“links” Category

Magic and Mobile Apps

Khoi Vinh:

No one wants to type more on a multi-touch phone or tablet if they don’t have to, so when they see an app demonstrate that typing can be eliminated entirely, it’s an eye-opening moment, for sure. But is it magic? Almost. To simplify is huge, but what matters just as much is the end result, what the user gets out of the simplification. If the simplified process produces satisfactory results, great. But it’s magic when the software generates a disproportionately meaningful output from that minimized input.

The application that inspired this is called Moves, which tracks your movement throughout the day and tells you where you went, how much you moved and how. It’s really quite clever.

This article keeps popping back into my head because it’s incredibly insightful. The magic doesn’t come from generating a surprisingly large result from a surprisingly small amount of user input; rather, it comes from understanding what the user is trying to accomplish, and then generating that result from as little effort as possible.

Moves is a great example of this, because all you do is enable it, and every day it’ll let you know how much you’ve moved and how. It automatically creates a little diary of your movement without you doing anything at all, because it reacts to what you’re already doing. It takes no additional effort on your part, but it provides you with quite powerful information about your life that would otherwise be only vaguely known to you. It’s actionable information—you don’t need to process it or think about it, and you can change your habits based on it, and then see the results of those changes.

April 10th, 2013

The Real Value of Panic’s Status Board

Nick Arnott on Panic’s new iPad app, Status Board:

Maybe the number of builds they have each day, or GitHub pushes, or Pivotal velocity, or bugs closed in Lighthouse. The list goes on and on. I’ve already seen a number of people on Twitter getting excited just thinking about the possibilities. As developers create tools to generate data for their own widgets, I hope they’ll be kind enough to share them with others. Before long we may have a laundry list of tools that you can use to create entertaining and helpful widgets for your status board.

Exciting. Status Board is such a great idea.

April 10th, 2013

Pogue Figures Out Facebook Home

David Pogue asks “why?” for Facebook Home, and answers the question himself:

Facebook’s answer to “why” seems straightforward enough; its research shows that Americans spend 25 percent of their cellphone time in Facebook. (Seriously?) Why wouldn’t we want to save the trouble of opening an app to stay in touch?

Of course, there may be other answers to the “why” — like those ads. It probably means a lot to Facebook’s advertisers to know that their commercial messages can now appear on your phone’s screen even when it’s locked.

Bingo.

April 10th, 2013

Aza Raskin On Quantified Health

Aza Raskin gave an excellent talk on how design and consumerization of mobile technology will allow us to track our health and make better choices.

This is one of the things I’m most excited about in technology today. I think there’s a huge opportunity to help people make smarter choices by combining the data collected by devices like Fitbit and Jawbone’s Up (and their successors) with nutrition information for restaurants and recipes.

April 8th, 2013

Fantastical’s Teaching You As You Type

Dr. Drang on Fantastical’s animations, which show you how it’s interpreting your calendar event as you type it:

This is not just eye candy. The animations are providing instant feedback on how Fantastical is parsing your words and, more important, they’re teaching you Fantastical’s syntax. This is tremendously useful because, despite the wonderful flexibility of NLP, there’s always a syntax and you need to learn it if you’re going to use the product.

It really is a brilliant user interface. There’s no need for a text label (or walk-through or whatever) telling you how it works, because it demonstrates to you how it works as you type, and teaches you how it parses event text, too.

It seems so obvious, but that’s only because they spent so much time thinking through how it should work. Incredible work.

April 8th, 2013

Ron Johnson Out At J.C. Penney

Ouch:

A year and a half into his dismal attempt to turn around J.C. Penney, Ron Johnson was ousted as chief executive on Monday and replaced with his predecessor, Myron E. Ullman III, as the board searched for a new direction for the struggling retailer.

The board said Mr. Ullman, who was at the helm for seven years, “is well positioned to quickly analyze the situation J.C. Penney faces and take steps to improve the company’s performance.”

It’s disappointing that his no sales, fair-pricing plan failed so miserably.

April 8th, 2013

A Facebook of the Future

Kurt Eichenwald has an excellent look at Facebook’s business model:

Andreessen and others around in those early days of Facebook agree that no one was quite sure how the business would ultimately earn profits. But that was beside the point. What Zuckerberg was building wasn’t so much a moneymaker as it was an asset of unprecedented value: a massive compilation of data about people’s names, locations, behaviors, likes, and dislikes—the kind of information that marketers could not have even imagined being available just a few years before.

