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Friday, September 8, 2017

iPhone 8 Rumours - touchID and a Boring Name

The rumour-mill is yet again running hot in anticipation of the latest refresh of Apple's flagship iPhone device.

It's been 10 years since the iPhone first hit the streets and revved up the mobile app marketplace revolution that has been responsible for keeping many businesses - including our very own Creative Intersection - busy engineering and deploying mobile apps.

Our insiders (and lots of leaked reports) tell us that there are some interesting things happening with this milestone release .... tipped to be called the "iPhone Pro".

Aside from sporting an AMOLED screen, which is brighter, crisper, more vivid and less power-hungry than the current crop of iPhone screens, there are rumours about touchID being removed from the device and replaced by facial recognition.

From left to right:  iPhone 7, iPhone Pro, and iPhone 7 Plus  (pic via 9to5mac.com)

Whilst facial recognition is likely to appear on the new iPhone Pro, touchID is likely to stay despite the all-glass front (with a screen that spans the entire area of the phone, there is no room for the traditional "home" button).

Apple rarely do leaps-and-bounds innovation these days, so their iterative approach would have the touchID sensor still being available in some way - if only to not scare existing users into thinking that they're being watched and probed every second of the day by the nefarious creatures that inhabit their digital security blanket.

Ultrasonic fingerprint sensors developed by Qualcomm, for example, are not quite ready for prime time, so how could Apple still include a touchID sensor without having to resort to a rather pedestrian placement like the back of the phone (where the logo sits, for example) ?


The touchID sensor in a standard iPhone and iPad is in the form of a circle (the metal bit around the home button) that can sense ridges along that edge boundary. Do some maths on the ridges being detected (in the form of an algorithm, described in Apple's "Efficient Texture Comparison" patent) and you can work out with a fairly high degree of certainty that the finger touching it is a match.

Now straighten the circle into a line and you still have a decent sensing area (a high number of ridges) ... then apply the same algorithm (modified slightly) and you still know that the finger touching it is a match.

So - why wouldn't you just put the touchID sensor along the side edge of the phone ?  It only needs to extend along a part of the edge, and if one is placed on either side then the sensors can work in tandem to provide faster sensing with high accuracy (two half fingerprints are as good as a whole one). Maybe it'll need to be renamed to "gripID" but would still work the same way.

Cases would need to be modified to include access to the sensor, but every new iteration of any mobile phone needs some modification to cases anyway - so it's just a good opportunity to sell more cases.

.... or ... we're full of crap and have no idea what the iPhone 8 will be like or what it'll be called. Only time will tell.  😀

Tune in to Apple's live stream from their shiny new Spaceship Headquarters on 13th September at 3am (AEST).

And if your business needs a mobile app, check out "Business Apps Powered by ciSUITE:".

Update 13/9/17 ... YEP! We got it wrong for the new OLED iPhone (officially released today as "iPhone X" - pronounced "iPhone Ten"). There is no touchID but the name is still pretty boring.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have also been released and they are just a refresh of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus - including retaining their touchID hardware.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Short URLs and Click Tracking on a Budget

We often have a need to provide a URL to someone and want to see if it gets used ... and if it's a public link then it'd be nice to see how often (and when) it has been used.

Sure, there are ways to do that but they can be a bit difficult and especially so if the URL doesn't belong to us (i.e. we can't access analytics / site statistics for the target URL).

There are URL shorteners out there that either work automatically (YouTube, Twitter etc use their own when you create content), or that you can use yourself (bit.ly, for example). In bit.ly's case you can also access some basic click-through information to see how popular your link has been at any given moment.

Google Analytics from our Link Shortener service (back-end reporting)

But, we all know and love Google Analytics because it's free and the analytical/graphing side of things are quite mature so you can create a complex set of analysis tools without the need to move to something like Google Analytics 360 (the insanely expensive, but equally insanely powerful Enterprise version of Google Analytics).

So we thought we'd fix the problem of bridging the gap between a URL shortener and Google Analytics.

And a couple of hours of internal "code challenge" later we have a brand new service that we are already using ourselves to create and track link usage throughout our own network of web properties.

It's called CI Link Us (https://cilnk.us) and you'll see that each of the URL's we have linked to in this blog post already run through the service - so we can see when someone has clicked a link.

