are getting more sophisticated over time – and to keep the risks of security breaches at an arm’s length, the artificial intelligence of your bot needs to evolve even faster.

  7. Chatbots should help in marketing and sales

    For big companies and brands, chatbots should serve as ‘intelligent’ members of the marketing and sales teams. To enhance the chances of a bot’s success, you need to program it in a way that it can respond to common buyer queries, provide localized responses (to questions like ‘What’s the weather?’), and can influence the final purchase decisions of the end-users. The overall ‘buyer journey’ should happen in a streamlined flow – with the bot handling questions, displaying products/services, motivating users to make the purchase, and ensuring a smooth and secure payment process (directly within the bot). Chatbots can also help in the online promotional campaigns of brands, by building traffic levels and engagement in the social media pages of businesses.

  8. Allow humans to step in

    There are no limits to how a user might interact with a chatbot. You can do all the research you want – but even then, it would be next to impossible to second guess and predict all types of potential inputs from individuals. That’s precisely why these AI bots should always be backed up by human support – ready to step in and take up the conversation, whenever the bot seemingly runs into troubles. There can be an unexpected reaction to a piece of news/information, or buyers might ask for more detailed information (beyond the chatbot’s capabilities). In all such instances, a human assistant should be able to take over. Chatbots that collaborate with human employees work well – those which try to completely replace them and work on a standalone basis are likely to fail.

  9. Focus on the end-users

    Empathy and understanding are big factors when it comes to making a chatbot. Do not simply create a chatbot for the heck of it – cramming it with loads of confusing, complicated features and showing off your coding prowess. Instead, try to guesstimate what the end-users would like a chatbot to do, and design accordingly. As a starting point, list down the most time-consuming tasks (maybe browsing through products, maybe the payment procedure, etc.) and find out how these processes can be made faster and more user-friendly through a chatbot. In addition, a good chatbot should also double up as a convenient self-serving assistant – allowing people to update/make modifications to their account details without any hassles, as and when required. A chatbot that is focussed to help customers does not, generally, need major overhauls later – and that is another important advantage.

  10. Good copywriting and a sense of humour

    App developers often make the folly of emphasizing too much on the technical aspects of a chatbot (coding, framework, features supported, etc.) – neglecting the most important thing, the words used in the bot, in the process. Remember, the principal purpose of a chatbot is to give users a ‘feel’ that they are conversing with actual humans – and if the copywriting is not good, this objective will not be met. In early-2016, Tay.ai – a Microsoft chatbot for Twitter – was in the news for all the wrong reasons, and was dubbed as ‘racist’ (no mean feat for something that isn’t even human!). Also, it is important to program a chatbot in a way that it can show a nice, subtle sense of humour. For instance, the ‘Arti’ bot responds to ‘Will you marry me?’ with a smart ‘Let me see the ring first…’ riposte, while if ‘BOTbot’ is asked ‘Are you Skynet?’, it snaps back by asking the buyer whether (s)he is ‘Sarah Connor’!

Note: A nice sense of humour, along with an ability to handle angry, frustrated users (who can turn abusive) makes a chatbot more likeable and easy to interact with.

    11. Make it an expert for basic repeated queries

In the United States, businesses can save up to $23 billion from their total salary expenses on customer service representatives – by employing chatbots for handling common, repeated, easily predictable queries from first-time customers. Make it a point to find out the nature of such repetitive queries that your business is likely to face, and use a chatbot that can respond to such questions independently, and without any problems whatsoever. A properly-made chatbot should be expert at performing repetitive tasks and general low-involvement activities (e.g., providing preliminary information about business/product). This expertise, in fact, is a big motivating factor for brands starting to adopt chatbots for day-to-day customer interactions.

    12. Provide a personal touch

On the traditional graphical user interface (GUI) of business websites, users come across plenty of mechanical, call-to-action words and phrases (‘Order Now’, ‘Click Here’, ‘Add To Cart’) etc. Chatbots bring an entirely different mode of communication to the table. Developers need to equip bots with high-end natural language processing (NLP) capabilities – so that customers can ‘speak’ to it just as they would with any other fellow-human being. The chatbot should be programmed to add social norms and etiquettes in its conversations (‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’, and ‘Goodbye’) as well. People prefer interacting with other humans rather than with faceless robots – and while chatbots are, in essence, the latter, their conversations should give off a nice personal vibe. Audiences would love it.

    13. Pay attention to design matters

Designing the UI of a chatbot is a lot different from creating a website or making a mobile app. After the toolkit/bot platform has been selected, customize the font and typography (if the selected platform allows that) – and create a designated section or panel where users will be logging in. The bot must be proactive while greeting users (first-time visitors might have no idea on what they should ‘tell’ the bot). Focus on maintaining a streamlined conversational flow – by letting the bot understand and categorize different types of questions, validate user-data, receive and analyze critical inputs, and maintain an ‘agile conversation process’ at all times. For most chatbots, it is a good idea to present the features chronologically (new features after every successful interaction), instead of dumping all the bot features at one go. Users should never face any confusion while trying to strike up a conversation with a chatbot.

Note: If a chatbot supports speech recognition, less focus is required on the visual UI. Developers have to be more concerned about maximizing the accuracy of voice recognition in the bot.

    14. Be careful while selecting channels

Developers have to do their research before finalizing the messaging platforms/services that their chatbots would support. This decision has to be taken after giving due importance to country specific features. Apart from standard text messaging, the popularity of other IM platforms have to be analyzed carefully. Facebook Messenger, Line and WeChat have very high user-bases in the United States, Korea and China respectively – and hence, chatbots in any of these countries have to support the concerned IM platform. There is a possible risk-factor in this context too – as the number of channels supported by a bot increases, the volume of separate APIs to be handled also goes up…and that can lead to errors. In general, the SMS messaging platform and the top 3-4 other messaging channels in a country should be supported by a bot there.

Keep in mind that pre-programming bot interactions and responses is different from email replies, and using a standard mail response in a bot would not be a smart idea. Developers, in fact, typically reiterate the importance of having exclusive chatbot-first use cases in this regard. Chatbots with AI support can (apart from maintaining customer interactions) facilitate real-time internal communication within businesses. You also have to enhance the discoverability of your bot, by submitting it to chatbot directories, creating Facebook advertisements, actively seeking feedback from bot communities, and bringing it on Product Hunt bots category.

With Chatfuel, it takes all of 15 minutes (at times, less!) to create a chatbot, and that too, without any coding. The chatbot technology will grow stronger in the foreseeable future, adoption rates will soar – and you need to follow the above points to ensure optimized performance from these bots.

 

 

A Roundup Of The 13 Biggest Announcements At Google I/O 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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Google I/O 2017: Biggest highlights

 

In 2016, the total volume of Android app and game downloads was well over 81 billion. At the recently concluded 10th Google I/O developer conference (17-19 May, at the Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, California), it was officially announced that the Android platform currently has more than 2 billion monthly active users. This year’s conference was mostly focused towards updates on announcements made in 2016 – and not on a series of new announcements per se. Over here, we will take readers through some of the most important highlights of Google I/O 2017:

  1. Google Lens technology

    The built-in camera of the average Android smartphone is all set to become more informative than ever before. The camera views will now be supported and analysed through Google Assistant – using a revolutionary technology called Google Lens – to generate useful, relevant information on the screen. For instance, videos and previous performances of a band can be pulled up by pointing the camera at a poster of a musical event, ratings of a restaurant can be viewed, and even the species of a flower can be identified. What’s more – if there is a wifi network available, users will be able to log in to it simply by pointing the Google Lens camera at the sign-in credentials. The phone camera will become an ‘input device’.

Note: With Lens, Google is playing the catch-up game with Samsung – which was the first to add artificial intelligence to phone camera, with the ‘Bixby Vision’ feature on the Galaxy S8 handset.

     2. New virtual reality headsets

The collaboration of Google with Qualcomm for a standalone VR headset had already been in the news – and at the Google developers’ conference this year, it was finally announced. Unlike its predecessors, this headset does not require a paired smartphone to be docked in (before the headset is mounted). The Qualcomm headset will be powered by the robust Snapdragon 835 chipset (which is present in Samsung Galaxy S8) – and will have all the essential features, right from display and positional tracking, to powerful processor capabilities. The headset has been built on the existing Daydream platform, and will be launched by Lenovo and HTC in the second half of the year.

