|By Jon Box||
|May 10, 2005 11:00 AM EDT||
Today, millions of Windows applications exist around the world. They are written with various development tools, with different development languages, and are based on different libraries. Let's suppose that you are responsible for one of these - and then along comes the Tablet PC. Your users say that your application would be great if it were adapted for the Tablet platform. You then do some research and find out there is a nice Tablet API, including managed support and controls that capture Ink. You tell your manager about the possibilities, but he clamps down. He points out that there is no budget and no time for these modifications this year. He might even question the business value of the Tablet platform. Your users are whining and IT management is not budging. How can you please the users without the significant cost of a code rewrite? Are there options beyond rewriting your application?
Levels of Ink-nessLet's step back for a moment and clear up a misconception about supporting the Tablet PC platform. There are various levels of Ink-ness, i.e., the richness or degree of integration of Ink via the Tablet API and provided controls. (Warning: Ink-ness is a word that I made up and not an official Microsoft term.) There have been various conversations about Ink integration on the Internet and in books, but my viewpoint is that it typically comes down to the lifetime of Ink in an application. It is obvious that the most pen-enabled Tablet PC applications will have Ink controls, store Ink somewhere, and keep Ink as Ink. But can your existing application be considered pen-enabled even without knowing about Ink?
Thanks to the Tablet PC Input Panel (otherwise known as the TIP), your application will appear to interact with Ink even though it knows nothing about Ink. When the focus of the application is in a text input control for example, the TIP will appear, allow the user to write, convert it to text, and then insert into the text input control. So, the Ink-ignorant application will survive. Although most people will not consider this as being Ink-enabled, this is my first level of Ink-ness which I titled "Do Nothing," and basically means that we will depend on the TIP to recognize the user's handwriting as best as it can (see Table 1). Even though the TIP has an advanced recognition algorithm that is more than capable, the Ink-ness of this type of application is not impressive.
Most developers would then consider the next level of Ink-ness to be working with Tablet PC API and using the included Ink-enabled Windows controls. While this is broken down into my third and fourth levels, it is not the next level of Ink-ness in my definition. The second level is the place between doing nothing and working with the Tablet API. It is a place that most technical managers do not realize exists but it is perfect for the scenario presented in the beginning of this article. It is a way to help the TIP recognize your handwriting by giving it context hints in a declarative manner. Moreover, it does not require rewriting any code or doing redeployment. Want to Tablet-enable your application with minimal effort? Read on.
ContextThe TIP is a graphical control that interfaces to a high-quality recognition engine (called a recognizer in Tablet PC terms). The recognizer does an unbelievable feat by interpreting handwriting and converting it to the appropriate text. However, because human handwriting is varied, in a few cases it does not understand what the user is trying to write. But, the good news is that the accuracy can be greatly improved by informing the TIP of the "context" of the input. For example, the developer could tell the TIP that a particular field is a number, a date, a time, a zip code, or even a URL. The Tablet platform has a predefined list of these hints, called Common Input Scopes, which number around 50. It also supports custom context definitions, which we will discuss later.
One might not realize that Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 came with several applications that have context awareness for certain controls. The most demonstrated example is that of Internet Explorer's address bar. Another example is in Outlook 2003's "To:" textbox control. And more are on the way, from Microsoft and from other vendors as well.
There are three ways to communicate the context of a control to the TIP. If you're doing WIN32 programming, check out the SetInputScope API. If you're writing in .NET, then look at the InkEdit control that exposes a RecognizerContext property. Notice that these mechanisms require that the communication exists in the application code. The third way to communicate context is via a special file called a context manifest file. This non-programmatic option is a special XML file created with the Context Tagging Tool.
The Context Tagging ToolThe Context Tagging Tool provides an interesting way of setting context information for individual input controls in an application. Provided in the Tablet SDK v1.7 (download from the Tablet PC Developer Center), this Windows application is very easy to use. After selecting an application to "tag" (see Figure 1), a person simply picks each input control, assigns a context to it, and saves the selections. This also shows that you can see what applications on a machine include context manifest files.
One neat feature is that the tool fires up the selected application so that you can select the controls and then closes the application upon saving the selections. Another tool benefit is in the way that controls are selected from the running application. I simply drag an icon from the tool onto the interested control in my application and the tool gathers the required information (See Figure 2).
