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Essential apps for an 'Appy new year!

As this year's must have gadget lists all include some form of mobile device (surprise!), it would be rather remiss of us if we didn't offer some suggestions for essential apps to download. Here are some favourites from Team Blueleaf...

Pete Smith,
Senior Developer

For me it would be Camera+ (and Camera+ for iPad), both are 69p. An awesome little camera app for taking snaps and post production work. It comes with loads of filters, and tools to make those photos even better.

Rob Smith,
Strategy Director

My choice would be Gmail for iphone as it's the best email app if you have a Gmail account. I'd also suggest Google maps new app for the iPhone - finally maps comes back after the update to Apple maps!

Duncan Watts,
Designer

I love Twitter as it's perfect for relieving boredom on trains. I'd also recommend Navfree as an ace free sat nav. It can be upgraded to remove adverts and add speed cameras. It did take me on a 20 minute detour this weekend but other than that little blip it's been spot on! If you bank with Barclays, their mobile banking app is really handy, easy to use and has great UX. Finally IMBD on the ipad is a brilliant second screen essential for answering questions like, what else have they been in? Was she in "Home and Away"? That chap that looks like Hayden, was he in Lost or The Lord of the Rings? - Oh both!

Deb Jowett,
Cheerleader

For me it has to be Kindle for iPad as I love to read! I've also found iTorch really handy for walking home in the dark and, of course I live on Facebook and Twitter! If you like to shop online, Ocado has the most amazing app too, fantastic UX.

Caroline Dudley,
Project Manager

I can't live without the iHandy Alarm Clock which not only displays the time but the alarm uses music from your library on your phone. You can also set multiple alarms for different days, for example you may want to wake up later at weekends than weekdays! The Met Office app gives reliable weather information that is updated constantly and MobilityWare Solitaire provides free cell for your phone which is totally addictive!

Chris Jones,
Creative Director

Flipboard and Summly are both apps that gather together news feeds and are both very pretty from a design perspective. The new Gmail app is also rather good.

Adrian Lomas,
MANAGING DIRECTOR

Strava is a great app for cycling and running as you can see how you have performed against other people on certain sections of your run. Amazing! I also love Nike Fuelband which links to Facebook so pits you against your friends and helps you keep motivated by showing the number of steps you have done, or calories burnt in a day. My Fitness Pal tracks everything you eat (if you log it of course) and gives you the grim facts. My pancakes WITHOUT maple syrup are not as nice, but healthier. Finally, the Phone is amazing as you just press some numbers and you get to speak with people

Sarah Evans,
Operations Director

MyFitnessPal really helps with health and fitness as it records calorie intake and exercise so you can keep track of what you’re eating and how much exercise you’re doing. It lists most foods and you can even scan barcodes to easily find stuff. I love it as it really makes you aware of what you’re eating and helps you make healthier decisions. I think I might give it a bit of a break over the Christmas season though as I'm not sure I want to know how many calories are in a Christmas dinner!

Jonathon Palmer,
Commercial Director

I would suggest AwesomeNote as it's great for capturing thoughts and notes on the go and for general organisation. It also syncs very nicely with Gmail and Google Drive.

Lindsay Glover,
Account Manager

When you hear a song on the radio but you you just can't think who it is or the DJ didn't tell you who the artist was, click on Shazam. It listens to the song and gives you all the details (normally in about 30 seconds) you can also go straight to iTunes to buy the song too. I also love Instagram because no one likes a normal picture anymore - add lots of effects to your pictures to make you look oh so creative! Skyscanner is a very user friendly app to look for the cheapest flights to any destination.

Anna Carter,
Financial Controller

My favourite app has to be Facebook. I can't live without it as I love to keep up with all the news. It was really great to find out what was going on in the Blueleaf office whist I was on maternity leave. The Tesco app is a life saver as it's ace to be able to do my online shopping anywhere rather than trying to get on the computer. We use Sky+ all the time because it's amazing to be able to record your favourite programme if you are out and about. Finally, I find the Ebay app brilliant as it allows you to take your photos on your phone and then upload them straight away rather than having to plug into your PC.

