Category Archives: mobile

72 hours with the iPhone 7. A love story.

iphone-7

Last week, I picked up my new iPhone 7 from the job and immediately got to playing with it.

I’d watched the Apple announcement a few weeks prior and was interested to see whether the actual product lived up to they hype.

My initial response was disappointment.

I’d ordered the Black phone. Not Jet Black. Just Black.

Sitting before me, however, was the 256GB Jet Black 7 Plus.

Ummm…I ordered black.

I wasn’t interested in sporting the shiny patent leather version.

I wanted the understated matte.

But due to some administrative oversight, I now owned the much showier version.

I wasn’t happy about it.

Beyond the ostentatious nature of shiny things, from a purely practical perspective, it’s too slippery.

I can’t tell you how many times the bloody thing slipped out of my mitts.

And all that shininess makes it hard to tell the front from the back.

At first glance, they’re virtually indistinguishable.

They’re both maaaaad shiny.

If you miss the camera or Apple logo, as I often did, you don’t realize that you’re looking at the back of the phone until you can’t find the home button.

The headphone jack is another conundrum.

Listening to music and charging your phone at the same time?

Uh-uh. That’s not happening anymore.

On the positive note, apps on the 7 are  much faster.

With the exception of my work mail in the Mail app,  I’ve had no real problems.

And iOS 10 is made for the 7.

Apple introduced a series of subtle gestures and button presses that let you to navigate seamlessly.

I really dig being able to immediately wake my phone to the app I was using simply through a long press of the home button.

You don’t actually ‘click’ through.

You just press and hold the home button past the Touch ID and viola!

The last app or screen you were in appears.

Just rises into view.

Magnificent.

I’m no longer forced to run the gauntlet to get to my shit.

Just gently hold the home button and my app (or whatever) is literally at my fingertips.

You know what?

I was fronting earlier with that shiny comment.

I love it.

I’ve been enamored with it since I got it.

This joint is so sleek and beautiful, I haven’t even put it in a case.

Like I do ALL my new phones.

I have cracked enough sapphire screens to know better.

But I can’t help it.

I stare at it.

Hold it lovingly in my hand.

Marvel at its beeps, chirps and buzzing tactile caress.

If you’re not a fanboy, like I am, why I’m so transfixed will escape you.

If you’re a true Apple aficionado, you know what I’m talkumbout.

The iPhone 7 is beautiful.

I don’t know how many of you have even gotten your pre-orders or copped your phone from a store.

But when you do, I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I do.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Me? I’m in love.

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Apple vs FBI. Why the outcome matters.

pandoras-iphone-201922

Unless you live under a rock or are completely off the grid, you’ve seen the multiple stories about the ongoing battle between Apple and the FBI.

This battle is being waged by both parties on two fronts: in court and in the court of public opinion.

For most people, it’s an interesting story and nothing else.

For some, its a matter of national security, and Apple needs to help the FBI get into the phone so that we can stop terrorists.

Others think that opening a ‘back door’ to the Apple’s iPhone security protocol would set a dangerous precedent, forever compromising our civil liberties.

Regardless of what side you come down on – disinterest, the government or Apple – it’s important that you pay attention because the ramifications will be far-reaching.

As a general rule, people are apathetic.

If it doesn’t affect them you who gives a fuck. Right?

They’re not trying to get into my phone, so what’s the big deal?

If you’re an Android user, you care even less.

This is about Apple. Who cares what Tim Cook and those Apple fan boys think?

If the order says you’re supposed to help the FBI disable the auto erase function of the pass code lock (currently preventing them from utilizing a brute force approach to figuring out the phone’s pass code) then write the frigging code and be done with it.

If you’re a flag-flying patriot, your interests turn on Apple’s duty to ‘Murica.

Apple needs to do it’s American duty and protect it’s citizens.

Open the damn phone and let’s excoriate the terrorist cancer from society.

But if you’re an Apple user, concerned citizen or privacy advocate, you understand the true implications of Apple complying with this order.

No one would disagree that stopping terrorism is a valid reason for assisting the government with any inquiry involving a suspected terrorist’s mobile device.

But at what point does assisting the government end and infringing upon civil liberties begin?

In this instance, the government wants Apple to do something unprecedented: write code to obfuscate the utility of the current security protocols Apple has in place to protect individual users of it’s products.

While the order is written to narrowly apply to one device, we all know that once the FBI has access to a tool that creates a back door to users’ devices –  the FBI has access to a tool that creates a back door to users’ devices.

Through high profile exposes from investigative journalists, Wikileaks and various former government whistle blowers, we know that the government frequently oversteps legal boundaries in pursuit of it’s objectives.

NSA’s data collection activities, widespread eavesdropping on citizens, clandestine drone strikes on Americans – I could go on and on -prove unequivocally that we can’t necessarily trust what we’re told about the government’s stated intentions.