“A lot of people looked at Facebook and saw a Web site,” Andreessen remembers. “None of the people close to Mark and the company thought of Facebook as a Web site. They think of it as a data set, a feedback loop.”

There’s been some discussion whether Facebook Home is a precursor to Facebook building their own phone, but that’s the wrong thing to focus on. Perhaps that is the case, but Facebook’s ambitions are much larger than to merely sell a mobile phone.

Facebook’s business model isn’t just to be a place where advertisers can show display ads to people. Instead, they want to be the place where companies connect with customers and potential customers. Not a new broadcast medium, like print, radio or TV, but the alpha and the omega of reaching customers—where companies find new customers, where they interact with existing ones, and where they drive sales to both groups. The place that has, for all intents and purposes, all of the information a company could possibly want about potential and existing customers: their demographic data, likes and interests, activity, travel data, and purchasing behavior.

For that to work, not only does Facebook need as many people as possible on the service, but they need them to actively use it, to “share” their lives with friends. Facebook’s interests depend on people believing that being “open” is a positive thing for them, their friends and society. And they also need to basically become the Internet—the social layer that all websites, applications and services connect to and rely on. As you use Facebook, browse the web, and use applications and services that feed into Facebook, you are building an ever-more-detailed profile of who you are, what you like and don’t like, where you go, what you do, what you eat, what you listen to, what you watch, what you buy. And that data will be (is) used to provide targeted adverts to “connect” with a brand or to nudge you to purchase something.

That’s not a moral judgment (although I do find Facebook’s underlying philosophy, that sharing our lives is a positive thing, highly damaging). I don’t think advertising is inherently wrong, nor targeting advertisements based on personal information people have chose to share. Rather, I think we should all be aware of what Facebook’s business model is, how it works, and what its philosophy is.

April 8th, 2013

Instatim [Sponsor]

Thanks to the people behind Instatim for sponsoring this week’s RSS feed.


Instatim is a more personal social network that helps you stay in touch with your closest friends, family and co-workers. Engineered for privacy, Instatim is unlike other social networks because we do not store information about our users’ past activities and locations. Your status is shared securely and only to people you have chosen.

Here’s what you can do with Instatim:

Status Updates: Keep in touch by posting status updates about what you’re doing (walking the dog, meeting a client, etc.) and reading your friends’ statuses.

Expiration Dates: Set an expiration for your status so your family knows how long you will be engaged in the activity.

Groups: Sort contacts into different groups. Share statuses with specific groups to keep the right people in the right loop.

Location: You can choose to include your location with your status so your friends and family know your whereabouts.

Download Instatim for free in the App Store.

Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

April 8th, 2013

iCloud: State of the Union

Tom Harrington:

This puts software developers in an impossible position. Users hear about how great iCloud is and how apps can use it to sync their own data. They quite reasonably wonder why your app isn’t using it. Syncing data is a great idea, Apple gives you iCloud, why aren’t you using it, dammit? But if you did use it, the app would be so unreliable that users would (again, quite reasonably) complain that it was a steaming pile of shit.

Sigh.

April 3rd, 2013

An acquisition is always a failure

Jake Lodwick argues that an acquisition is always a failure:

I typically refer to the IAC sale as “the worst business decision of my life.” I’m not sure IAC is worse than any other large company in this regard. An entrepreneur is someone who, almost artistically, designs a living entity which embodies the values, beliefs, and ambitions of the creator. It’s impossible for a larger entity to swallow a smaller one without completely reshaping it. When this process begins, a wild visionary – the entrepreneur type – is the most toxic, indigestible actor imaginable. And this is why I roll my eyes when a new acquisition is announced: Because I don’t see it as a triumphant graduation but a sacrifice to an industry that is afraid to dream big.

I started this article wanting to disagree, because while I think acquisitions are rarely the right choice for both parties since they are so difficult to do, I also think that sometimes—sometimes—they are the correct choice. But Lodwick is convincing: the technology industry has created an efficient process not for starting visionary and “disruptive” companies, but rather an efficient process for established companies to hire new talent.

This piece combines nicely, I think, with the Matt Stone quote I linked to earlier.

