MOCAheart wants to make keeping track of your cardiovascular health as easy as pressing a button.
The device, which is currently on Kickstarter, was developed by a team led by Naama Stauber and Dr. Daniel Hong, who was a physician at National Taiwan University Hospital, one of the country’s top teaching hospitals, before becoming an entrepreneur. The two met while attending the Design for Service Innovation Program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, which focuses on developing new software and hardware for healthcare.
To use MOCAheart, you place your index fingers on top of the device and wait a few seconds for your health data to show up on the connected app.
The lightweight but sturdy MOCAheart, which I saw demoed at MOCA’s Taipei office, contains several sensors within its stainless steel and plastic case. Two are light sensors: one red light and one infrared sensor that measure blood oxygen and blood velocity, respectively. Two EKG sensors track cardiac electronic activity. It also has a G-sensor, or accelerometer, so the MOCAheart can be used as an activity tracker in the future. The app uses pulse transit time (PTT) to estimate the user’s blood pressure.
Instead of telling you your systolic and diastolic pressure measurements, like a blood pressure monitor does, MOCAheart uses a rating scale it calls the MOCA Index, which ranks your heart health (based on blood pressure, blood oxygen, and blood velocity) from 0 to 4. If you score a 0 to 1, that means your blood pressure is probably in the low to ideal range. Two means it is still normal but elevated, while 3 and 4 signify that it may be high enough to warrant a trip to the doctor.
The app also lets you note the time, location, and weather conditions for each reading. The latter is important because very cold weather or high temperatures can put people who have heart disease at risk for heart failure.
Hong says that the MOCAheart app uses its own index instead of giving people their blood pressure measurements because the device currently isn’t FDA-approved as a blood pressure monitor (though the startup might apply in the future). This is a potential drawback for people who need exact measurements, but on the other hand, if you just want an overview of your heart’s vital signs, the MOCA Index is easy to use and understand. The app does give you more precise measurements about your pulse and blood oxygen levels, and can be accessed by caregivers or family members.
The MOCAheart is targeted toward people, including the elderly, who need to keep track of their heart’s health, but can’t remember (or be bothered) to strap themselves into a blood pressure cuff everyday. MOCAheart can be slipped into a keychain holder or clicked into a specially designed smartphone case. Other cuffless blood pressure monitors out there include Viatom’s Checkme and Sotera Wireless’s ViSi Mobile monitor. MOCAheart wants to differentiate with the device’s sleek design and its app, which gives family members a quick way to monitor their love one’s health.
The device was developed partly with people like Hong’s parents in mind.
“When I was in the U.S., I’d call my parents and ask about their health. They kept insisting they were okay, even though my father actually had high blood pressure. Then he had a stroke. As a doctor, I felt I should have known earlier,” says Hong. “I wanted to create something that would make it easy for people to share track health data and share it with their families, so they can be alerted earlier if something needs to be checked out.”
MOCAheart has reached about a third of its $100,000 goal, which it needs to hit by Dec. 25. The device starts at $119 and is estimated to ship in April, a delivery date Hong is confident MOCA will be able to hit because they already have a final working prototype and manufacturers lined up in Taiwan. For more information about MOCAheart, visit its Kickstarter page.
Almost every tech hardware maker is basically racing smart watches out the door, but Sony is looking at how it can re-invent the basic timekeeping device itself with a new special project that was only just now revealed to be associated with the Japanese electronics giant, despite popping up on a crowdfunding site months ago. The so-called FES Watch, which uses e-paper for both the face and a wraparound band, initially kept the Sony name out of the mix to see how well it would fare in the public forum without the power of branding.
FES Watch was instead billed as the product of a company called Fashion Entertainments, but that group is actually a team of Sony employees looking at how e-paper can be used to manufacture fashion goods. The WSJ reports that it wants to make e-paper thought of as a fabric in the fashion realm, good for making things like watches, bow ties, hat accessories or any other number of worn items. The Fashion Entertainments unit is led by Hiroki Totoki, the new head of Sony’s smartphone efforts, and is part of a program of internal entrepreneurship conceived by Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai.
The FES Watch project has already raised well over $17,000 on the crowdfunding site, meaning it passed tis goal and should go to production. The decision to hide Sony’s involvement meant Fashion Entertainments could get a better sense for how the idea would fare, without any influencing effects from being associated with Sony’s brand name. Often, startups say they go to crowdfunding sites not necessarily to raise money, but to test market viability and gather feedback before a product launch, or to help them raise traditional VC cash, so while Sony’s move is not unprecedented, it may be the largest company to have employed this kind of tactic.
