Introducing Crumble – Surf the web without being tracked!

We are happy to announce Crumble, a brand new Chrome extension designed here in the Innovation Labs. The extension, currently in beta, will prevent companies from tracking you on the Internet via cookies, without breaking the websites you visit.

You can install the extension for free from here: Crumble Chrome extension.

website_download

 

While this is not the first solution of its kind, we do think that our implementation makes Crumble the best solution against online cookie tracking.  Here’s why:

  • It prevents online tracking companies from creating your profile via cookies based on your online browsing
  • It is always up to date because it does not rely on a predefined list of online trackers.
  • By design, it does not offer preferential treatment to selected ad networks (unlike some other extensions)
  • It does not break the user experience on websites you visit
  • It does not hide content on the websites you visit
  • It shows instantly who is tracking you on websites

How does it work?

Crumble intercepts 3rd party cookies and controls what information is sent back to the web tracking companies, stopping trackers from following and profiling you via cookies based on the sites you visit.

Because, we control rather than block 3rd party cookies, you will get the full website experience; no broken plugins, no missing content, no weird behavior.

But wait! There’s more! Unlike other extensions that promise you a similar thing, we are doing all this by identifying the type of the cookie and not by keeping a blacklist of trackers. This allows us to block new trackers as soon as they appear. No waiting time, no updating any list. Instant action.

This also means that we do not offer preferential treatment to trackers (aka whitelist them) unlike some other extensions.

screenshot_02-1024x640

Get in touch

This is Beta release from Innovation Labs by AVG. For more info you can find FAQ section of our website.

We would also love to hear your feedback at support.innovation [@] avg.com or tweet us @avginnovation.

 

Importance of Mobile Analytics in the App Economy – Intro

This article was written by Manuel de Francisco Vera, Data Analyst at AVG’s Innovation Labs in Amsterdam. Manuel is leading research into big data and analytical marketing.   

Mobile economy trends

Mobile devices are a ubiquitous part of our daily lives. Today we use them for things we never imagined merely 7 years ago. They are our gateway to the world, keeping us informed, connecting us to one another, entertaining us, and well… you name it. If you can think about it there’s probably an app for that.And the smartphone adoption rate is growing at an amazing pace. In 2014 there were already over 2 billion smartphone users worldwide, and it is estimated that this number will reach 5.2 billion users by 2020, as smartphone adoption skyrockets in developing economies.

 

Enabled by phenomenal growth, the mobile market supply is swelling as well, with 2.8 million apps available on Google Play and Apple Store as of February 2015 and 2,000 new apps are released every day. This makes the app market an extremely competitive environment where app developers struggle to keep their app installed on mobile devices. The current stats show that even if manage to convince people to install your app, there is a 50% chance they will uninstall the app in the same day. Also the average user will have maximum 20 to 30 apps installed on their device, with only 10 apps finding a place on “the hall of fame”, which is the home screen.

Mobille-Penetration Apps-available-in-stores

And to make it even more difficult for the developers, the majority of the apps out there are free and users expect them to be free, which means it’s very hard to maintain and update the apps.

 

Success lays in data analysis

So, how does one navigate in this extremely competitive environment? How can one make sense of what works and what not, so that he rises from the depths of the appstore to the home screen of the users?

We strongly believe that one of the key elements to success in the app economy is develop a strong customer analytics framework.

This is why, in the Innovation Labs, we rely heavily on analytics to design and improve our apps. This allows us to test new ideas extremely fast, by building mobile app prototypes and learning from actual user behavior instead of relying on assumption.

We are researching a wide range of methodologies and building business tools to get better mobile analytics for our products. Our goal is to improve user behavior insight and find best practices on mobile analytics.

Of course we do all this with users’ privacy in mind and in line with our privacy policy. We anonymize the data in order to protect users’ identities. For this we developed our own analytics platform.  This allows us to deep dive into burning issues like “Why do people uninstall the app in the first day/hour/ 1 use?” or “Why do people use our apps over 20 times per day?”, and use the findings to improve the user experience.

In following posts I would like to dive a bit more into how we do all that and talk about some burning questions we managed to solve thanks to our eye for detail. So stay tuned!

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

 

Do you use smart home products? AVG would love to speak with you!

We are Innovation Labs by AVG, the international online security company and we are looking for people who want to talk to us about their experiences with using smart home products. In appreciation, we will give you a €100,- (EUR) gift card of your choice (Bol.com, CoolBlue, Bijenkorf, Restaurant Cadeaukaart, Podium Cadeau, or some other service you might want). We have a limit of 15 spots.

To participate you must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Use at least 2 smart products/internet connected products in your home (e.g., Nest Thermostat, Philips Hue, Sonos, Belkin WeMo, etc.).
  • Live in The Netherlands.
  • Accept the terms and conditions of our usability testing agreement.

What will you be asked to do?