More importantly, (true to form) the government has allegedly already been working on methods to break the encryption technology that companies like Apple and Google have developed in light of the Wikileaks scandal.

Whether or not it would be easier if Apple ‘helped’ the government, is immaterial.

What matters more is that a company shouldn’t be forced to compromise the security measures it’s developed, when other less drastic alternatives exist.

We already live in a time where virtually everything we do is monitored, whether we know (or consent to) it or not.

The few illusions we have of privacy are important, especially as data collection assails us from all directions, from our computers, to our mobile devices, to our new found obsession with wearables.

The advent of IoT means that even more data will be collected of our every digital interaction.

If the courts do not reverse their order and if Apple is unsuccessful in their appeal, the precedent could extend to the maker of any data collection device being forced to add ‘back doors’ to circumvent security protocols.

And that is what is truly at stake.

It’s one thing to be asked to turn over data pursuant to a properly obtained subpoena.

Its quite another to be asked to expend development resources of a private company to assist the government to breach the security protocols of an individual’s device.

If the back door was already there, no problem.

But to be forced to create the back door, that’s an entirely different creature altogether.

How this ultimately plays out remains to be seen.

Will Apple capitulate to the government’s request (kicking and screaming as many pundits anticipate) or not? Who knows?

I, for one, hope not.

Because once Pandora’s box has been opened, you can’t undo that.

I’m sure many will disagree with me and that’s fine.

Feel free to comment and share your thoughts.

One final thought, if you’re interested in following the debate on social media, you can using the hashtag #applevsfbi

 

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It shouldn’t be so hard to fall in love. An expert’s review of the Apple Watch.

Apple_Watch_OmniFocus

Late last year I let one of my friends borrow my Apple Watch and take it for a test drive.

His wife was contemplating buying him one for his birthday, but he wasn’t quite sure he wanted her to drop that kind of cash for what I had already told him was an expensive toy.

The basic issue (beyond cost) was whether the utility of the Apple Watch justified being perpetually monitored.

For him, unless the Apple Watch did something materially better than the iPhone, he wasn’t interested in having Apple (or anyone for that matter) knowing exactly where he was at all times.

And he wasn’t one of those always-on-his-phone types, so I knew that not being tracked (or trackable) was not some conspiracy theorist type objection, but a very real objection he had to this always-on culture of today.

So it was not without a bit of excitement that I handed over my watch, knowing that dude was about to go in on the Apple Watch.

You see, I’m a casual user of my Apple Watch.

I’ve never been so impressed with it that I took a deep dive to uncover the little kernels of goodness that would covert me into a fan.

My initial critiques weren’t positive.

The watch face is small.

Navigation isn’t terribly intuitive.

Doesn’t have a heck of a whole lot of utility beyond glances.

And as a casual user, I felt that my perspective was uninformed.

But now I had someone who was willing to apply a very scientific approach and take the Apple Watch through it’s paces.

Mark Hines aka “Yoda” aka “He Who Sees the Future” aka “The Brain” was going to go completely desconstruct the Apple Watch and share his feedback with me.

A bit of background on his testing is in order.

There are three (3) primary apps Mark rocks on his iPhone in order of importance: OmniFocus, Remote and Wink.

OmniFocus (which I’ve written about before) is a personal task manager that lets you capture thoughts and ideas into lists which you can then parse and organize.

Remote is the iOS app which allows you to control you iOS devices via your iPhone.

Wink is a smart home app that lets you control connected home appliances from your iPhone.

Combined with apps like Shazam, these apps were the apps that factored significantly in Mark’s daily flow and the ones he wanted to test on the Apple Watch.

One month later, he felt he had arrived at a place where he could report back.

It was not good.

His initial impression was that as another iOS device, it should have been plug-and-play right out of the box.

But it was anything but that.

It was – inelegant.

He went into excruciating detail about the level of effort required to get OmniFocus to work on the Apple Watch (similar to how he had set it up on the iPhone) and the workflow hacks he needed to have Wink work in a more streamlined fashion than was possible out-the-box.

One of his biggest hurdles was having Siri send reminders not to the default To-Do list or calendar, but to OmniFocus instead, which involved working with the cats at Omni (big ups to The Omni Group) who took Mark’s feedback and incorporated them into subsequent builds, which enabled him to hit that ‘sweet spot’.

Besides the limitations of the Watch version os most apps, the one thing that drove Mark absolutely bonkers was the fact that if you were outside the range of your iPhone, the Apple Watch was rendered – essentially – useless.

Mind you, Mark lives in a modestly sized apartment.

So you can imagine his chagrin being in another room, less than 30 feet away from his iPhone, and finding that the watch was no longer connected.

Having to be cognizant of where the phone was, relative to the location of the watch, felt counterintuitive, especially considering the Apple Watch’s promise to free the user from their phones.

