MEDL Mobile Highlighted as a Leading Agency on Clutch

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For over ten years, we have been committed to building creative and collaborative mobile solutions for our impressive list of innovative clients. This commitment has been recognized by Clutch, a Washington, D.C. based research, ratings, and reviews firm, in their annual press releases on the leading development agencies in the Los Angeles and San Diego greater areas.

Clutch has identified leading companies along a number of segments and locations. MEDL Mobile has been identified as leaders in several of Clutch’s research segments – we have been highlighted as Top App Developers in Los Angeles, Top User Experience Designers in Los Angeles, and Top User Experience Designers in San Diego! Clutch identifies these leaders through the analysis of their client reviews, primarily conducted through interview style phone calls, as well as their own market research and ranking system.

We are also proud to share our recent profile on The Manifest, a sister-site to Clutch. Our profile on The Manifest includes a brief overview of our clients and recent projects. This profile also highlights our inclusion as a leader among app development companies in Los Angeles.

At MEDL Mobile, we are thrilled with this recognition from Clutch and The Manifest. Beyond that, we are thrilled that we have been ranked so highly because of our client feedback! We always strive to prioritize a stellar working relationship with our clients, establishing a give and take that will provide results.

One of our clients touched on this relationship by stating, “They brought so many other ideas to the process and those have made the app a much better tool.” Another one of our clients touched on this same idea, stating, “I think they’re one of the most creative companies I’ve ever worked with. The design level that they do for their industry is pretty high. Our brand was inexistent prior to our partnership with MEDL Mobile. They worked with us to create everything. They’re a friendly business to work with. They’re very relaxed and open. They’ll give you as much time as you need. You feel like it’s a partnership.” Feedback like this is what keeps us committed to the highest level of care! We look forward to keeping up with our Clutch listing and to being included in their annual report again in 2019.

The Future of Live

On November 8, 2016, I walked into my living room to see my roommate on the couch, strapped into a Samsung Gear VR headset. He wasn’t lost in a dungeon or blasting a horde of aliens, he was literally watching the election… in VR. Big Screen is responsible for this, a virtual home theater app that allows people from around the world to watch video content together.

Today, two years later, our office is immersed in an Oculus Rift game, VR Chat. The premise of VR Chat is pretty much like the movie Ready Player One. You join a virtual community of players, freely roaming a world embodied in the avatar of your choice, from Nemo to Batman. Going in and out of this virtual world had us thinking more about the direction of live streaming. We’ll get back to VR in a bit, but first let’s look at the more mainstream platforms.

Consider what Youtube, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram are all starting to have in common. Growing trends point to group video calls and methods of live streaming between users. These platforms are providing new ways to connect with people in real-time, destroying geographical boundaries even more than before. The main strength of live video or group video calls is the immediacy of the platforms. It’s the closest thing to hanging out with anyone from the comfort of your own home. Furthermore, the immediacy of streaming live television also presents similar benefits.

Getting a deeper look into the live streaming industry, the numbers show just how big this industry is getting. The billion-dollar industry is growing rapidly. In 2016, 81% of internet users viewed more live-streamed content than the previous year, with 56% of most-watched live content being breaking news (my roommate in VR included).

With an eye on these trends, we helped to launch a new update to Rooms Live.

Rooms Live was created to close the gap in video calling by providing a way to seamlessly connect live with friends and family members through one of the most used iOS platforms, iMessage.

In the most recent release, we've added a new feature that allows users to view streaming content while waiting for their roomies to join their call. We'd encourage you to attend a meeting, watch some TV, sing with your sister, or watch the sunset with your friend who’s studying abroad - all within iMessage  - through Rooms Live.

Although Rooms Live doesn’t have any VR features (yet), we believe it’s an important technology to keep an eye on when it comes to streaming.

Virtual Reality apps like VR Chat and Big Screen are great examples of where live platforms are headed. These apps are creating new forms of human connection, by creating a new reality in real time.

And these virtual worlds have it all, from nightclubs to Bikini Bottom. With so much to explore, you could easily get lost hanging out with Mario and Bugs Bunny in outer space.

That being said, there are endless opportunities to keep an eye on when it comes to growing your brand. Although we can’t fully predict where live platforms are headed, we hope this post provides some new perspectives on where the technology is going.

