App Houston: System overview

Houston, is a mobile application replacing the radio communication system previously used by the Transports Publics Fribourgeois (TPF). Houston is a system using existing data network.

The system is spread over more than 200 busses, 30 team leaders and the operation center. It covers the needs of three types of users: the operators, the bus drivers and the team leaders (Houston: a mobile app to replace a radio communication system).

The major components

So how’s Houston working? Here is an overview of the major components. Houston is a distributed system composed of:

  • Two Mobile Apps that fulfill the specific need of bus drivers and team leaders
  • A Web Client used by the operators to create any type of call
  • A Cloud Communication Platform to establish Voice over IP (VoIP) and standard phone call over the Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) without having to deal with the complexity of building and maintaining a communication infrastructure. The cloud platform used in this system is Twilio (more details on that later)
  • A Public API: implemented by a backend server used as a bridge between mobile apps, web clients and Twilio. It is connected to a database that stores user identities and bus planning. The database also keeps traces of all performed calls.

A deeper look inside each component of the system and how each of them interacts together will help to understand why Houston was a huge challenge.

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Houston: a mobile app to replace a radio communication system

Bring your company radio system to the 21st century using VoIP and mobile applications to improve communication quality while reducing costs.

With the project Houston, we took the challenge of replacing the old radio network of the Transports Publics Fribourgeois (TPF), a swiss public transportation company by a system using existing data network and running on mobile applications. This solution solved the problem of maintaining a dedicated radio network. It also improved both the global quality of the communication and the availability of the system.

Initial situation: communication based on radio system

Since decades, employees of the Transports Publics Fribourgeois (TPF) have been using standard radio to communicate between them. The radio system is meant to cover the needs of the users. It is spread over more than 200 busses, 30 team leaders and the operation center). There are three types of users, with specific needs:

  • The operators – working in the operation center – use the radio to speak to a specific bus driver, or to broadcast messages to all or part of the running busses.
  • The team leaders are dispatched at different locations. They use the radio to manage daily events – such as the replacement of a driver – or to inform many drivers of a change in the network – for example in case of an accident.
  • The bus drivers use the bus radio as the main means of communication while driving. They can call other busses, the team leaders or the operation center.

 

Logo TPF

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Native or Hybrid Mobile Application, Which One Should I Choose?

It is complex for non-geeks to understand the mobile application ecosystem. We often hear jargon such as mobile apps, hybrid apps, native apps, single-codebase-cross-platforms apps, etc.

Some clarification is needed.

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5 lessons learnt about the new SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS

The SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS was released in March and we were very excited to try it out. This toolkit allows companies to let developers build, extend, and run iOS apps based on SAP back-end data. Thus, business’ employees can access live data at any time from their iOS mobile app, and enjoy the standard SAP Fiori design language they are used to.

We booked a one-day hands-on with Noé in our ThinkSpace war room with the objective to have a demo app up and running and plugged to the SAP Cloud Platform (formerly known as SAP Hana). This may sound like an easy goal but honestly, knowing SAP, we thought that it was already ambitious.

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Do I Need a Mobile Application or a Mobile Website?

In our digital era where people’s attention is scattered between apps and websites, it’s not easy to know whether you need a mobile application, or if a responsive website (that can be accessed via your web browser) would meet your needs.

I have this discussion every week with new clients, and I thought it was time to share our reasoning here at Liip in order to give you a clear answer if you still hesitate.

Do You Want To Reach Your Users, or Bring Rich Features to Them?

When clients come with a mobile app request, I explain them that most of the time, a web application is more efficient in terms of investment, as well as in term of reach.

The second question I get after this answer is: “When would I need a mobile app, then?”
In my point of view, mobile apps are useful when they are crafted to be rich — vs. the reach that web applications can provide. Rich in terms of features that are only available on mobile devices, and that can’t be achieved via web technologies.

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5 industrial challenges mobile applications can solve

How can mobile applications support industries to undertake a digital transformation? In supply chain, risk management, or information distribution, mobile applications will make tasks easier for your employees, thus increasing efficiency. Read about 5 industrial challenges that mobile apps can solve.

First of all, it is important to carefully chose between a web and a mobile application. Mobile apps are useful when they use one of the device’s native capabilities (e.g. Bluetooth, GPS, camera, etc.), and when they enhance the experience provided to the user (compared to what a web application could do).

Industrial challenges

The challenges industries face are often very good candidates for mobile apps as they leverage all their potential. Therefore, I have identified five recurring issues that industries are facing nowadays. These pain points can be easily relieved by mobile applications.

Challenge 1: Productivity issues due to technical limitations

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Time for Coffee available on Android

Do you have time to take a coffee before your next public transportation connexion? Time for Coffee is a project initially started by François Terrier among friends in 2015.  We continued the work to make it available on further devices. 

When the Apple Watch came out, a few Liipers had the idea to make an app for it because having the next departures on the wrist was a perfect use case for this kind of device. The app received quite a lot of attentions in Swiss newspapers and received a Silver in the best of swiss apps in the category “Wearables & New Devices”. Since the Android world deserved also our attention, we made the app available for Android and Android Wear watches. The app is downloadable on the Play Store.

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Mobile apps – Our 3 best advice for your success

Everyone wants a mobile app that people will own, love and use every day. Before you jump in, ask yourself, and your team, these 3 basic questions to avoid the most common mistakes. This is our guide to help you focus on your strategy and make sure that you invest in a mobile app effective for your business.

1 – What is your objective? – Strategize and test

Do you want a mobile app, because during a meeting, the CEO/CMO/Head of Marketing or whoever proposes ideas you have to follow said ‘we should have one’?
Or because a mobile app seems to be a symbol of innovative, modern or digital enterprises, you want one? Maybe because an app is the symbol of your enterprise taking on the digital turn, you need one?
It is time to rethink.
You should not ‘decide’ to have a mobile app. A mobile app should not be a ‘one shot’, it should be part of a marketing mix, which means, it belongs to a strategy.

Start by focusing on the needs of your business and identify the blockers in the customers’ journey. Ask yourself, what added-value would this app offer your customers. If it is a mere duplication of the content of your website, you should not start developing one.
An app needs a user centric design or is meant to fail. Make sure that the objectives of your mobile app are as clearly as possible defined. Skipping this step is taking the risk of developing something useless and/or having to modify it afterwards.

Keep in mind that the further you are in the project, the more expensive it is to modify. Investing time at the beginning of a project to strategize or, in the best scenario, even test with real users the first wireframes is not wasted time.

2 – Who and where are your customers?

Your app will be effective at its best if it answers your customers need. It is essential to know them and their behavior and where you find them. Then, you will maximise your targeting.

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