The reality is that you’ve still got an invisible tether, requiring you to stay close to your phone or lose functionality.

Sure, some things still work, but none of the basic things you’d probably want like messaging, Mail, the phone, Maps, Camera Remote, Weather, and Stocks.

These features rely on an active data connections or GPS signals, neither of which an Apple Watch can do without an iPhone.

Siri also won’t work as it requires a data connection to process commands.

I could give you a watered down version of his assessment, but I’ll just share his actual written report.

Report to Stephen:

I been keeping a journal. Really hated it the 1st week. Took DUMB troubleshooting and tech support to get OmniFocus working. Then further calibration to make it behave the way I wanted…Yesterday was the 1st full day having it actually do the things I envisioned.

I don’t hate it now, but need to exercise it. OmniFocus, Remote and Wink (home automation) are the sweet spot for me. Without those, I definitely wouldn’t care for this at all. With them, I may be on the brink of something special.

No, dude, I literally hated it.

I hit an ill stride today where I can spit into it and I’m catching OmniFocus gems I have lost many times before ‘cuz I was looking around for my phone and when I found it, I forgot what I was gonna put in.

Getting stuff in my head, out and into Omni, path of least resistance, is pure gold. I’ll know in like a week what’s really hood. I know they average cat ain’t jumping thru all these hoops I am so, the thing out the box is under impressive.

You gave a totally accurate review.

Omni’s support was solid but they didn’t have the solution. I created one and shared it back with them. I couldn’t even install that shit onto the watch till Tuesday.

I don’t think a nigga should have to try so hard to fall in love.

A nigga shouldn’t have to try so hard to fall in love.

Deep.

 

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Top Tech Trends of 2015. A top 5 list.

homer

As 2015 draws to a close, we’re inundated with lists.

Best of lists.

Epic fails lists.

Prediction lists.

Everyone’s trying to get in on that end of year metrics booster as people search for reports, studies and stats on how well we did this year or how well we’re predicted to do next year.

I am no different.

But I’m not particularly interested in offering any scientific or metrics-based opinions.

I’ve read no studies to support any of what I’m about to say.

No reports inform my perspective.

In fact, I’ve been told by at least one person, that my list is bunk.

Kick rocks.

I know what the fuck I’m talkimbout’.

Anywho, I think we can all agree that 2015 was a banner year for tech.

This year, we saw curved screens, wearables, virtual reality, and streaming music explode.

Everyone had skin in the game and we (consumers) benefited from all of it.

Everywhere you looked, technology was changing the way we did things, the way we saw things and the way we interacted with the world around us.

And that trend is likely to continue unabated.

So here are my top 5 tech trends of 2015 (in no particular order).

Wearables are a thing.

wearables_tech

Without question, 2015 was the year of wearables. Anyone who was anyone wanted to create a wearable device, demonstrating that they ‘got it’ when it came to wearable technology. While brands like Tag Heuer had their head turning high end $1,800 Android watch, one wearable stood out among the rest: The Apple Watch. Heralded as the device that would ‘free people from their phones’ (considering the fact that it’s a tethered device – that’s a bit of an overstatement, but nonetheless) Apple sold more than 4.2 million watches in the second quarter of this year, making it the most successful wearable device ever. I’m not a fan (be on the look out for my expert’s review) of the Apple Watch, but I’ve got to give props where they are due and the Apple set the bar for wearable lifestyle integration.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

the-cloud

2015 was the year that Cloud came into it’s own. Principally, in the form of highly publicized hacks. Who can forget last year’s infamous Apple iCloud hack. Seeing Jennifer Lawrence’s naughty bits brought the issue squarely into – ahem – focus. Ashley Madison’s subsequent hack once again showed the vulnerability of data in the cloud. But where many see problems, cloud providers and security experts see opportunity. The demand for cloud services will invariably increase due to the advantages of high computing power, low costs, high performance, scalability, accessibility and availability, and cloud vendors are reaping the benefits with 50% annual growth rates. Data breaches will continually be the bane of virtual data storage, but cloud is definitely the future and the trend clearly got a foothold this year.

Drones, drones everywhere!

amazon drone

In 2013, when Jeff Bezos introduced the planned delivery drones of Amazon Prime Air on 60 Minutes to the befuddlement of Charlie Rose, it was a fantastic and futuristic moment. Two years later, drones are an every day part of our lives. Whether it’s the small toys for kids, the more advanced camera toting variety or Amazon’s delivery drones, drones have become a defining element of 2015. Drone were so prolific this year they prompted legislators to draft bills prohibiting them and the FAA to issue regulations regarding flight ceilings to prevent their unfettered use in airspace by the general population. Drone technology continues to advance as innovative applications are constantly being developed.