     3. Artificial Intelligence to the fore

One of the most interesting announcements at Google I/O 2017 was the mention of the all-new Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) – a custom-designed machine-learning chip that has been created on the Google TensorFlow platform. As revealed by Google last December, TPU would be used for seamless, accurate translation services – and would also ease out the process of creating artificial intelligence-based software on the cloud. In a sense, the new chip has the potential of transforming the cloud into an ‘AI field for Android’ – giving Google an edge over its rivals.

Note: The Tensor Processing Units were used in Google DeepMind (with AlphaGo), when it defeated 17-time Go world champion Lee Sedol 4-1.

  1. Preview version of Android O

    It is still not known what ‘O’ would stand for – but a preview version of the upcoming Android version was announced at this year’s I/O conference (the first developer preview was out in March) for beta testers. ‘Autofill’ and ‘Picture-in-picture’ were two of the features of Android O that were highlighted at the event by David Burke – the vice-president of engineering at Android. Yet another useful new feature of the latest Android iteration will be ‘smart text selection’. With the help of advanced machine learning standards, this feature will make selecting/copying text easier than ever. For example, double tapping on any part of an address (or a phone number, or a email id) will result in the entire address being selected. The platform will be able to ‘sense’ what the user wants to select, and act accordingly. The first beta of Android O can be tested on a compatible Google Pixel or Nexus handset.

  2. iOS gets Google Assistant

    Siri has a new competitor on its homeground (i.e., iOS) – and it’s none other than the uber-smart Google Assistant. While Assistant has no chance of becoming as popular as Siri on iOS (it will be limited inside the app, while Siri will remain the default digital assistant on the platform) – there is little room for doubting the improvements that have been made in the former. Google Assistant can now purchase event tickets (when pointed at a poster), translate foreign languages (by clicking pictures), and perform a wide range of other, useful tasks. People can also type in their instructions to Google Assistant, instead of talking to it. This adds an extra layer of convenience to end-users.

  3. Smart responses in Gmail app

    Yet another handy little feature for Gmail-users. The app (on both Android and iOS) has a new functionality named ‘Smart Responses’ – which allows people to select from a set of automated responses to emails (a maximum of three responses can be chosen). The responses are generated on the basis of the original email – and users have the option of adding more content with the custom response. Once again, an embedded machine learning system will be at the core of this feature, for prompt suggestion of automated, customized replies.

  4. Suggested Sharing on Google Photos

    Two key updates for Google Photos were announced at the annual I/O developer festival this year. The first is ‘Suggested Sharing’ – which provides recommendations of the names of people with whom a person can share photos. All shared images are viewable in a feed as well. The other feature is the ‘Shared Libraries’, in which a family of users can contribute photos. There are excellent personalization options available here – with people having the choice of sharing either the full album, or setting sharing parameters (e,g., from a certain date/time).

Note: Printed ‘Photo Books’ – created by including images from Google Photos – can also be created. Users have the option of creating 9” hardcover photo books ($19.99) or 7” softcover photo books ($9.99) directly from their smartphone.

  1. 360-degree videos on TV

    360-degree videos will no longer be limited to virtual reality headsets and the screens of compatible mobile devices. It was announced at Google I/O 2017 that live streaming of 360-degree videos will also be possible on Android TVs. Playback of pre-recorded videos from the YouTube application will also be supported. During high-profile musical or sporting events, the option of viewing live 360-videos is definitely an exciting proposition.

  2. More power to Google Home

    The Google Home smart speaker was first announced at the 2016 I/O conference – and while it had decent-enough features, it had not been able to mount a serious challenge to Amazon Echo. Google clearly has plans to turn that around, with a plethora of new features being announced for Home at I/O 2017. For starters, hands-free calling (only outgoing calls) will be supported by the smart speaker (Amazon Echo already has this feature). Calls can be placed to mobile and landline numbers within the United States without any costs. In addition, the calling feature will have personalized voice recognition – ensuring that a generic command like ‘Call Dad’ results in the correct number (for different users) being dialled. The new ‘proactive assistance’ feature will generate real-time notifications on day-to-day things (transportation, traffic, etc.). The built-in Bluetooth radio will be usable as any other open Bluetooth speaker. The ‘visual displays’ of Google Home is another cool new feature. It displays the requested information on the screen of a connected device (say, the calendar on a Chromecast-connected TV).

Note: Deezer, HBO Now, SoundCloud and Hulu will all be controllable from Google Home from now on. The speaker debuted in UK earlier this year, and will become available in Japan, Canada, Germany, Australia and a few other countries soon.

     10. Sharing the VR experience

The ambitious Google Daydream platform has the ‘Euphrates’ software update lined up – as announced at the conference. Among the many new features that this update will bring to the table, the most interesting one is the arrival of end-to-end Google Cast support. Directly from the standalone headset, select VR activities can be projected on TV screens (and hence, shared with others). Apart from this, a custom ‘VR theater’ can be created with the breakthrough YouTube virtual reality feature. A group of people will be able to enjoy the same VR experience in the theater.

     11. Arrival of Android Go

The Android One initiative, launched in 2014, offered an insight into how Google was planning to target the mid-to-low end of its market. The Android Go project is an extension of the same initiative, for reaching out to the so-called ‘next billion’ users, primarily from developing countries. To put things simply, Android Go is a lightweight version of the Android platform (it isn’t a separate project by itself) – which will be present in budget smartphones with less than 1 GB RAM space. It will have its very own Play Store, with ‘lite’ versions of most popular apps. These will take up less of memory space, and use less data for functioning. YouTube Go – a special, preview-only version of the YouTube app, warrants a special mention in this regard. People can check out low-res video montages on YouTube Go, before deciding whether (s)he would actually watch a particular clip.

    12. Wider playing field for Android Instant Apps

Announced at the 9th Google I/O, Android Instant Apps work only on the Marshmallow and Nougat platforms. What’s more, only a few Google partners had access to the Instant Apps feature. Things are going to change soon though, with Google having plans to make Instant Apps available on Android 5.0 Lollipop as well. More importantly, this feature would now be available for all third-party mobile app developers – who can start making ‘instant’ versions of their applications. Making Instant Apps mainstream is a definite objective of Google, and the wider playing field will give this feature a big boost.

Note: To know more about Android Instant Apps, click here.

    13. Prototypes of Android Auto

Volvo and Audi are both onboard to use the Android platform for setting up their in-car infotainment systems. While this announcement was made a couple of days before Google I/O 2017 kicked off, the first prototypes were displayed during the conference. The in-built Google Assistant support will introduce a host of powerful controls for drivers – and practically all tasks, right from adjusting the car AC, to framing a navigation chart – will be performed by the Android vehicle control system. Android Auto will be getting…smarter.

In addition to the above, Google has also introduced a new ‘Transactions’ feature (for smartphones with Google Assistant) – for quickly pulling up address and card information at the time of transactions. The ‘Indoor Mapping’ feature, powered by VPS (visual positioning service) will help in specifying the precise location of things inside an area. Apparently, Google is also planning to take on LinkedIn, by adding job listings within the main search functionality (Google Jobs).

While Google I/O 2017 did not have too many new and innovative launches, there were several important updates – particularly for Google Home and Daydream VR. The company is clearly focusing on improving its existing line of products – and making an attempt to reach out to more users. The conference had plenty of fascinating news for Android developers as well as general tech enthusiasts…that’s for sure!

Why Should Businesses Start Using Chatbots?

