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KLM’s Apple Watch app catches your plane

Just a few weeks ago, Apple released its watch in The Netherlands on July 17th. KLM took advantage of this Dutch launch to release their Watch app simultaneously. We built it, KLM integrated it within their iOS app and AKQA did the design. So after playing with your new Apple Watch for almost two weeks now, it’s time to put it into action and see how your watch can make catching your plane more convenient!

WatchKit

In order to be on time for the Dutch launch of the Apple Watch, we had to come up with and build the KLM Watch app in just over a month. Smartwatches, being quite new devices, offer a lot of cool possibilities, but also quite a few constraints. Our challenge was to build an app that adds real value to the experience of catching your plane. We developed it with WatchKit, and even though the framework only offers a single glance with no custom buttons and lots of other restrictions, we believe we built something really awesome that allows you to always be one step ahead on your journey.

Catching your plane

When you’re on the way to catch your plane, the last thing you want to do is to go through a stack of paper to check every step of your journey. That’s why KLM offers their smartphone app. It gives you all the information you need, as well as the possibility to organise and make changes to your journey. But the closer you get to your well-prepared departure, the less you need all those features. While catching your plane, simpler is better.

That’s where the Watch app (integrated in the iOS smartphone app) steps in. Two days before your flight, you want to know which terminal to go to. Two hours before, which seat you’re assigned to. The app knows what information you want and gives you only what you need, when you need it. It’s context-based and shows, among other things, upcoming flights, your terminal, your gate and your seat. At the airport itself, beacons in the lounge will tell you the walking time to your gate. You only have to glance at your wrist to be reassured you’re on the right track and your flight is still departing on time.

So, go download the KLM iOS app now and don’t forget your Apple Watch – you’ll be checking your flight like you check the time. Safe travels!

benbenet jumpstart: connecting 2.5 billion people with satellites

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A jumpstart to help 2.5 billion people connect to each other with satellites? Sign us up!

Today, exactly that number of people don’t have access to the same modern communications infrastructure that we in the Western hemisphere do. benbenet is an organisation founded to develop technology to bring that infrastructure to the “Bottom of the Pyramid” – people who get by on just $2 a day. So, last week it was time to jumpstart our hearts out again by coding an NFC app for messaging and banking independently from existing networks using satellites! Tuesday was a serious deadline to shine with a working prototype, as that was when the big demo for prospective investors and experts who are in charge of making the pilot a reality took place.

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benbenet

benbenet is an initiative founded by Pieter and Vuk to bring communication and financial services to people who normally have no access to means of online communication and banking systems, which are the two critical resources to escape poverty.

benbenet’s solution is digital inclusion. It wants to do that by building a resilient, ubiquitous, independent network with low cost satellites; developing a low cost device for text and payment; giving free access to the abovementioned “bottom of the pyramid”, and letting providers pay for this access. A goal that can come across as a moonshot to some, but we believe it’s achievable when taken on in the right order.

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Jumpstart

That’s where our jumpstart comes in. Such an ambitious goal can come across as unattainable to prospective investors. They hear a lot of pitches and, well, they just want to see proof. Proof that this is the solution they want to get involved with. In this case that’s a working prototype of the device and its software that’s able to text and make payments both on- and offline, independently from existing commercial networks. This working prototype shows that on a technical level there are no limitations to reaching the final goal. It’s a proof that shows how viable benbenet’s vision is.

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This jumpstart consisted of one week of realtime coding and interface designing. We started off the week by brainstorming with benbenet about which features were musts for the demo and which were nice-to-haves. We wanted to prove whether it’s plausible to get this project off the ground together and whether people will use the system. So the prototype after this week should technically work and be user friendly for low-literacy and even illiterate people. Therefore, it should be able to text and pay both on- and offline and have an intuitive interface. Both goals we achieved during this one-week jumpstart!

