Embedded Experiences Are Coming to the Browser

One of the most interesting and valuable developments in enterprise social software (ESS) over the last few years has been the introduction of embedded experiences. Simply put, these are event-driven notifications, usually from other enterprise applications and systems, that surface within the activity stream of an ESS application. Embedded experiences go beyond merely notifying of something important; they also allow one or more actions to be taken to move a business process to the next step.
chatter notification vacation approval
Embedded experiences are great, but they have been written in proprietary code tied to a specific ESS vendor’s offering. It has not been possible to reuse actionable notifications across vendors’ solutions.
Google has announced a new feature in the latest beta version of its Chrome browser that will provide an open standard alternative for the delivery of extended experiences. Chrome 48 Beta enables developers to quickly create notifications with buttons that let users complete tasks. Those notification can be pushed from browser-based applications and webpages, as well as from Chrome OS applications and extensions to the Chrome browser.
Google and Mozilla employees have contributed to the development of the fledgling Notifications API standard under the auspices of the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) community. This specification is what has been implemented in Google’s Chrome 48 Beta.
A Notification Generator built to define HTML-based embedded experiences has been created by Peter Beverloo. The generator shows how easy it is to define an embedded experience that can appear in any HTML5-compliant web browser.

Notification GeneratorSource: http://tests.peter.sh/notification-generator/#actions=1;;requireInteraction=true

As previously noted, embedded experiences have been proprietary to individual vendor’s applications and platforms. Google’s beta implementation of the WHATWG’s Notifications API specification is a first important step toward embedded experiences that will work across operating systems and applications. When the feature is properly vetted and becomes part of the stable release of Chrome (and, we assume, Mozilla’s Firefox browser), open, actionable notifications will be reality.
This is important because it will make the development and use of embedded experiences far more practical and widespread. Enterprise software vendors who choose to implement the WHATWG’s Notifications API specification will empower their customers to more easily create interoperability with other vendors’ browser-based tools. Actionable data embedded in notifications will be able to be passed between systems, business process execution will be accelerated, and personal productivity will be increased.
This news further intensifies the browser-based versus operating system-dependent application debate, especially with regards to mobile computing. The current preference for native applications on mobile devices will be challenge to the uptake of the Notifications API specification, given its dependence on the Web browser. Development of more of these types of Web standards is precisely what is needed to swing the pendulum back toward browser-based applications.

Nokia Here for Android is updated, out of beta and in Google Play

Nokia had quite the beta trial for its new Android version of Here, receiving 3 million downloads in four months after releasing the software for sideload on its website. But Nokia believes it has worked out the kinks and it’s launching a new version of the app with several new features and updates. It’s also making the app far more accessible to the Android-wielding public by offering it in Google Play.

If you already have the beta version of Here, you probably need to download the new version from Play as the beta version likely won’t automatically update. It should be worth the effort since [company]Nokia[/company] has fixed some bugs and added some new bells and whistles to the app.

Most notably, it’s added more interactivity to the maps so you can tap on businesses, points of interest and even traffic alerts to get more detailed information. For instance, tapping on a road closure notice could give you info on how long the street will be closed to traffic and what other streets are affected (assuming Here’s traffic service has access to that information). Nokia is also adding 3D maps of major landmarks to the Android version. Those 3D renderings don’t just look pretty. You can interact with them directly and even zoom through them to get directions inside of a building.

Nokia Here Android update

For a complete list of the new updates, check out this post on Nokia’s Here blog. The new version of the app is already available in Google Play in the U.S., but Nokia said it may take some time for it to populate the Play stores in other regions of the world. This week Nokia also updated its core map data for both Android and Windows phone, adding navigable cartography for several new countries and new details to existing maps. Nokia is also preparing a new iOS version of Here, though it didn’t give details on the timing.

Want to attract the average consumer? Skip the hardware preview

For the last two years I’ve been reviewing connected devices as part of my role as Gigaom’s internet of things reporter. I’ve spent hours fiddling with radio networks, sliced my fingers open attaching wireless hubs to my garage door opener, giggled with my daughter while weighing out sugar on a connected scale, and generally had a good time. I’ve even had a few adventures in home wiring and and the occasional shock.

But of the dozens of products I’ve tested, only a few have actually been ready for the market when they’ve reached my hands. In a few cases this is to be expected: some were Kickstarter-backed projects that were shipping to the developers and reviewers at the same time and some were hitting my doorstep a month in advance of their availability in stores.

But others were shipping to the general backers or worse, in stores as I was testing my own versions of the products. And they just weren’t ready.

After two years of this, I think it’s time the market and its participants stop shipping products that aren’t up to snuff. Because as more people start picking up these devices and trying to see what the smart home is all about, a bad experience with an underperforming or buggy product is going to turn them off from the whole concept.

Sometimes, it’s worth the wait

Take for example, the Wink home hub from Quirky. This product launched in July with major backing from Wink and Home Depot. My guess is the companies involved felt the pressure to get into the market quickly since there were already several players ranging from small (SmartThings, Revolv) to big (Staples Connect and Lowes Iris) that had been selling for months and even years in the case of Lowes.