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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benefits of chatbots for businesses

“Messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking”

– Mark Zuckerberg (2014)

 

In the first quarter of 2015, the popularity (in terms of active monthly users) of the top-four messaging applications overtook that of the top-four social networking sites. A preference to have more private, personalized conversations have fueled the growth of the messaging apps (on social networks, conversations can generally be viewed by everyone). This preference has spilled over to the field of business as well – and a recent survey by OneReach found that nearly 64% people preferred to ‘talk’ with businesses via texts and chats, instead of directly calling them. This, in turn, has boosted the adoption and usage of chatbots, which simulate human conversations with end-users. With the staggering improvements in artificial intelligence (AI) standards, the efficacy of these chatbots have shot up by as much as 90%. In today’s discussion, we will highlight the main points of importance of chatbots for businesses:

  1. Round-the-clock availability

    When a customer gets in touch with a business, (s)he wants prompt responses. Delays in responding to queries can lead to loss of business, and a growing feeling of frustration among users. A company might have the most dedicated customer service representatives and marketers on board – but these people will have their specific working hours, leaves, and general off-times. An advanced AI-powered chatbot has no such limitation, and can remain available to respond to people’s queries at all times. Quick, immersive interactions are the essence of chatbots.

  2. More efficient than emails, phone calls, even apps

    At last year’s Microsoft Build conference, Satya Nadella said that ‘bots are the new apps’. While the average smartphone-user in the United States has 23-24 applications installed on his/her device, (s)he typically spends close to 80% of the time on 5 apps (among which, at least 3 are likely to be IM apps). It is, hence, easier, to build a chatbot on an existing platform – say, Facebook Messenger – than hoping for the success of a new, independent business app.

Practically everyday, users face irritating delays during phone calls to businesses. Human representatives might have to transfer calls to other personnel – and in the meantime, the caller is left to hearing music or voiceover ads. Emailing is not a particularly great form of initial communication either, since there can be a considerable time-lapse before replies come in. Chatbots offer a smarter alternative to all these traditional forms of communication.

  1. More ‘human’ conversations

    People love to interact with fellow-humans, and not faceless entities. Chatbots bring this much sought-after human touch to business communications. Instead of having to solely deal with mechanical call-to-action verbs (‘download’, ‘click here’, ‘call us’, etc.), users can actually have proper two-way conversations – complete with social courtesy and politeness (‘hello’, ‘how are you’, ‘thank you’, etc.) with chatbots. As a result, engagement levels are likely to go up, interest-levels among users would grow, and the business would benefit.

  2. Behaviour analysis and personalization

    Chatbots powered by high-quality machine learning methods and artificial intelligence are well-equipped to study and analyze the behaviour of customers – when the latter are on a portal. This analysis is vital, since it can tell the business about the correct marketing and sales strategies – and even frame out the ideal marketing campaigns for different products/services. What’s more, with enhanced word-learning support, bots can offer a highly personalized experience to users. They can ‘remember’ previous interactions with customers, and present information accordingly. With chatbots, conversations can be more contextual than ever before.

  3. Makes multitasking easier for users

    Imagine having to call a cab while you are talking on the phone. You have to put the other person on hold, exit from the phone menu, pull up the on-demand cab app and request a pickup, exit from that, and then get back to the call. The process is elaborate, time-consuming and can often become rather confusing. Chatbots, however, make such multitasking extremely simple. While talking on the phone, a person can simply tell Siri or Google Assistant to call a cab. Simultaneously conversing with a chatbot and browsing through other mobile applications is easy.

  4. Great for repetitive queries

    Business representatives typically have to answer a common set of questions posed by first-time users. Instead of having to hire additional employees for such repetitive, menial work – it would make sense to delegate the task to AI chatbots. The answers for such general, repeated queries can be made available on the website FAQ page or the Facebook page as well, but for a customer seeking quick resolution to his/her queries, the services of a chatbot are more suitable. If a business promises to deliver instant consultations to clients, chatbots are definitely the way to go.

  5. First-mover advantage

    For all the interest and hype about AI-powered chatbots, the technology is still in a nascent stage. By starting to use a smart chatbot service, a business can easily lay down a point of difference from its competitors. In other words, the presence of a chatbot can very well serve as an important competitive advantage for a company. According to industry insiders, the adoption of chatbots is increasing at a rapid clip – and within the next 8-10 months, the market will move into the ‘early maturity’ stage. Till then, there are considerable advantages to be had by becoming one of the ‘early adopters’ of chatbots.

  6. Use of rich media content

    A chatbot that can only ‘speak’ with customers via text can be a bit of a bore. Such a bot might not be of much practical use either – particularly for online shopping portals and other sites, where users typically want to check out a quick visual representations of products/services. Thankfully, most sophisticated chatbots can share HD images, videos, PDF manuals and much more – providing users with a holistic experience. The need to click on links and visiting different pages can be effectively done away with. Chatbots can literally ‘show off’ the items that a business wishes to sell.

Note: Chatbots can also have multilingual support – ensuring a wider audience for a particular business.

  1. Easy to develop; Low costs

    Creating a chatbot for business (with full AI support) is neither a lengthy process – and nor is it a pricey affair. On average, beta versions of chatbots can be made in a matter of days – and early testing can be started with internal users, and finally end-users. In comparison, building a full-fledged cross-platform mobile business app can take 6-8 months, if not slightly more. All that the developers have to do is to integrate any of the several available bot templates (from Microsoft, Facebook, etc.) inside a reliable, existing messenger platform. The ease of development makes sure that building a chatbot is not expensive either. Chatbot makers generally offer different, reasonably-priced development models – and businesses can take their pick, based on their precise user-interaction requirements.

  2. More proactive approach

    Modern-day chatbots are typically more ‘proactive’ in nature than traditional live chat options. The latter are generally rather ‘passive’ – delivering responses only AFTER a customer has placed a query. Chatbots, on the other hand, can start off with a ‘Hi!’, or a ‘Good day!’, or ‘How can I help you today?’ – which, in most cases, spark off a real-time conversation. The proactive method of communication, together with high levels of machine learning, help chatbots in being able to retain customers more effectively.

  3. Chatbots are futuristic

    The face of business, as we know it, is changing. Internet of Things (IoT) is making a big difference – and by 2020, there will be close to 50 billion connected gadgets in the world, and 2 out of every 3 businesses will be implementing custom IoT tools and solutions in their mobile applications. Chatbots, by nature, are dynamic – and they can be easily built on smart watches, smart glasses (with AR/VR capabilities) and even in smart cars. In fact, chatbots can be used by businesses to establish (and maintain) connections with targeted users via any web-enabled device. At present, a large number of chatbots in use have limited functionality – but in the next 3-4 years, the rough edges are going to be ironed out.

  4. A seamless, unified ‘buyer journey’

    The website of a business, obviously, has a home page. From there, a user has to visit the ‘Products’/’Gallery’ page to view the products available for sale (the task gets all the more complicated on large shopping websites). Once a product is chosen, the buyer has to move on to the ordering page. From there, the secure payment gateway has to be visited, for completing the transactions. There are considerable risks of customers ‘dropping off’ between any of these steps – translating into a ‘lost sales lead’. Chatbots can go a long way in making this ‘buyer journey’ more convenient and seamless. People can state their preferences, view products, make their choices and even make payments on the same chat window. No need to navigate to different pages whatsoever.

Note: From September last year, the FB Messenger (v.1.2) chatbots started accepting payments.

From restaurants and healthcare, and from travel, shopping and other fields – chatbots hold out big benefits for practically all types of businesses. They can help with the marketing plans, generally have simplistic, user-friendly UIs (once again, think how easy it is to use Facebook Messenger), boost social media engagement levels, plan personalized ad campaigns, and even actively seek feedback about the websites they are hosted on. Internally too, chatbots can be used for task-scheduling purposes – and they help in bringing down the total manpower hiring costs too (many regular tasks can be performed by the AI bots). In addition, business chatbots often have a ‘personality’ of their own – helping their conversations seem that much more enjoyable for users.

Chatbots bring the ‘here and the now’ element to all types of communications with businesses. Although they are not going to completely replace human beings anytime soon (nor are they meant to do so!) – these chatbots can indeed take up the performance and popularity of a business to the next level.