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Demo

The final demo on Tuesday was our hard deadline. It was in front of prospective investors and the experts who are in charge of getting the pilot funded, so it was good motivation to have the best proof of concept ready to see, hold and actually test. Our NFC app on the FAMOCO Android device left everyone in the room in awe when it intuitively onboarded everyone, connected to others, updated their balances and let them text and send money to each other by a simple bump of devices. A successful proof that technology-wise, benbenet has nothing holding them back.

By building a comprehensive intuitive app, this jumpstart showed what can be achieved in just one week! The next step is to refine and define it even more. It’s time to test the device and app in real life. That will be done in a township in South Africa. This pilot will show how benbenet’s business model can work and how our technology can improve everyday life and create better living conditions for the bottom of the pyramid. Keep an eye on us and benbenet if you want to stay in the loop.

Girl Code

Last week after months of preparation it was finally time for the first Girl Code, a meetup we organised and hosted for coders and everyone interested in code (yes everyone, all genders were welcome).

Kicking off Girl Code

Besides working on awesome projects, we’re also invested in making code accessible to all. With our foundation Code Uur (the Dutch version of Hour of Code), we’re working to get programming into the syllabus of all school children in the Netherlands. And we don’t just want to inspire kids to code. We want the world of code to be diverse and we realize the gender gap in tech but also in code specifically is very real. We really think our work can benefit from having more women on board and creating a more diverse working environment, so we’re working on increasing the number of female Q’ers – since last year, the percentage of women at Q has risen from just 6% to 13%, and we’re not done. So when Lieke Boon offered to give a talk at our office on gender bias in tech, Katja came to me and asked: “Can’t we make this bigger than just one talk for Q’ers only?” And so we did. Girl Code was born. We contacted Girls in Tech to reach the right audience via their Meetup group and social media channels.

The talks

For Girl Code we arranged for four professional Girl Coders to come give talks and demo some of their work. The goal of the night was to show everyone professional coders aren’t necessarily male and to inspire everyone to get into code in spite of this gender gap. After our own introduction the girls of Girls in Tech talked about their mission with their organisation and why they wanted to be part of Girl Code. After these introductions it was time for the talks the evening was really about. You can find the slides below.

Katja Hollaar​ “WYSIWYG: Augmenting Content of Digital Books in Schooltas”

Katja told us about building enrichment pins in Schooltas. Schooltas is an app to have everything you ever need for school in the palm of your hand. Because who wants to search for a book in a dusty old library anyway? In building an intuitive, user-friendly interface, the team noticed a striking contrast with the extremely complex underlying code.To keep the code comprehensible, maintainable and reusable they used the approach of component based programming.

Kristin Rieping ​"Building Light: The Architecture of Philips Hue"

Ever wanted to use your lights in any way imaginable? Kristin is your girl! With her team she connected Philips hue to the cloud. With this API you can connect your lights in any way you want. Want to annoy us? You can control our lights in our The Hague office via the header of our site. Yes, we’ll notice.

Felienne Hermans “A Board Game Night With Geeks”

A picture of Felienne is what you find when you look up the word ‘nerd’. Instead of just enjoying the rest of a game of Quarto, she immediately pulled out her laptop to get an answer when she wondered if this game could ever end in a tie. Using automated reasoning and SAT solvers, she attacked the game with source code and found out this game can indeed end in a tie. And that was when she could sleep soundly again.

Erika Reinaldo ​"Smashing Pixels with Imanee"

Image manipulation is important in any programming language. So when Erika wanted the most simple thing to deal with images in PHP, she built it herself. It’s called Imanee. There are a lot of tools available online for dealing with images, but “Who cares?”, Erika asked us. Innovation is about creating, and because she has a real passion for creating, she programmed it herself to be the best tool for her needs. With her talk she wanted to inspire everyone to get into code and create.

Find Erika’s slides here.

Lieke Boon “Unconscious Bias”

Lieke closed the night with a talk about the unconscious bias in not only the world of tech, but in almost every aspect of our lives. Don’t think you escape those biases, because every moment in time exposes you to 11 million bits of information and we can only process about 40 bits, so we are all undeniably biased. Test it yourself. She explained the underlying nuance in our daily terminology and how we could counter-program our brains in order to tackle these unconscious biases.