It is important to note that not all controls are tag-able. The selected control has to be uniquely identified. This uniqueness is created by the control's AccessbileName property, window class name, and a consistent Window ID. This also implies that the identification could be version specific. For most environments, these issues are not a problem but there are exceptions.
The output of saving the selections is a context manifest, an XML file that has a "CTM" extension (i.e., ExeName.EXE.CTM). Created in the application directory, the data is read at run time by the TIP and communicated to the recognition engine. (One can view the XML of the file, but it is much easier to use the tool than to edit the file.) Upon successful testing, the file then can be copied to another Tablet PC running the same application and the user will enjoy an improved Tablet PC experience.
Another interesting point is that you can create a new context manifest file or edit an existing manifest with the Context Tagging Tool. The tool informs the user of an existing manifest for the application (notice the "Context File" column in Figure 1). Furthermore, you can view and edit the manifest created by someone else. Also, as long as I have the executable, I can even create a manifest for someone else's application.
An interesting story here is that of Thong Nguyen, a software engineer in New Zealand who has written some free Tablet PC utilities (see the Resource section). Thong has been evaluating a browser called Maxthon that does not support the Tablet PC. Since he wanted the browser to work better on his Tablet PC, Thong created his own context manifest and distributed it to the community. The lesson here is that any Windows application that includes someone else's is a candidate for tagging. There are many stories like this going around the Internet.
Input ScopesAs mentioned earlier, there are approximately 50 predefined context hints known as Common Input Scopes. These cover a wide variety of input contexts and are listed in the Tagging Tool Help. Figure 3 shows a control that has multiple Common Input Scopes selected. If the list is not enough, the Tablet PC team has provided Custom Input Scopes via Phrase Lists and Regular Expressions.
Phrase Lists are a way to limit or extend the list of words in a specific context. For example, maybe I have a baseball scoring application that has a textbox control for entering the batting outcome. Using the Manage Phrase Lists tab (see Figure 4), I could build a named list of possible traditional outcomes like K, 1B, 2B, 3B, HR, BB, E1, etc. Then later, when picking a control under the Tag Controls tab, I could assign that named list as a context for the selected control. Optionally, the Coerce to Input Scope definition checkbox will limit the recognition possibilities to the assigned Phrase List.
Using the Manage Regular Expressions tab, I am able to create named contexts using a Regular Expression syntax. This feature would allow for customized entries that can optionally include the re-use of Common Input Scopes (see image 5). The Tagging Tool Help has an informative section on this topic that includes samples. There are a few extra rules on the syntax, so be sure to refer to the related Help topic.
DeploymentAfter creating the context manifest, the next step is to get this to your clients. The final destination is in the application runtime folder, but the challenge is how to communicate this to your clients, distribute the file, and have it land in the appropriate folder. Therefore, you could create an installation program, simply promote this new feature via e-mail, including attaching the CTM, promote and distribute this from a known Web site, and then let the user copy the file, or use your favorite enterprise file distribution mechanism such as SMS. The main issue here is to get the file to your users and into the application directory.
Tagging ResourcesObviously, this is an underutilized topic and you don't find a lot of information resources explaining how to do this. However, along with the Tagging Tool Help, there are a few key places to check out in order to get the best results with tagging. I recommend surfing over to the Tablet PC Development Center and checking out Frank Gocinski's Tablet 101 column, which includes an article titled "Adding Context Awareness to Improve Handwriting Recognition." Furthermore, be sure to check out Leszynski Group's Web site. Because they are one of the most active Tablet PC partners, these guys have been around the block in tagging engagements and thus their "Tagging Tips & Tricks" article is a must read. (See the Resource section below for the URLs.)
ConclusionAs I write this, there are not a lot of applications that take advantage of context manifests. That story is changing in 2005. For example, in December of 2004, Microsoft released an Office 2003 Tablet PC Update, titled Improved Ink Recognition update. Even though it came in an install package, the only files added to the desktop are six context manifest files - specifically for Excel, InfoPath, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word. This is a perfect example of when to use the Context Tagging Tool. Obviously, Microsoft wanted to have a light impact on existing applications that have a large deployment base. These files also provide examples of Custom Input Scopes for us to learn from.