Scott Marshall,
Project Director

I love iHandy flashlight for those times when I drop stuff! Another Must-have would be Spotify as its much cheaper than buying CD’s!

Shahbaz Tariq,
Web Developer

WhatsApp is great as it allows free text, photo and video messages to your contacts as long as they have WhatsApp installed. Fuelio is a brilliant app that tracks fuel expenses and general other expenses for your car. It gives very good stats and helps you to drive more efficiently. Google Maps + Navigation, GPS by Google on the android - one word - amazing. For the more geeky try AndFTP & androidVNC for FTP and VNC clients, respectively. If you are a Gamer, Shot or Fling are very addictive fun puzzle games. Finally My perfect egg timer allows you to create your perfect egg by inputting its dimensions, temperature and the altitude. It then gives you the exact time you need to cook your perfect egg, depending on how soft or hard your would like it!

Hayden Kibble,
Web Developer

I would recommend iReddit for saving your articles to read later and my choice of sat-nav would be TomTom. If you want to remove all of the crippling Apple restrictions from your iPhone or iPad then try Cydia or Installous. PocketCloud is brilliant for remotely accessing another computer over remote desktop VNC and finally Dropbox is a must if you want to upload books or large files to your device.

Jenny Lomax,
Producer

I would choose Readability. You can save articles in an easy to read format with no ads or distractions. Also allows you to send articles from your browser to your iPad for easy and convenient offline reading.

Written by Deb Jowett

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It's official - the UK nation loves the internet!

Ofcom has published a new survey that suggests that the UK nation on average spends more money online and downloads more data than any other major country. The findings of the report confirm what we all knew, that the explosion of mobile devices has highlighted the need for businesses to optimise their sites for use by said devices to maximise ROI.

Highlights of the report show:

  • Average UK online consumer spend = £1,083 pa compared to Australia which spends the second highest at £842.
  • In December 2011 the average UK mobile connection used 424MB (megabytes) of data, higher than Japanese users who averaged 392MB.
  • 16% of all web traffic in the UK was from mobiles, tablets or other connected devices - more than any other European country.
  • Four in ten UK adults now access Facebook, Twitter and other social networks via their mobiles and for 18 to 24-year-olds the figures is even higher, at 62%.

The survey is a part of Ofcom's seventh International Communications Market Report, which looks at the take-up, availability, price and use of broadband, landlines, mobiles, TV and radio across 17 major countries.

It also shows that not only do Brits love big TV's, a third of TVs sold in the first quarter of 2012 were between 33in (84cm) and 44in (112cm), but we are also taking full advantage of on-demand services and embracing the new generation of internet enabled TV's with 15% owning such a set, compared to 10% in the US . With this in mind, businesses would be wise to think about including second screen in their digital marketing plans for 2013.

If you need any help with your digital strategy and mobile optimisation, then contact Rob Smith or Adrian Lomas on 01829 260 600.

 

Written by Deb Jowett

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What's so good about PhoneGap?

Here at Blueleaf we're always looking for the latest new technology and we're rather excited about something called PhoneGap - one of our senior web developers Pete explains why.

If you haven't heard about PhoneGap, in a nutshell it gives you the ability to build an app as you would a website. So, think of PhoneGap as being a "chrome-less" web browser that displays HTML5, CSS and JavaScript content, where "chrome-less" is a term to describe the look of a website without the address bar, bookmarks and navigation that a normal web browser would display. A little bit like the view when you press the full screen button.

With this in mind, PhoneGap enables application build using HTML5, CSS and JavaScript to take advantage of the full screen of the device and is a great way for a web developer to get involved in app development. Further information on PhoneGap can be found here.

 

When would you use PhoneGap?

From our experience, we'd say that apps providing information about a service, product or event are perfect for PhoneGap, where you can do 99% of what you can do on the web without any problems at all.

One great feature of PhoneGap is that it allows integration with the iOS Accelerometer. A simple example of this would be to create a game with the objective of moving a ball around the screen by tilting the device. This can be done by hooking into the Accelerometer and using a little Javascript. Further information on this can be found here.

