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June 23, 2017

Reflections on Developer Keynotes

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Mark Thomas, Technical CEO of Coderus, reflects on the 2017 Keynote presentations from Microsoft, Google and Apple. Coderus hosted Live Streams of all three keynote presentations and this year included delivering these at the University of Suffolk’s Waterfront Campus, as well as Adastral Park, the home of BT Labs and nearly 100 additional businesses, as part of the Innovation Martlesham cluster of digital tech businesses.

This has been one of most exciting developers conference years, with a plethora of different technologies being announced by each of the three American Goliath tech platform companies. Microsoft and Google set the bar high and Apple had a tough challenge to demonstrate further innovation.

There are a wide number of new technologies which software developers should consider using today, to enhance customer experiences of interacting with digital services, which improve usability and accessibility.  There are a number of ‘machine learning’ (also referred to as ‘AI’ or Artificial Intelligence) back-ends from both Google and Microsoft, which businesses should consider integrating within your business logic, to make your business smarter and more intuitive to your customers.  They demonstrated recognition of objects, faces, voices and natural language text.  Google and Microsoft’s offer are processed in the cloud, whereas Apple introduced machine learning on devices, which offers enhanced security and off-grid working for remote mobile use.

In addition there are new integration technologies that simplify the production of professional software code, for example Android Things and Microsoft IoT Core.  These technologies enable start-ups and micro businesses to accelerate the development of prototypes using printed circuit boards.  What ever your business size, these technologies provide the framework for scaling prototypes into mass product deployment in a fraction of the time and cost.  This can help get to market quickly to generate revenue and reduce the need for massive injection of cash from investors.  It’s great to see these technologies being opened up for coders to use their own developments, which protects existing investments.

You may have heard of Gartner’s hype cycle for emerging technologies.  The Internet of Things, or IoT for short, has been close to the peak for a few years now.  The tech sector has been waiting for a step change to occur and I believe Android Things, plus Microsoft IoT Core are accelerants that will turn Gartner’s predictions into reality.

As expected Voice control is playing a big part from all three tech vendors.  Following announcements of voice enhancements to Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri joined the party within their rival HomePod speaker.  Apple’s entry builds on their music heritage to build on home entertainment.  The Assistants are becoming more aware of context, which is a further step towards more highly personalised services.

Not only is the HomePod a step-change in industrial design and audio quality, it also packs a powerful punch linking Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem that integrates third-party products such as lights, thermostats, locks, cameras and other home automation gadgets.  I highly recommend developers take a good look at Apple’s MFi Program of hardware and software requirements to join this ecosystem of linking with AirPlay audio accessories, iPod, iPhone and iPad.  Apple is also opening up their encryption chip to encourage innovation and remove a potential barrier.

As anticipated, Android O is coming, as well as Apple’s High Sierra and iOS 11.  Microsoft announced Windows 10S, a more secure version targeted to schools with limited access to their software store.

Regarding user experience (UX in software parlance) Microsoft launched their Fluent Design System, which in my view really builds on a lot of work Apple pioneered for design language.  Google updated their equivalent language to Fluid, which is good to see.   These developments follow Apple’s lead on documenting their design language.  Apple went further to enable desktop interaction design concepts of ‘drag and drop’ into their mobile iOS for iPads and iPhones.

On watches and ‘wearables’, while Android O features are making it into Android Wear 2.0, there wasn’t a lot mentioned in the Keynote regarding the operating system, although there were many follow-on sessions.  Android tools have been enhanced to improve code performance and similar enhancements have been offered by Microsoft and Apple.  Google’s hardware partners have doubled in numbers compared to last year.  Apple’s updates to their WatchOS 4 demonstrate a maturing of the platform including a Siri watch face, gym integration, a Music app and access to Bluetooth for developers.

Google provided a great way for remote developers to interact during their conference.  People could ask questions to engineers over Twitter and receive replies, which was great to see happening, plus keep the developer community engaged if they were not lucky to get tickets to attend in person.  Tickets to these events sell out very quickly and with a weak Pound to the Dollar, watching online has become more popular this year, with all Keynotes and other presentations streamed live as well as available for replay.  I was fortunate to attend Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference in San Jose this year.  It’s the 19th I’ve been to.  The opportunity to talk with the engineers who write the code to improve understanding of our needs and their capabilities is very valuable.  Ultimately all three vendors provide a rich array of technologies that fuel innovation in all walks of life.

To summarise, I suggest that businesses should be looking to engage with machine learning, as there are great offerings form both Microsoft and Google.  Even if using in ‘lighter’ modes such as image and video tech including Google Lens and/or Microsoft Cognitive Services.  Voice interaction is also key for businesses to improve engagement with customers.  Early adopters are already reaping benefits.  It is one of the most natural ways of interacting at home.  The electronic personal assistant will soon to be everywhere, so we can all have Jarvis at home (for fans of Iron Man).

This article was published in the East Anglian Daily Times Business East Monthly on 20th June, 2017 www.eadt.co.uk/business.

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