Sunday, 8 May 2016

The curse of developing HTML email templates

I recently had to develop another newsletter template for a client of mine. This sounds like an easy task but believe me, it's far more complicated than developing an HTML page.

Old vs. New

One would think that over the years HTML and CSS standards would have found their way into email clients. Reality is that the situation has got even more complicated. More email clients have seen the light of day with the smartphone revolution. Many of these supporting modern responsive design features but also still lacking key features or having bugs.

Source: Litmus / http://emailclientmarketshare.com

Modern Apple iPhone and iPad email clients combined seem to own almost half of the market. At the same time, desktop email clients such as Outlook are still well established but hardly supporting any modern CSS.

This leads to the strange situation that templates have to be developed in a mixture of 90's style HTML using tables for layout and mixing it with modern CSS3 to make them work on mobile clients.

Developing email templates

I suggest you do not start developing your email template from scratch or you could quickly find yourself at A&E with serious head injuries caused by excessive banging your head onto the desk.

While your template probably looks great in a browser you will find that it looks no-where near what you anticipated on Outlook or webmail clients.

Chances are that you are using a service like MailChimp or Campaign Monitor. These services are not just great for merging and sending newsletters. They also come with a heap of pre-tested templates which can be adapted to your requirements. You may not find quite exactly what you were after, but it is still better to compromise at this stage rather than trying something yourself which doesn't work.

Testing your template

The next problem is: how do you test it? No developer can get hands on all email clients on the market. Even if you tested on most popular email clients, you would spend a lot of time doing so and tweaking your design.

Fortunately, there is litmus.com. You send your email template to a dedicated Litmus email address and within seconds you can view screen grabs of your email on a wide range of devices.

This though comes at a price. Litmus charges quite high monthly fees for their services not worth investing for small businesses who don't need to develop templates on a regular basis.

Summary

If you want to develop an email template yourself, try to find a pre-tested framework to build on, for example Foundation for Emails 2. HTML developers can use this pre-tested framework and adapt it to their needs (such as colours, logo etc) within short time without having to to go through a lengthy testing process which can can be quite a significant hurdle to take.

If you would like help developing email or adapting email templates for your newsletter service, contact Marco at Nomon Internet Solutions.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Benefiting from Mobile Business Apps

An app doesn't always have to be a piece of software developed for Android, iPhone or other smartphones which you can only download from various app stores. Many businesses could  benefit from a more efficient workflow by getting a bespoke app developed without breaking the bank.

We have all seen it from courier companies: Drivers come to collect a parcel and scan a barcode and make you sign on the screen. Same thing again upon delivery. At the same time this information is being used to update a central database, do some magic in the backend and you receive an email that your order has been delivered.

Just because you own a small business does not mean that you cannot benefit from apps as well. Especially small businesses which have regular occurring tasks, have travelling salespeople or are self-employed trades people should have a closer look into the possibilities of turning your smartphone into an office.

Example from Invoice Simple
Android app
For the trade - your office in your pocket


Tradespeople, often working by themselves could get the boring office work done while on site with the customer.

  • take card payments through your mobile
  • write an invoice through an app
  • send invoices by email
  • even print invoices on paper with a mobile bluetooth printer

Apps and services for all of these tasks already exist. Several invoice apps can be found on Google Play and a quick search on Amazon UK reveals several portable printers under £200. Several payment service providers already offer mobile payment acceptance such as iZettle, PayPal, Payleven and many others.

Bespoke web apps - the affordable alternative


What makes standard app development expensive is the fact that they are often developed for multiple platforms like Android and iPhone. Also, often they don't work on every device and need testing on various models and software versions to ensure all users have the same experience.

With an app for your business used by your staff only you are in control of all these factors. You can decide to use only one specific operating system and phone model. This often cuts development cost more than half.

If you can also ensure that your app always has an internet connection and does not need to access any specific sensors, you can even think of a 'web app' developed in HTML5 and run in the browser. This can drive the cost even further down and comes with additional benefits of low maintenance cost and multi platform compatibility like Android, iPhone, Windows Phone.

What are business apps good for?


Business apps can come in handy when you have staff recording the same sort of data on a regular basis. Also, when you want to supply travelling staff with up to date details on their job. Connected to the right backend you have the data available as soon as it has been input.

Often apps make use of specific device features such as a camera to upload photos or scan barcodes. But you can also buy affordable Android devices with specific input such as laser barcode reader, NFC or RFID readers.

Examples use cases are:

  • stock counting with barcodes
  • list of customers to visit
  • surveys with photo upload
  • delivery confirmations
  • popup shop checkout
  • generate photo badges
  • confirm validity of eTickets
  • .... and many more


Barcode scan screen using
Chrome browser on Android

Two case studies


Recently I have helped two businesses with app development, both involving barcode scanning.

One is for stock counting, creating a PDF report and feeding the data back into their bespoke system. Before deployment a manual stock count took a whole day and was very error prone. This monthly process has been reduced to a couple of hours each time. The development cost paid off after the second stock count.

The other business had to manually compare order numbers with a delivery list and compare if they are physically present. This process took 1 to 2 hours daily and has been reduced to a few minutes using barcode scanning with an Android phone. Again, the development paid off within a few days.

If you are unsure if your business could benefit from a bespoke app contact me for a no-obligation chat about your requirements.



Monday, 1 June 2015

Take Control of Your Google Data

Google has developed a way to manage your privacy settings from one central way. Find out what data Google holds about you and how to take control.

If you own a Google account - and chances are that you do - Google has now developed a central account management facility where you can get an overview of the data the Chocolate Factory holds on you. But more: now you are also able to manage certain permissions from that accounts page.

You are not sure if you own a Google account? Do you have a GMail account, own an Android smartphone,  use the Chrome browser? Do you use Google Drive, Google Calendar or any other free Google services? Then you are most likely to have an account. Visit the Google MyAccount page and you see an overview with three sections:
  1. Sign-in & security
  2. Personal info & privacy
  3. Account preferences
You should take some time to walk through each of these sections.

Additionally, for the first time, Google have made it relatively simple to understand the basics of their long Privacy Policy by summarising important information on a single short page.

If you are using one of Google's free services you should understand why they are free. You are not paying with money but with personal data the serach engine giant can get from you. This data is extremly valueable to advertisers who want to target a certain group of users.

While Google does not pass on individual's data to third parties (according to Google), your birthday, gender and address are used for example to target an advert for an electric shaver sold at a local supermarket to all men from the age of 20 who live in South East London.

I am not saying you should stop using Google services. But you should always be thinking about how much privacy you are willing to trade in for some innovative internet services.