Currently, we are only sending basic metrics to Google Analytics ... the shortened URL and the target URL ... and that's mostly all we need because Google Analytics will add the location info by way of the referring IP address and we can create drill-down reports based on time-of-day etc.

How did we do it ?

We actually used a server-side PHP script class to do the work for us ... so instead of Javascript in a user's browser talking to Google Analytics (which would be impossible because the shortener site immediately redirects to the target URL), we do that talking in the background (server to server) and flick the user to their desired URL.


Want to try it ?

What's stopping you ?  .... Go for it.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Are you running away from the cloud too ?

The last handful of years has seen an en-masse migration away from dedicated servers for businesses and government into virtual servers (sometimes called Virtual Machines, or VMs) that are generally hosted within large data centres.

Providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure are well known to many of us as "cloud providers" that can help take the worry out of hardware purchasing and maintenance by providing a slice of a machine's computing power and storage instead of the entire thing.

The size of the slice can change with your needs, and so a scalable solution can be found for many things.

In this way, "cloud" providers were seen as generally being able to provide a more cost-effective way of hosting your online services (public or private) and could increase the computing power very quickly if the need arose.

That's a great theory ... but you know what they say about theory and practice ... "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice - but in practice, there is".

The reality of cloud providers is that they are there to make money like any business - and so even though they have a very wide scope to spread the cost of their hardware across many customers per physical server (or the equivalent thereof, depending on how they have built their cloud), they will always tend towards a less-than-fair model for pricing because the whole question of server resources is rather opaque to most users.

So whilst the trend for the past few years has been to migrate to the cloud, there is an increasing trend in the last 6 months or so for some business bean counters to have done what they do best (counted their beans) and worked out that - in actual fact - they are worse off economically for being in the cloud than before when they had some of their dedicated servers located within their own premises or co-located within data centres.
Some of our own dedicated servers

This is giving rise to a new trend of migrating quite a lot of services away from the cloud and back into on-premise, private cloud, or co-located dedicated servers - creating hybrid service offerings that can take advantage of the best that cloud offers but keeping others away from the cloud and remaining more economical for doing so.

As an exercise, we recently priced up the computing power, storage and data traffic for just a single one of our dedicated servers to work out the equivalent cost of an Amazon AWS instance.

This was for a fairly basic dedicated server that we originally provisioned in 2011 (8 cores, 2.5TB storage, 16GB RAM). We priced it based on its past 30-day utilisation, running at about 20% average CPU. It's a fairly busy server, but nothing extraordinarily flat-chat and frankly it's getting a little old and slow compared to our newer resources.

Our dedicated server costs, for hardware (upgraded every 36 months), the rack space with power and 200GB of traffic came to just shy of $800.00 per month (including amortising the hardware costs over 3 years).

Amazon's equivalent was an i2.8xlarge EC2 instance which would cost $3,300.00 per month (as a reserved resource) or $6,900.00 per month as "On-Demand"

That's a massive difference between cloud and dedicated hardware and can prove unbelievably uneconomical if you're not managing the instances well and - as many businesses tend to do - forget to regularly check that you're getting good value for money along the way.

The news is better if you compare one of our newer servers that currently has only a handful of shared-tenancy clients sitting on it and isn't terribly busy by most measures. This dedicated server would cost close to the same for us as the busy one in the example above (in this case about $700.00 per month) because we have to amortise the hardware costs, but from AWS would only cost about $120.00 per month.

Our solution, obviously, is to put more customers on this server over time so it becomes more profitable.

What would Amazon EC2 cloud cost us for one fairly busy server per month (USD) ?  Yikes!

We're obviously a little different to most businesses because we provide hosting ourselves and therefore keep a close eye on our resources, maintenance costs, etc - and in most cases we share the hardware resources across several customers at a time by providing shared tenancy hosting (one server, many websites) ... so our monthly charge--out rate for a small business website hosting (100MB storage and up to 5GB of traffic per month) is only $10.00 (+GST).

But you could imagine if we were, for instance, a mid-tier accounting firm who had moved our busy email server into the cloud a couple of years ago because our IT consultant said it would be a good idea - before we then doubled in size. With a cloud provider like AWS or Azure, we could be paying the equivalent of a brand new server every 3 months over-and-above the cost of the service itself - and would never actually have a server we could call our own.