But when Wink launched, it was buggy, lacking support for basic devices that it shared radios and aisle space with, and consumers who picked it up were pretty frustrated. Luckily, it was cheap, and Wink had the cash to keep it in the market and manage its retailers’ frustration with returns — a luxury smaller startups don’t generally have. But still, any customer who decided to take a chance on Wink to see what the fuss was about wasn’t likely to walk about thrilled with the smart home experience.

Wink wasn’t ready for market. But what about LIFX, the $99 connected light bulbs that change color and connect via Wi-Fi? The bulbs were pricey, but since Philips Hue had primed the market, others were coming in with newer variations, and LIFX was winning accolades. But in July, after a few of my friends had picked up the bulbs, an English hacking firm reported that the bulbs exposed users to a significant security flaw by letting people hack into to users’ Wi-Fi networks. Not only that, LIFX stored users Wi-Fi passwords all in one database. Both problems were quickly solved, but the exploit and the database setup exposed some basic flaws in how LIFX had handled security and notifications. Simply put, it wasn’t ready.

Take it on faith

My final beef with products that aren’t ready concerns those companies that are pitching some type of algorithm as part of their value, but the algorithm isn’t quite trained on enough data yet. Much like the vaporware of the 1990s, I think of these products as faithware, as in we just have to have faith that they’ll work well and do what we want them to do. Algorithms aren’t magic. They have to be trained and even the act of training them introduces biases that mean it may not work in the way we want it to.

[pullquote person=”” attribution=”” id=”913890″]I think of these products as faithware, as in we just have to have faith that they’ll work well and do what we want them to do.[/pullquote]

If something has a learning algorithm that assumes you love things one way (sleeping at night, for example) and you don’t live that way, it’s not going to make your life easier. So products like Canary home security system (which is on sale now and will ship in March) that offer an algorithm that will arrive eventually worry me. If learning is a big reason you are buying a product then make sure that’s a feature that exists straight out of the box when you buy it rather than down the road. Because ideally you’ll want to train it within your return window for that item.

The home is a shared environment

This may sound harsh. I know that all of these companies are after a first mover advantage and everybody is out there right now popping a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth module on an everyday object and building an app for it. But hardware is not software. There’s only so much iteration a consumer is willing to take when it comes to a functional object that she plans to install in her home. Especially an object that will be used by everyone in that home.

Nest and Philips Hue both were consumer ready products.

Nest and Philips Hue both were consumer ready products.

It’s fine when your app crashes; at worst, you reboot and move on. But when you spend $250 on a connected door lock that your husband was a bit dubious about in the first place, and he comes home with his arms full of groceries and gets stuck on the doorstep because the lock didn’t open, you can’t tell him to reboot. That lock is going to get returned. And my bet is your mission to connect your home just got set back by a few years.

As I’ve been playing with devices I’ve expected the quality to get better over time. And while I think there has been a slight uptick in overall quality — devices coming out of the PCH incubator for example tend to arrive consumer-ready (although without as great support for Android devices) I’m still surprised at the overall uneven quality of the products that are shipping to consumers. Maybe some of the entrepreneurs who participated in how we built it campaign at our Structure Connect event last year can offer a lesson or two.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5fDy4tzgHY&w=560&h=315]

Please, guys. I love hardware and I love connected devices. But the mainstream consumer isn’t going to love anything that they have to spend hours troubleshooting. Or that they have to worry about from a security standpoint. We may love playing with our connected outlets and sensors, but trust me, everyone else wants to just set them and forget them.

You have to release products that let them do that. Until you can, keep them to yourselves.

Fon begins beta testing a business Wi-Fi network

Fon hopes to expand beyond its residential hotspots into coffee shops, retail stores and dentist offices across the world. It’s launching a new beta program and Fonera router for businesses starting today.

Republic Wireless opens unlimited plans to all comers

After a year and countless waves of beta trials, Republic Wireless is finally swinging open the doors for a commercial launch. New customers can now order its latest Motorola smartphone from its Website and sign up for its dirt-cheap $19 unlimited everything plans.

Flipboard opens an Android beta program

Flipboard for Android launched exclusively on Samsung’s Galaxy S III. The reading app is an iOS fave due to its intuitive page flipping interface, many news sources and connectivity to social networking sites. Here’s how to register and get Flipboard for Android beta on your phone.

IOS 5.1 beta hints at iPad 3, iPhone 5 and new Apple TV

The iOS 5.1 beta software from Apple was released Monday afternoon for developers, and while at first it didn’t appear to add much, investigations by users have produced a few interesting tidbits about what’s new. Most interesting of all could be references to the next iPad.

New Skype for Mac Beta features Facebook integration

Skype released a new beta for Mac users on Thursday, which features Facebook integration. You can now chat directly with your Facebook friends, check your news feed and update your status. But it comes at a cost: This beta also introduces ads for nonpaying Skype users.