Spend 15 minutes per day for 5 days keeping a diary about your experiences with using smart home products, followed by a 1h interview at your home.

Interested?

sign-up

Protecting your visual identity in the digital age

This article was written by Tanweer Ali, Senior Developer at AVG’s Innovation Labs in Amsterdam. Tanweer is leading research into Computer Vision with a focus on enhancing user privacy. He is an experienced developer with background in Scientific Computing, 3D Graphics and Numerical Methods.

Introduction

With the increasing use of cellphone cameras in public places, the possibility of your picture or video being taken unaware and ending up on the internet is ever growing. Then the Big Data technologies allow not only for storage of large amounts of image data but also for analyzing them in real-time. Take Google’s StreetView example, when they pictured random people in objectionable places or situations (such as vomiting, being-arrested etc.) or filming inside their home fences. In some countries, Google is even allowed to keep the un-censored images for 6-months. Couple that with other advancements in face-recognition technologies, such as Facebook’s DeepFace (see here and here), which will soon give a private corporation power to not only recognize you in a crowded place, but also having instant access to your most private information.

How much of our visual identity can we protect from unwanted privacy invaders? Can we hide ourselves from cameras or interfere with the face-recognition technologies?

As we look inside the camera’s hardware, it turns out that there are limitations of the hardware itself that, in theory atleast, can be exploited. Based on these, a number of privacy advocates are already trying to sell wearables claiming to protect your identity. How effective are these techniques and can they really promise us anonymity in the face of prying digital eyes? These are the kind of questions we try to answer in this article.

We start with some background into the camera’s sensor and the suppliers of the cellphone image-sensor market. Then we focus on two techniques of distorting captured images using the infra-red lights and by using retro-reflective materials. We then present our own findings in the last section.

Cellphone Cameras & Image Sensors

At the core of any camera are the Lens and the Image Sensor. The lens focuses the light onto the sensor and there can be multiple lens elements inside the lens assembly as shown in figure (2). The focal length of these lenses determines the field of view and the magnification of the scene.

Fig 1: Galaxy S5; a Samsung S5K2P2XX 1/2.6” sensor with an f/2.2 lens. Photo: iFixit

Fig 1: Galaxy S5; a Samsung S5K2P2XX 1/2.6” sensor with an f/2.2 lens. Photo: iFixit

Fig 2: Typical Camera Module on Mobile Phones

Fig 2: Typical Camera Module on Mobile Phones

The image-sensor is what converts the light into electrical signals. When an image is being captured, the light passes through the lens and falls on the sensor. The sensors consists of large number of very small photo-detectors or picture elements called pixels, which registers the amount of light that falls on it and converts it to corresponding voltage and the digital signal.  It is the number of these pixels on the sensor that we measure in Megapixels. The size of each pixel is typically measured in µm (micro). A sensor with larger pixel-size will perform better in low light conditions as it will be more sensitive.

There are two main types of Image Sensor technologies: CCD (Charged Coupled Device) and CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor). Smartphone cameras are almost all CMOS sensors. CMOS sensors require less circuitry outside the sensor and consume 100 times less power than their CCD counterparts. They have a faster readout, higher noise immunity, and a smaller system size.

The sensor itself cannot distinguish between different wavelengths of light and hence does not contain any color information. The filter in front of the sensor allows it to assign color values to each pixel in either RGB or CMYG format. The Bayer array is one example of an RGB filter with alternating rows of red-green and green-blue filters.

Fig 3: Electromagnetic wavelengths ranges

Fig 3: Electromagnetic wavelengths ranges

An Infrared-filter is included in almost every mobile camera, shown as IR-Glass in figure (2). This keeps the Infrared light from interfering with the output of the sensor. The visible light spectrum has a wavelength range from 380nm to around 780nm. Then comes the infrared light from 780nm to about 1mm (see figure-3).

There are other features of CMOS sensors which allow for improvement in the image quality under varying light conditions e.g. Backside Illumination (BSI) and Dynamic Range. The Dynamic Range of the sensor, defined as the ration between the maximum and minimum possible signal, also determines the image quality when the scene contains both dark shadows along with high intensity light reflections.

CMOS Image Sensor Market

The top manufacturers of CMOS sensors include Sony, OmniVision, Samsung leading the market with more or less 20% share but also others like Aptina-Imaging, Toshiba, Nikon, STMicroelectronics etc. competing for a fair share of CMOS sensor market.

There are also differences in the strength of sensors from different manufacturers. Backside Illumination, for example, was introduced in CMOS sensors for the first time by Sony and improves image quality in low-light conditions. ISOCELL technology is what Samsung later introduced to add BSI in its sensors, which additionally reduces crosstalk between pixels. Then there can also be differences between Dynamic Range of the sensors.

