11.11.2014

How extensions in iOS 8 change iPhone apps forever

App extensions in iOS are probably not used, understood, or even known about as much as they should be. They're probably exciting the tech geek crowd more than anyone else, especially the Android-to-iOS audience that missed the powerful things they could do before trading their Nexus in for an iPhone. But app extensions have fundamentally changed the way apps work and the way they can deliver value to iPhone users. Here's why.

Prior to iOS 8, 3rd party applications were almost entirely self contained experiences. With the exception of a few tricks that paired partnered apps together (and most often apps in the same developer ecosystem, e.g., Google), the only way you used an application was opening it directly, using it  for its purpose, and closing it. With iOS 8 apps have a newfound ability to contribute to the iOS operating system. Apps can now provide features and functionalities for the rest of your apps to use indiscriminately. And many of these functions mean you never have to open certain apps again, while benefiting massively from what they have to offer.


Take the new ability to include  lock screen widgets with 3rd party applications.  These widgets can be so robust that many times the full function of the application can be moved out of the app. For example, I installed Yahoo! Weather because the lock screen widget provides and instantly glanceable, beautiful,  informative view of the weather. Now that I have the Yahoo! Weather lock screen widget I will probably never open the actual application again.


Or the ability for applications to be included in iOS 8's new universal share sheet. The obvious use here is to simply add a share button like "share to Tumblr", which was always limited to platforms Apple chose. But app developers are finding innovative ways to leverage this placement for unique functionalities. For example, if you install the popular Fantastical calendar app on your iPhone you can take advantage of its magical natural language meeting compose feature regardless of whether Fantastical is your calendar app of choice. I prefer to use Sunrise Calendar for its design and social integrations, but Fantastical's compose meetings is the best out there. Now I can chose one without losing the best of the other, or have my cake and eat it too.


It doesn't stop there. Apps can add camera functions and keyboards too. I rarely used Camera+ because I often take pictures with Instagram or VSCO Cam like most people, but now I can easily edit photos in my iPhone camera role with Camera+'s functions when I want to. And finally I can use Swype's unique one finger keyboard, the former Android exclusive pride and joy, to write emails. After installing the Swype app to get the keyboard there is definitively into reason to open the app again.

With all of these new capabilities, what it means to be an iPhone application is being completely rethought and reimagined. I'm excited to see the things developers create with this powerful new opportunity in iOS.

10.11.2014

10 Lessons on design and making things I learned at Brooklyn Beta 2014


The 10 most important lessons I learned at this year’s Brooklyn Beta conference about design, business, and technology when it comes to making stuff:
  1. Giving people just what they need, when they need it, and not more, is fundamental to the user experience. Tavi Gevinson publishes only three new stories per day on Rookie magazine, timed to ‘After School’, ‘Dinner Time’, and ‘Sweet Dreams’. Her teen readers know new content will appear just when they need it, and in manageable doses.
  2. Creators innovate on ways to provide value, as well as how to make money from their ideas. Over time Tavi has grown Rookie into a triple thread with an annual published book for sale, as well as an physical event series. They all work together to deliver Rookie’s promise.
  3. If you can’t win the game, change the game you’re playing. When David Hieatt realized his small town denim factory couldn’t win in the market for denim jeans competing for the best price, he started over as a brand focused on quality and innovation at a premium.
  4. Purpose makes your company stronger, makes people believe in you, and want to support you. People believe in Hiut Denim Co. because Hiut’s mission is to bring jobs back its town and enable its craftsman community to put their wealth of skill and knowledge to work.
  5. Be an ideas company that applies ideas to a your business platform of choice. Hiut is an ideas company that makes denim jeans. They constantly innovate on the product, the experience, and the story of their denim jeans. Ideas are what can have a multiplier effect.
  6. Limitations can give your product direction and distinction. While a majority of the jean market is for pre-washed jeans, Hiut couldn’t offer this because of the impact on the town’s water supply. Instead, Hiutcreated the “no-wash jeans” club and embraced the uniqueness of jeans that have creases from the wearer’s life instead of a machine.
  7. Consider the impact your decisions will have on our culture for the long term. Getting wrapped up in the Internet party and not thinking about the clean up after is destroying our heritage. Jason Scott said 40% of URLs they index at Internet Archive are gone. Everything important about us is on the shakiest foundation since the dawn of time.
  8. Be honest with yourself about whether you’re achieving your goals. Brooklyn Beta co-founder Cameron Koczon rated their conference a C+ despite a 5 year run and thousands of passionate happy attendees because he felt it became too design focused and didn’t help bridge the gap between design and development + business they intended.
  9. You can choreograph empathy and creativity by paying close attention to the details. Brooklyn Beta succeeded as an un-conference because the organizers perfectly choreographed the experience. Things like no announced schedules, no Internet, DIY creator stations, ample conversation breaks, and unlimited coffee + beer set the pace.
  10. Do the stuff that matters to you the most. Have big, audacious, scary dreams. It’s not the job of dreams to be realistic, it’s the job of dreams to be damn near impossible. If you work hard enough, you might achieve a jean company that employs a town, a magazine for a new generation, or a conference that inspires and changes people’s lives.
Note: This post was originally written on Medium

