One year ago I purchased my own iPad 2. When using it in meetings, it quickly became apparent how much potential there is to make presented information much more interactive. I posted last June about Interactive and Visual Information. In the meantime, more and more software is aiming at making documents more interactive, especially on the iPad to leverage mobility and touch.
In this post we will look at Roambi Flow, a product that lets you compose documents with interactive elements. Roambi is a set of business intelligence products by San Diego based company MeLLmo which has been designed from the ground up to take advantage of iOS features such as rich graphics and touch interface. On Roambi’s product website you will find detailed descriptions of each of these products.
Roambi Analytics introduced a series of so called Views. Each of these views is interesting in its own and warrants a more in-depth coverage; I’ll just enumerate them briefly.
Blink gives you cube analytics displaying various measures in selected dimensions, swiping and scrolling through a data set.
Cardex is a visual metaphor for organizing sets of elementary reports and visually comparing them side-by-side like a mini comparison dashboard.
CataList lets you browse top-level lists and drill into a detailed view with sliders to see data points over time and display highlighted information.
Elements allows you to compose dashboards of connected, basic chart elements to explore multi-dimensional data.
Layers specializes on the display and navigation of hierarchically grouped data sets – such as continent, country, city – through the use of scroll, pinch and zoom gestures.
PieView is a variation of the Piechart theme. It’s main innovation is to allow the rotation of the entire piechart similar to the original Apple iPod click wheel. (It doesn’t eliminate the shortcomings of piecharts per se, but it makes them a little easier to live with and a lot more fun to explore.)
Squares is using the heat map concept in a very intuitive and easy to use way to display data organized along two main axes – such as the global sales performance of various products in various countries. Dragging along rows or columns highlights them one at a time, tapping on a row or column “explodes” its content to a matrix with more detail – in which one can again navigate, sort, etc.. Tap & Hold on the heat map generates a Fish-Eye view with more detail of the tapped element maximized. Moving while holding will move the fish-eye to areas of interest. (see image below)
SuperList is a generic view for lists with numeric information that allows to sort, filter, toggle between bars and numbers etc. Think of it as a starting point for tabular data display on the iPad.
Each view has a Help-style description with a short 1 min video overview in it. This goes to show that seeing these views in narrated action is much more intuitive and easier to understand than just reading about them. It’s literally leveraging some “show & tell”. The best way to explore these views is to download the free Roambi Viewer apps on the iPad and play with them. They come with stored sample data sets so you can visually explore the views even while you are offline. Roambi also features brief videos and tutorials on their website.
But back to Roambi Flow: You want your data to tell stories. This is best done through a combination of text explaining the context, perhaps some multimedia demonstrating the highlights and some interactive elements allowing the reader to visually explore on her own. This is where Roambi Flow comes in. It’s a publishing container that allows you to embed the above views (and other multi-media content) into regular text documents. The reader navigates the content at the top-level like a traditional book, either by clicking on the table of contents or by literally flipping through the pages. The app will even simulate the page turning like we are used to from Apple’s iBooks.
The individual elements can be double-tapped, which expands them to full-screen and then support their full visual exploration capabilities. The views can be linked to backend data sources to automatically stay in sync with up-to-date information. View displays can be bookmarked and shared with others. But the main point really is the fact that the reader does not only see a static image, but can interact and manipulate the views to obtain a richer understanding of the underlying data sets.
Given the rapid adoption of iPads in corporate environments it is straightforward to see such interactive documents spreading both within a company as well as in its external communications. Imagine reading the annual report, the sales pitch or the research paper when you can interact with the financials, the offered product or the proposed scientific model! With interactive content, reading will never be the same.