Give us a shout if you need hosting for any size of business and if you're a bit of a greenie, check out our environmentally-friendly "GreenServe" solution that offsets the power used to run and cool the server (try doing that with your giant data centres, Amazon!).

Monday, November 28, 2016

(almost) FREE MONEY - Queensland Small Business Digital Grants

The Queensland State Government have made available funding for small businesses who want to improve their digital presence or improving their business to become more competitive through the use of digital technologies.

The initiative is called the Small Business Digital Grants Program.

These are matching grants of up to $10,000.00 (plus GST where applicable), meaning that - if eligible - your business could receive up to $22K (including GST) worth of systems and services at a cost of only $11 grand.

Up to 20% of your own contribution can even be made as in-kind effort for your personal time in being trained to use new technologies.

According to the SBDGP web page, the digital technology or services must fall under one of five areas:
  1. Digital marketing & social media
  2. Digital content (web pages, mobile apps, media etc)
  3. Receiving payments or selling online
  4. Specialised digital technology or software (business specific)
  5. Digital planning and advice/training

Queensland Government Grants and Creative Intersection can help your business get "digital"

This means that if you have a small business with less than 20 employees, with an ABN, and are headquartered in Queensland you could get a leg-up from the government for something like:
  • A website for your business
  • A private mobile app or website for your workers to perform their jobs better (e.g. a timesheeting or safety checklist app)
  • An online store
  • Adding the ability for your existing clients to pay their bills online through your website
  • Setting up and maintaining a social media page/feed (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, etc)
  • Training or consultancy for yourself or your staff to learn how to use technology better for your business
To help you take advantage of this initiative, we have come up with some excellent offers that fall well with in the budget to give you the best bang for your government buck!

The current funding round closes on 9th December 2016, so if you're interested in improving your business and paying a lot less than you usually would, give us a shout and also check out the SBDGP web page.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Can I Patent My App or Software Idea ?

This is a question that we have been asked a lot over the nearly 17 years that we have been creating software applications (apps, functional websites etc) for clients all over the place.

Intellectual Property, or "IP", can be a bit confusing and it may be a good idea for you to talk to a solicitor for more specific advice once you get down the track a bit further with your idea, but we're happy for you to benefit from our experience with patents and copyright law at any time so here's a little of what we know.

The answer is that, yes, sometimes you can actually seek a patent for your app idea - but not generally for the app software itself.

You see, apps are software which means that the lines of code that are written by software developers such as ourselves, are controlled by copyright rather than patents. Generally, if you hire us to do a job (create an application) we will assign the copyright to you so that you can freely alter it, or have others alter it in the future without worrying that we will try to claim ownership over that code.

If you have created a whole new way of doing things - or even if you have just come up with a unique way of doing some part of an existing process - then you may be able to apply for a patent for that process itself.

Patents, according to the definition that IP Australia provides are "legally enforceable right for a device, substance, method or process" and for your application to be successful, "your invention must be new, useful and inventive or innovative".

The key thing with patents - aside from making sure that you actually have something unique that someone else hasn't come up with before - is that they let you establish a "Priority Date". This is the date at which you have been formally acknowledged as having come up with an idea and is usually the date that your application was approved by IP Australia.

In Australia, there are 2 types of Patents that can be relevant to your software idea:

The Standard Patent ("Invention")

This is the traditional type of patent wherein a full "Examination" is performed by IP Australia to ascertain if your idea has been invented by someone else before yourself. This process is the more involved (and more expensive) of the two types of patents but gives you better protection and lasts up to 20 years.

If you are granted a patent, you own the exclusive commercial rights to your invention.

For a cheaper alternative to get started, you can apply for a "Provisional Application" which gives you a sort of hold for 12 months while you consider whether you want to go through the process of a full patent application process. If before that 12-month period expires you decide to apply for a full patent (and assuming that patent is granted) then your Priority Date is established as the date of your Provisional Application rather than at the time of the full application.

You can apply for standard patents internationally either by filing in each country, or by filing through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) which gives you access to 148 countries (including Australia, of course).

The Innovation Patent ("Innovation")

This is a newer style of patent application that was introduced a few years ago by IP Australia and can be ideal for software and other "fast" technology-based ideas.