Mobile became a gateway.

mobile gateway

Mobile is the gateway to everything. The explosion in social media, wearables, IoT, streaming, cloud all owe their origin to mobile. Mobile has become one of the largest contributors to retail, providing a cushion to waning brick and mortal sales. The use of mobile in stores, to scan barcodes, search for comparable items, and pay all from the same device has increased the frequency and number of touch points that can be exploited by brands to help influence consumer behavior. The sheer amount of data generated by mobile users is a treasure trove for brands interested in harnessing the value of that data. As users become device agnostic, opting to use the device appropriate for the moment, mobile will become synonymous with ‘mobility’ and not devices.

Social Media

social media

Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Social media has become a disruptive element to virtually every space. From finance to politics to the reporting of world events, social media has helped spread information light years faster than traditional media. Breaking news is no longer coming from news outlets, but from people on-the-ground broadcasting events in real time to online followers and members of their digital social networks. Nowadays media outlets are piggybacking on stories sourced from social media, with the more savvy media outlets devoting entire units to social media listening. Social media has also grown niche audiences, speaking to its power to engage both mainstream and previously less engaged or insular communities.

The items that didn’t make this list (because I was lazy or harangued by my more critical peeps – you know who you are) include: machine to machine, 3D printing, digital pay – I could go on.

Suffice it to say, this is just an entré for a deeper discussion for 2015’s top trends.

What other trend stood out for you in 2015? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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Mobile is dead. Long live mobile. 5 tips for brands in an untethered world

mobile is dead

I recently heard a director of digital and e-commerce of a retail brand say, “we don’t really care about mobile” and nearly shat myself.

I’d recently had Mexican, and it wasn’t agreeing with me.

I’m kidding…their statement did almost cause an involuntary bowel movement.

Luckily I have a strong sphincter (read: I do kegels) and the crisis was avoided.

I was, however, momentarily stunned by the statement of someone I assumed knew that mobile commerce was one of the largest contributors to retail revenues in 2015 – to the tune of a projected $104 billion according to Internet Retailer.

With mobile accounting for more than 30% of all US e-commerce traffic, I chalked the executive’s statement to early morning alcohol consumption, clandestine drug use or undiagnosed Turrets.

But as I thought on it further, I realized that perhaps the functional addict of an exec was actually on to something.

A decade ago websites were the holy grail for e-commerce.

Five years ago SMS was an absolutely essential component of brands’ marketing strategies.

A few years ago having a mobile site or app was critical to a brand’s success.

And now brands are weighing the importance of having a wearable strategy.

All this to drive traffic, increase engagement and conversions on websites, mobile sites, and apps.

With the advent of IoT, wearables, ‘smart’ devices, and thin clients are going to enable incomprehensible levels of engagement – making the actual platform used to connect virtually irrelevant.

This shift is changing the way we interact with the world around us and the brands that want to reach us.

So in honor of the wayward exec I maligned, here is my top 5 list for preparing for an IoT world.

1. Accept that people are always on.

We are always reaching for our devices. Sleep seems to be the only time we’re not literally on our devices. But with devices like the Apple Watch doubling as a nightstand clock/alarm clock, we’re closer than ever to achieving actual ‘always-on’ status. At a glance, we can get weather updates, stock tips, heath status, schedule and virtually any random piece of information one desires. No longer are we required to ‘boot up’ a computer or suffer some cumbersome process in order to get information. Today, we can just ask Siri, Cortana or any of a dizzing number of virtual assistant (even on our damn tvs!) and activate/initiate some desired action. With IoT, there’s no going back.

2. Be diffuse but don’t dilute.

water down

Once upon a time, mobile sites we trimmed down versions of full desktop sites. The thought process was that with the smaller real estate, users wouldn’t be able to process the same amount of information, and that information overload was the equivalent of a poor user experience. So many brands opted for ‘brochure’ mobile sites, stripped of the functionality available of desktop sites save a few basic options. Today we know better. With smart phones housing increasingly powerful processors, greater real estate for presenting content from larger screens, and loads of data about mobile user behavior, having a mobile site that functions like a full desktop site or offers the same utility, and is adapted to mobile user behavior ensures that you’re enabling your users rather than hampering them. In the age of IoT, brands will become adept at applying the lessons learned in mobile to wearables to avoid watering down utility.

3. Meet your audience where they are.

meet people where they are

I’m sure you’ve heard of brands adopting a multi-channel or omni-channel strategy as it relates to targeting their users. Basically, these terms refer to the evolving mindset that you can no longer build it and expect them to come. Today, you’ve got to meet them where they are, which increasingly requires that you first understand where they are, and second how to engage them in those spaces. You cannot simply say, “I’m going to make my website available on mobile and tablet devices and wearables” (unless you want to fail miserably). Yes, you should have an approach or strategy for intelligently being present in the spaces your users are, but don’t blunt the efficacy of your presence with a one-size-fits-all mindset.

