24 9 / 2010

Two weeks ago (sorry for the delay) I attended the monthly NY Tech Meetup held at NYU.  Presenting this month were:

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Often a good demo can spark interest and a willingness to try a product, but it can almost never replace hands on experience.  This was the case with Apture, a web publishing tool and browser add-on that attempts to increase user engagement   by making the browsing experience more efficient.  Apture allows searching of any text via a pop-up, in-window box that can be dragged around the screen.  In addition, Apture intelligently pulls images, addresses and bit.ly-type links so that users are able to draw down on some particular piece of content dynamically, while remaining on the original site.  The ultimate result is that site visitors spend more time on the original site, rather than opening various windows, becoming distracted, and abandoning the original content.  A smart idea in theory, though critically dependent on execution and UX.   And, after using the browser add-on for a week, I am a fan of Apture’s product.  It makes the browsing experience both more seamless and efficient, and I find that I am using Apture’s features intuitively, without having to actively decide whether to do a separate Google search or otherwise.  It’s interesting that at a time when the mantra of “content is king” seems to pervade the industry’s thinking in terms of user engagement, Apture has approached the challenge from the reverse perspective.  In the Apture worldview, the problem to be tackled is not the content on your own site, but rather the related content on another site that threatens to prey on a user’s distractability and confusion.

I was also struck by Grovo.  Having seen them demo twice, I don’t quite get their product.  Grovo provides short, self-created videos to teach users the ins and outs of popular web services, such as Twitter, Facebook and Craigslist.  Ever seen those infomercials on TV for the instructional DVDs on various, basic computer programs?  Grovo is essentially seeking to replicate these products for the web.  Perhaps I’m misunderstanding their target audience, but I keep wondering whether individuals who are using web services will have the attention span or time to sit and passively watch informational videos.  Older users and enterprises may be interested in training videos, but I question whether these users are self-selecting, such that those who are using (or want to use) web services sufficiently understand these products without watching an instructional video.  There may also be some cognitive dissonance on my part here: it just seems odd to me that users would rely on a traditional, passive tool (an instructional video) to learn how to use these constantly-evolving and innovating web services.

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20 9 / 2010

Last month I had discussed the questionable headline and analysis in Wired’s September cover article.  Today David Pogue of the New York Times echoes my conclusions about this article, and in particular the rather obvious mistakes the author makes in interpreting the gigantic graph that sits atop the article and forms the basis for his conclusions.  I used to really enjoy reading Wired magazine.  Now, the magazine seems compelled to frame their articles in sensationalist terms, even if inaccurate. 

23 8 / 2010

Nintendo and its DS line of portable gaming systems has been feeling Apple’s heat lately with Apple’s heavy emphasis on gaming in the App Store.  Recent sales figures show that the iPhone has likely been eating into Nintendo DS sales.  Could Apple be planning to expand this competition to the living room?

With rumors swirling around a revamped Apple TV (allegedly called the iTV) that will be integrated with the iPad and iPhone, run on the iOS and allow access to the App Store, I’ve been wondering whether the inclusion of an advanced gyroscope in the iPhone 4 has far more significance than we currently realize.  Pair the gyroscope-enabled iPhone 4 with the iTV and games designed for the television that utilize motion control, and suddenly Apple has a competing product to the Wii (as well as the new motion control systems being pushed out by Sony and Microsoft).  If the lower price points in the App Store are maintained, this could cause more headaches for the video game console industry.

21 7 / 2010

I’ll have more thoughts on this soon, but for now, my impression is simply: “Awesome”.  Check out the video and see for yourself why the Flipboard may become the dominant portal through which content on the iPad is accessed.

30 6 / 2010

As much as I had vowed to escape AT&T’s spotty service and Apple’s rather rigid and closed iOS for the wilds of Android and HTC (I had even considered, briefly, a move to Sprint), I somehow found myself once again on line last Thursday morning at Apple.  It wasn’t an easy decision: I had put time in at Verizon with a number of HTC phones and even had a serious conversation with my girlfriend about how convenient it would be to consolidate on her Verizon family plan (she has a Droid).  In the end, however, it was a combination of convenience, familiarity with the Apple ecosystem and maybe just a bit of aesthetic lusting for the iPhone 4’s design that led me to brave the lines and 90 degree weather last week.  Granted, without actually having touched the thing, I was taking a gamble that, whatever it would turn out to be, it would be preferable to Android alternatives.  Clearly there’s something to be said for Apple’s closed app store universe and OS and their ability to keep Apple users from straying.