 

 

Top 13 New Features In Android Studio 3.0

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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Android Studio 3.0 Canary 1: New features

 

On average, 1 out of every 2 professionals from the global software development community works on the mobile platform. According to a recent Evans Data report, the total number of Android developers worldwide will reach ~7 million by the end of 2020. Interestingly, the percentage of mobile app developers who prefer to work on the Android platform first is nearly double of the developers with ‘iOS-first’ strategy. This week, the first preview of Android Studio 3.0 – the latest version of the native integrated development environment (IDE) for the Android platform – was released (at the ongoing Google I/O 2017). In what follows, we will go through some of the key new features in Android Studio 3.0:

  1. Android Profiler

    In the upcoming version of Android Studio (v.3.0 has been released on the canary channel), the ‘Android Monitor’ window has made way for the interestingly designed ‘Android Profiler’ window. The new window has been built to provide developers with insightful, unified views of all relevant data related to their applications. The ‘Android Profiler’ has three separate timelines – ‘CPU Profiler’, ‘Network Profiler’ and ‘Memory Profiler’ – and each can be clicked for more detailed information. The window can be viewed by clicking View → Tool Windows → Android Profiler, and then selecting the concerned app process and device. The ‘logcat’ will now be present in a different window.

  2. Support for Kotlin language

    Many Android developers had been clamouring for this – and the IDE has finally extended support for the Kotlin programming language. The built-in conversion tool (available inside Code → Convert Java File to Kotlin File) in Android Studio 3.0 will help coders add Kotlin code to their project quickly and in an error-free manner. Inside the ‘New Project Wizard’, new Kotlin projects can also be created from scratch. Kotlin is easily one of the fastest growing programming languages at present, and its arrival on Android Studio is big news.

  3. Instant Apps

    There is considerable interest about Android Instant Apps – and fittingly, the new version of the IDE comes with enhanced support for the technology. From the ‘New Module Wizard’, app makers can find an App Links Assistant, two separate modules (feature and instant) and a ‘modularized refactoring action’. The two modules have been provided to help Android developers create Instant Apps without any hassles.

  4. Faster build times

    The official theme of the Android Studio 3.0 update is ‘speeds and smarts’, as reported by a director of product management for Google. In particular, the Gradle build timings have been significantly bumped up. The increase in build speeds can be easily noted while working on complex app projects (Google has tested the IDE with projects that have 100+ modules). Depending on the precise nature of any app development process, the build time can vary from a few seconds to several minutes. A faster IDE, that’s what Android Studio is set to become.

  5. Upgradation of base IDE

    The core IDE of the updated edition of Android Studio is Intellij 2017.1.2 (the older 20116.2 has been ditched). A wide range of performance boosting features – from semantic highlighting, refactoring and inclusion of parameter hints, to several new ‘lint checks’, draggable breakpoints and presence of instant results within search – feature in the base IDE of Android Studio 3.0. A previously existing issue, involving app restarts even when there were no pauses in the underlying program at breakpoint(s), has also been resolved. This version of Android Studio is probably the most user-friendly till date.

  6. Support for Android Things

    The Internet of Things (IoT) market is booming, and Google clearly has plans to capture developer mindshare in this domain. The upcoming version of the Android IDE has been provided with high-end, customized features for the application of Android development expertise on the IoT platform. From the ‘New Module Wizard’ and ‘New Project Wizard’, developers can seamlessly start creating applications for Android Things – thanks to the presence of a large array of new templates. Incidentally, the Android Things framework includes smart devices for retail, consumer and industrial software.

  7. Compatibility with Java 8

    Along with the support for Kotlin, this is one of the biggest new features in Android Studio 3.0. Selective features from the Java 8 language toolchain are now supported by the IDE, along with the built-in Java 8 libraries. All that developers have to do is disable ‘Jack’, and then change the ‘Target’ and ‘Source’ compatibilities to 1.8 (this change is to be done inside ‘Project Structure dialog’). ‘Instant Run’ is one of the new Java 8 features that are supported in the latest Android IDE version.

  8. Maven Repository

    In previous iterations of Android Studio, the ‘maven dependencies’ of the support libraries of the IDE used to be stored within the SDK manager. Things will change with the arrival of version 3.0, with the dependencies now set to be distributed from a separately created ‘Maven Repository’. Experts from the field of mobile app development also feel that this repository will make the management of Continuous Integration builds a lot simpler.

Note: To the build.gradle file of the project module, https://maven.google.com has to be added)

  1. XML fonts and Adaptive Icon Wizard

    Both of these features are primarily targeted towards developers making apps for the Android O platform. The new version of Android Studio has an excellent font selection tool and a handy ‘XML font preview’ option – for integrating custom fonts in new applications. Font resources with downloadable features can also be created (this will be available only when Google Play has been updated to version 11.2.63 or later). On the other hand, coders will also find it easy to design legacy launcher assets and icons, after the arrival of the ‘Adaptive Launcher Icon Wizard’ in Android 3.0 Canary 1. Adaptive launcher icons is a much-talked-about new feature of Android O – and it has, understandably, received support from the revamped Android Studio.

  2. Better Layout Editor

    For all of its merits, the layout editors of the older versions of Android Studio had scopes for improvement. That has been addressed by the latest rendition of the IDE – with its layout editor having a host of powerful functionalities and enhancements. There is a brand new error panel, the ‘chain creation’ process has been enhanced, and the view insertions with drag-n-drop contains an improved component tree. What’s more – the layout editor of Android Studio 3.0 also has additional support for view barriers.

  3. Android Emulator gets OpenGL ES 3.0

    Apart from having better build speeds, the OpenGL ES 3.0 support in Android Emulator will also make the app development lifecycle shorter and more efficient. This support has been introduced with a clear eye on the system images of Android O (API level 24 image files). In addition, the graphics features and capabilities of OpenGL ES 2.0 have also been considerably enhanced. The process of generating bug reports have been made easier than ever, along with a redesigned UI for proxy settings. The new and improved Android Emulator: i) keeps Google Play Services updated, and ii) makes app testing processes easier and more thorough.

Note: In the emulator, there is a new ‘rotary input’ feature support for Android Wear devices.

   12. Enhanced APK debugging

The new version of the Android Studio IDE brings all-new APK Debugging functionalities to the table. APK sources (provided that developers have access to them) can be directly linked to the debug flow. That, in turn, would make the overall debugging process more high-fidelity. In general, this feature would help coders while profiling, analyzing, and of course, debugging APKs.

   13. Changed Device File Explorer

Just like the inclusion of Kotlin as a supported language, the changes in the Android Studio ‘Device File Explorer’ have also been done as a result of considerable demands from Android developers worldwide. Instead of interactions between file systems being carried out through DDMS (as was the practice in previous Android Studio versions), the new file explorer window allows users to interact with the filesystem of connected device(s)  – from right within the IDE. Apart from seamless app data modifications during testing phases, the ‘Device File Explorer’ also lets coders check out the directory and file structures of emulators/devices.

The ‘Layout Inspector’ has also undergone significant improvements in Android Studio 3.0. The Android O system images in the emulator bundles in the Play Store. The ‘APK Analyzer’ has a fair number of new, important features as well. It was initially planned that a version 2.4 of Android Studio will be released with the new features (7 previews had been made available). However, Google finally took the call that the number of new capabilities in the updated IDE warranted a major upgrade in the version number. Going by what can be seen in the Android 3.0 Canary 1 preview – this is going to be a mighty important upgradation of the IDE.

 

 

How To Implement API Management Practices?

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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Guide for API management

 

In 2017 Q1, the total number of APIs listed in ProgrammableWeb went past the 17000 mark for the first time (the count currently stands at 17174). The unprecedented increase in the usage of mobile devices over the last few years, coupled with escalating app-usage levels, have taken up the demand for secure, reliable backend-as-a-service (BaaS) tools manifold. The volume and types of data being exposed on the cloud through APIs (either internally or to third-party developers) are increasing at exponential rates – and unless the entire process is efficiently managed, confusions and problems are very likely to crop up. In such a scenario, the importance of smart API management is immense.

Before we get into the essential elements of an API management platform, let us reiterate its meaning and scope once more. API management, or APIM, includes the monitoring, tracking and management of practically everything related to APIs – right from development and publication, to data integration, monetization, analytics tracking and security parameters. The overall performance of application programming interfaces can also be bolstered with APIM tools. Typically, API management is essential in highly scalable environments.