The following table looks at various CMOS sensor products found in some of the most popular mobile devices:

Device Name Sensor Manufacturer Resolution(MegaPixels) Pixel-size(μm * μm)
iPhone 4 OV5650 OmniVision 5 1.75 µm
iPhone 4S IMX145 Sony 8 1.4 µm
iPhone 5 IMX145-Derivative Sony 8 1.4 µm
iPhone 5S Sony 8 1.5 µm
iPhone 6 ISX014 Sony 8 1.5 µm
         
LG Nexus 4 IMX111PQ Sony 8 1.12 µm
LG Nexus 5 IMX179 Sony 8 1.4 µm
Samsung Galaxy S3 S5K2P1 Samsung 16
Samsung Galaxy S4 S5K3L2 Samsung 13
Samsung Galaxy S5 (ISOCELL based) Samsung 16 1.12 µm

Techniques to hide from Cameras

We will focus here on two main techniques that are in use to hide the subject from camera or try to break Face-Detection algorithms. One of them uses infrared lighting (see here and here ) and the other is based on the use retro-reflective materials.

1.        Infrared Lighting to Break Face Detection

This method was introduced by Isao Echizen of Tokyo Nation Institute of Informatics. Its uses goggles with infra-red LEDs inserted around the eyes and the nose areas. Since the infra-red lights are completely invisible to human eyes, they are only detectable by cameras which are sensitive to the wavelengths of these LEDs. They claim to break face detection when the lights are switched on:

infrared-2-300x226 infrared-1-300x226

Infrared lights breaks facial detection

However, the drawback of this approach, as we will see from some of our own experiments, is that many cellphone camera sensors have an IR filter strong enough to cut off any wavelengths beyond the visible spectrum. The design of the glasses has to be acceptable for a good social interaction. Also, if the subject is pictured with the flashlight, the interference from the light will minimize the intensity of the infrared lights.

2.        Retro-reflective Materials

Most rough surfaces would reflect lights by diffusing or scattering in all directions, hence minimizing the intensity of light. Mirror surfaces on the other hand, reflect lights at angle almost 90-degrees opposite to the angle of incidence on the surface.

reflection-of-light-from-a-mirror-or-polished-surfaceScattering-of-light-from-a-rough-surface

However, retro-reflections use a surface specially designed to reflect light back at the same angle as the angle of incidence. These materials thus appear brightest to the observer who is located near the light source.

So how can this material be used in our defense against cameras? It turns out that if the flash of the capturing camera is located near the image sensor itself, this material can reflect a most of the flash light back to the sensor. This will result in an image which will put the Dynamic Range of the camera sensor to test.

Retroreflection explained in 3M's product brochure

Retroreflection explained in 3M’s product brochure

However, the drawback of this approach is that if the flash is not used then there can also be no distortion in the image unless the source of light is located near the camera. Secondly, a camera with higher dynamic range can be used to minimize the darkening of the subject.

Betabrand's flashback clothing

Betabrand’s flashback clothing

Experiments & Our Approach

We decided to put all these different techniques to test at AVG-Labs.

First, we set up a simple experiment with Infrared lights and tested the sensor response from different cellphone cameras. We used LEDs from 765nm to 940nm wavelengths. We found that most iPhones had a very strong infrared filter and so any lights beyond 830nm were not visible in the final image, while almost all Android devices we tested were sensitive to the wavelengths up to 940nm, but with varying intensities. The results are shown in the figures below (compare this to Table-1 with CMOS sensors):IR-LED-lights

 

Note that 765nm LED in the bottom, is part of visible red spectrum and could be seen with the naked eye. The LEDs from 830nm and beyond were not visible to the naked eye when turned on.

We then decided to test our findings on a prototype of AVG’s Invisibility Glasses. The results seem quite promising when we pictured our test subjects from cellphone and laptop cameras which were sensitive to IR. We used online face-detection services from Facebook, Face++ and BetaFace-Api. See from the results below that face detection did fail on Facebook when the lights on the glasses were turned On:

facebook_facial_recognition

We know that flashlight can reduce the intensity of infrared lighting. That is why our glasses were also covered with a retro-reflective material. This is a first time someone has attempted a combination of the two techniques in a single wearable. Secondly, our methods will result in glasses which will be more fashionable and acceptable to wear in public.

The results of using a flashlight on our test subject can be seen from the figure below.Invisibility-Glasses-darkens-the-subject-when-flashlight-is-used

 

This is the first time that someone has attempted a hybrid technique of combining infrared with retro-reflective materials in a single wearable.

Another approach that we are working on employs the use of projecting infra-red patterns or makeup on the face of the subject. This is a completely new approach that we are working on and more on this will be published in a later article.

Conclusion

Our experiments in the previous section show that there is a potential to exploit the limitations in cameras hardware to our advantage and protect our identity. The variations in Dynamic Range and IR-filters of different cameras offer us a way to do this. A universal technique that will work for all cameras, under all lighting conditions is still open to exploration. In our future attempts, we hope to make progress towards exactly these goals.