Find Lieke’s slides here.

The night was a real success. A lot of of people came out and we really want to thank everyone who did. The discussions were really interesting and are still going. We couldn’t have hoped for a better evening, so who knows? Girl Code could be getting a sequel, so keep an eye on us if you don’t want to miss out! Also keep an eye on us if you want to see the videos of the talks, because those are coming up. Eventually.

Empat.io: about people

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As you might already know: we love programming. Good programming. And we believe that an important part of really good programming is creating products for the web that are not only useful, but also friendly. To create products in a user friendly way you must consider your users, but getting to know users with certain limitations, such as blindness, can be difficult for programmers and designers. Johan bridges this gap with empat.io, a website about people and the accessibility of the web. And now it’s live!

Accessibility only seems tricky…

Johan has been working on making products accessible for the web for quite a while now, going back to before he started working at Q. Go, Johan! What really grinds his gears *insert Peter Griffin meme here*, is that making the web accessible for people with disabilities is usually approached from a technical point of view. He believes that accessibility should start with understanding what people need before looking at technical solutions. Last year at the Edge Johan discovered that he wasn’t alone. Accessibility was one of the key topics at the conference. Even major developers were struggling with what to do. For Johan it was Christian Heilmann who came up with the answer: “What we need is more empathy”.

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So, the magic word…

…is empathy. Empathizing with users is a best practice for creating products for any group, but it is especially important when making products accessible for people with disabilities. The main problem with making products accessible is that accessibility issues end up being solved by programmers after the product has been designed. This means these issues are ignored during the design phase and must be addressed once development begins. It makes it harder to develop solutions that are truly user friendly. Empathy with the user should be part of every step of the production of your product. Don Norman calls this human centered design.

Now Johan has decided to help make it easier for programmers and designers to empathize with users with disabilities by putting their stories online. By listening to their stories, you can end up with a product that is not only useful, but also accessible to all. And that’s what you want. Even when empathy really isn’t your thing. Because, FYI, at least 25 percent of your Dutch audience has some sort of disability. Better is errr.. well, better!

Awareness

Introducing empat.io. Empat.io brings the stories of people accessing the web to designers and programmers, so they can be aware of how their decisions impact their disabled users. Johan knows that empathy works, because he’s taken developers to user tests with people with disabilities. You may think your product is user friendly and accessible, but letting real people test it is an eye opener.

Even Johan was surprised by the results of these tests. Arend, one of the first to tell his story on empat.io, tested a travel advice table which Johan had developed for a client. This table was designed to be accessible by every technical measure available, but tough luck, because Arend couldn’t use it.

Building accessibility into your product shouldn’t be a problem left to programmers alone, it should be an issue for the whole team from the start. Designing and programming shouldn’t just be done with technical guidelines, but with the help of actual people. That includes people with disabilities.

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A glimpse into the future

Awareness makes good solutions possible. For now, empat.io is trying to create awareness by telling the stories of people with disabilities on the web. Johan hopes that these evolving stories will increase your understanding of the obstacles that these people encounter. Some don’t see a lot, some see nothing at all, others have to use a stick to control your website with only a keyboard. And these obstacles are just the tip of the iceberg. Soon Johan plans to provide more stories and articles about people with disabilities accessing the web.

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Oh and by the way

Johan wants to expand empat.io with the experiences of a diverse group of people. The blind and visually impaired only take up a small percentage of the group who have difficulty accessing the web. Would you like to help increase understanding of the problems that people have accessing the web? Please email johan@q42.nl or tweet @huijkman. We want to hear your story! Also, of course, when you want to tell your own story about difficulties you experience while using the internet because of your handicap. Let’s make the web a better place together!

Inspired, hungry for more and by coincidence Dutch? Watch this video of Johan’s presentation “Accessibility in a nutshell”: