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Did you know that you can consume Business Objects Dashboards (formerly xCelsius) on the BlackBerry PlayBook today?  Flash has been an integral part of the PlayBook from launch.  Flash is also part of the core experience of BOBJ Dashboards that gives it a compelling visual style.  Because of this, you can actually load BOBJ dashboards from the browser on your PlayBook today.  For example, try this site http://experience.sap.com/baseball/pbp.html on your PlayBook browser:

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Great, I can just use what I have and I’m all done…. not so fast!  While the flash experience on the PlayBook and a desktop are almost identical, in practice, there are some differences you want to be aware of and in some cases, take advantage of.

Form Factor

The first thing you should take into account is the form factor.   The PlayBook (like many, or even most laptops and monitors these days) is widescreen.  In the example above you can see grey bars on either side of the dashboard, because the original design was made for a standard 4:3 ratio monitor, not the 16:9 widescreen.  Take advantage and use that space.

Second, the screen resolution is quite high, at 1024*600, but at 7 inches, this is quite a step down from a 21 inch desktop monitor, or even a 14 inch laptop.   Consequently font type and size should be checked for legibility on this smaller screen.  A good default is Myriad as the preferred font, with normal text 21 pixels and titles at 36 pixels.

Third, your dashboard users will be using a finger not a tiny mouse pointer to select clickable areas. Make sure you leave enough spacing around each screen element so that relatively broad finger can click accurately. A good default is a 15 pixel margin around UI components and a 5.5 mm target area (and of course, you’re using the bigger fonts we mentioned above, right?).

Touch Interface and UI Components

While font and margin choices help considerably in a great tablet experience, you should also make careful choices around UI components.  If you are designing for touch, remember that the user will be interacting with a single finger, no mouse (or right click on a mouse) or multi key click abilities are possible.

Don’t use:

Components that you want to avoid are Dials, Gauges, Radio Button (single) and Dropdown Lists.  All of these components don’t perform as you might expect when using a finger rather than a mouse.  Dropdown lists components are difficult to maneuver on a touch interface.  List Builder components take too much screen real estate. Scrollbars also take up too much real estate and are difficult to navigate.

Recommended:

Mobile – List component,

Big Buttons,

Use label base menus for navigation

Use Large Radio Buttons (Big radio buttons allows the user easily make selections on a tablet).

Design for Mobile

As simple as it can be to take an existing dashboard and tweak it for PlayBook, with some additional planning you can make an even more compelling experience.  Mobile should be a unique experience, not simply an extension of the desktop.  Mobile design at its best is lightweight, immediate and quick, where desktop design tends towards heavyweight, regular and analytical.  A mobile user will love to get quick data hits while on the move. Save the data intensive, heavy weight, analytical reports for time at your desk. 

Online versus offline access is a key decision point in the early design process.  If you’re going to look at current online info, the PlayBook browser is a full featured html 5 webkit browser with Flash, use it!  If you need offline access, or just want to be able to look at report without having to be online, you can store your dashboard .swf files right on to the PlayBook.  You can open a .swf file from the browser, or if you are familiar with Air, you can package your reports as an Air app and deploy it directly to your PlayBook.

Here is an example of dashboard with large clear fonts, good UI component choices/large buttons, its wide screen, and (you can’t tell from a picture) it’s loaded directly as a swf file on the PlayBook.

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Security and Management

Lastly, how do you manage and deploy all these reports?  Dashboards can be some of the most confidential information you disseminate.

Fortunately BlackBerry has this figured out as well.  BlackBerry Mobile Fusion is an Enterprise grade MDM that when paired with PlayBook offers up 2 key attributes for a BOBJ solution.

VPN – with a PlayBook paired to Fusion, a secure tunnel is enabled (similar to the same experience you get with a BlackBerry smartphone today).  If you connect using the browser to your BOBJ site, then you can see the same reports while on the road, that you would see when in the office.  

Balance – this feature of the PlayBook shows up when it’s activated on a Fusion server.  This allows the PlayBook to have a personal and corporate perimeter.  Any files, like your swf files for example, stored on the corporate perimeter are secure. If your device gets lost you can contact your BlackBerry administrator and they can remotely erase the corporate perimeter for you.

If you would like more info, please check the BlackBerry site www.blackberry.com/mobilefusion.

Lastly

Check out this Mobile BI minute.

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