Let us now turn our attentions to some interesting tips and pointers for creating advanced, end-to-end API management platforms:

  1. Make things intuitive for developers

    Who are the final users of APIs? That’s right – third-party app developers. If an interface has a complicated, long-drawn onboarding process, chances are high that most developers won’t bother using it (and find an alternative). Ideally, the developers should be able to check out some features of an API even before they have registered on it. Providing multiple identity providers (Twitter, Microsoft, Google) also helps developers in being able to quickly get an idea about the key functionalities of an API. An intuitive, user-friendly API is a ‘good’ API.

  2. API documentation is vital

    Not only does proper documentation enhance the accessibility and usability of APIs – it also ensures smooth management of the applications built with those interfaces. The documentations are a key part of API management tools – and they should be framed as communication tools with the end-users/developers. API providers should always try to involve the developers in their thought processes – after all, unless the latter like it, an API won’t be successful. Detailed, inclusive and regularly updated documentations add considerable value to the API ecosystem.

  3. Components of API management

    Broadly speaking, there are 3 key parts in an API management tool. The first is the ‘API Gateway’ – through which third-party apps can access the backend for important features, data and operational logic. Next up is the ‘Developer Portal’, on which static and dynamic communications with app developers/API consumers take place. Many API developer portals have social publishing features (e.g., Apigee). Finally, APIM solutions also include a dedicated ‘Management Portal’, through which APIs are analysed, gauged and monitored on a real-time basis.

Note: Although often overlooked, ‘API Governance’ also forms a part (and a very important part at that!) of API management.

  1. Clearly understandable value proposition

    The main features of an API (i.e., the value it has on offer) should be clearly listed on the developer portal of the API management platform. In addition, coders should also be able to easily find out the type of applications that can be created with a particular API. Including a proper content management system (CMS) in the dev portal – to communicate all the important information – is a good idea. In addition, the management solutions should also offer enhanced customization features. It is important to deliver completely personalized app-using experiences to people, and APIs have to contribute to that.

  2. Ensure accessibility to different groups

    Before API management platforms became popular, service-oriented architecture (SOA) used to be in practice. These SOA strategies were primarily addressed to coders and IT professionals – and did not have much for business analysts (who also operate as API marketers). In that sense, APIM can be viewed as an improvement over the SOA system, since it facilitates two-way collaboration between techies and business managers/analysts. The operations, use policies and data access rules should address all relevant user groups – from API developers and marketers, to security architects, marketing professionals and IT personnel (in essence, all the stakeholders of APIs). In an enterprise setup, tech professionals have to work with non-tech business executives – and the APIM needs to be able to address the separate ‘user-constituencies’ adequately.

  3. Focus on user-authentication and authorization

    API security is a crucial element of the management solutions. An end-to-end APIM platform must have a designated section for handling all types of authorization and authentication issues in a RESTful scenario. The authentication/authorization models (for identifying the end-users) have to be clearly explained, along with the mechanism for getting the ‘access codes’. Basic security certificates, tokens, OpenID Connect and OAuth2 are some common examples of security and authentication tools that are explained within API management solutions.

  4. Import Swagger in API management

    As a holistic API framework, there are many merits of the Swagger tool. As such, Swagger needs to be imported in an API management platforms – to bring in all the relevant API definitions, and providing the programmers (as well as the app-makers later on) with customized, uniform endpoints. On high-quality API gateways like Microsoft Azure, importing Swagger 1.2 documents is an absolute breeze – while importing Swagger 2.0 docs is also possible (there can be a probable issue with the swagger.json file). Once Swagger is imported within API management, keeping track of API performance becomes that much easier.

  5. Code samples and SDKs should be present

    The focus of the API developer portal is simple enough – it should make it as easy as possible for developers to start using a particular backend service. To ensure this, updated software development kits (SDKs) and code samples should be present in the API management platform. These can serve as valuable points of reference for app developers, particularly when working with complicated binaries and advanced data structures. What’s more – it is advisable make the SDKs and the associated libraries available in different languages, to ensure wider usability. API providers generally publish their SDKs on the Github repository, for easy access. There should be accompanying use cases as well.

Note: For creating and sharing the SDKs for public APIs, the required investments can be relatively high.

  1. Minimal downtimes

    For an APIM to be to be of any practical use, it needs to be ‘up-and-running’ practically all the time (the maintenance downtimes have to be minimal and at times when there is no chance of heavy use). In case there is an outage in the backend (or an error in the enterprise backend), the API management practices should be smart enough to address such problems swiftly and satisfactorily. Also, due emphasis has to be placed on the scalability and the extensibility of the management tool. Having redundancy tracking embedded in the platform is beneficial too – at times of traffic spikes and high API calls.

  2. Discussions, feature requests and feedback

    The importance of including third-party developers in the API roadmap has already been highlighted in an earlier point. A dedicated blog section should feature in a custom API management solution, precisely for this purpose – encouraging idea-exchange and facilitating seamless communication with developers. The changelog (an important part of API documentation) can be posted in this blog as well. To automate the data syndication process from the blog, all that API providers have to do is activate its RSS feed. Through the blog, developers will find it easy to share ideas, provide in-depth feedback, and generally discuss an API.

  3. Compatibility with different architectures

    Enterprise APIs can operate on the basis of different standards and underlying architecture. They can work on both the ‘private cloud’ or the ‘public cloud’ – while architectures with a combination of these two are also fairly common. A good API management solution should offer streamlined and complete support to all such different forms of data architecture. In case an API follows an ‘on-premise’ architecture, the APIM has to be compatible with that too.

  4. Analysing analytics

    There are huge volumes of statistics related to the manner in which a particular API is used. The API management tool is responsible for sorting and analysing these stats, identifying important trends in them, and boosting the ones that are contributing towards the final business objectives of the interface. On the other hand, if any ‘unfavourable’ usage-data is detected, it has to be countered immediately. The multi-vendor SDN platform by Apigee serves as a classic example for efficient handling of network traffic analytics.

A dedicated ‘Support’ section should also be included in an API management solution – enabling developers to get in touch as and when required (via online ticketing, voice calls, live chat, etc.). HTTP status codes for REST APIs, along with ‘request’ (from client) and ‘response’ (from server) documentation should also be present. Since the number of HTTP headers used in an API is likely to be high, a separate section on these headers would also come in handy – particularly for the API consumers. Last year, the total volume of data stored in enterprises grew by almost 70%. The demand for APIs is increasing rapidly – and that is putting the importance of well-rounded API management tools and solutions firmly in the spotlight.

Android Instant Apps Arrive: 14 Things To Know

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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Android Instant Apps are coming soon

 

Ever since they were first announced at the 2016 Google I/O event, there has been considerable buzz about Android Instant Apps. This January, Google started rolling out limited tests for Instant Apps – with Periscope, Wish and Buzzfeed featuring among the applications that received the update. Last week, version 7.8.15 of Play Store (which currently has 2.8 million+ apps) was launched – and a close inspection of the APK clearly indicates the arrival of Instant Apps in the build. Over here, we will take a closer look at Android Instant Apps – touted as the ‘best Android feature’ in recent times:

  1. What exactly are Instant Apps?

    The ‘Instant Apps’ feature brought forth by Google represents a significant piece of innovation in the domain of mobile technology. It allows Android-users to check out a ‘lite’ version of the supported apps directly on the web – without having to download and install the application. An Android app can be stripped down into multiple modules with different functionalities – and the ‘instant’ feature lets people use any particular functionality by directly ‘streaming’ that part of the concerned app. Instant Apps does away with the need for actually downloading an application, for getting the native Android app experience.

  2. App-sharing gets easier

    Android Instant Apps have been officially hailed as ‘an evolution in app sharing and discovery’ – and it lives up to this billing by making app-sharing easier than ever before. All that a user has to do is share a link (that opens the ‘instant’ version of the app) with his/her family or friends or other acquaintances – to have them onboard as well. For website owners too, this is a great feature – since links can be shared to bring in more traffic to the online app page (such shared links earlier used to lead to mobile web pages). Wherever a person might be, and whatever might be the precise type of Android device (s)he is using – Instant Apps ensure quick and easy access to interesting, compatible applications.