How to: Animate with Photoshop

As you have probably noticed, GIFs and boomerangs are becoming extremely popular with their continuous looping effect. Although it's great to quickly search for one online, we thought we'd provide a little tutorial on how to create your own digital flip books with Photoshop.  Even though we’re focusing on an illustration, we hope this post inspires you to explore Photoshop's options and capabilities.

The first step to bring your illustration to life is to completely draw the final step. Yes, it sounds like we're jumping ahead here, but having the last frame in front of you with a low opacity (we lowered it to about 40%) will be extremely helpful throughout this process. For this example, we're going to be using this flower: 

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Now, you need to open a timeline by clicking Window > Timeline, then select Create Frame Animation. Once you see your timeline appear at the bottom,  begin drawing each part of the flower on their own layer by clicking the new layer button in bottom right panel (the button looks like a page turning). 

To keep things organized, we recommend grouping the layers you want visible in a single frame by selecting them all and hitting Command/Control G. Once you have these groups created, attach them to their own frames by clicking on a frame and making that group of layers visible (with the eye icon). In the image below, frame options are at the bottom and layer options are on the right. 

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Once you have everything organized, set the delay time to around .1 or .2 seconds. For a clean movement, you'll want around 12 drawings per second.  After playing your animation and ensuring it's the way you want it, it's time to export by going to File > Export > Save for Web and then choosing GIF under the drop down menu. 

That's it! You now have your very own GIF. If it doesn't look as great as the one below, don't worry! It was done by one of our animators with years of experience. We would still love to see what you create so make sure to tag us @MEDLMOBILE

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Creating a User Experience without a User Interface

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t talk to Alexa. Currently, I have her setup to give me briefings on the news from three different sources, then I play a “quick” game of Jeopardy and end my morning routine with a minute of quiet meditation.

It isn’t just me. My parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, you name it - all also use Alexa to call each other, play music, or launch games.

This is where my curiosity initially peaked. I wanted to play a game but she didn’t have a skill for it. Therefore, I had to create it for my friends and family to play.

So, where does one start when creating an Alexa skill?

The same place as with any other digital application: defining functionality and architecting the user experience (UX) – which just so happens to be my specialty here at MEDL Mobile. So, in the interest of demystifying and sharing what we know about tech, I'd like to share what it takes to build an Alexa Skill - starting in this post with Step #1: 

There's a difference between a digital assistant and a mobile application and people interact with them very differently. iOS, Android, and web are visual platforms. Users are used to seeing (and sometimes even feeling) feedback when they interact. On the other hand, users talk to Alexa. If the code’s script that Alexa reads from is done poorly, the illusion is broken which leaves users reminded that they are just talking to a robot.

When designing a mobile interface, my goal is to make it feel visually familiar and intuitive. My goal for designing an Alexa interface is to make it feel like a conversation.

But a conversation about what?

When doing UX wireframes for mobile apps, I like to start with the biggest broad-stroked picture and ask myself a few fundamental questions:

What will the app, or in this case the skill, do for the user?

How will they interact with each component?

What happens if the user is new?

What happens if they are returning?

What if they need help or don’t know what something means?

Questions like those help me understand the client’s wants, needs, and desires for a product which can be broken down into priority and future features. And in this example, they help me write the script - and create the conversation - between my Alexa skill and our users.

What will the app, or in this case the skill, do for the user? It will be a game that lets the user play movie trivia.

How will they interact with each component? Alexa will read a quote from a movie and the user needs to guess what movie it's from. Extra points if they identify the actor or the name of the role.

What happens if the user is new? Alexa will explain the rules of the game.

What happens if they are returning? Alexa will not ask them the same quote twice without going through the entire quote database. Alexa will remember their current score.

What if they need help or don’t know what something means? They can ask for help and Alexa will explain the rules of the game.

Now it's time to imagine the conversation, from the start through to all it's different options. I find it helps to constantly read your script out loud or with friends. It helps me to create more natural speech patterns. Once you have that (for the most part) figured out, you can create a “flow diagram.” This is what Amazon calls the visual representation of the dialog’s effects and responses between the user, Alexa, and the skill itself.

While going through Alexa’s voice user interface, I had to keep asking myself “is this really what I would say?” And I had to keep asking myself if I had accounted for everything that a user might say or do.

Getting everything down on paper (yes, paper) makes it a lot easier to keep everything straight. Thinking about my user’s requests being little shortcuts changed and broadened my perspective and altered how I would have Alexa respond. I even added sound effect notes in my script - made even easier when Amazon added a Skills Kit Sound Library (thanks Amazon).

