Shaun Mccran

My digital playground


Is it the end of the road for the telephone landline?

OFCOM recently published this year's communications market report detailing digital trends and usage amongst different age groups. [Link]

There report starts off with a particularly punch quote:

"As a result of growing up in the digital age, 12-15 year olds are developing fundamentally different communication habits than older generations, even compared to the advanced 16-24 age group."

It goes on to explain how its children leading the digital revolution with mass adoption of online applications and channels.

The following graph shows the 'weekly exposure to devices':

One thing that this report does highlight is that over the generations surveyed landline telephone usage is on the decline. This raises some interesting questions, and a few intriguing possibilities.

I put a an example case to you:

When I was a child the Landline was the ONLY telephone in the house. Now it's pretty much an ornament as modern mobile contracts tend to come with so many inclusive minutes that I only ever use the landline for premium numbers that are free on that over the mobile. All of the adults in the house have thousands of inclusive minutes. Why would they ever use the landline? Despite that I still pay a month fixed line fee though, but the actual usage bill is regularly in the pence cost bracket.

The OFCOM report is showing exactly this behaviour in children. Mobile usage is massively up, for a number of reasons, such as barriers to entry lowering, i.e. handset costs and contract allowances, and increased stability and speed in mobile networks means that the quality of service is always improving. Just search for 4G coverage in the UK.

What are the reasons for having a landline?

So why do people still have landlines?

  • 1. The first reason is to make calls.
  • 2. The second reason is because of other over-the-top services such as broadband and TV services
  • 3. The third is as a bundled product. Often service providers will cut you a discount for taking many products instead of just one. For example if I remove my landline from my Virgin Media bundle I'll actually pay MORE for not having it.

So what is the Landline used for now?

So realistically that leaves the second reason as the most valid. Some providers are still using the landline for TV broadcasting or device communications rather than their satellite network (I'm looking at you Sky). But doesn't that seem counter intuitive? Having to have a landline to support increasingly bandwidth hungry Hi-definition TV channels? What the OFCOM report shows is that the newest generations of our society don't use a landline at all. When they come of age as to be moving into their own homes and having the conversations with service providers about 'requiring a landline because you have TV' there is going to be a serious customer backlash.

Death of the landline

So I'm predicting that he landline has to find another purpose. Or its Dead. It's not good enough to be in a bundle of service, or to merely be a cost differentiator. It has to do something. Otherwise 'digital natural selection' will occur and Broadband and satellite comms will consume it.

It will follow the usual pattern of decline in as much as customer uptake will drop, meaning that the cost will rise. Suddenly all the cost and effort in dropping new lines into new housing estates and renewing old lines will start to look like a bad expenditure to the big telecoms companies. The landline will price itself out of the market, and investment in it will shrink.

You just watch. Next years annual OFCOM report will show even less landline usage in the youth generation.


Is wireless mobile charging really here?

There seemed to be a growing movement on the wireless charging front for mobile handsets at the moment. There are more and more charging plates and compatible handsets out there, so I thought I'd investigate and see how easily I could enable my Samsung Note to charge wirelessly. Wireless chargers emit an alternating current via a transmitter coil, which then induces a voltage in the receiver coil found in the device.

For clarification I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 that in theory can charge wirelessly. It uses the Qi (pronounced "chee") standard which provides an inductive charge, this is a convenient and hassle free way to charge your phone.

The first stumbling block I found was that my Samsung Note 3 handset didn't ship with the correct back plate to wirelessly charge. It appears as though this wasn't an omission or product error, it seems to be firmly be Samsung's strategy. I'm confident about this as both the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S5 are wireless charger compatible but neither ships with a back plate that allows them to charge out of the box.

So the first step to Qi compatibility is to switch out the standard back plate and fit a Qi wireless charging compatible case. Something like this:

Or as an alternative you could install a bridging 'card' which has a coil in it to enable Qi charging. This is effectively the coil that comes inside the Samsung Qi wireless case. Link:

Now the handset should be Qi compatible. Keep an eye on some of the coil cards that you can pick up as some of them are NFC compatible and some as S-View, but there doesn't seem to be a Qi /NFC / S-View coil card out there.