4. Build bridges back to you.

hyperlink

I once received an email offer in my inbox with no hyperlink to a landing page or the website for the offer itself. There was no specific call to action or clear indication of how to take advantage of the promotion. Outside of communicating that there was a sale, the brand didn’t make it particularly easy to take advantage of it. Major miss. If you’re a brand with a compelling offer, make sure that you make it super simple for recipients of that offer to take advantage of it. For example, if you’re offering 20% off at checkout and that ad is my entry point, make sure there’s a cookie that auto fills the promo code box at checkout and the user doesn’t have to backtrack to find the code.

5. Think like a user.

personas

I recently read an article about a shopping app, in which the app’s creator was the first user/shopper. The article went on to explain how the app’s creator continued to use the app to shop, even though he had thousands of shoppers and a staff of thousands. Why? Because knowing the user experience from a first person perspective was critical to ensuring that the app contained to meet the needs of shoppers. As a brand, it’s one thing to have an idea and quite another to see how you idea manifests in the real world. Make sure you’re putting down your marker, stepping away from the white board, and walking in the shoes of your users to know exactly what their experience is in the real world. As a corollary to this point, make sure you build personas which speak to the different types of people who will engage your brand, so you’re thinking through not one user journey, but the many possible user journeys of the various users.

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Back to School – the digital version. Another top five list.

back-to-school-digital

Back to school can be a daunting time for busy parents trying to eke out those last days of summer.

What can be especially trying is the planning and shopping for back to school items.

What to get, where to get them, and at what price are issues that cause many a sleepless night.

It’s no wonder that retailers start advertising early in an effort to drive traffic towards their physical and digital stores.

But as shoppers become more discerning about products and price conscious, retailer have to do more to appeal to shoppers.

So here are my top five tips for winning over your online shopper.

1. Make it mobile. I say this so much, I sound like a broken record – or Max Headroom. But I’ll say it again. Make it mobile. There is nothing more frustrating that trying to navigate a full desktop site from a mobile device. Sure, I can pinch and squeeze, but why do I have to? There are plenty of other sites out there that are catering to the mobile shopper. And if you’re trying to win dollars from other retailers, do yourself a favor and make your user’s shopping experience as simple as possible. And it starts with making your site mobile.

2. Offer mobile only promotions. Everybody likes a bargain. More importantly, folks, especially moms, don’t want to feel like they’ve missed an opportunity. When you have a mobile only promotion. That is either offered only if a user sees it when they’re browsing your site from their mobile device, or which can only be redeemed while shopping on your mobile site, you’re giving shoppers a reason to take advantage of that offer – because they don’t want to miss it. Mobile only promotions is a great way to drive traffic to your mobile site and increase mobile conversions.

3. Apps. Apps. Apps. Dialing up a mobile app on your device is far easier than trying to access a mobile site from your browser. And although it may not seem like much, for a busy back-to-school shopper, time is often of the essence. Making sure that you’ve got a mobile app that shoppers can easily access from their mobile phones or tablets, means that they don’t have to worry about accessing the internet or being on a strong wifi signal to browse and shop. The mobile app is also great for sending push notifications alerting your users about new offers and promotions.

4. Wish lists are a must. As kids get older, shopping with parents just isn’t…how do I say this delicately…cool. After a certain age, your kids would much rather hang out in the mall with their friends, then be seen in public with you. Life’s cruel like that. They don’t want you picking things out for them (your tastes as so blase). And they certainly don’t want to try things on with you lurking outside of the dressing room like Quasimodo. But when it comes to back to school shopping, that can be a good thing. Especially if the stores you patronize offer wish lists. With a wish list, your petulant teen (or pre-teen) can go online, find the things that they like, and shoot you a link to that wish list for you to purchase from the convenience of your computer or mobile device. No muss. No fuss.

5. Shop with your phone. If you just enjoy the act of shopping and would much rather see, feel and touch items before you buy them, then shopping with your mobile device as your companion. Retailers have come to expect that shopper will be comparison shopping, looking up product details and reviews, taking pictures and generally vetting them with mobile phones on the ready. In fact, many retailers are using beacons to identify which shoppers are really paying attention to their phones and using this as an opportunity to communicate special offers, savings or promotions while the shopper is on or near the store. So make sure that you’ve got a full charge before you head out, you could be in for extra savings.

6. Coupons! I know I said this was a “Top 5 List” but I realized that there was one more tip for busy shoppers. There is a whole industry around helping shoppers ‘clip’ digital coupons that can be used either online or at checkout in-store. RetailMeNot, for example allows you to search for a retailer and offers up a results page replete with coupons that could potentially save you dough when you’re shopping. So if you follow Tip No. 5 and have your phone on you when you shop (at home or in store), mobile (and online) coupons could really impact your bottom line.

Take that competition!

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The utility company of the future is mobile – today.

electric meter

Virtually everyone in the world is mobile.

That’s a fact.

We spend more time with our mobile devices, than we do our spouses and children.