  3. No additional burden on developers

    This is a big thing for Android app developers. Contrary to early rumours, the Instant Apps use the same APIs and source codes as the original applications. Hence, there is no need whatsoever to create two separate versions of the same app. Coders only have to make certain upgradations/modifications to their existing applications – to make them compatible with the ‘Instant Apps’ feature. In other words, the mobile developer only has to divide an app in separate ‘modules’, based on their respective properties/uses. Nothing new has to be built from scratch.

  4. Choosing the account for using Instant Apps

    The ‘APK teardown’ of Play Store v.7.8.15 has shown that users have the freedom of choosing the email account that would handle and store all the data and permissions from apps that have the ‘Instant’ feature. There is a new ‘Instant Apps Account’ selection screen, where all the registered accounts of a particular user are displayed – and (s)he has to select the one that would handle the app data. In addition, all payments related to the Android Instant apps will also be managed from that Google account. The Android platform has always offered decent customization options to smartphone-owners, and ‘Instant Apps’ takes this forward.

  5. Greater convenience for app users

    According to a recent study, close to 24% individuals use a mobile app only once. The app, then, either remains abandoned and forgotten on the device – or gets promptly uninstalled by the user. Also, people have to typically consider the memory and bandwidth requirements of a new Android application (and Android users are always running short of memory space!) before actually deciding whether to download it or not. The arrival of ‘Android Instant Apps’ takes away all these issues. Since there are no downloads involved, people can simply interact with the portion/module of the app as and when required (no question of app-abandonments). There are no reasons to worry about memory consumption or battery drain due to the installation of a new app. You pull up an Instant App, use it, and be done with it…that’s all!

  6. Presented as a new standard; not an innovation

    A close examination of the new version of the Play Store APK provides a clear hint that Google wants ‘Instant Apps’ become a standard feature in future. This belief is emphasized by the fact that, in the build, people can ‘opt-out’ of the ‘Instant Apps’ program (suggesting that it will be present on compatible apps from the start). Unlike what was previously thought, the Mountain View company is not interested in giving people the option to ‘opt-in’ for the feature. Clearly, ‘Instant Apps’ is not being presented as a nice-to-have innovation…it is a new standard that every Android-user is being encouraged to be a part of.

  7. App vs mobile web

    Think of it this way. There is a retail shopping website, which also has a mobile app for the Android platform. Information and download link(s) of the app are present on the store – but most general users refrain from installing the app (even if they love the shopping portal), due to data or bandwidth-related concerns. On the mobile platform in particular, the users had to make do with the ‘mobile-friendly’ versions of web pages – which were often not optimized. With Instant Apps doing away with the need for full-fledged app downloads, users can stream and use specific parts of the shopping portal’s app…without any worries. Of course, a native app offers a (much) better user-experience than just another mobile web page.

  8. How to activate Instant Apps?

    Getting started with Instant Apps is an absolute breeze for interested Android-users. The feature can be enabled by navigating to ‘Settings → Personal → Google → Services → Instant Apps’, and toggling the button on the top-right corner of the screen to ‘On’. Ideally, users should carefully go through the terms of use as well as the instructions carefully, before proceeding. Once everything is done and satisfactorily understood, the users can tap on the ‘Yes, I’m In’ button. The next step is all about looking for, and using, Instant Apps.

Note: There are very few applications at present, with the ‘Instant Apps’ feature. However, v.7.8.15 of Play Store has indicated for the first time that support for this new feature is being expanded – and it should only be a matter of time before Android app developers start implementing this feature in their software.

  1. Preview before installation

    Remember the ‘15-Seconds-App-Rule’ we had talked about earlier? Well, the arrival of Instant Apps makes this period of judging a new mobile app even more challenging. The onus is squarely on the developers, the UI/UX developers and the animators – to provide an immersive native Android experience to users, so that the latter might be motivated to download the application later. This also opens up the opportunity for app-makers to be more creative while working on new apps. The ‘instant’ version of an Android app offers a preview to target users even before they have visited the Play Store – and if this ‘first interaction’ is positive, probabilities of download behaviour being triggered can grow manifold.

  2. Data, space and time

    There are many reasons why end-users would love using Android Instant Apps. For starters, there are no software downloads involved – thereby ruling out the risks of the memory space getting filled up. There can be many instances where searching for a new application (in the Play Store or on the web) takes some time (particularly when the network coverage is weak). In such scenarios, checking out the Instant Apps instead saves time for the users. Finally, downloading and using a full app consumes several MBs (a big app can use up >1GB) of data. Instant Apps, in comparison, use a lot less data – and since they are only opened once for a particular purpose – there are no chances of this data-usage increasing in future.

  3. The question marks

    While practically everything seems great (for both general users as well as Android app developers) about Instant Apps, there are a few points of concern. Firstly, there is a definite chance of app engagement levels going down, as more and more people switch over to using the ‘lite’ or the ‘instant’ versions of applications on their mobile browsers. If that happens, traditional metrics/analytics for measuring the success of an app – visits, number of downloads, retention, etc. – have to be rethought. Also, there is still some doubt over how the arrival of Instant Apps will affect the revenue-earning potentials of Android applications. There is scope for deliberation over how Instant Apps are going to fit in the overall mobile app marketing ecosystem as well. Google I/O 2017 kicks off in a week’s time, and more on these topics will hopefully be learnt there.

  4. Version compatibility

    The massive fragmentation of the Android platform (in April, the adoption rate of Nougat was a measly 4.9%) is a potential obstacle in the path of Instant Apps become widely popular. To tackle this, the backward compatibility of this new feature has been extended to Android 4.1 Jellybean – ensuring that all users with phones upgraded to Jellybean and later versions can check out Instant Apps. Later this year, Android O (will it be ‘Oreo’?) will be launched – and it would obviously support the new feature.

  5. Types of businesses/apps that would benefit most

    Given how Instant Apps provide an opportunity to examine the most interesting features of an application even before the latter is downloaded – it can be safely said that the feature is beneficial for nearly all types of businesses and websites. In particular, Instant Apps will be an excellent feature to have for retail shopping websites (think: making a purchase from Amazon, simply by launching the ‘instant’ version of its app) and travel portals (think: people can buy tickets by streaming the concerned the section of an app, without having to install it first.

  6. A long-term replacement of traditional Android apps?

    Android Instant Apps have a lot going for them. They offer mobile-users a whole new way of interacting with apps, and avoiding the hassles of downloading and learning to use an application. Since all the important Google Play services are available within Instant Apps, there are no chances of user-experience being compromised at any point. It is fairly simple for developers to create ‘instant’ versions of existing apps as well. However, there is nothing to suggest that Instant Apps will ‘replace’ the traditional Android applications anytime in the foreseeable future. It will take considerable time for the new feature to roll out to all users – and there will always be some apps which will HAVE to be downloaded for using.

Apart from Instant Apps, two other interesting updates – ‘Pre-registration Awards’ and ‘Play Protect’ – were found in the latest version of the Play Store. However, the source of all the information is the APK teardown – and it might well be possible that features present in this build do not make their way to the final release. One thing is for certain though…we are closer to the launch of Android Instant Apps than ever before – and these are exciting times for developers and smartphone-owners alike.

 

 

Top 10 IoT Gateways: A Comparison Of Their Features

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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Comparison of IoT gateways

 

As interest in moving towards a ‘more connected world’ mounts (close to 8.4 billion connected devices will be in active use by the end of this year), total investments in Internet of Things (IoT) also continues to soar. Reports from a recent survey have revealed that, by 2020, B2B expenses on IoT devices, applications and technologies will move to just a shade under $270 billion. The combined CAGR of IoT spendings (on utilities, transportation and manufacturing) stood at an impressive 18.0% last year – and the corresponding stat for 2017-2020 will be around the 20% mark. The remarkable growth of Internet of Things, in turn, puts the importance of high-powered IoT gateways under the spotlight.

What Exactly Is A IoT Gateway?