 

PS: We presented the glasses yesterday at the PEPCOM event (part of Mobile Wordl Congress 2o15) and everybody was excited to play with them and try them on. Here is what the media had to say about the Invisibility Glasses:

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

Robo-probes: a fast and simple way to get consumer insights

This article was written by Carolien Postma, User Researcher at AVG’s Innovation Labs in Amsterdam. Carolien, is driving and supporting user-centered innovation with a focus on consumer insight development and concept validation.

User stories are a great source of inspiration when starting a new design project. That’s why designers (like me) have adopted a variety of tools and techniques to collect them. One of my favorites is “cultural probes”.

Cultural probes are small packages of tools (such as maps, a camera, postcards, stickers, a diary) and evocative tasks that invite people to record their activities, thoughts and feelings. The packages are uniquely designed for a project, and are given to a selected group of participants to complete. Participants complete the tasks over time, in their own environment and in their own way, and then return the packages to the researcher. The returned packages offer a brief glimpse into the participants’ worlds. They’re filled with small stories that can spark new ideas and solutions. (For more details, see Gaver et al. [1999] and Mattelmäki [2006])

Great. But what if you don’t have time or budget to apply this inspirational technique? That’s the situation I found myself in a while ago. And so I decided to look for ways to do cultural probes on the fly. I decided to try Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

… How? Well, I post tasks there – the kind of evocative tasks that you would find in a cultural probe – and ask people to complete the tasks in return for a small fee. For example, we have asked participants (Amazon calls them “workers”) to, “Share a picture of something you do to feel secure online”, “Describe your own special house leaving ritual” and “Tell us, if your router were a celebrity, then what celebrity would it be?” When we receive their responses, usually within hours, I print them and put them up on the wall in our office kitchen for everyone in our team to discuss.

I have applied “robo-probes” (as we call them here) a couple of times now, and found that they produced some interesting user stories; interesting enough to inspire new ideas during lunch breaks and for my team members to ask for more. Sure, robo probes don’t have the same qualities as cultural probes, and they have drawbacks. For example, you don’t get to select the people who complete the probe, and asking participants to do a series of tasks over time is difficult. But robo-probes have inspired our team and, very important, I can do them on the fly!

Curious what we found with robo-probes? Read more about our experiences with robo-probes in the coming weeks.

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

Will this accelerating change lead to a constantly growing market?

This article is written by Valery Kholodkov, Lead Researcher at AVG Innovation Lab in Amsterdam. Valery is on the forefront of AVG’s privacy-related research and he is constantly looking into how emerging technologies impact user privacy.

“If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less” – General Eric Shinseki

These are exciting times. In recent decades our lives have been transformed by technological breakthrough after breakthrough.

30 years ago the digital industry used to change entirely once per decade. The rise of the PC (1982), the invention of the World Wide Web (1991) and mass-market search engines (1999) mark moments of transformation that completely reshaped the industry. Nowadays the digital industry is disrupted every 5 years – double the pace of 30 years ago.  Facebook (2004), iPhone (2007) and Bitcoin (2009) are the latest examples of game changers.

Our forefathers didn’t experience such rapid advances. The appearance of trolleys on the streets or a manned flight into orbit was already a big change for a lifetime.

But change is no longer something extraordinary. The development of the industry is no longer accelerated by change; the industry is developed through change. This paradigm shift has many implications. Our children should expect disruptive digital technology change every 2 years. This will create enormous pressure on education: with the current status quo in this field, your  technology-related degree may be becoming irrelevant long before you finish it. Other degrees are likewise affected by the evolution of technology.

Traditional investment models based on economic rent are becoming irrelevant, but instead new investing models gain momentum, models that are based on risk taking, venture and invention.

Perhaps the most eye-catching implication is this: in the sequence of modern technological changes many did not appear in a planned and controlled way, yet they have profound influence on the society. No one predicted that the Internet and online social networks, open and transparent media, would have such a profound impact on daily life and the way people communicate.  Nor did they predict the risks these would have, for example, impacts on privacy rights or implications resulting from mass-surveillance.

Similarly for Bitcoin and many other disruptive innovations, no one can predict the impact they will have on daily lives.

Like it or not, technological change cannot be stopped. In fact, it is becoming increasingly expensive to avoid change instead of embracing it. An attempt to do it would soon leave you in a country house surrounded by skyscrapers [3].

So we must embrace the change. Those who do not accept change as the new normal will find themselves left behind in a world that seems totally meaningless to them.

“Those who do not accept change as the new normal will find themselves left behind in a world that seems totally meaningless to them.”

This acceptance does not come easy, though. Our natural fear of change is perfectly grounded. Fear is subconscious signal of risk. But fear is alleviated by identifying the source of risk, studying and understanding it. In our case – by learning the disrupting technology.