Sad, but true.

But since we are inextricably tied to these devices, and use them obsessively, it only makes sense that brands should cater to this behavior.

I’m not saying that brands should make us more drone-like, such that we never put our devices down.

What I am saying is that since we seem to draw greater and greater utility from them, brands that understand user behavior, can benefit themselves significantly by paying attention to this trend.

Think about it.

Before you used to have to go to the bank to make a deposit.

And you could only do it during banking hours.

Then came ATMs and you could deposit funds even when the bank was closed.

Today, you don’t even have to leave your house to make a deposit.

You can simply snap a photo of your check with the banking app on your mobile phone and you’re done.

The banking industry paid attention to it’s users and came up with solutions that met them and technology where they were.

A similar opportunity exists for utility companies.

Back in the day, if you had a problem with your service, you’d have to go down to the utility company, take a number, and wait in line to actually speak to someone.

Because lord knows that calling them was a massive waste of time.

A year ago, the best you could do was log into your utility company’s website from your desktop computer to check your bill, input a meter reading or schedule an appointment.

But today, you can pay your bill, connect or disconnect service and input a meter reading all from your mobile phone.

No longer are you tethered to a computer to accomplish basic (and sometimes fairly sophisticated) tasks, you can perform these things on the go.

You’re probably wondering, “why is this fool blathering on about the utility company?

I’ll tell you why.

I just paid my PSE&G bill, sitting in my boxers on my phone.

No. I was not sitting on my phone.

I was on my phone, while I was sitting in my boxers.

Whatever.

My point is that we’re seeing a wave where more and more businesses, especially businesses which offer utilitarian value (banking, utilities, cable) streamlining their offerings for mobile.

And consumers are becoming increasingly discerning about who they patronize, and making these decisions based on how well they meet their mobile needs.

I can tell you that I’m automatically turned off by any brand that doesn’t have a mobile website.

And I don’t just mean doesn’t have a mobile website, but one that auto-detects that I’m using a mobile device and renders the appropriate screen.

So you can imagine my glee in discovering the PSE&G had made the leap to mobile.

I wonder how many more utility companies are following suit.

If your’s isn’t – shame on them.

But I’d imagine that it isn’t far off.

 

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From Vimeo to Periscope. Do we really need another video app?

The War for Eyeballs

First, there was Vimeo, the first video sharing website.

Vimeo allowed users to upload, share and search for videos online, and life was good.

Then there was YouTube.

YouTube gave us our fill of all the videos we could no longer see on cable or broadcast TV, all with a quick search.

Vevo popped up after that.

Vevo was a great alternative to YouTube because it had higher quality videos, without all the associated riffraff of user generated content.

Suddenly UStream appeared, and not only could you watch video replays, but you could tap into live video streams.

Couldn’t be there, but want to experience it live?

UStream let you do just that.

We had achieved video Nirvana.

Not to be left out of the fray, Facebook offered its own native video player, giving its millions of users an easy way to upload and share videos on its platform.

All of your low res, hi def, canned or live streaming video options were covered.

Right?

Apparently not.

Because then came SnapChat with it’s expiring videos.

Wait, that’s a thing?

And then Meerkat, the app that lets you broadcast yourself doing whatever to whoever wants to tune in.

And finally (and I say “finally” loosely) Periscope, which let you do the same thing.

So, what’s with all the video apps and services?

Well, video is a big thing.

No, I’m not talking about the bandwidth it requires.

I’m talking about the appetite folks have for it.

And they money that can be made.

Think about it.

Instagram has added video, so that its not just still photos anymore.

YouTube now offers “premium” channels.

Content companies, like HBO, are cutting ties with Cable companies and offering their content directly to consumers through apps and consoles.

Netflix and Hulu let you watch television and movies on the go.

Virtually everywhere you look – elevators, cabs, subways, planes, trains – video is offered.

And regular people are getting in on the action.

“YouTubers” is a thing.

Shooting a video of a melee and yelling “WorldStar!” is a thing.

People try to make “viral” videos as a way of getting their 15 minutes.

Folks earn bookoo bucks as YouTube broadcasters, creating often funny, niche content, attracting tens of thousands of viewers, and earning income as well.

Buzzfeed, FunnyOrDie, College Humor and many others’ business models are built exclusively off producing and marketing video content.

So while I think the current ‘fight’ between the creators of apps like Periscope and Meerkat is stupid, because…well just because, there is clearly an insatiable appetite for virtually any kind of video.

Have you ever watched a sensory video – the kind that’s supposed to give you tingles just by watching?

I digress.

To answer the question posed in the title of this post, “do we really need another video app?”

No. We don’t.

Are Meerkat or Periscope the last of the video apps we’ve seen?

No. Not by a long shot.

There’s a war for eyeballs currently being waged.

With billions of dollars to be made.