To function effectively, IoT devices require a tool on which all types of data – tracked by smart devices, sensors and related equipments – can be reported via the web. In addition, there is also the need for a platform on which IoT technologies with different protocols can seamlessly interact with each other (generally, for information sharing). IoT Gateways perform both these tasks, effectively serving as a communication bridge between the various Internet of Things tools and devices on one hand, and the cloud network on the other. The main function of a gateway is, hence, establishing and maintaining a strong, reliable connection between the field (devices) and the cloud – ensuring superior control over the active IoT tools, and ensuring enhanced data storage and information processing capabilities.

The Best IoT Gateways Out There

Let us now turn our attentions to some of the popular IoT gateways currently available. There are certain differences in the features and configurations of the different gateways, and we will focus on that here:

  1. Dell Edge Gateway 500

    An excellent IoT gateway, with its USP being the cost-effective solutions that it delivers. The underlying OS for this series of Dell gateways is Ubuntu Core 15.04 – and it can be easily mounted on walls as well as DIN-Rail. This feature, in fact, makes the Dell Edge 500 usable both in industrial as well as commercial ecosystems. The gateway draws its power from its robust built-in processor (Intel Atom E3825). Presence of a 32GB solid state hard drive is yet another high point of the Dell Edge 500 series, and it also comes with DDR3L (2GB) memory space. The usability of this IoT Gateway is significantly enhanced by its support for extreme operating temperatures (compatible temperature range: -30 degrees centigrade to 70 degrees centigrade). The hard drive is also compatible with M.2 SATA.

  2. ReliaGate 20-25 (Eurotech)

    The ReliaGate 20-25 features among the series of high-performance Eurotech IoT gateways. This one, designed on the basis of the proprietary Everyware Software Framework or ESF, is particularly suitable for rough industrial environments. The gateway offers fast and smooth Everyware Cloud integration, excellent security and hardware diagnostics options, and powerful remote access capabilities. ReliaGate 20-25 also has high-quality Bluetooth and wi-fi connectivity (the ReliaCELL 10-20 module has to be plugged in for the connectivity) and offers interesting customization opportunities as well. Once again, the gateway works within a wide range of operating temperatures (-40 to 65 degrees centigrade).

Note: The Everyware framework of ReliaGate 20-25 is the built-for-enterprises version of the Eclipse Kura open-source gateway middleware.

  1. HPE Edgeline Gateways

    Two different models of the Edgeline IoT gateways have been brought to the market by Hewlett-Packard (the 10 and the 20). Both have the certification to function in collaboration with the Microsoft Azure IoT – and they run on the Core i5 processor (from Intel). The key advantage of these gateways is the tight security of all data at the network edges. To improve overall performance levels, density levels and power – the Edgeline IoT gateways are geared to work with the HP Moonshot architecture. The setup of the Edgeline gateways is customized for quicker collection, aggregation and analysis of important data/figures – while there are high-powered data management features in them too. Different versions of these gateways (rack-mounted, rugged, mobile) are available.

  2. Huawei AR Series IoT Gateways

    The AR series gateways from Huawei operate as high-powered IoT routers – and are particularly suited for video monitoring, manufacturing, transportation, power utilities and other outdoor operations. For Ethernet control and advanced Smart Grid operations, the AR2500 Agile Gateways are the best-suited, while the AR502 Gateways are ideal for retaining functionality under challenging conditions (e.g., temperature and humidity extremes and electromagnetic disturbances). For network integration and sharing via virtualization, the AR3600 gateways (with x86 design) are useful. The AR510, on the other hand, is a powerful gateway for multimedia and video services in different indoor and outdoor locations (including ‘connected cars’). The AR509, AR530 and AR160-M Agile gateways are also designed by Huawei – and each of them offer discrete advantages.

  3. Cisco 910 Router

    The smart cities market is among the fastest-growing sub-sectors under Internet of Things. According to a recent report, the value of the worldwide smart cities sector will go beyond the $1.4 trillion mark by the end of this decade. The Cisco 910 IoT gateway router, with its rugged designs, has been built to support high-end smart city applications, in particular. Glitch-free fog computing is one of the best features of the router – and the latter gets this capability thanks to the on-board memory capability and the excellent horsepower support. An extended array of wireless technologies (with sensors) can be used with the Cisco gateway, due to the latter’s cutting-edge modular slot design. Different RF bands are also supported. From smart parking and smart lights, to environment tracking and asset monitoring – the Cisco 910 is adept for all that, and much more.

  4. Adlink MXE-5400i Gateways

    This series of IoT gateways from Adlink comes with official certification from Microsoft Azure, and are powered by the fourth-generation Intel Core (i3, i5, i7) processor. The performance levels of the gateway are further boosted by the presence of the Wind River IDP and the robust QM87 chipset. Tests have confirmed that the MXE-5400i series of gateways excels in terms of processor performance, while keeping the overall power usage under check. To ensure the security of IoT apps, data and software, the Intel vPro technology is in-built within the gateway, along with the Smart Embedded Management Agent (SEMA) by Adlink. Built with rugged design, the operating temperature range for the Adlink gateways is -20 degrees centigrade to 60 degrees centigrade (fanless operation). Cable-free construction and vibration resistance are two other additional benefits that these gateways have on offer.


Note: Adlink also has the MXE-100i and MXE-200i series of IoT gateways, along with the Intelligent IoT Gateway Starter Kit.

  1. Advantech WISE-3310

    Powered by the Intelligent Gateway concept, the IoT Gateways from Advantech deliver high performance levels, and rank high on the reliability count. The WISE-3310 gateway serves as an advanced industrial IoT platform – with built in support for 200 wireless nodes. The processor powering this gateway is Freescale i.MX6 Dual Cortex 1 GHz, and Linux 3.10.17 is embedded into the hardware (the embedded modules can be changed). The fanless underlying design and the power-saving mode make this Advantech gateway ideal for deployment in varying M2M/IoT scenarios. This gateway abides by the IEEE 802.15.4e and the 6LoWPAN standards.

  2. B-Scada Wireless Ethernet Gateway

    Unlike most of the IoT gateways listed above, this one offers end-to-end, real-time, wireless sensing solutions. This gateway can work in three different frequency levels – 433MHz, 868 MHz and 915MHz. One of the biggest advantage of the B-Scada gateway lies in the fact that it allows sensor data to be remotely pulled and accessed from any location (since the gateway guarantees constant communication between the cloud server and the wireless sensors). To establish connection with the B-Scada online servers, all that has to be done is plugging the IoT gateway inside any internet-enabled open network port. A maximum of 50 sensors can be supported by a single gateway.

Note: All B-Scada wireless sensing hardware have the plug-&-play feature pre-configured in them.

  1. FlexaGate FG400 IoT Analytics Gateway

    This gateway (from Flexaware) is focused on in-depth analysis of IoT analytics data. The analysing speed (of data from IoT sensors, equipments, etc.) is bolstered by the top-notch Ethernet input (RJ45 8×10 Gbps) and Ethernet output (RJ45 1×1 Gbps) capabilities. The FlexaGate gateway is particularly useful in environments where web connectivity is weak and/or unreliable, and consumption of storage area or cloud bandwidth is a point of concern. The gateway functions on the basis of a distributed memory architecture, and has handy ‘passive cooling’ features. Apart from being high on performance, the FlexaGate FG400 also minimizes processing, memory and bandwidth costs.

  2. Kontron KBox A-201

    One of the featured KBox series of IoT gateways by Kontron, the A-201 has the powerful Intel Quark X1011 built-in processor – and comes in a wide range of hardware interfaces. Multiple mounting options are available for this gateway, including desktop mounting and cabinet mounting (in addition to DIN RAIL). The 15G shock resistance of the device enhances its usability in a big way – while it is also compatible with extreme operating temperatures (-40 degrees centigrade to 55 degrees centigrade). This KBox gateway has a batteryless and fanless design, with soldered memory (the design is called ‘wartungsfrei’) and works best as a multi-featured industrial computing platform. Cost-effectiveness is yet another high point of this gateway.