Turning e-paper into a fabric has a number of potential benefits – including the ability to change pattern and design of things you’re wearing in an instant, including coloured options using newer color e-ink technology. The material’s extremely low power draw means it should be able to last a long time without charging, and items made using it could easily be made to change their appearance based on movement and basic behavior, using simple motion sensors. Smart functions (i.e., notifications and communication with smartphones) might also be possible, but the spirit of the project is to keep things simple so that e-paper gets perceived as fabric or building block, and less as tech.
Pre-order customers will get their devices after next May, but there’s no word yet on general availability for the FES Watch. It’s definitely causing a stir, though, so hopefully Sony makes this more broadly available.
At this point, I should probably stop calling Livefyre a commenting platform.
Actually, the company has been expanding beyond comments for a while. It launched its StreamHub product, which included more social media widgets, back in 2012. And it acquired social media curation startup Storify last year.
But the company is taking another big step in this direction with the relaunch of its core platform, which it’s now calling Livefyre Studio. The idea, basically, is to allow online publishers (whether they’re news organizations or brand marketers) to gather user generated content from anywhere online, and then to republish it anywhere in turn.
In some ways, it’s similar to what Storify already does, but it sounds like the aim here is to provide that kind of social media curation on a bigger scale, with more automation, and often for more marketing-centric uses. (This could also turn Livefyre into more of a competitor for startups like Chute and Percolate.)
In a quick demo, founder and CEO Jordan Kretchmer showed me how a customer could search for different types of content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and across the web; hand-select the content or set up rules for automated gathering and filtering; then publish it to a customized media wall on their own site, their mobile apps, or in an ad. (The search part, by the way, is powered by Storify — Kretchmer said it’s the first integration of Storify into the main Livefyre platform.)
Livefyre Studio also includes the ability to ask users for the rights to their content, and analytics capabilities to see how these campaigns are actually performing.
The company has actually been testing the platform for months, Kretchmer said, and it went live for all customers last week. For example, it was used to create Sony’s “Greatness Awaits” page highlighting content from the PlayStation 4 community, as well as Unilever’s sustainability initiative Project Sunlight.
It can be useful for news organizations, too — Fox News took advantage of the ability to include this content in custom apps, creating an election map highlighting related tweets and Instagram photos.
But judging from our conversation, as well as Kretchmer’s blog post announcing Livefyre Studio (which does mention comments, if only very briefly), the emphasis seems to be pretty clearly on the marketing side. In fact, Kretchmer told me that in the past year brands have grown from to 0 to 30 percent of Livefyre’s revenue.
And he argued that all the user generated content posted on social media presents a big opportunity for companies to connect with consumers, both on their own sites and elsewhere, but “brands don’t have internal resources for managing this stuff.”
“We have to make it as easy as humanly possible to let brands access all of these great applications,” he added.
Introducing Livefyre Studio from Livefyre on Vimeo.
700 million people use Facebook Groups every month, but it’s a second-class experience on mobile, slow and buried in the social network’s main app. So today Facebook is releasing a standalone Groups app with powerful notification controls and a Groups discovery section. You won’t be forced to use it as the Groups feature will remain in the Facebook app, and you won’t be fast-switched to it either.
The Groups app for iOS and Android could be a massive help to admins trying to keep their communities from devolving into chaos, and speed up the consumption experience for everyone from families and friend cliques to study groups and support networks. It’s bright, quick, and could unlock more private sharing outside of the News Feed.
“No one is really doing this out there. We think what we offer is unique”, says the Groups app’s project manager Shirley Sun.
Despite Yahoo and Google fiercely competing to dominate group email lists, there’s a surprising lack of people and rich content-focused social feed groups services, and Facebook is happy to capitalize. Getting more people to organize their personal lives and projects with Groups could also stoke interest in the enterprise “Facebook At Work” product the company is currently piloting. Facebook could end up competing with Slack or Yammer, and this is a stepping stone.
Giving Groups The Spotlight
Mark Zuckerberg actually telegraphed the launch of the standalone Groups app a year when I interviewed him on-stage at an internal Mobile Dev Day at Facebook headquarters. He explained “if you have something like Groups, it’s always going to be kind of second-class in the main Facebook app, or even messaging for that matter. In order to make these things really be able to reach their full potential, I do think over time we’re going to have to create more specific experiences.”
Facebook had seen the need for a first-class mobile chat experience way back in 2011 with the launch of Messenger, but many other popular features were left to languish in the hidden menu of the main app.
Groups has been a Facebook feature all the way since the beginning. Back in the 2005 era, they served more as bumper stickers for your profile that organizational communities. College kids would join the “Unidentified Party Injuries” group to trumpet how “cool” they were for getting bruises while drunk.
But in 2010, Facebook relaunched Groups in its modern incarnation as a way to share to a specific set of people, away from the News Feed. Yet despite some face-lifts, the feature hasn’t gotten much love, especially on mobile since.