For me, it’s refreshing to be challenged to think outside of the box (or phone) every once in a while. If you want more detailed information, I would definitely recommend Amazon’s developer site, which you can get to here. Creating a UX for Alexa (and mobile apps) is fun. Go try it!

And stay tuned for my updated post that will move into the Development phase of the skill - but let’s leave that for another day.

Do you sell hot dogs?

I was talking to a business owner once, and he just couldn’t get it through his mind why his company needed a mobile app.  They are a successful technology company, in an infrastructure field where business is booming. Highly regulated and data-driven, they had literally hundreds of paper-based processes that were slowing down their work, costing time and money.

“A mobile app isn’t what we do, and isn’t how we’ve always done things” he said.  “It just isn’t who we are.”

Now, I love nothing more than a bad analogy…but even I couldn’t believe it when I heard these words coming out of mouth:

“Bob,” (his name was Bob), “what do the New York Yankees do?” I asked.

“They are a baseball team” Bob replied, incredulously.

“Of course, but they aren’t just a baseball team, are they?  They are a food vendor and merchandise seller, a television network owner and global brand manager.  Sure, they make money from ticket sales, but they make many, many times more revenue than that selling all the ancillary products and services their enterprise touches.”

I’m not sure Bob was tracking with me, so I went in for the kill.  “The Yankees are a baseball team, and could very easily just make money selling tickets to a baseball game.  But they rightly saw a captive audience from which they could make money selling hot dogs, and now they make tens of millions of dollars in revenue doing something that isn’t ‘who they are’”.

Who you are is a business.  What Bob didn’t see was that failing to exploit technology to increase revenue and drive efficiency is a failure of the business.  Sure, you are in XYZ industry and that is what you know, but can you sell some hot dogs, too?

Bob was right, in that a mobile app wasn’t “who they had been”, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t benefit from one. Recognizing when you need to supplement your enterprise with technology, even if it requires bringing in experts from outside your organization, can be a game-changing move.


Take a look at your business and your technology, and ask yourself “what am I leaving on the table?”  Is your public-facing website or mobile app converting add-on revenue?  Is your internal technology driving efficiency and profitability? Everyone can do better, but you need ask yourselves these questions.

Bob built that mobile app with me, and his organization got leaner and more profitable.  Try as I might, however, I couldn’t get him to incorporate an “order a hot dog feature”. Maybe in version 2…

Making Mobile Accessibility Apps & Devices, More Accessible.

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In the United States alone, about every one in five people have a disability. A few weeks ago, Apple presented a set of accessibility emoji to better represent these individuals. The list includes a service dog, wheelchairs, the sign for deaf, and several more. After finishing the article, we decided to look into other ways MEDL can further support these individuals through our mobile technology. We ended up registering one of our apps with GARI (Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative) and wanted to spread the word about making mobile accessibility features and devices, more accessible.

Marlee & MEDL

In 2012, we released Marlee Signs in an effort to teach the fundamentals of ASL with the award-winning deaf actress, Marlee Maltin. The Marlee Signs app is perfect for learning to express yourself in ASL. The app covers everything from the alphabet, to basic vocabulary, to common everyday-life expressions through high-quality video demonstrations from Marlee Maltin herself. We were beyond proud to have worked on this tool that breaks communication barriers, and just as excited to register it in the GARI database. You can check out Marlee Signs in the app store.

What is GARI?

The Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative was started by the Mobile & Wireless forum in 2008. Their goal was to create a central source of information for 'global accessibility solutions in the mobile ecosystem.' Their website includes a searchable database featuring hundreds of accessible features and thousands of phone models in several different languages. If you know of any phones, tablets, apps, wearables, or smart TV's with accessibility features, we encourage you to reach out to the owner about sharing their work with GARI. To learn more about GARI, you can visit their website: http://www.gari.info/ 

If you have your own website or app, here are a few simple tips to make them more accessible:

 Add Attribute or Alt Tags to your website. These tags describe what the images on a website consist of for visually impaired visitors. 

Make sure your designs don't rely on colors that are commonly unseen by people with forms of color blindness. Find out more about the types of color blindness here.

 If you're using a video on your page, look into adding subtitles.  Some websites, like Facebook, can automatically add them for you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. We hope it inspires more conversation and consideration when working on your next project.

The GDPR deadline is coming fast! Is your back end ready?