In addition to the ones mentioned above, there are several other high-quality IoT gateways – like the Sierra Wireless products, the Lantronix gateways and the AAEON tool (AIOT-QG). Fujitsu, Amazon Web Services, Bosch, ARM – all feature among top IoT companies in the world at present. For successful, large-scale implementation of Internet of Things, availability of advanced, reliable IoT gateways is an absolute must – and each of the gateways discussed here offers powerful features to users.

The Artificial Intelligence Revolution: Rise Of The Chatbots

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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Trends in AI-powered chatbots

 

Imagine being able to ask a chatbot questions around-the-clock in as many as 13 different languages. Sounds pretty impressive, right? Well, the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, in collaboration with Facebook’s Messenger platform, offers precisely this service – and it is a classic example of the proliferation of advanced, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots in the field of business (in addition to personal mobile AI assistants like Siri, Google Assistant and Cortana). The recent improvements in the standards of machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) have made AI chatbots an integral feature in messaging applications. There are many developers who believe that chatbots can, in fact, replace apps over time. In what follows, we will learn more about the dawn of the chatbots, powered by growth of AI standards:

  1. Understanding Chatbots

    First things first, let’s understand what a chatbot is and what it is supposed to do. To put it in simple terms, a chatbot is nothing more than a piece of program – designed to initiate and maintain ‘conversation’ with users – simulating the activities of a human customer service representative. A chatbot typically carries on communications on the basis of machine learning, ensuring that the conversations flow in a completely natural manner. Thanks to the underlying AI capabilities, chatbots can ‘understand’ the intent of a person when (s)he sends in a message…and they can respond accordingly.

  2. Rapid growth of global AI markets

    By the end of 2017, the value of the worldwide AI market will be around $1.247 million – nearly double of the corresponding figure last year. The growth will gain further momentum as we move towards the next decade – with the AI industry expected to reach $9.55 million in 2021, and a humongous $36.82 million by 2025. The rapidly evolving AI techniques and practices have been instrumental in improving the functionalities of chatbots manifold. Things that were only in the far realms of imagination even half a decade back are actually in place now.

  3. Demand for powerful chatbots

    While capabilities and resources for AI-powered chatbots have obviously expanded (the supply-side), the demand for such tools/software has also been increasing from end-users. According to a recent survey, around 7 out of every 10 people wish their initial interactions with businesses to happen via text-based conversations – and chatbots are the ideal tools for that (live chat and messaging both being popular ways). In the bigger scenario too, there is a marked tendency among the present-generation to opt for self-servicing tools. In a chatbot, people can get their queries resolved easily – and without having to depend on anyone else (a business representative, for instance).

Note: The ‘app fatigue’ levels among smartphone-users are also increasing. A vast cross-section of people worldwide prefer to have direct communications with a chatbot, than going through the trouble of downloading, installing and learning about the features/controls of a new mobile application.

    4. Moving beyond text-based conversations

Chatbots are far from being limited to only text-based two-way communications (between users and service providers). Things can be made a lot more engaging and interactive with the help of images, emojis, buttons, stickers and even cards. In bots that represent stores or events or a particular product, things like Google Maps driving directions, maps, bios and LinkedIn profiles of concerned individuals can be included. As implementation of artificial intelligence gets more rounded, chatbots become more efficient at bringing all the various types of information that a user might be seeking. The conversations are always contextual…always to the point.

    5. A fresh challenge for UX designers

Experts from the field of software and mobile app development feel that 2017 is the year when ‘conversational UX’ really picks up in a big way. The onus is squarely on graphic designers and UX experts to ensure that chatbots are implemented in new applications in a seamless, non-intrusive manner. There are many different types of interfaces and designs that can be created with chatbots – while the conversation types can vary as well. It is a new and exciting challenge…one that app designers need to muster quickly!

    6. Exponential popularity of messaging apps

One of the main drivers of the remarkable growth of AI-powered chatbots is the rapidly escalating popularity of messenger apps. In 2016, messaging apps grew 4 times faster than the overall growth rate of mobile apps (44% vs 11%). Both WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have around 1.2 billion users across the globe – with WeChat and LINE (890 million and 220 million users respectively) taking up the third and fourth spots respectively. Businesses have discovered the benefits of having an active presence on Facebook and the other social platforms, including Pinterest and Instagram. In March, business applications made up 9.88% of the total number of apps in the Apple Store – making it the second-most popular category over there.

    7. Efficiency as customer management tools

Chatbots (automated or otherwise) have a big role to play in maintaining the complete ‘customer lifecycle’ and lowering the number of ‘customer-dropoffs’. In this context, the importance of regular notifications and messages sent through these bots has to be highlighted. The AI algorithms can help the software ‘analyse’ and learn from ‘big data’ , facilitate predictive analysis of the collected information, and communicate with users in a personalized, easy manner. In essence, chatbots have the potential to serve as high-efficiency ‘conversational agents’ for businesses.

    8. Human assistance should back up AI chatbots

Irrespective of how nuanced AI technologies have become, and what range of functions that chatbots can serve – the latter should never be a ‘replacement’ or a ‘substitute’ of the human touch. There can always be a query that a chatbot might fail to understand, or can be answered better by a human customer service executive. While creating the underlying algos, developers need to be on the lookout to provide opportunities where a human can step in an ongoing conversation between the chatbot and a prospective customer.

Note: In general, questions asked by chatbots should be choice-based (e.g., which size of shirt a customer wants to buy, along with the available options). Questions that invite open-ended answers are not ideal for chatbot conversations.

  1. Multiple tasks handled by the same platform

    Say, you wish to buy something online. You have to browse through the concerned category at the online shopping store, arrive at a final purchase decision, place the order, and make the payment through a secure gateway. After that, you would also probably like to receive notifications related to the shipping status from time to time. Traditionally, all these tasks had to be conducted separately – something that has been resolved by the cutting-edge chatbots. On them, the different tasks associated with making a purchase can all be carried out on the same platform, within a single conversation. Unlike simple mobile shopping apps, chatbots do away with the need for following different message threads while doing a purchase.

  2. The cost advantage

    Developing a chatbot for business makes sense from two perspectives. Firstly, by enabling direct communication with people and ensuring complete personalization, chatbots bring down the total expenses associated with customer services. Secondly, and equally importantly, the average costs for making a chatbot application are also steadily going down – thanks to the availability of an excellent array of free development frameworks (released by Google, Microsoft, IBM, Facebook). What’s more – chatbots are server-side apps that require very basic UI elements. Hence, they can be created more quickly than an average smartphone application.

  3. Support from the big players

    2016 was a landmark year in the growth of messenger chatbots. Facebook Messenger announced the support for bots in April – barely a month after the much-publicized Bot framework had been announced by Microsoft. The total count of ‘approved bots’ – for platforms like Telegram, Slack, FB Messenger and Skype – has gone up significantly, pushing up the total user base of messenger bots to well above 1 billion individuals. With artificial intelligence continuing to push boundaries, many new types of chatbots – utilizing the latest opportunities – are likely to be launched over the next few quarters.

Note: Voice recognition is also fast emerging as an important feature of AI-powered chatbots. You can check out the impact of speech recognition technology on mobile apps here.

     12. The ethical considerations

Fake news, modified algorithms, spammy notifications – all of these can compromise the quality and usability of a chatbot application. A customer can typically share sensitive, personal information during a conversation – and the business has to make sure that such information can never be accessed by unauthorized third-parties. In addition, community managers (social media experts) and customer service professionals have to closely collaborate while working with a chatbot. In general, customers expect the two roles to be performed by one and the same person…and it is important to ensure that this perception is maintained.

Chatbots have come a long way since the arrival of ELIZA – the MIT program – way back in 1966. In their present form, they can offer personalized, real-time information to individuals on the one hand…and collect & analyse data (data mining) on the other. Artificial intelligence has been instrumental in making chatbot conversations more effective and streamlined – with automated suggestions also being a big help. Not surprisingly, many leading business – from Amtrak and Disney, to Mattel and Taco Bell - have joined in on the chatbot bandwagon. Front-end response systems of businesses (maintained mostly by website and mobile applications till now) are all set to undergo an overhaul – and AI-based chatbots are going to be right at the core of this revolution.