However, modern science and technology is so breathtakingly vast, none of us does have an ability to know what to study, let alone resources to develop competence in everything.

This fact calls for a new social role: the Technological Mediators. These people or businesses fill the gap between those who drive technological change and those who are affected by it. The mission of the Technological Mediators is to make sure that those who do not understand technology do not become dependent on what they do not understand. By explaining the opportunities and dangers of new technologies to those who do not understand and expanding the circle of those who do understand technology, Technological Mediators help ensure technology users are not endangered by rapid technological change, much like a clutch helps you change your gears smoothly.

In the past the digital industry brought up new dangers such as computer viruses. This sparked the emergence of digital security industry. This new industry is an example of a Technological Mediator, an industry that fulfills the role of explaining us dangers of digital industry and protecting us from them. In our time, the time of Internet surveillance and Big Data the Technological Mediator is a digital guardian online that protects our data and identity.

“In our time, the time of Internet surveillance and Big Data the Technological Mediator is a digital guardian online that protects our data and identity.”

Putting this view into perspective, we can see that the raise of digital security industry is only the beginning of an emerging trend, and to be on top of it we need to study potentially disruptive technologies and learn how to explain it to everyone. And could it be that seeing the role of digital security industry as social function leads to a market with a potential customer base as large as the entire mankind?

  • [1] The Singularity Is Near. Ray Kurzweil. Viking Press (2006);
  • [2] Mindsteps to the Cosmos. Hawkins, Gerald S. HarperCollins (1983);
  • [3] Funky Business: Talent Makes Capital Dance. Kjell A. Nordström, Jonas Ridderstråle. Pearson Education (2002).

Photo by Evan Leeson used under CC

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

How technology will change the way we behave in 2015

In this post, Shaul Levi, Chief Scientist of Innovation Labs, looks at the trends he believes will impact consumers the most in 2015. This post was originally posted in January 2015 on the AVG Blogs.

2015 will be a big year for technology but how will our relationship with our devices change and how will it affect our behavior?

As 2014 comes to an end, it is time to look ahead to 2015. This year though, rather than give my predictions about emerging technology, my mind is drawn to our behavior and the changing way we actually interact with technology.

I foresee significant change in three main areas over the course of 2015:

 We will start using privacy based solutions

privacy

The discussion about privacy, my right to be me and own my data has been gaining momentum in the last five years. We are rapidly losing control over our personal information in today’s fast moving digital world. Advertisers collect more data than ever in a bid to try and predict our needs based on our data. 2014 has shown us that our online identity isn’t always safe from advertisers, hackers or even governments.

Laws regarding how data should be secured, stored and shared are on the way through movements like the Right to Be Forgotten.

In the past year we saw lots of apps, devices and services launched with “privacy by design” as the key feature. Apps like Snapchat, Whisper, Secret, Tinder, Tumblr, Silent circle messaging and the Blackphone. These applications are social sharing apps where the privacy and trust is supposedly built in.

Clearly, the market demand for privacy oriented solutions is there and the technology has existed for several years. So why aren’t privacy based solutions more popular? The key question that must be answered before privacy based solutions can become mainstream, is how business can make money from privacy? Therefore in 2015, I expect to see more business models emerge that center on monetizing solutions that focus on privacy and anonymity.

We will fall in love with electronics (again)

 

trend

Since the 90’s, the idea of a connected smart home has excited millions. The dream of an electric light that automatically turns on when you enter a room and turns off with a clap is as old as science fiction. But it is only in the last year that the idea of the Internet of Things has really become feasible.

The good news is that electronics are back and so is software. After all, it is through software that we interact with devices and makes them seem exciting and new. Getting the software right can literally transform the fortunes of a product.

wearable

In 2014, we saw Fitbit emerge as a leading wearable device, and a big part of its success can be attributed to its software. FitBit software makes the experience feel very personal to every one of its users. It was the same with the GoPRo camera – transferring a simple camera into high end extreme sports filming equipment.

In 2015 I expect many devices will evolve to become connected and take on new roles in our digital world. Software will be an important factor in deciding which devices are successful, it’s through software that devices become personal and relatable.

 We will search less and discover more

discovery

Since the beginning of the Internet, search has taken a cardinal place in our interaction with data. First Yahoo and then Google made sure our homepage is a search page.

Microsoft went on and translated this behavior into our operating systems and now we have a search box almost in everything and everywhere…

Then later, with Adwords technology, Google cracked the way to monetize search behavior. The search term that the user enters translated to ads that the user wants at that moment.

Smartphones arrived and quickly become a main vector for search, both of the Internet and of ever growing app stores. Importantly they also heralded the arrival of voice recognition technologies and of voice search. But as technology advances, a race has begun to try andpredict the search. The aim is to analyze requests and behavior so that the information we seek is already there waiting for us. We can see it in action with programs like Google Now that collect information about us from a range of sources and tries to predict what we need, whether it’s directions to work, flight times that day or what the weather will be like.