Finally find yourself a Qi charging plate. The choice here is extensive but the main difference seems to be voltage and cosmetics. Simply find a plate that is the right size and shape for you. Here's a selection:

So in summary the handset is compatible with Qi, but it doesn't work out of the box. You need further accessories to enable Qi wireless charging, and you need to buy the charging plate. The Qi standard is evolving as well, the standard has just been upgraded: so it might be worth waiting for the next wave of devices.


Micro transaction madness with Marvel Puzzle Quest

I'm a big fan of Puzzle games, and Marvel, so what could be better than a Marvel themed puzzle game?

The game itself is a classic three-in-a-row puzzle game just like the previous versions of Puzzle Quest games. It's the now 'classic' model of free-to-play but with in-game micro transactions through it. There are several resources used in the game, Iso-8 which is used to upgrade your hero's level and hero points, which are basically coins that you can use to but team slots to hold more characters, or to buy skills for characters.

You can play the game without purchasing anything at all, which is my preference or you can spend upwards of £80.00 on all the extras. Personally if it was priced at a sensible mobile price point I would have happily purchased it, it's the sheer volume of micro transactions present that is annoying. I don't know how or why the trend for Micro transactions started but the model is abhorrent.

This whole game feels like a vehicle for micro transactions. Every way you try and play it you are faced with a transaction. The only other option is such soul crushing repetition that the game is almost unplayable. You really have to purchase a wealth of content if you want to even see half of the characters and powers in this game.

Looking at this from a design perspective it is obvious that the design started with user journeys arriving at micro transactions. For me, if a games design is being driven by the purchasing functions in it then you've lost the plot. I appreciate that games have to make money, that's just the modern games industry but they shouldn't be the driving design principle in the product!

This is a real shame as the game is quite enjoyable, its just that the constant barrage of 'purchase me' advertising really starts to intrude on your enjoyment of actually playing the game. It feels like there is more 'purchasing advertisements' than puzzle matching.

So, I'd stay away from this game. Marvel should release a non 'free to play' version at £9.99 or £14.99 with all the content unlocked. I'd be happy to purchase in that model. Micro Transactions hidden in the 'free to play' games are a blight on the games industry. Its false advertising, plain and simple. There needs to be a change in policy, and a change in terminology, as this terms is just lies.


The difference between Architecture and Design

In the last few weeks I've had many conversations with Architecture colleagues about the differences between Architecture and Design. These conversations don't typically start with this question, but more likely about the content of specific deliverables such as documents or strategy papers. Typically as an Architect you are required to deliver guidance on solutions as part of a project cycle, or as part of a larger overall programme. The point at which that guidance changes from 'Architecture' into 'Design' can be quite a contentious one.

For me, as an Architect, my responsibility is to guide the Strategy and direction of a project in terms of the technical aspects. I am effectively the technical manager, governing the direction that a project proceeds in. So how is that different from designing the solution yourself?

I like to think of Architecture as:

"Performing Governance and assurance around a solution to ensure that it aligns to Architectural principles, Strategic concerns and established patterns, in an elegant and cost effective way."

In plain English this is formulating which architectural principles are relevant and applicable, which patterns (in terms of both technical design patterns or business process patterns) are relevant and lastly whether there is an overarching strategy or strategies that drive the direction. It is effectively a set of rules, constraints and measures to guide the further direction of a solution (whether that is a project or a programme). It IS NOT the actual design of a solution but rather the instruction set that a design should use to build their design. When Architectural Governance kicks in and I review a designers design documentation, this is the rules set that I use to effectively 'mark their homework'.

Now, if we have defined the Architecture side of this argument, we should really do the same for the design side. This is a lot more real-world and far less abstract, normally because it is much easier to visualise than 'Architecture' is.

"Design is the process of collecting and placing business and technical building blocks to enable business capabilities."

Again, in real terms this means finding vendors, products and technical elements that fulfil as many of the identified requirements as possible, and arranging them in such a way as to enable an end to end business capability, usually by combining many simpler capabilities into a larger one.

Thinking of Architecture and design in this way makes it very easy to see where the boundary between these separate activities lays, which in turn means it becomes far simpler to see where any handover between resources should be, or where responsibility within a project lies. This sort of clarification also really helps to define the boundaries of an Architectural role, allowing them to focus on specific Architectural deliverables.