Hong Kong Electronics Fair – tech insights for 2014

Being in the mobile software business in US or Europe, you might think that visiting an all-electronics fair in China is simply irrelevant. But it’s not.

This is a sneak peek into your future

Hong Kong Electronics Fair: tech insights for 2014 by Richard Dancsi
View of the Hong Kong Expo building from the Kowloon pier.

Not exactly the future of high-end technology though. At least the products showcased on the Hong Kong Electronics Fair would definitely not receive a standing ovation on an Apple keynote.

Most of the products and services here are of a significantly lower quality than what you see on the upper shelves in those electronics supermarkets in the US or Europe. Apart from the really big brands, the few exceptions won’t be amazing either – more like, well, decent.

I still think this is a great opportunity to look into the future:

  • The Asian region already accounts for 45% of all internet users globally. The next boom is coming soon as the penetration rate slowly reaches the US levels.

    These people tend to use low-end smartphones to access the internet, and the devices on the fair will meet a need on – among others – the humongous Indian or Russian market.

    Still think it’s irrelevant? It isn’t: it’s a safe bet that Google went back to support 512MB devices with Android KitKat just to fulfil the need of these markets.

  • Asian companies are not only manufacturers anymore, but also creative drivers with a huge market. As more and more products emerge, they will have an ever bigger impact on what services and devices we’ll see in the next years.

Insights from the fair for 2014

To start with the easy-to-guess ones, it’s no wonder that compact cameras and camcorders are nowhere to be found: most of these functionalities are already replaced by the features of the smartphones. Action cameras are still fine, but dedicated GPS and personal navigation tools are also gone.

Phones and tablets are blooming. I did hold five perfect iPad mini replicas in my hand, and tried dozens of other phones and tablets. Android seems to run on almost everything, even on portable wifi routers or mini USB computers.

The wearable accessories wave shows no signs of calming either. There are smart watches, fitness bands and some sort of smart glass-looking things. This still feels being an early stage here, with most of the showcased products lacking a strong use case just yet.

Smart homes, offices and class rooms are hip. Home sound systems even more: wireless speakers and headphones are everywhere – some with Bluetooth, some with AirPlay and some also with added NFC support. There seems to be a hipster-driven turntable comeback as well. (Hell yeah!)

My favourite tool, a 2-in-1 shower radio with built-in torch, shows that Asian inventors are unstoppable.

Hong Kong Electronics Fair: tech insights for 2014 by Richard Dancsi
Radio and flaslight. (Photo from Shenzhen XinHuaMei Electronics Ltd).

Can I get in? Can I get in for free?

Yes. Most probably, yes.

I was lucky enough to be invited by one of my clients, but everyone with a trading company can simply register online. As far as I know, if you do it quite in advance you can get tickets for free. The standard price is not high either though: 100 HDK – about £9 – will buy you access for the two visitor’s days.

Scams & pitfalls in China and lessons from Apple’s supply chain

For those of us who are unexperienced with the Chinese market just yet, the free seminars are an excellent opportunity to catch up. On these one hour long lessons you can learn quite a lot, from avoiding scams to negotiation techniques with Chinese partners.

Choosing the right supplier can make or break your business. It’s well known that Apple has over 150 suppliers – the biggest being Foxconn, employing over 250,000 in China alone and running the operations like clockwork. Foxconn then also has about 500 suppliers on behalf of Apple. Imagine the negotiation and management power they need to run a manufacturing monster this size. So these talks are indeed pretty useful.

Are you a government? Copy this event!

The Hong Kong Electronics Fair is the world’s biggest expo of the kind. It’s also something more: a 5-story example of how governments can support local businesses.

The event is organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), the international marketing arm for Hong Kong-based traders, manufacturers and service providers. The fact that they have 40 offices operating worldwide shows that they are serious about their mission, to create opportunities for the region’s small and medium-sized enterprises.

With the fair, electronics manufacturers and their distributors have a controlled and comfortable environment to find each other. More than 4,000 exhibitors from 30 countries are showcasing their wares, and have the opportunity to close the sale right on the spot.

How awesome would it be to have something similar for your business, right?

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Custom UIAlertView for iOS

It was a common pattern for iOS developers to create customised dialogs by attaching a subview to a standard UIAlertView. Since iOS7 however, Apple removed this feature and developers are left without a dialog pattern that matches the iPhone UI.

As a solution, I wrote an open source class to create an iOS8-style dialog which can be extended with any UIViews or buttons. The animations and the looks are copied too, and no images or other resources are needed.

You can just grab the open source code from Github now. In this article I will write about the implementation best practices and some background info.

Extend your current AlertView code to support iOS7 and iOS8

To create an AlertView with a custom subview, you probably wrote something similar to this:

And you did probably reset the frame in the delegate method willPresentAlertView too.