So, if you're looking to have your Windows application Tablet-enabled without modifying the code or dealing with a redeployment of binaries, the Context Tagging Tool is the way to go. You wouldn't end up with a rich application like one of the Tablet PC Power Toys (which includes my favorite Crossword Puzzle application), but you would improve the Tablet experience for your users with only a small effort. Then you can always decide later to implement a more significant modification. Increasing your Ink-ness is always cool!
With the Apple Watch making its way onto wrists all over the world, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a staple in the workplace. In fact, Forrester reported that 68 percent of technology and business decision-makers characterize wearables as a top priority for 2015. Recognizing their business value early on, FinancialForce.com was the first to bring ERP to wearables, helping streamline communication across front and back office functions. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Kevin Roberts, GM of Platform at FinancialForce.com, will discuss the value of business applications on wearable ...
Aug. 31, 2015 03:15 PM EDT
The Internet of Things (IoT) is about the digitization of physical assets including sensors, devices, machines, gateways, and the network. It creates possibilities for significant value creation and new revenue generating business models via data democratization and ubiquitous analytics across IoT networks. The explosion of data in all forms in IoT requires a more robust and broader lens in order to enable smarter timely actions and better outcomes. Business operations become the key driver of IoT applications and projects. Business operations, IT, and data scientists need advanced analytics t...
Aug. 31, 2015 02:30 PM EDT Reads: 414
While many app developers are comfortable building apps for the smartphone, there is a whole new world out there. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Narayan Sainaney, Co-founder and CTO of Mojio, will discuss how the business case for connected car apps is growing and, with open platform companies having already done the heavy lifting, there really is no barrier to entry.
Aug. 31, 2015 02:30 PM EDT Reads: 144
With the proliferation of connected devices underpinning new Internet of Things systems, Brandon Schulz, Director of Luxoft IoT – Retail, will be looking at the transformation of the retail customer experience in brick and mortar stores in his session at @ThingsExpo. Questions he will address include: Will beacons drop to the wayside like QR codes, or be a proximity-based profit driver? How will the customer experience change in stores of all types when everything can be instrumented and analyzed? As an area of investment, how might a retail company move towards an innovation methodolo...
Aug. 31, 2015 02:30 PM EDT Reads: 457
Contrary to mainstream media attention, the multiple possibilities of how consumer IoT will transform our everyday lives aren’t the only angle of this headline-gaining trend. There’s a huge opportunity for “industrial IoT” and “Smart Cities” to impact the world in the same capacity – especially during critical situations. For example, a community water dam that needs to release water can leverage embedded critical communications logic to alert the appropriate individuals, on the right device, as soon as they are needed to take action.
Aug. 31, 2015 12:00 PM EDT
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Aug. 31, 2015 11:30 AM EDT Reads: 891
SYS-CON Events announced today that Micron Technology, Inc., a global leader in advanced semiconductor systems, will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Micron’s broad portfolio of high-performance memory technologies – including DRAM, NAND and NOR Flash – is the basis for solid state drives, modules, multichip packages and other system solutions. Backed by more than 35 years of technology leadership, Micron's memory solutions enable the world's most innovative computing, consumer,...
Aug. 31, 2015 11:15 AM EDT Reads: 229
As more intelligent IoT applications shift into gear, they’re merging into the ever-increasing traffic flow of the Internet. It won’t be long before we experience bottlenecks, as IoT traffic peaks during rush hours. Organizations that are unprepared will find themselves by the side of the road unable to cross back into the fast lane. As billions of new devices begin to communicate and exchange data – will your infrastructure be scalable enough to handle this new interconnected world?
Aug. 31, 2015 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 164
Through WebRTC, audio and video communications are being embedded more easily than ever into applications, helping carriers, enterprises and independent software vendors deliver greater functionality to their end users. With today’s business world increasingly focused on outcomes, users’ growing calls for ease of use, and businesses craving smarter, tighter integration, what’s the next step in delivering a richer, more immersive experience? That richer, more fully integrated experience comes about through a Communications Platform as a Service which allows for messaging, screen sharing, video...