But in a less obvious move, many successful mobile apps have removed the search field entirely and actually suggest things to discover as a way increasing engagement. Examples of discovery replacing search can be found in popular apps like Instagram, Flipboard and Facebook where people are encouraged to roam and discover news, pictures or friends. But perhaps the best example of this is Tinder where rather than searching for match, the app makes constant suggestions that the user accepts or rejects.

I think in 2015 we will see this trend getting stronger and more apps and services will increase the promotion of content to their customers as a way to keep them interested in using the application or service.

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

Jumpstarting your app conception without sketching UI

Content is king

In the Innovation Group, our job is to come up with new ideas or find out how to solve problems and develop ideas and solutions continuously. How does design deal with such a high turnover of ideas and construct MVP apps?

Earlier this week, I read Writing-first Design by Jonas Downey about using writing to start designing. I find using plain text to start giving shape to an app or concept a very time efficient solution. It works especially if the concept is crudely defined or changing as there is no room for anything else than the content.

Working with very disposable & raw ideas, I’ve came to use this approach along with what I call tentacle maps to flush out app ideas. I found this technique useful to build a common understanding of the app idea and guard the scope of a nascent idea small so we can make product decisions without actually sketching any UI.

The tentacle map (a twist on wireframe flows) is simply about visualizing the screens you think the app must have for the concept to work and connecting these together based on the features. It can be used to scope out a full product like an app or work on additional features and flows.

So as a basic example: if we need a way to sign-up or login users to an app, we would be looking at mocking up the UI as below:

Introduction
[Sign up] [Log in]
New?
-Name
-Email address
-Password
[Sign up]

OR

Welcome back!
-Email address
-Password
[Log in]

So now we have the initial content to build up this flow.

I know about the content, now what?

Continuing with our need to sign up or log in users, we can see from our copy that users would be looking at a first screen to choose whether they already have an account or if they need to create one. Then they will move to either a screen that allows users to enter their login information or a screen to enter their information to sign up.

So we now know we would need at least 3 different screens.

Step#1A box per screen

We represent each screen with an empty container and label them with the title of the screen we determined from our writing exploration.

img01
Step#2Action points

The next step is adding the interaction points: taps or clicks that will allow the user to accomplish his goal.

I create a circle for each tap necessary for the user to go through the screens. If the user needs to do a couple of associated inputs, like entering his name, email and a password, I visually chain them together.

As an added bonus since I believe fewer choices makes it easier to decide, I like to color code the different inputs.

Blue is the simplest choice possible, the logical prominent next step like our [Sign up] under the registration form.

Green is a multiple choice that implies the user making a decision like the user telling the app whether he wants to sign up or whether he wants to log in.

Purple allows mapping additional inputs & touch-points. Currently, I use it to visualize more complex inputs that may take more time for the user to go through.

img02
Step#3Mapping the flow

This step is about adding the connection between the screens and inputs we mapped. Visualize all the possible user paths as arrows.

In our example, we have two different inputs for the user to continue: [Sign up] or [Log in] but the user will only select one of those options so that is one dot to plot on the introduction screen. This tap on an option will either to New? or Welcome back! so we can draw a green (multiple choice) arrow from the introduction tap to the two next screens.

On the New? screen, continuing forward by tapping on [Sign up] will lead the user to the app’s main page. Similarly, continuing on the Welcome back! screen, continuing forward with [Log in] will lead the user to the app’s main page. So we plot a blue dot on each of these screens. Then draw a blue arrow from those screens leading the user into the same screen of the app.

img03

Benefits

This approach allows building a visual representation of the scope of the app that provides an overview of all the screens necessary, allows to create low fidelity prototypes and plan the work ahead if we choose to commit to the app idea.

In the Innovation Group, we can tell at this point if the idea is worth iterating on and assigning more resources to.

Fast!

So without investing too much time nor delving in the UI patterns, we can have a high level overview of our app idea to discuss with stakeholders and development.

Counting

Each required tap in your service is represented by a dot so you can count how many taps or clicks a user has to go through to accomplish his task.

Visual

Now this is why I thought tentacle map was an appropriate name: as your app become more complicated, it may start looking like a knot of tentacles; if so because the approach is very visual, it looks like screens are rapidly multiplying to invade your project.3489211430_d491508d6a_z

This approach allows you to adjust the scope in a lean way without having to create UI to prove there is some major feature creep crawling its way in.

Content talks

This approach is all about the concept and scope so there is no bias due to the layout or the “exact copy”.

Anyone can do it

There are no sketching skills required! Drawing out UI sometimes demotivates product owners & team members from explaining. Using only text and a high-level map we can exchange ideas altogether.

