Monday, April 16, 2012

The iPad and QlikView - A Dynamic Duo

(Warning – This will be light on the technical stuff and heavy on subjectivity for a change.  I will follow up soon with some more technical information on this topic)

There are many famous duos in American popular culture. 

Simon and Garfunkle
Axl and Slash
Batman and Robin

Like all great teams, their value is greater than the sum of their parts.  Great teams are almost inseparable (although Paul Simon had a great solo career).  Great teams complement each other.
So for the consideration of the Academy, I would like to nominate a new great duo:

The iPad and QlikView

After recently picking up the newest iPad, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.  And I was surprised for a few reasons.  First, QlikView is beautiful on the iPad.  Secondly, it works well.  And lastly, it is FUN.

Of course, every great team has its share of problems.  Axl and Slash hate each other today.  But I will save the minor issues relating the iPad and QlikView for another post.  But I will save any of the minor issues and design workarounds relating to QlikView and the iPad  for another, more in-depth, post.

The Beauty of Mobile Data

I never liked the AJAX experience until recently.  I am so used to the full desktop client that it is hard to swallow all the flaws that become obvious in the AJAX rendering.  With the release of QlikView 11, this has become less of an issue lately. 

But I think the essence of why it translates so well into the iPad is the smaller form factor.  The screen is big enough to provide ample real estate, while small enough to some flaws in pixel-perfect placement.
And the new retina-display allows for a very sharp image.  They “sparkle” off the tablet.  The greater resolution also allows for a perfect rendering when zooming.

Elegance in Performance

It is likely cliché at this point to talk about how the iPad “just works”.  QlikView R&D must have been taking notes, because when you open a document on the iPad, it just works.  Having an interface you can touch is a natural fit for a product like QlikView.  QlikView has taken advantage of many of the inherent gestures and other methods for getting around on iOS.  The interface is intuitive and fast. 

Snapping to fit works very well, generally adjusting the resolution to the smaller of the length or width in relation to the aspect ratio.  Zoom is equally easy and intuitive.  Traditional desktop users will miss the right click and lack of hover, but good design will make up for these issues.

Having Fun with QlikView Again

It is likely a combination of the mobility of the hardware and the excellence in execution from both parties.  I am having fun using QlikView again.

I have found myself spending hours on the couch at night, analyzing my data on the iPad.  Tapping through selections and seeing the changes on various tabs of my documents is actually fun again.  It reminds of when I first started using QlikView.  And the fact is, I can do this analysis on the couch in front of the TV (although the TV is mad because I am ignoring it).  The iPad has reinvigorated my excitement for data analysis and application design.

The Future of this Great Team

The wave is coming.  Organizations are starting to see the value of this new hardware and QlikView has smartly put itself in a perfect position to reap some of those rewards.

I often see commercials for iPads and other tablets where they gush about how useful the tablet is for business.  Invariably there are screenshots of some charts and graphs on the display.  QlikView fits the bill perfectly.  It is the quintessential mobile BI app.  With this new mobility we can discuss scorecards with vendors, industry statistics with clients, and widget production data on the factory floor.  It is definitely coming to a user, client, company, enterprise near you. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Visualize This - The Missing Bridge Between Good and Great Design

Here is a video produced by QlikView that makes me want to redo every QlikView document I have ever created.  But are these slick visualizations within a typical designer's reach?  Does QlikView make this type of functionality easy?

Great Design
The visualizations used in the various examples are pretty and effective and reinforce the idea that GOOD design is time intensive and requires a different set of skills than the backend development piece. 

People tend to spend a lot of time on the data because it is perceived to be more difficult AND it is either right, or wrong.  There is no subjectivity.

But the quality of User Interface design rests on a continuum from bad to good.  You can put in some minimal effort and get a document that functions.  But great design as exemplified in this video takes planning, a thorough understanding of design principles and technical skill.  And, I believe it is currently a scale of diminishing return.  To go from bad design to mediocre design is relatively easy.  Going from mediocre to good is a larger effort and moving toward great design requires quite a bit more (read $$$).

Can I Create These Visualizations?
The gripe I have is I wish QV actually came with easy ways to create some of these:

Many of the graphics effects you see there require photoshop or similar software, along with that skill set.  Unless you are able to "borrow" graphics from the internet that meet your exact need.  The gradient dividers and arrow shaped text boxes for example must be created or found outside of QlikView.  QlikView could use a "shapes" library to do arrow shaped text boxes and that sort of thing.  As an example, the arrow shown (4:35) does not exist in QlikView.  It must be created or obtained elsewhere and used as an image in a text box.  There should be a way to do these types of simple representations without additional software.

QlikView could use a "legend" object that could link to various objects and could have customizable display options.  Legends are extremely limited today in QlikView.  The ability to customize the graphic column of the legend or to spread the legend horizontally simply do not exist, not to mention the ability to move the legend completely off the chart to another area of the page.

Also, the last piece regarding the dimming or highlighting of objects based on selections (6:08) is tricky and requires many similar or repeated calculations at different levels within an object.  Some of this can be mitigated with variable expressions, but it would be nice if settings existed to do this kind of stuff automatically. 

So the bottom line is "Yes" I can create this quality of design.  But are clients willing to spend the extra dollars required to get design to this level?  I would generally say "No".  Maybe if QlikView can create some of the design tool improvements listed above my answer to that question could more often be "Yes"!