And folks out here seeking fame by turning their cameras on and streaming themselves doing whatever.

And with all of our shiny, powerful, always-on mobile devices clutched in our collective sweaty palms, we’re all in the crosshairs.

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Siri take the wheel. Digital life hacking for dummies.

digital life hack icons

I just saw a commercial for the Apple Watch (the device that promises to usher in a whole new world) alerting its wearers to “stand up.”

“Hey you fat lazy bastard! Time to get off your rotund keister and exercise those pathetic extensions you call legs. Stand up!”

As appalled as I was at the thought that folks need reminding (to stand up??!) I had to acknowledge the pure utility of a reminder from your wrist watch to perform important (or mundane) tasks.

You see, I’m all about efficiency.

If there’s a way to do something in fewer steps, shave time or save money, sign me up.

And I’m not taking about being cheap, skimping on quality or reducing efficacy.

I’m talking about shortcuts for improving performance economically, whether it be incremental or exponential.

In the tech world, we refer to such ‘shortcuts’ as hacks, often crude, but effective solutions to specific programming, coding or computing problems.

The concept has moved beyond the binary world to the real one, where these crude but effective shortcuts can be applied to every day problems.

In modern vernacular – life hacking.

What’s life hacking?

Quite simply, life hacking refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novel method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life.

Everywhere you look, folks are life hacking.

Carpooling? Life hacking.

Teleworking? Life hacking.

Bulk shopping? Life hacking.

Virtually every task we perform in our daily lives, from the mundane to the complex, can be life hacked.

But life hacking also applies to our digital lives as well.

There were several early movers in the digital life hacking space, although we probably didn’t consider them as such back in the day.

Hootsuite comes immediately to mind.

Think about it.

Back in the heyday of social media, you had to have an account with everyone to participate in their closed universes: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn, etc. – you get the picture.

Keeping up with them all was a nightmare.

Before there was the ability to cross pollinate your feeds with the same information from a single account by connecting them, you pretty much had to log into each one individually if you wanted to post or publish content.

And then Hootsuite came along with their social media dashboard, and you could hit most of your social media spaces from one convenient place.

Life hack.

Or TweetSpinner.

You remember them, don’t you?

TweetSpinner was essentially part CRM, part DM manager, part scheduler and part profile manager.

With TweetSpinner you could manage your followers (and follow folks back), schedule your tweets, update your profile and send broadcast direct messages from one place.

TweetSpinner consolidated four discrete activities into a handy dashboard where at a glance you could assess and manage all your Twitter-related tasks. 

Life. Hack.

Alright Stephen, enough with the digital life hacks of antiquity. What about today?

Well today, digital life hacking is a veritable art form.

And the Apple Watch is at the forefront of this movement.

Sure, there were the earlier movers – the Android watch preceded Apple by well over a year.

And there’s FitBit, Nike Fuel, and a host of other wearables that provided a certain amount of utility to their wearers.

But none holds the promise of the Apple watch for the sheer breadth of potential.

Wait…this wasn’t supposed to be a post about the Apple Watch.

It’s supposed to be about digital life hacking.

And all the ways in which digital tools can help you to life hack with aplomb.

Beyond tracking your fitness progress passively, just by wearing a device on your wrist, this same device can locate your car (so you don’t actually have to remember where you parked), find your phone, pay for your purchase – the list goes on.

But rather than bore you (any further), here are my top 5 digital life hacks.

1password

1Password – in this age of hackers, identify thieves, and wifi spoofing apps keeping your personal information secure is critical. Most people have multiple accounts for the various spaces and places they visit online, each with login credentials. Most people don’t take the time to create different logins for these multiple accounts, opting instead to use the same easy-to-recall password for everything. We know that it’s notoriously unsafe to do that, but who can remember a buttload of different password for all these accounts? With 1Password, you don’t need to. Ever since I downloaded the 1Password app, I’ve felt infinitely safer whenever I have to log into or onto anything online.

paypal

PayPal – as a consultant, getting paid is of the utmost importance. It used to be that you had to send a physical invoice and wait for a check to be cut, usually ‘Net 30.’ If you had a physical establishment, you had a card scanner to take payments at the point of sale. Electronic payments were the exclusive purview of online retailers. But today, PayPal gives consultants like me the ability to send a digital invoice, take ‘point of sale’ payments with a plug in card scanner, and accept online payments.

basecamp logo

Basecamp3 – working on projects with remote teams is always a challenge. Being able to communicate information uniformly and efficiently, share assets, collaborate and share ideas fluidly is critical to the success of any project. Before Basecamp, online collaboration took the form of shared online folders and VPN tunnels to access them. Version control, permissions, visibility and accountability were not standardized and managing projects was fairly complex. Today, things like Evernote, Slack, Google Drive, have made remote team collaboration commonplace eliminating much of the complexity of old. 