This was working on all previous iOS versions. On iOS7 however it will result in an empty dialog. What you have to do therefore is to fork the code here: display a standard UIAlertView on the old devices, and a CustomIOSAlertView on the new ones.

Forking the code is as simple as this:

For the new dialog, you would add something like the following:

Putting these two together, a full solution would look like this:

And that’s it! For the CustomIOSAlertView is a hack-free UIView, you don’t have to add anything to the willPresentAlertView delegate, just keep it as it is. For handling the iOS7 button clicks, you can use code blocks or delegates – please refer to the project’s readme.

How did we end up here?

Apple never officially supported the addSubview method of the UIAlertView. Their approach is to use this dialog only for a small subset of functions, like a plain text input. This is as easy to do as setting the style of the UIView to UIAlertViewStylePlainTextInput.

However, UI/UX designers like to use the dialog pattern for other use cases as well. An example is to show a simple image to the user, or display a progress bar while the user is waiting for a background download to be finished.

Until the previous iOS version the addSubView method worked fine, and developers used it as a best practice for these dialogs patterns. That’s why Apple’s move left app publishers in a bad position: before rolling out the updated version of our apps, in some cases we have to find a completely new user journey.

This is where the CustomIOSAlertView comes handy: we can roll out the iOS7-support quickly (and start up the user experience think thank in the background).

(Free code and source from Github. Opinions, debate: @wimagguc on Twitter.)

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Phones and updates

These are the best times for smartphone users: the choice on the market is beyond imagination, operating system vendors go crazy with their innovations and device manufacturers break their legs to deliver the newest updates for the devices. Or are they? I quickly collected some data about software updates to figure whether Apple, Google or Microsoft spoils their users the most.

Android, Windows, iOS – stunning looking UIs

Windows (Microsoft)

It’s certainly not Microsoft that has the happiest users nowadays: according to recent news, regardless of the fact that the Nokia Lumia phones are only 1.5 years old, they won’t be updated to Windows 8 – ever. And if this is not enough, there is an even bitterer pill to take: the apps written for the new OS won’t run on the “old” devices.

Microsoft has a good enough excuse for this, as they rewrote Windows from ground zero. It’s hardly satisfactory for the users though, especially those who bought the devices just now: they feel like Microsoft owns them at least an apology for knowing this all along – but deciding to be silent about it.

Android (Google)

If Windows users are unhappy, it’s because they have never waited for an Android update. Although Google is rolling out updates in a pace no one has seen before, hardware manufacturers are unable to keep up with them. The main reason for rolling out their own versions is that they want to differentiate their products on the market; for HTC for example, Sense is still a strong selling point.

Cold comfort it is for the ones with an abandoned device – some of which never actually had an up-to-date operating system. The Understatement blog has a list of the devices and their software updates from last year, and the picture probably even worsened since: only around 10% of current devices updated to even Ice Cream Sandwich yet, the one before Android version – which came out end of last year.

iOS (Apple)

For now it seems that iPhone users are the luckiest of them all, as Apple still sells the iPhone 3GS, a device that came out three years ago. Compared to Android or Windows phones, it might be true: even those ancient phones will be able to be updated to iOS 6, Apple’s new operating system introduced last month.

The future is not so bright though: while the operating system and the new UI shine is coming to all devices, some features will be missing on some older iPhones. According to the iOS 6 teaser page – among others – turn-by-turn navigation, Siri, FaceTime will be available only on iPhone 4S – and so it will be exclusive to the latest devices. The iPhone 3GS seemingly leaves out of almost everything.

Well, having the new Maps app is still better than nothing.

With all that, based on the updates only, if I would buy a new phone now I would consider offers in this order:

1. Android (Nexus devices only)
2. iPhone
3. Android devices from other manufacturers
4. Windows 8 phones

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Magazine view

For keeping track with hundreds of blogs, RSS readers are the best tools; my personal favorite is Google Reader which is free, easy to use and available for all devices. For most of the blogs it’s perfect, but with Flipboard you’ve got something different: a magazine experience.

image from flipboard.com

Google Reader is brilliant to collect blogs and consume information: the followed web pages can be grouped by interests – you know which of those lists to read carefully, and which ones don’t need a very close attention. I usually read all the posts of friends’ blogs, but with the 200-300 incoming posts a day with the label ‘inspirating-graphics’, I could sit at the computer and push the next button for the whole day.

These labels therefore need some special treatment, and that’s where Flipboard has no competition. It’s a great way to read information you don’t really mind missing out: you can scan through all your feeds just as if it was a magazine. Big pictures, headlines with nice typography and page layouts – it really is amazing how all the different kind of blogs and web portals turn into something beautiful and consistent. And it does more than just RSS: Twitter, Facebook posts and all sorts of social networks can be plugged into Flipboard – and become magazines on your device.

For Android users, Flipboard was always something to miss, but now it seems like the app is coming sooner than we think. For those of us who couldn’t wait, there already is a leaked APK on the internet. (And it works like a charm.)

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