It’s often been said that Apple hits its sweet spot around generation three or four of a given product.  After a week with iPhone 4, I’ve concluded that the conventional wisdom has largely held true.  I’ve been very pleased with the new iphone in almost all respects. While the device doesn’t necessarily break new ground, I think iPhone 4 is finally the realization of all of the potential I saw in the very first iPhone.  The first iPhone, with it’s revolutionary touch screen, OS and form factor, was spectacular because it was so groundbreaking, but on a daily basis you couldn’t help but envision and yearn for it to do so much more.  With iPhone 4, finally, it feels as though the phone does most of that “much more” I, and many others, had first recognized with the first handset three years ago.

I’ve noted a similar feeling with the iPad, and I I’ve come to understand now that this is Apple’s way.  I suppose all of this is a roundabout way of simply affirming that Apple’s approach is typically incremental rather than a constant reinvention of their devices.  They set a paradigm and then develop within that paradigm until it is perfected.  With its speed, screen, battery life, more efficient OS and numerous other improvements, iPhone 4 appears to be the perfection (or nearly so) of the paradigm.

08 5 / 2010

I’m attempting an entry from the iPad today, and I have to say that the experience is exceeding my expectations, surprisingly.  In fact, as i work on this post, listen to a podcast and discuss tonight’s dinner options over Google Talk, the entire experience is surpassing what I had envisioned for the iPad from a productivity perspective.

I was firmly in the doubters’ camp when the iPad was first released.  My problems with the device were not unique (no flash support, no multitasking, a touch keyboard that looked far too similar to the lackluster one found on the iPhone). And as I read more about the device in the months between its announcement and launch, I continued to conclude, as many others had, that the iPad was in fact “a big iPod Touch”. Given that I already own an iPhone and Macbook, I couldn’t perceive where this new device could possibly fit my needs. Once I had the iPad in my hands however, the size, the speed, the ease of use, the ability to physically interact with digital content, all drew me in and made me think that there could be a role for the device. My feelings about the device began to change.

Or did they? Thinking further on it, I realize that I had it reversed. It was not my views of the iPad that had changed, but rather what I was looking for in a tablet device. Sure the iPad has its limitations, but what it offers is special enough that a user (or at least this user) would be willing to change how they traditionally performed tasks on their computer. Sometimes less is more.

-David

05 5 / 2010

Last night I attended NY Tech Meetup's monthly gathering of the Silicon Alley technology community.  Besides organizing these get-togethers, NY Tech Meetup is heavily involved in promoting and fostering the burgeoning technology startup industry here in New York City.  NY Tech Meetup's efforts are highly valuable.  Development of this industry should provide benefits to a city that has been dominated, economically and culturally, by the finance industry.  Diversification can only be a good thing at a time when the finance industry faces numerous challenges and stands at a crossroads, and the city is in need of greater innovation and creativity.  Quite frankly, such development would also make our town (and those who live in it) a lot more interesting.

NY Tech Meetup typically features demos from startups (though not necessarily all based in NYC) driving development of the startup industry and last night was no exception.  Presenting last night were:

Perhaps the most interesting of these startups was stickybits, which aims to harness barcodes and the rise of mobile applications to scan them.  Stickybits allows users to associate any barcode with any corresponding object, real or virtual, in the world.  One of the more “in the box” uses (as described in the demo), for instance, is to associate a barcode with one’s resume and then place said barcode on the backs of business cards.  The resume can then be  accessed simply by scanning the barcode (using a mobile app such as RedLaser).  The technology becomes much more interesting when you start getting more creative, especially given that stickybits plans to make their APIs publicly accessible.  As I watched the demo I immediately envisioned applications for local business marketing and promotion, as well as a far more efficient replacement for the medical history bracelet (cue 1984-esque visions of bar coded humans).  I also saw a lot of potential for utilizing stickbybits’ location features: the technology marks the location of both the initial scan associating the barcode with an item, as well as any subsequent scan.  How about a global lost and found system, where you could associate everything from your iPad to your pet hamster with a barcode, providing instructions for the finder to scan the lost item?

In making their APIs publicly accessible, there seems to be a lot of potential for stickybits to develop into a strong platform, much as Twitter has spawned a new industry of applications built upon their data streams.  It should be interesting to see where stickybits goes from here.

-David