The idea here is that it's not so much about "invention" but rather it's about "innovation".

So, if you have come up with a new way of performing an existing process - but have made it better in some innovative way - then you can apply for an Innovation Patent.

Innovation Patents aren't searched ("Examined") by IP Australia so the cost is far less ($180.00 at the time of writing) and they only last for 8 years.

Examination by IP Australia is optional and can be requested by yourself or someone else who wants to challenge your patent in the future. If, at that point, your patent passes examination and is certified then you have an enforceable patent.

Typically, the process takes about a month for the patent to be granted and it usually takes about 6 months for an examination to be completed (if requested).

The documentation needed for an Innovation Patent is relatively simple, providing you have the right knowledge and forms (IP Australia are sticklers for using the correct formatting and margins etc in their applications).

We have helped a number of our clients to prepare the documentation needed for both types of patent applications and have been granted an Innovation Patent on our own concept called "AssessPal".

In the case of our AssessPal concept. our claims are that we are applying 3-D technology in a particular and unique to an existing process of assessing motor vehicles for damage. There are 3 separate claims (Innovation Patents can have up to 5 claims per patent). Check out our patent here.

An example of an accompanying illustration for our own "AssessPal" Innovation Patent application
(Australian Innovation Patent #2016101591, granted on 8/9/16)

Give us a shout and grab a coffee if you'd like to discuss whether we can help create your new idea.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Pun alert: We have some skin in the game!

The start of the new Financial Year sees Creative Intersection taking an exciting new step and becoming an equal partner in the ApreSkin app.

When we originally developed the ApreSkin app, alongside our client Dr Brad Jones (via his corporate innovation vehicle of 3D Medical Software Pty Ltd), we felt that the concept had such a huge potential that we couldn't help ourselves from investing our considerable resources to produce the best possible product.

Wanting to improve their ability to bring innovative products to market, 3D Medical Software approached us with an equity deal that has seen us take a 50% stake in the ApreSkin product line.

We are very much looking forward to guiding the technical development of ApreSkin, and already have a new public version of the app in the pipeline.

The "old" ApreSkin iPad app has been renamed to "ApreSkin MD" as we added a cutting-edge graphics engine for even better compatibility and performance. The new public-use app will be known as "ApreSkin you" and will initially be release for iPhone (with an Android version in the pipeline). 

Watch this space for its release in the next few weeks.

ApreSkin - Creative Intersection's exciting new direction with a 50% stake in this app

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Apple Pay with ANZ (including VISA) in Australia today

This is an update from our previous post back in November 2015 where we announced that Apple Pay had hit Australia in a limited way. At the time, the service was limited to American Express cards issued by Amex themselves only.

Well, that all changed today after ANZ and Apple finally reached an agreement over fees that Apple charge to provide the gateway between their devices and the merchant/clearance facilities that the banks provide.

The "interchange fees" that the card-issuing bank can charge the acquiring bank (the bank handling merchant services for a business) are capped at 0.5% in Australia, so there's only a fairly small pie for those card-issuing banks to share with Apple.

It all comes down to tenths of a percent, but all that adds up to big bickies when you have - potentially - billions of dollars in transactions processed every week.

So, as of today, you can use Apple Pay if you have an iPhone of the correct flavour (iPhone 6/6 Plus or newer, any Apple Watch, or iPad 2/Pro/Mini3) and an ANZ card (Visa or Amex ... but not Mastercard, ANZ Access or ANZ Corporate cards).

Looking at ANZ's info page (http://applepay.anz.com/), they have a delightful little slam of their opposition in the Terms and Conditions (point #2:  "Apple Pay is not currently available at NAB, CommBank or Westpac"). Gotta love the bravado, but hope they remember to change that bit in a couple of months when the other banks finalise their own negotiations!

Remember that not only does Apple Pay mean easy payments for consumers at the checkout, but Apple Pay can be integrated into apps to pay for real-world goods and services without the 30% cut that Apple take for in-app purchases. Uber already has an option to pay for rides using your credit card using Apple Pay in some regions.

If you have an app idea or an existing app that could benefit from Apple Pay integration, give us a shout.

Confirmation of ANZ Visa card added to Apple Watch Wallet

Ready to start spending money using ANZ Visa via Apple Watch