mytix

MyTix – We’ve all been here before: You’re queued up in a line to purchase a train ticket from the ticket booth or vending machine, train pulls up and you’re left with the option of abandoning your place in line and purchasing the ticket on the train with a surcharge or missing the train and purchasing the ticket without a surcharge. With the New Jersey Transit MyTix app, those days are over. Rather than having to purchase physical tickets, the app allows you purchase single rides, weekly or monthly tickets for all of NJT’s routes. You can buy tickets for other passengers riding with you as well.

siri

Siri – I used to be very anti-Siri. Why would I want to talk to my phone? If I need to do something on my iPhone, I can simply open the app and perform the activity. Case closed. When I first tried to use Siri, nine times out of ten she couldn’t/didn’t understand what I was saying and the whole process was very frustrating. But then I was exposed to the best practices for using phone assistants and my whole world changed. From setting reminders, scheduling meetings, and getting directions to sending texts, reading text messages, and placing hands-free calls, Siri ushered in a whole new world of utility that had previously been closed to me. Siri put my digital life hacking on steroids building countless efficiencies into my daily routine.

 

 

 

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Godsend or Devil’s spawn? Five pros and cons of the Apple Watch.

apple watchApple just held one of its infamous events, where they unveiled the Apple Watch and the newly redesigned MacBook.

And while folks (including your’s truly) were thoroughly impressed with all the updates to the Mac: slimmer profile, lightweight, no fan, etc., the clear, hands down star of the show was the Apple Watch.

Not since the release of the original iPhone has there been this much hype over a device.

Nearly every day, dozens (if not hundreds) of articles and blog posts have been devoted to speculating what types of apps are going to be preloaded on the device, it’s functionality and features.

The authors of these pieces fall squarely on one side of the debate or the other.

The Apple Watch is either a godsend or the spawn of Satan.

Let’s examine the five most telling assessments of the Apple Watch and decide for ourselves, shall we?

1. The Apple Watch will make us healthier.

giphy

Like FitBit, Nike+ FuelBand and Jawbone, the Apple Watch enables it’s wearer to monitor and track their fitness activity. Whether you’re walking or running, climbing stairs or taking your dog for a walk, the Apple Watch lets you track all your fitness activities. Apps integrating Apple’s Healthkit, allow you to track things like weight, BMI and biometric readings. With haptic responses and wireless syncing with your iPhone, the Apple Watch promises to be both your fitness diary and motivator, keeping you on track.

2. The Apple Watch will permanently shackle us to our jobs.

Apple Watch handcuffs

The thing about wearables is that they’re wearable. So if you’ve got a device that’s constantly updating your emails, your meetings, your text messages, and pinging you with alerts and reminders, the argument goes that you’re always going to be ‘on.’ No longer will you be able to say, “I left my phone at my desk or in my purse,” because that watch on your wrist doesn’t come off.

3. The Apple Watch will make us more productive.

flash

Apps like OfficeTime offer the promise of increased productivity, by allowing you to tap your watch at the beginning and end of every activity, and by the end of the day, week, month, provide an accurate record of what exactly you spend your time doing. Other apps, like Evernote, are porting their functionality to the Apple Watch, allowing users to access a slimmed down version of the app from their wrist.

4.  The Apple Watch is a distraction.

smartwatchdriver

We’re already slaves to our mobile devices, staring at them every five minutes, phantom buzzing in our pockets, on a constant search for power sources to keep precious life flowing into their silicon innards. But with a phone, it’s often tucked away, in a case, pocket, or purse, and therefore not as much of a distraction. You can leave it at your desk and walk away, put it down or turn it off and Viola! problem solved. The Apple Watch, as a wearable, will not be discretely tucked away, but a constant vibrating, beeping, buzzing distraction on your wrist, always within eyeshot.

5. The Apple Watch is an elegant piece of design.

apple-watch-paris

Few can debate that the Apple Watch is a thing to behold. Like Rolex, Chopard or Breitling, the Apple Watch is design, if nothing else. I’m pretty sure I got a woody the first time I saw it. But I’m a fanboy, what would you expect? If you want decide to buy the Apple Watch because it looks good, who could fault you? No one – but the haters of course, and we’ll forgive their pettiness, won’t we.

If you want to track your steps in a sleek, stylish way, the Apple Watch is for you. If you want to be able to check your alerts, respond to texts, read emails without having to pull out your phone, the Apple Watch is for you. If you’re and early adopter simply trying to stay up on the latest and greatest technology out, the Apple Watch is for you.

At the end of the day, the Apple Watch is just a watch. It’s not even really a watch because you’ve got to pair it with a phone, which means that it’s functionality can only truly be experienced when connected to another bigger, less inconspicuous device.

But shortcomings aside, like the FitBits, Jawbones and Nike+ FuelBands before it, the Apple Watch adds another layer of utility for folks seeking that extra edge.

 

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