Aug. 31, 2015 10:30 AM EDT Reads: 647
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pythian, a global IT services company specializing in helping companies leverage disruptive technologies to optimize revenue-generating systems, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Founded in 1997, Pythian is a global IT services company that helps companies compete by adopting disruptive technologies such as cloud, Big Data, advanced analytics, and DevOps to advance innovation and increase agility. Specializing in designing, imple...
Aug. 31, 2015 10:15 AM EDT Reads: 306
The Internet of Things is in the early stages of mainstream deployment but it promises to unlock value and rapidly transform how organizations manage, operationalize, and monetize their assets. IoT is a complex structure of hardware, sensors, applications, analytics and devices that need to be able to communicate geographically and across all functions. Once the data is collected from numerous endpoints, the challenge then becomes converting it into actionable insight.
Aug. 31, 2015 10:15 AM EDT
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lee Williams, a producer of the first smartphones and tablets, will talk about how he is now applying his experience in mobile technology to the design and development of the next generation of Environmental and Sustainability Services at ETwater. He will explain how M2M controllers work through wirelessly connected remote controls; and specifically delve into a retrofit option that reverse-engineers control codes of existing conventional controller systems so they don't have to be replaced and are instantly converted to become smart, connected devices.
Aug. 31, 2015 09:30 AM EDT Reads: 127
SYS-CON Events announced today that IceWarp will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IceWarp, the leader of cloud and on-premise messaging, delivers secured email, chat, documents, conferencing and collaboration to today's mobile workforce, all in one unified interface
Aug. 31, 2015 04:00 AM EDT Reads: 415
WebRTC has had a real tough three or four years, and so have those working with it. Only a few short years ago, the development world were excited about WebRTC and proclaiming how awesome it was. You might have played with the technology a couple of years ago, only to find the extra infrastructure requirements were painful to implement and poorly documented. This probably left a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when things went wrong.
Aug. 31, 2015 02:00 AM EDT Reads: 456
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome,” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
Aug. 30, 2015 10:00 PM EDT Reads: 353
Consumer IoT applications provide data about the user that just doesn’t exist in traditional PC or mobile web applications. This rich data, or “context,” enables the highly personalized consumer experiences that characterize many consumer IoT apps. This same data is also providing brands with unprecedented insight into how their connected products are being used, while, at the same time, powering highly targeted engagement and marketing opportunities. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Nathan Treloar, President and COO of Bebaio, will explore examples of brands transforming their businesses by t...
Aug. 30, 2015 10:15 AM EDT Reads: 234
As more and more data is generated from a variety of connected devices, the need to get insights from this data and predict future behavior and trends is increasingly essential for businesses. Real-time stream processing is needed in a variety of different industries such as Manufacturing, Oil and Gas, Automobile, Finance, Online Retail, Smart Grids, and Healthcare. Azure Stream Analytics is a fully managed distributed stream computation service that provides low latency, scalable processing of streaming data in the cloud with an enterprise grade SLA. It features built-in integration with Azur...
Aug. 28, 2015 07:45 PM EDT Reads: 222
Akana has announced the availability of the new Akana Healthcare Solution. The API-driven solution helps healthcare organizations accelerate their transition to being secure, digitally interoperable businesses. It leverages the Health Level Seven International Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (HL7 FHIR) standard to enable broader business use of medical data. Akana developed the Healthcare Solution in response to healthcare businesses that want to increase electronic, multi-device access to health records while reducing operating costs and complying with government regulations.
Aug. 26, 2015 07:00 AM EDT Reads: 193
For IoT to grow as quickly as analyst firms’ project, a lot is going to fall on developers to quickly bring applications to market. But the lack of a standard development platform threatens to slow growth and make application development more time consuming and costly, much like we’ve seen in the mobile space. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Weiner, Product Manager of the Omega DevCloud with KORE Telematics Inc., discussed the evolving requirements for developers as IoT matures and conducted a live demonstration of how quickly application development can happen when the need to comply wit...
Aug. 2, 2015 11:15 AM EDT Reads: 558
The Internet of Everything (IoE) brings together people, process, data and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before – transforming information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. IoE creates new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented opportunities to improve business and government operations, decision making and mission support capabilities.
Aug. 1, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 486