 

Tips for using PhoneGap

PhoneGap is great as long as you keep it simple. The more things you add, the more memory that the little app will begin to use on the device and if you're not careful, crashes will start occurring. A good thing to remember is that you are still limited by the web technologies on which the app is based, so it's best to avoid any heavy graphics processing or highly interactive features.

It's recommended to use as much CSS3 as possible for animations and transitions and the less JavaScript you use the better, as the devices have a limited amount of memory allocated to JavaScript and if you hit it, then the app will crash.

If your app seems sluggish, try getting some more power by using Hardware Acceleration. Adding “webkit-transform: translateX(0)” to the CSS will trigger this because translateX is used for 3D animation. It doesn't always work (can make it even slower) but it's worth a shot.

Another quick tip is that if you want to hide the Quicktime logo when videos are loading on an iPhone or iPad, here's the answer. I exhausted almost every idea and forum possible but in the end I used translateX again but this time with the addition of a little bit of jQuery. When the video isn't playing, use “webkit-transform:translateX(-2048px)” to hide it off screen. Then detect when the video is playing and send it back, try this as it works a treat -

[javascript] function adjustVideo(videoblock) {

//When this function is called we'll shift the video element 2048px to the left.

$(videoblock).css("-webkit-transform", "translateX(-2048px)");

//We now wait and listen for the video to begin playing.

$(videoblock).bind("play", function () {

//Once it starts playing we shift the video element back over to the right.

$(videoblock).css("-webkit-transform", "translateX(0)");

}); } [/javascript]

Conclusion

Remember that the principle behind PhoneGap is that it’s essentially a website that makes the user believe it's an app. As such, the end user will expect app-like features and performance. The expectation is in the eye of the beholder; show them a website and they will expect a delay while the pages load, show them an app and they expect multimedia activities to happen instantly. Trying to explain problems such as slowness and lag to an end user (or client) when an app looks like an app but isn't actually an app, is a tough challenge.

PhoneGap has its uses but it’s not a native app.  Before deciding to use it, assess the requirements of your app carefully before diving in. Don't be lured into a false sense of security just because you know how to develop for the technology behind PhoneGap (HTML, CSS, JS).  It might not be possible to make your app as awesome as you (or your client) would like using PhoneGap, you might just have to go native. But PhoneGap is certainly worth considering.

To be continued...

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Mobile friendly forms in minutes

Did you know that approximately 70%* of people make their first visit to a website using a mobile device? This visit may be just a quick glance to follow up later on a desktop or they may complete a contact form requesting further information but this first visit could be the difference between gaining a sale or losing a sale. One of our senior developers Daz looks at how contact forms can be made easier to complete. I often find that a lot of forms on websites are not easy to use from a mobile device.  When it comes to entering my email address for example,  it's often the case that the first letter automatically appears in upper case and neither the @ key nor other commonly used keys such as dash and underscore are readily available. Does this look familiar to you?

As you can see in the example you have to press the shift key in order to find the @ symbol, thereby increasing the time it takes for you to complete the form. Some people may even choose to abandon the form entirely at this stage.

Essentially what is happening is that the mobile device is expecting standard text. With a very simple change to the code behind the form however, it becomes mobile friendly thus saving the user minutes and helping your conversion rates.

All it needs is the following change:

From : <input type="text" name="email" /> To:  <input type="email" name="email" />

What surprises me is that the majority of sites on the modern web haven’t changed their forms, even though it's so easy to achieve. Here is the same example as above but changed to be mobile friendly and all it took was a matter of seconds.

This change simply takes advantage of the new HTML 5 input types designed to enhance user experience and supported by mobile devices.  For a comprehensive list of input types, click here. The great thing is that even if a particular browser doesn't support the HTML5 code, it will revert back to a standard text input field thereby always ensuring that your form is functional.

So there you have it - a simple way to make your forms more user friendly for those on a mobile device and a great way to help your conversion.