9.12.2014

With Apple Watch, Don’t Be Afraid To Dream Big


On Tuesday Apple finally unveiled the Apple Watch, ending years of rumors and seemingly insurmountable hype. The reviews have been mixed, at best. There are critiques about the design, critiques about the interface, critiques about the feature set. But mostly people are just saying “why would I ever need a watch when I already have a phone? What could it possibly do better?”

The ‘Why’ is what’s important.

The challenge of new technology is to overcome the obvious and enable the unprecedented. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking a device has failed just because it can’t do what we already do, any better than we already do it. It’s much harder to think about what a new device, especially one with such unique features as the Apple Watch, is capable of enabling in our lives.

This is precisely the same question we’re pursuing with Google Glass.

If you put on Google Glass and simply take a picture, do a search, or even play a game, you might feel like you are wearing an overpriced Halloween costume. When it comes to reproducing existing behaviors Google Glass often feels inferior, clunky, even infuriating. For that reason, over two years after Google Glass was first announced, it’s considered by many to be a dud.

But when you begin to think about what it could mean to augment people’s vision with the information they need, without taking up any additional human faculties, you look at Glass a little differently.

Recently SS+K partnered with Mark Morris Dance Group to build an application for Google Glass specifically tailored to augment the lives of people living with Parkinson’s disease. Taking advantage of Glass’s heads-up display, bone-inductive audio, and verbal and gestural navigation, we’ve discovered new tools that will give people living with Parkinson’s greater control and freedom in their lives. In a way that only Google Glass, and nothing before it, could make possible.

This is equally true of other Glass-based projects now underway. Remedy is a medical technology company building Glass software that enables physicians to lend their eyes to specialists for remote consultations. Quest Visual is making international travel easier than ever before with their application Word Lens that magically replaces the foreign language words you’re looking at with the proper translation, right before your eyes.

So when I look at the Apple Watch I’m not thinking about text messaging, Google searches, Facebook, or phone calls. I’m thinking about how the Apple Watch could be more consistently and more prominently connected to us than any mobile technology before it. How the underside of the watch face has a heart rate sensor. And how the watch body can generate varying degrees of haptic feedback to the wearer. I’m trying to think about the things that have never been before.

Writing off Apple Watch based on how it performs against today’s tasks is a fool’s errand. Instead, we need to look at Apple Watch as a new opportunity that we have the capability to make wonders with.

What’s possible is only limited by our imagination.

Note: This post was originally written on Medium

6.28.2014

Holding onto what you love

The “should the founder sell” dilema

Today I read that that Svpply, a much loved product curation community that sold to Ebay less than two years ago, is shutting down. Shortly after the announcement, the founder launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a new site independent of Ebay, very similar to Svpply, that he says will focus purely on the community, and never sell again. He’s turning to Kickstarter to fund the community so he’s not beholden to venture funding demands this time around.

If you think the story sounds familiar, it’s because the the the founder of Upcoming, a once popular event sharing community that sold to Yahoo! and saw his brainchild dissapear, just recently announced a Kickstarter to relaunch Upcoming campaign with the same promise. And before that, similar stories have played out with StumbleUpon [once sold to Ebay], Foursquare [an outgrowth of Dodgeball, which Google bought], AboutMe [once sold to AOL], and others.

When Svpply was acquired by Ebay a blog post that went up said “we couldn’t be happier to announce that we’ve been acquired by eBay Inc. One thing we do want to make clear: Svpply is not going away.” When Upcoming was acquired by Yahoo! a blog post that went up said “I’m unbelievably proud to announce that Upcoming.org is now a member of the Yahoo! family. I’ve always had a warm and fuzzy feeling about Yahoo.” History has rewritten both.

I’m thinking about these stories because I’m currently building something I’m really excited about, that we’re about to show the world soon. If all goes well and we’re lucky enough for it to be successful, I know we’ll eventually have to make a decision to fight the good fight ourselves, or find a home for it. And I know when the time comes, finding a home for it will seem like the right decision. But I wonder how many people who sell their baby regret when they do. I wonder how often that is the wrong decision.