 

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

Innovation is about creating options

I‘m reading Antifragile, a fascinating book by Nicholas Nassim Taleb. The main point of the book is that the most important changes in our world — the most disruptive — are unpredictable. We should not, therefore, stake our futures on any specific outcome, no matter how certain we think the outcome may be. Instead, we should place many small, high-risk/high-reward bets. It’s a strategy that expects the unexpected. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about how Taleb put this strategy into practice in the financial markets in 2002.

In an unpredictable world, it’s important to have options.

In financial markets, options are a common way to place high-risk/high-reward bets and Taleb uses the term optionality to describe the effect of this strategy.

I’m writing this post because I recognize the strategy from the Innovation Lab. Rather than investing all our resources in a few concentrated areas, we actively explore many diverse areas. Our starting point is Privacy, Protection and Performance, but it’s our responsibility to discover new domains in which we can create value for our customers, and for AVG. In an unpredictable world, it’s important to have options.

What do you think about this strategy? How far into the future is your company looking?

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

AVG App Lab Explained

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hatever the question, it seems that engineers, marketers and designers all come to different answers. What else would you expect from such a mix of creative and logical minds? At the AVG Innovation Center in Amsterdam we believe these different views are fundamentally complementary.

We categorise these different mindsets like this:

Design Marketing Engineering
Value Opportunities Solutions
Desirability Viability Feasibility
Why How What

At the AVG Innovation Labs, our engineers, marketers and designers all work closely together and are in regular discussion so that each gets a better understanding of the big picture. The approach — a mashup of tools from Agile Engineering, Lean Startup, and Design Thinking — is intended for use at the beginning of greenfield projects (i.e. projects without constraints imposed by prior work.) In Agile terms, the approach might be called “Sprint Zero”. At AVG Innovation, we call it the “App Lab”.

Given enough iterations, a basic Agile process would no doubt cover the same ground; but our checklist is more efficient as it puts the first proper development cycle on solid ground.

Solid ground

The App Lab approach was refined over the course of 9 “greenfield projects” to develop new products or service propositions (including Family Center ). It was developed to ensure multi-disciplinary teams start new projects with a clear and shared set of priorities. It is basically a checklist.

Scanning the horizon

The App Lab checklist encourages a 360° view of the project, including User, Business, and Technical considerations. Working through the checklist leads team members from different disciplines to discuss what they already know about the problem, to develop a shared understanding, helping the rest of the project go faster. By the end of the checklist, the team has a set of working hypotheses on what it will take to make a product that is Desirable, Viable, and Feasible.

Natural order

In principle, there is a natural order to the checklist, with items relating to Desirability first, then Viability, then Feasibility. Because Why we sell a product determines How we sell it, which determines What we sell. This means that customers drive business which drives technology.

So the natural order would be design, then marketing, then engineering. In practice however, it’s not possible to address either design, marketing, or engineering in isolation. An award-winning design that can’t be built, an incredible technology patent no one needs, or a fast-selling product that loses money are not successes. Successful design, marketing, and engineering are inextricable from one another.

Innovation projects commonly start with a compelling inspiration from design, marketing or engineering; but usually two out of these three perspectives are only vaguely outlined. In these cases we’ve found it’s better to approach App Lab as a comprehensive checklist rather than an ordered set of steps.

Use the App Lab checklist to surface what you already know, and to fill in any gaps. Be prepared to revisit items on the list as your understanding of the problem evolves.

Timing

How long does it take to go through the list? It’s possible to go from inspiration to coherent, validated product/service proposition in 4 weeks, but we plan for six weeks for two reasons:

  • Multitasking. Many team members will be working on other projects in parallel so it’s important that we set aside enough time for each project to be done to a high standard.
  • Quality assurance. The extra fortnight ensures that any considerations or tasks aren’t rushed to meet deadlines.

Deliverables

The checklist validates that an idea has been considered from design, marketing, and engineering angles and confirms that the core proposition provides value to users. It validates that an idea is worthy of further investigation. The final deliverable is a pitch to start work on the first iteration of development.

Overview

To get a better idea of the process please see below an overview of the App Lab list.

App Check List

App Check List

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

Innovate or drown

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]elcome to the brand new website of the AVG Innovation Labs. Based in Amsterdam, Netherlands it’s our job to boldly go where no online security company has gone before.

AVG Innovation Labs monitors current trends and develops software both to meet the needs of today’s public but, excitingly, to see into the future and meet those needs too. With an international team of engineers, the AVG Innovation Lab is a fast paced, dynamic outfit that ensures AVG is always one step ahead.

The Innovation Labs has been initiating and pursuing many interesting projects since our inception in 2011. Many of our initiatives have either been implemented as complementary features into our core AVG products or became brand new standalone products. For a complete overview of all our current projects you can take a look at our Projects page.
So what drives us…?