*Based on an average of analytical data gained from client websites from October 2011 to October 2012, thanks to Scotteo

And to finish off, just a quick tip if you use ASP.NET standard textbox controls - you will need to download a patch for the .NET framework to allow an input type other than text to be specified. Here is a link to the required patch  - thanks to Dan Branwood for highlighting this.

By Daz Taylor

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Blueleaf went back to school for BIMA DDay

Wow what a day! Over 1,800 students and 70 agencies nationwide took part in the BIMA DDay or Digital Day which took place on 10th October 2012. It was a day for schools and their students to get involved with the digital industry by:

  • Participating in D-Day challenges
  • Learning what our industry does through videos from top agencies
  • Finding out about the careers and opportunities that digital has to offer
  • Meeting digital professionals through agency/school tie up
  • Winning prizes if the entry to the BIMA competition is selected for the shortlist
  • Winning the top prize and becoming the BIMA School's Digital Champion

The reaction on Twitter was amazing (including No10 and X Factor!), the photos fantastic, the blog posts brilliant and the day also had coverage on BBC South Today and BBC Radio Jersey. The Drum ran a live blog with comments from across the country - one agency managed to organise a visit from Orange who also brought goody bags!

Blueleaf were lucky enough to be partnered with Upton-by-Chester High School, so we sent along our very own Chris Jones, Creative Director and Rob Smith, Strategy Director.

There was a great mix of students from IT, business and design. Just like agency life! The group was aged 16-18 and they were put into mixed teams to offer varied skills to get the most out of the group. They tackled the mobile challenge and came up with some unique app ideas for future technology, most of which seemed to involve licking devices!

We had three teams who eventually narrowed down a single idea each and then expanded it, working on details such as name, content, layout, inputs and outputs. Here's a quick summary of the three ideas:



Group 1 – My Lickable GP

Group 1 created a mobile application that provides all the information needed to diagnose and offer solutions to cure an illness. When the device is licked, using future technology, the app analyses saliva and provides a diagnosis. It has the capability to cure shakes caused by Parkinsons disease and is socially enabled so that you know where the next outbreak of Chicken Pox is and therefore to keep clear!



Group 2 – My Uni App

Group 2 created an app to help university students living away from home for the first time. It allows easy access to their finances, providing budgets and up to date balances. If you’re cooking for the first time, it has a library of cheap and easy recipes and a state of the art heat imaging camera so that you can make sure your food is fully cooked. You can access your course timetable and know instantly if there has been any changes. Most importantly, it lists all the best student nights and events and you can even book a hair appointment so you can look your best!


Group 3 – Curu, the conversation guru

Group 3 created an app for anyone who struggles in social situations by supplying conversation for any eventuality. The app has a library of conversations that can be accessed via mobile devices, or via the specially designed Curu earpiece. It can help with speeches, ice-breakers, debates or emergency situations to name just a few. The app also allows the user to add or edit conversations easily and change settings. You may choose to voice activate the earpiece to ensure that the conversation runs smoothly!


They were really receptive students who are clearly growing up with digital as part of their everyday lives. It made us excited for the future of our industry and we’re prepared to admit that we learnt from the students too. The event was a great success and we're looking forward to being involved again in the future.

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Fresenius Kabi’s Thick & Easy™ Goes Mobile

Fresenius Kabi, who produce Thick & Easy™ – the market leading instant food thickener – asked us to redesign www.dysphagia.org.uk with a fresh look and feel, providing an invaluable source of information for anyone suffering from dysphagia as well as for healthcare professionals treating the condition. At the same time a mobile version of the site was also launched, which was designed to present the same information in an easy-to-view way, taking account of the smaller screen size. Both the website and the mobile site will be a particularly valuable tool for anyone wanting to learn more about dysphagia, whether suffering from the condition themselves or knowing someone who does.

Lyndsay Woodall, Senior Product Manager at FK said, “We’re particularly delighted with the mobile site developed by Blueleaf as this enables us to help more sufferers of dysphagia. Over the last month 12% of our website traffic has come from mobile devices and we expect this to increase in the future, hence the development of a mobile specific site.” The website and mobile site only launched a few weeks ago but there has already been an increase in the number of visits, pages per visit and time spent on the site.