Even though venture funding and attractive acquisition offers are necessity for spurring innovation, and many of the great things we enjoy today are a result of that pattern, I’m curious how much we’ve also lost because the people who are passionate about their ideas lose control of them. I hope we can avoid that fate.

Note: This post was originally written on Medium

5.24.2014

It's an amazing new world


This morning I was set to leave for a trip to Florida with my family.  This is how the morning went.

My wife and I closed the door to our apartment, opened Uber on our phone, and ordered a cab within minutes right to our door. I could track the cab as it drove the six blocks to meet us, and the cab knew exactly where and which side of the street I was standing on. Magic moment #1.

Once we were in the cab and on the way to the airport I opened Google Now which told me our flight was on time, what gate it was at, and the weather at both my departing airport and in the city we are landing in. It also had a record of the flight reservation and hotel reservation. All of this information was provided proactively by extracting details from my email over the last few months. Magic moment #2.

Then when we arrived at the airport both my wife and I looked at our phones to see our boarding passes already available on our lock screens, courtesy of Apple Passbook. These instantly displayed because we were at the location and time our boarding passes were relevant. Magic moment #3.

All of these things were not possible, not even imaginable, just a few years ago. Every single part of my travel experience has gotten easier because of intelligent mobile technologies. It really is an amazing new world.

3.17.2014

Amazon Prime's price hike: when companies don't have your best interests at heart


Amazon announced this week that Amazon Prime would be seeing a price increase for the first time since its launch 9 years ago, from $79 to $99.

If the rising cost of shipping, and improved abilities to deliver next-day or even day-of are at the heart of that price increase, then it seems completely fair and customers will understand. But the question on the table is: how much is expenses related to Amazon Prime's core value proposition affecting the price increase, or instead is it the side ventures that Amazon is bundling in as "value-ad": Amazon Prime Instant Video and Kindle Owners' Lending Library.

In particular, Prime Instant Video, Amazon's Netflix and Hulu+ competitor, must be a significant cost for Amazon to continue to building out. Licensing content, especially platform exclusives, is an increasingly costly venture as bidding wars for the best content heat up. Additionally, Amazon is investing in Original Series of its own that it provides for free to Prime customers, which ads to the ledger.

Prime Instant Video, Lending Library and Original Series are all great value-ads, but I don't know many people who use any of the services regularly, and I haven't heard of anyone upset that they can't pay for them individually, instead of one of the competitors.  So if it turns out the expense of providing all of these "value ad" features to Prime customers, without giving them a chance to opt out and only receive free two day shopping, is driving the membership increase-- then how does it feel?

At some point, Amazon customers won't want to subsidize Amazon's efforts to enter new markets-- at least not without choice.

Marco Arment has an excellent blog post "Worse" about how Amazon and its tech peers are increasingly making decisions based on monopolistic interests, instead of customer interests:
This isn’t just an Amazon problem. In the last few years, Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter have all made huge attempts to move into major parts of each others’ businesses, usually at the detriment of their customers or users. (How sad is it that Microsoft isn’t even in this list? They invented this move.)
These decisions are ones we all deal with as customers because we value the primary service enough, but we wish we didn't have to.  And it forces us to always be on the lookout for alternatives-- new products, new companies, that don't force us to accept those terms.  Think about the negative karma that companies have generated by forcing us to use Google+ instead of Google Reader, Apple Maps instead of Google Maps, Twitter photos instead of Instagram, etc.

I strongly believe sacrificing customer satisfaction to pursue monopolistic tendencies isn't a good long term strategy.  Especially if the product companies provide us as a replacement for their competitors is inferior.

1.05.2014

Four Progressions That Will Shape Internet + Technology Culture in 2014

As 2014 gets under way and we begin packing for the annual Consumer Electronics Show, its time to think about the advancements in internet and technology that could impact the way we all consume content and interact with each other. While we’re excited to see the latest in wearable technology, break-through high resolution TVs and connected electronics, the real game changers may not be device-specific at all. Instead, we’ll be thinking about the more subtle forces that could impact the future of marketing. Here are four progressions we see shaping internet + technology culture in 2014:

1. Public vs. Private Interaction 

In its early days, popular mobile messaging app Snapchat was heralded as a way for teens to send racy photos outside of the watchful eye of parents. But, as the audience grows in to the tens of millions, Snapchat is being recognized for what it is— the necessary outgrowth of years of “public” being the dominant value on the social internet. Sure, Snapchat’s photo-first messaging strategy is quick and fun to use, but its the freedom of impermanence that really drives the service in a way that can only be such a relief after understanding the exhaustion of the opposite.

