Copper and fibre-optic cables
There have been a few news reports recently about increasing numbers of thefts of copper wire (see this report from the BBC for example).  The trigger seems to be that the price of copper has increased substantially over recent years.  Although this chart from Metalprices suggests that they went down in 2007/08 and then back up substantially. But what struck me about it was that much of our domestic voice and data network is presumably based around miles and miles of copper cable.  So if there’s that much value in copper cabling that thieves are ripping up chunks of it for the scrap metal value then wouldn’t rolling out fibre optic cables to the home and taking up the copper cables pay for itself?  Just a thought.  I’m sure there are all sorts of reasons why not, ranging from the cost of the fibre optic cables, to the cost of doing the new cabling, and the new infrastructure that would be needed.  But how high would the cost of copper have to go before there is more value in the cables in the ground than it would cost to replace them all with fibre?

Small screens/large screens
I was at a presentation during the week listening to a talk about the University’s work on optimising the virtual learning environment and other websites and systems for mobile learners. [Liveblogged here by Doug Clow].  Much of the effort is around getting the various websites to work in an optimal fashion on small screen devices.  The growth of use of these devices is phenomenal and accelerating with traffic levels this year three times that seen last year.  That’s something that we are very aware of and although our new drupal website is already mobile-friendly we have been working on a new version of our mobile library website that should be out soon.

What interested me particularly is that a couple of years ago there was very little traffic from tablet devices but now there is significant amounts of traffic from them (slightly obscured by iOS traffic for both iphones and ipads being lumped in together in many of the statistics).  One of the comments that was made was that tablet users expect to get a near ‘desktop’ experience but many websites still treat them as if they were a touchscreen phone, so many functions won’t actually work.  Yet the experience of the two devices is quite different and the expectation of users also seems to me to be different.  We’re certainly starting to look at what our websites look like to a variety of tablet users on android and iOS, as well as the usual list of different phones that we now routinely test.

And then yesterday morning listening to the radio there was an advert for a Smart TV with built-in internet access.  Which made me think that actually the range of devices you’ve got to be designing for goes from the smallest of mobile phone handsets, through tablets, to netbooks, laptops and desktops, right up to large screen domestic TVs.  But the user experience and expectations are surely going to be completely different on those different levels of device.  Are you likely to be wanting to do exactly the same on each device?  We’ve already taken the view that mobile phone users probably want different things (based on a research report from one of my colleagues) so are building cut-down versions of the main library website.  But if you’ve got a much larger screen display does the opposite apply?  Will Smart TV users want a different version of your website, with more interactivity, more multimedia?  Mmm  must get my order in for a big new Smart TV then, for website testing purposes you understand.