Dream bigger.

April 3rd, 2013

Good and Fast Food

Mark Bittman:

Twelve years after the publication of “Fast Food Nation” and nearly as long since Morgan Spurlock almost ate himself to death, our relationship with fast food has changed. We’ve gone from the whistle-blowing stage to the higher-expectations stage, and some of those expectations are being met. Various states have passed measures to limit the confinement of farm animals. In-N-Out Burger has demonstrated that you don’t have to underpay your employees to be profitable. There are dozens of plant-based alternatives to meat, with more on the way; increasingly, they’re pretty good.

The fulfillment of these expectations has led to higher ones. My experience at the airport only confirmed what I’d been hearing for years from analysts in the fast-food industry. After the success of companies like Whole Foods, and healthful (or theoretically healthful) brands like Annie’s and Kashi, there’s now a market for a fast-food chain that’s not only healthful itself, but vegetarian-friendly, sustainable and even humane. And, this being fast food: cheap. “It is significant, and I do believe it is coming from consumer desire to have choices and more balance,” says Andy Barish, a restaurant analyst at Jefferies LLC, the investment bank. “And it’s not just the coasts anymore.”

Something I’ve been wanting for years is happening: quick, healthy, unpretentious and (more) affordable food. This is a big deal.

April 3rd, 2013

Matt Stone On Comedy

Matt Stone:

“Comedy for me has to be either completely absurdist, or it has to be meaty and dark,” Stone says. “I just can’t do with romantic comedy. Really, you’re going to do another joke about going on a date? I’m like, ‘How do you go to work and do that?’ You’re not touching anything real, anything dangerous.”

The Book Of Mormon, which they wrote with Robert Lopez (Avenue Q), exemplifies the pair’s skill at undercutting audience assumptions. Far from simply mocking Mormonism, it celebrates the human need for myths to make sense of the world, even if quite a few Mormon myths get a proper kicking: “I belieeeeve,” one Mormon character croons in the show, “that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!”

Can’t this be applied to technology, too? “Really, you’re going to do another social media app?”

April 3rd, 2013

Alan Kay Speaks

There are many insightful things in this interview with Alan Kay and I suggest you read it in its entirety. Here are two:

By contrast, it is not a huge exaggeration to point out that electronic media over the last 100+ years have actually removed some of day to day needs for reading and writing, and have allowed much of the civilized world to lapse back into oral societal forms (and this is not a good thing at all for systems that require most of the citizenry to think in modern forms).

For most people, what is going on is quite harmful.

And:

One way to think of all of these organizations is to realize that if they require a charismatic leader who will shoot people in the knees when needed, then the corporate organization and process is a failure. It means no group can come up with a good decision and make it stick just because it is a good idea. All the companies I’ve worked for have this deep problem of devolving to something like the hunting and gathering cultures of 100,000 years ago. If businesses could find a way to invent “agriculture” we could put the world back together and all would prosper.

April 3rd, 2013

Shopster, a Clever Grocery List [Sponsor]

Thanks to the people behind Shopster for sponsoring this week’s RSS feed. Shopster is a grocery shopping app that learns where you buy certain items so it can remind you to pick them up the next time you’re around the store. Clever idea. The amount picker for entering how much of an item you need is really smart, too.

Looks like a great little app, and it’s only $0.99.


Shopster is a new kind of groceries list app that learns what you purchase and where, so it can remind you later on.

Whenever you check an item as purchased, Shopster learns the location where you got it. The next time you look for the same thing, a geofenced alarm will be triggered when you are near the location.

Features:
- Autolearning of locations when checking items as purchased.
- Geofenced reminders for your products, based on your prior buying history.
- In-place editing table, for quick corrections and editions.
- Unique ruler to quickly enter the number of items you need to buy.
- Smart autocomplete, to assist you entering frequently purchased products, based on your previous history.
- Reorder items with a simple tap and hold.

Check out Shopster on the AppStore, it’s only $0.99

Sponsorship by The Syndicate.

April 1st, 2013

The Pebble as Model A

Stephen Hackett:

The Pebble is like the Model A. When people looked at the Model A, some realized it was the future, and that one day, everyone would drive one. Others thought Henry Ford was off his rocker and that his invention was a one-off that wouldn’t ever go anywhere.

Good analogy.

March 29th, 2013