The GDPR - or General Data Protection Regulation - is a legal framework that sets guidelines for the collection and processing of personal information of individuals within the European Union.

Or in plain English, it's a set of rules for how companies will need to handle personal data of European customers.

But don't let the fact that it's being enacted on the other side of the pond give you reason to think this doesn't effect you. If you've got a digital platform that's used by folks in Europe - or even used by folks with European passports here in the USA - the EU plans on holding your company accountable for the data you collect.

And they are not messing around. The rules are going to mean that lots of companies - ourselves included - are going to need to take a look at how they collect and process customer data. And in a world where database structures are complex and challenging already - it's likely about to get more so. (Sorry Donald)

The rules go into place on May 25, 2018 - which at the time of this writing is less than two months away. So if you're behind the curve on this important topic - here's what you need to know.

Does GDPR effect me?
If your company collects, stores or uses Personal Data, it effects you. It also effects you if you process Personal Data for other companies.

What constitutes Personal Data?
Personal Data includes (but isn't limited to):

  • Name
  • Address
  • Localisation
  • Online Identifier
  • Health Information
  • Income
  • Cultural Profile

Okay, so what do we need to do to comply?
The GDPR is both very clear - and somewhat vague - in their rules. The creators of these rules understand the vast discrepancy among technologies and platforms and data collectors, and they recognize that a one-size-fits-all set of rules is going to be incredibly hard for the industry to swallow. So while the guidelines themselves are clear, they recognize that different companies will enact these guidelines differently.

  1. Communication. In plain language, tell them who you are when you request the data, say why you are processing their data, how long it will be stored and who receives it.
  2. Consent. Get their clear consent to process the data. And if you collect from children for social media purposes, you need to check the age limit for parental consent.
  3. Access & Portability. Let people access their data, and if they choose, take it from you and give it to another company.
  4. Warnings. Inform people right away of data breaches if there is a serious risk to them.
  5. Erase Data. Give people the ‘right to be forgotten’. Erase their personal data if they ask, but only if it doesn’t conflict with laws or regulations requiring that certain data be maintained.
  6. Profiling. If you use profiling or algorithms to process applications for legally-binding agreements  like loans or insurance, you must:
    1. Inform your customers;
    2. Make sure you have a person, not a machine, checking the process if the application ends in a refusal;
    3. Offer the applicant the right to contest the decision.
  7. Marketing. Give people the right to opt out of direct marketing that uses their data.
  8. Safeguard Sensitive Data. Use extra safeguards for information on health, race, sexual orientation, religion and political beliefs.
  9. Data Transfer Outside the EU. Make legal arrangements when you transfer data to countries that have not been approved by the EU authorities.

If you architect data tables for a living, a few of the items on that list are probably making your head spin right now. There's no easy way to say it. Enacting GDPR is going to be difficult and sometimes costly for data companies doing business in Europe or with European customers. Which leads to the obvious questions...

What happens if I don't?
It starts with a warning, then escalates to a suspension of the ability to process data in the EU - and eventually results in fines of up to 20,000,000 Euros or 4% of your company's annual revenue. Like I said, they are not messing around.

So what do I do now?
Rome wasn't built in a day. And securing Roman citizen's data won't happen in a day either. Many of the larger enterprise companies who I interact with have been working on their GDPR plans for months now. Others are now moving quickly to get them in place. Some resources I've read even suggest appointing a DPO (Data Protection Officer) within your company.

Here are a few handy resources to learn more about GDPR. The first one is very simple and easy to follow. And in full transparency, much of my post above was taken from it. The second is more detailed and provides a deeper level of information of what you should know and what you'll need to do.

http://ec.europa.eu/justice/smedataprotect/index_en.htm

https://ec.europa.eu/commission/priorities/justice-and-fundamental-rights/data-protection/2018-reform-eu-data-protection-rules_en

What if we don't have any European customers?
For now, count yourself fortunate. The rules are limited to companies who have personal data of people from or in Europe. But don't get complacent. With the recent news surrounding data security and privacy, the US may not be far behind in enacting data privacy laws of our own. But that's a subject for another blog post, hopefully a little further down the road.

 

Dave Swartz is President of MEDL Mobile and serves as the Chair of the Innovation Policy Council for the Developers Alliance, a non-profit global membership organization that supports developers as creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs and promotes the continued growth of the industry, advocating on behalf of members and the development community at large on public policy and industry issues.