Our ethos: Innovate or drown

A bond from the w:en:Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), dating from 7 November 1622, for the amount of 2,400 florins; written out and authorized in Middelburg, but signed in Amsterdam.

A bond from the w:en:Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), dating from 7 November 1622, for the amount of 2,400 florins; written out and authorized in Middelburg, but signed in Amsterdam.

We are constantly striving for innovation. A good part of our team is located in the Netherlands – which has a proud history of innovation. For the Dutch, “innovate or die” has been more than a cliché. It’s been innovate or drown.

The traditional symbol of Dutch innovation is the windmill, used to power lumber and flour mills, and to create fields for agriculture. Tracts of low-lying land were sealed off with dykes and kept drained by windmills maintained by collectives of farmers. This established a social and financial system of collaboration that provided the foundation for the first stock market, established in Amsterdam in 1602, to trade the first paper shares issued by the Dutch East India Co. These first shares soon led to other financial instruments and derivatives, including bonds and insurance products, all introduced within a short cycle from our office in Sloterdijk!

Like the Netherlands, the AVG Innovation Labs is constantly looking for ways to harness the environment around it, push the boundaries and carve out a better future for everyone.

How we work: The Project Funnel

Generally speaking, inspiration for our projects comes from one of three places:
• Internally at AVG
• Internally within Innovation Labs
• An external request from outside AVG.
Once we have investigated the viability of a project we set to work in a standard six-week cycle.

SprintZeroCycle-1024x738

This process includes everything from inspiration, original design, and competitor analysis to building functional prototypes. By the end we have a full assessment of the strengths, weaknesses, demand and viability of a project.

Working with us:

At the Innovation Lab we love to work with people from all walks of life and backgrounds. We love to hear from members of the public who have a potential idea for a project. We having a saying to this effect: “If you passionately believe in an idea, we are prepared to believe in you.”

So how do you know if you’re a good fit to work with us on a project?

First of all, we are looking for a credible champion. You should know what you are talking about, from a business, technology, or design perspective. We’ll try to fill in any gaps during the course of the project, but we will be following your lead, building on your idea.

Secondly, but equally important, we are looking for commitment. We need a champion who believes in their idea, even when others don’t. The goal of an App Lab project is to make it easy for everyone else to believe in your idea.

Lastly, the App Lab projects run for six weeks and during that time, you will need to spend a minimum of 4 hours per week working on the project. Ideally, you will be able to come to Amsterdam to work with us in person.

If this sounds of interest to you, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your ideas!

The Innovation Labs team.

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.

Consumer tech trends to watch in 2014

In this post, Shaul Levi, Chief Scientist at the AVG Innovation Center in Amsterdam, looks at the trends he believes will impact consumers the most in 2014. This post was originally posted in January 2014 on the AVG Blogs.

In order to qualify as a trend, they must have reached a critical level of user interest and market size, and the technology must be readily available to the public.

Owning your identity

In 2014 we will see a strong movement towards ownership and management of your own data. Quantified self-applications will be used for traditional health care purposes and Governments will increasingly give citizens ownership of their civil digital documents and data.

This will result in improved DIY data gathering and management as we are witnessing with websites like www.ibluebutton.com

Also increasingly we will see governments and institutes accept digitally signed documents and identities which of course can be stored on mobile devices.

Total Anonymity & Privacy

After Edward Snowden dominated headlines last year, we expect cryptography/data encryption to be even more important than ever in 2014.

We predict that more funds will be spent on research and development of a groundbreaking new method of encryption – homomorphic encryption.

The same will apply to digital payments. The rise in popularity of Bitcoin is bringing us “back to cash” which gives buyers the additional security of anonymity previously impossible with digital payments.

Ambient computing and connectivity

The last decade has been dominated by ever more sophisticated technology.

2014 will bring us to the point where technology is integrated into our lives to the level that it will become almost unnoticed.

In advertising we see advanced automated techniques to understand user intent, based on input from multiple sources like phone sensors.

Increasing use of Biometrics like Facial Recognition, Fingerprints and Iris Identification are not only implemented for authentication purposes but also targeting and narrowcasting.

The fast growing adoption of wearables and implants continuously increases the amount of personal data that we are gathering. On top of that, our never ending connectivity to the internet and growing accessibility to free Wi-Fi results in an unprecedented vulnerability of our online identity.

Securing your digital identity will therefore become a mainstream concern in 2014.

Business Solutions will drive Internet of things

Hand in hand with unbundling, the commoditization of hardware will continue throughout 2014.

This will first become noticeable with a massive roll out of mashable hardware focused onselling a solution.

By adding smart sensors and connectivity, many low end electronic products will become viable solutions in the internet of things supported by apps and cloud services.

It goes without saying that these solutions are based on connectivity that needs to be secured with private authentication.

Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the author and not those of AVG or Innovation Labs.