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Co-operative Energy embraces multichannel

After working with Co-operative Energy last year to launch a new website, we are really excited to continue to help and support the energy provider further via a new channel. Co-operative Energy were looking for a way to increase sign-ups from their customer service agents out in the field. They needed a mobile experience that would provide a fast response over the mobile data network.

We worked with them to develop a fast iPad optimised version of the ‘compare and sign-up’ part of their website that could be used to sign people up there and then in the store. It uses the jQuery mobile framework to enhance the mobile experience for the customer service agents, using a dedicated iPad site - a trend that we believe will become increasingly popular over the coming year, where a fast and focused solution is required.

The result is better instore conversion and faster sign-ups of a highly targeted audience – exactly what Co-operative Energy is looking for. The new initiative was launched nationwide in January.

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Mobile trends and best practice

Rob Smith, Digital Director at Blueleaf shares his knowledge on mobile optimised websites. The mobile landscape is rapidly changing and maturing into a space where there’s a lot of potential revenue available for a mobile focused site that concentrates on simplicity and getting things done for the customer.

Simplicity

Keeping things simple is one of the keys to a good mobile experience. Not forcing people to zoom or to scroll horizontally makes mobile experiences much more slick, versus normal sites where you do a lot of zooming in and out on devices.

John Lewis do this well, with a very simple front screen to allow easy access to their products. In our opinion they could do a better job of reprioritising their store locator (see below) but the site is very simple and effective. They may be able to do more by using a simpler first level category structure as well.

You can see that search is front and centre so that people can just be directed straight to their need.

Reprioritisation of content

When looking at a site on a mobile, there’s a much higher chance that someone is in the context of being on the move as opposed to just sitting at home (although this is not always true of course). As a result, your content and customer journeys should be adjusted so that the right content is further up.

A good example of this is Argos’s mobile site, where they have put the store locator very high in terms of prominence as well as a stock checker. When on the move it’s much more likely that you’ll be using one of these functions, so wisely they do not make you dig for the information, putting it front and centre.

Super streamlined for speed

Mobile sites are often accessed at best on 3G connections and sometimes even less when you get out of cities or to smaller towns. As a result only the most important imagery and style need to be brought forwards on a mobile site to keep overall site speed and download size as fast and small as possible.

We can see a good example of this on the ASOS site where there is very little in the way of images on the screen other than some small images for navigation, a sale banner and the logo. This keeps speed very quick on mobile devices, even if the connection isn’t very good.

Lots of vertical scrolling is OK

As you can see on the left, an ASOS product listing page defaults to 12 to a screen and so has a lot of vertical scrolling involved to get to the products. This is OK on a mobile site – people expect to use their touch screens (generally) to scroll quickly through content and see things that catch their eye.

Again it should be noted that the page is very very simple with a focus on the product imagery above all else, and not the product information. In this case even the ‘refine by’ functionality is later on in the page to not clutter access to the products.

So, in summary, keep it simple, make sure the salient information is prioritised and don't be afraid to streamline the design. If you need any help with optimisimg your website for mobile devices, then contact Rob Smith at Blueleaf, rob@blue-leaf.co.uk or Adrian Lomas at Blueleaf, adrian@blue-leaf.co.uk on 01829 260 600.

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Back to basics

This weeks tip is short but sweet. As technology is moving on a pace and internet access via various devices is now the norm, it is more important then ever to get back to basics when considering a digital marketing campaign. Look at who you are targeting and the way they might be looking at your campaign. For example teenagers are more likely to access the web via smartphones so using QR codes can help drive traffic to your website. The over 60s however, probably won't use smartphones so using a QR or AR code to target our silver surfers may not achieve the results you are looking for.

Think about what you are aiming to achieve as it is all too easy to get swept up in some shiny new technology that might not be a great return on investment.

I hope this helps.

If you need help with your digital marketing, then contact Adrian Lomas, adrian@blue-leaf.co.uk or Rob Smith, rob@blue-leaf.co.uk on 01829 260600.

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