It’s become clear that the drive towards openness is a symptom of a persistent Facebook-guided social media culture that has its limits and its repercussions. For many, it’s become tiresome thinking through the necessary polish and potential ramifications of sharing each piece of life content. Snapchat’s disappearing messages offer a way out — a way to engage with friends and family without thinking it through very hard, like you might in person. If that’s something we’re all yearning to return to, then Snapchat is just the beginning of a new wave of platforms and products that offers an alternative to the public eye.

2. In-depth vs. Snackable Content

In a year where Buzzfeed more than tripled its size, it seemed as if every publisher was rushing to emulate the magic formula by turning every article into lists, slideshows, animated gifs and Upworthy-esque headlines. The result is a web culture that in some ways feels like its one giant tabloid magazine for the attention-challenged generation— big, bold, suggestive headlines paired with flashy imagery in place of real depth or context. The snackable content format fits perfectly with the rapid-fire news stream that Twitter and Facebook has established. But like the gif-column, the news feed is a ride consumers may be starting to feel differently about.

 Just when it seemed blogging had been made extinct by 140 characters, new publishing platform Medium was conceived by the very same founder to provide a construct for people who want to write without distraction. Even more drastically, in December we saw the launch of The Information, a $400 / year online technology publication that promises just a few articles, on topics that deserve depth and dialogue. It may be time to start thinking differently about the content we create for consumers.

3. Open vs. Closed Infrastructure

The feature wars between Apple and Google, Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat (etc.) have been well covered. But while everyone is focused on the land grab over a billion users messaging + photo + friend platform of choice, the bigger struggle developing may be over the destruction of the very fabric of the internet. The early days of social media were defined by openness— structures such as RSS feeds, open APIs and chat protocols. This early web infrastructure helped services grow and content spread in a collaborative, user-centric way that benefited all.

But in 2013 Google substituted its open Google Chat platform for its new proprietary Google+ Hangouts to compete with Apple iMessage, an equally closed messaging platform. Google also closed the RSS-powered Google Reader in hopes of making the silo’d Google+ the proprietary social news platform of choice instead of Facebook. Twitter notoriously reigned in its once public API to control its customer more tightly. The question is, will users be comfortable with these decisions as long as they are continually given new features, or will embracing the open internet begin to serve as a stand-out differentiator?

4. A La Carte vs. Bundled Video

Every time a cable network and broadcast company battled over carriage fees the cry for a la carte television becomes louder. The truth is a la carte is here, it’s just arriving through the back door of connected TVs and streaming video providers. In the last year, the arms race between Hulu, Amazon and Netflix has resulted in numerous water-cooler worthy original shows being created outside of the traditional broadcast model. The future is being defined by these new "channels", libraries of archive + original content a consumers wants to pay for at ~$8 a pop.

Unfortunately each library of content is silo’d in independent application gardens. Connected video systems like Apple TV require viewers to jump in and out of each ecosystem instead of easily navigating all of a user’s subscribed content in one menu, and may not even support each 3rd party “channel” as a competitive practice. We are in the golden age of television content, but managing your television has never been more difficult. This must be solved now, because a la carte will really be tested if the traditional networks and premium video providers like HBO start to disaggregate from the cable bundle as well.

Reference Links:
* This blog post was cross-published on the SS+K Blog

11.22.2013

Instagram Borders Are So 2012


From what I'm seeing, most people are not adding borders on their Instagram photos anymore.  Borders used to be basically standard-- part of the way we all looked to Instagram to make our less-than-spectacular mobile photos beautiful.

Now almost no one I follow regularly on Instagram uses them, or least uses them very rarely.  Why is that?  My guess:
  • we want the extra space to capture as much of our photograph moment as possible
  • "square" has become enough of a framing accent to a photo that borders often feel repetitive
  • borders have started to feel very generic + cheesy, exposing the repetitiveness of using the same stylized filters over and over
  • phone cameras keep getting better, so stylizing photos seems less and less necessary
That last point is interesting, because I'm even using filters less and less all together on Instagram photos.  Many of the filters can make a photo a bit grainier, less real.  Instagram is now the best place to share and enjoy photography as a whole, and and less a utility for making photos prettier.  It's replaced the camera on many people's iPhone screens.

I think these are pretty big and exciting developments in the Instagram ecosystem.  It's interesting to see, after all the bells and whistles, its the community that's most compelling.  And it contributes to Instagram's potential for longevity.

What does everyone else think?