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Autonomous User Interfaces for Mobile Apps

Real-World Examples

Most investment in differentiated user interface starts with the device home screen. Unfortunately, the investment often stops there too, providing a marginally unique look-and-feel or shallow theming of window adornment, background image and color of other elements. With AUI, device designers, their channel partners and third parties have myriad opportunities to customize the end-user experience in novel ways:

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Figure 1: Adding/Extending Home Screen Attributes.

You can think of AUI in this context as an exercise in object-orient programming. The original, generic home screen is a base object inherited and extended by new objects (realized home screens) that integrate features and capabilities of specific devices and networks. A social media home screen would extend the base version to respond to status updates, messages from friends, location-based information, etc. Sports-themed home screen extensions could include live streaming video during game play, game sounds in real-time (buzzers, whistles, but no vuvuzelas, please), display of game scores and player stats, and social networking of game progress.

On a mobile handset, the device manufacturer will typically include an SMS (Short Messaging System) application, sourced from the mobile OS supplier, a third-party (ISV) or created in-house. This "preload" SMS application likely includes a traditional, display of messages and addressees. A mobile network operator (MNO) or other channel partner has few options for customizing or branding this kind of application, and is often forced to pass uninspired software through to end users "as is" or invest in replacing entire preload applications at considerable effort and expense.

Using AUI, an operator could enhance SMS addressee information with status and location-based data supplied by its network, or a third-party ISV could offer an alternate look-and-feel to that same SMS client and to other AUI-enabled application code as well. For example, MNO developers could enhance addressee information with status and location-based data supplied from the operator's network. Similarly, a third-party ISV could offer an alternate look-and-feel to that same SMS client, using previously unavailable functions like accelerometer input or GPS coordinates. All without modifying any original applications code.

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Figure 2: Two presentations of a single SMS application.

Depending on the industry, a new product (not just a new product version) can require between 2 to 10 or more man-years of engineering effort to reach the market. Mobile phones typically have a much quicker sales cycle and a much shorter market window (and usually involve a tremendous engineering investment). A significant part of the engineering effort lies in creating a compelling, differentiated user interface.

For OEM developers creating families of products with multiple members, being able to deploy the same application code base with a range of unique user interfaces saves time, money and can also help focus development effort on truly differentiating features. For subsequent iterations of the same product line, an Autonomous UI helps new products in the family arrive to market more quickly and with confidence.

The arena where this phenomenon is most evident is in common operating platforms. Designers may choose a common, interoperable COTS OS like Android or WinCE to save on non-differentiating engineering, and to leverage existing (or evolving) ecosystems that revolve around those platforms, like the Android Market. However, these platforms typically leave little room for OEM branding and customization. Unless developers invest in significant incremental engineering, (as Motorola did with BlurUI), users will be greeted with the same UI as on every other gadget running the same OS, relegating the new device to the status of commodity (as in the PC market). And if OEMs do make the required investment, they will likely need to repeat that effort with each new platform release.

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Figure 3: Two Android Home Screens.

In 2009, OEMs launched dozens of devices and the Android Market (applications store) mushroomed to offer more than 30,000 applications. With projections for growing Android deployment in 2010, developers must increasingly invest in customizing Android to avoid delivering "me too" devices and applications. AUI, with its rich graphics and multimedia capabilities, provides the ideal vector to customize Android without forking the platform.

An AUI multimedia applications framework gives original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of Android-based devices and their channel partners new capabilities to create visually rich applications and completely control and customize the look-and-feel of the end-user experience, thus easily differentiating their wares in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

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