In January 2014, Facebook revealed its Creative Labs initiative designed to build single-purpose mobile apps and experiment with new functionality starting with Paper, and stylized standalone home for News Feed.
Then in February, Facebook began work on the Groups app. Sun tells me the Facebook Groups’ team’s idea for a standalone app “has always been on our mind”, and the urge just got stronger as more and more users shifted to mobile. The social network now has over 456 million mobile-only users. It was time for Groups to shine.
Using The Groups App
Philosophically, the standalone app doesn’t change what Groups is about. It just makes it cleaner, quicker to access, and more mobile-friendly.
Once you sign-in with Facebook, all your existing Groups will be laid visually in two-wide grid as little circles displaying their titles, cover photos, and notification badges. They’re ordered by how often you use each Group, so ones with new notifications may be below the fold, which could be a bit tricky if you don’t see the pushes new posts or replies trigger.
Tap into any, and you’ll find a sleek Group feed with a sharp white background, rather than the main app’s gray canvas. A special notifications setting lets you mute one or all your Groups for an hour or until the next morning if you need some peace.
It’s also super easy to create a group. Choose what it’s about such a family, class, or teammates, give it a title, select its public/closed/secret visibility setting, and add some friends. If you choose family or close friends as the type, Facebook intelligently defaults your group to be secret. You can also add a home screen shortcut to your favorite groups for even faster access.
One new feature for mobile is the Groups Discovery section, which will help you find ones to join based on your friends, ones active nearby, or communities related to your interests.
To stoke growth, Facebook will slowly begin showing a promo for the app atop the mobile Groups of the feature’s most active users and admins.
There’s no plan for monetization right now, as Facebook is making plenty of money from the News Feed. It’s beat the street its last nine quarters. Down the line, though, Facebook could generate revenue from a frequent Groups use case: commerce.
The African island nation of Mauritius has over one quarter of its population, 250,000 people, in a single Group that acts like a Craigslist classifieds. The company is already working on a Buy button to let you make purchases without leaving Facebook thanks to a credit card on file. That could potentially be expanded to allow peer-to-peer selling.
Sun concludes that Facebook doesn’t need every Groups user on this new app. “This app is a complementary, optional experience, designed for people who are already power users.” She’ll be satisfied if frequent Groups users get even deeper in the feature, and Groups themselves become more lively and active.
A Space For Micro-Sharing
Not everything is fit for the News Feed. Groups works great for purpose-driven communication around projects. But there’s a whole realm of intimate sharing that Groups could host. Facebook tried for years to get people to micro-share to specific friend lists, but the controls can be confusing and there’s always a chance you’ll mis-share to everyone.
Zuckerberg’s law states that people share twice as much every year, but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily do it on Facebook. Lots of people are sharing to small sets of friends via apps like Snapchat. If Groups is a hit, it could encourage rapid-fire, off-the-cuff sharing between close Groups of friends, creating a third-space to spend time in between the broadcast feed and private messaging.
That could never happen if Groups stayed locked in the nav menu dungeon.
Flipboard has been working hard over the last few years to build an app that makes reading stories on mobile and tablet devices as engaging as flipping through a magazine. With the latest version of its app, users will be able to find and discover content that is relevant to their interests, through the introduction of topics they can follow.
Already, Flipboard has done a good job of getting — and keeping — readers’ attention. It now has more than 100 million readers who have downloaded the app, and is adding 250,000 more each day. Those readers are flipping about 8 billion pages per month, and that number continues to grow. But the new app is aimed at keeping those users engaged through personalization.
When you first open up Flipboard 3.0, the app guides you through the process of picking a series of topics you will receive updates on. It asks “What are you interested in?” and provides a wide range of suggestions that vary from high-level content based around categories like “Technology” down to more granular topics such as “iPad apps.”
Once you’ve chosen several topics of interest, the app opens up to unveil a front page that features stories from multiple sources you can flip through. Stories are tagged by content provider as well as by topic, allowing users to drill down and see more content related to each. You can also choose to follow stories by source or by topic, which would provide even more content served up to users.
At launch, Flipboard will have more than 30,000 different topics to choose from, so there’s something for everyone. And the ability to easily add topics over time could keep casual Flipboard users keep coming back for more as the app becomes more personalized and relevant to them.
Users can click through to see which topics, people, and accounts they follow and drill down on stories shared there. Or they can search for particular topics. And even if readers are following hundreds of topics, the app will work to showcase the most relevant or interesting topics on any given day, according to Flipboard co-founder and CEO Mike McCue.
But it’s not all going to be algorithmically programmed. In addition to its topics, the app is also adding a “Daily Edition” of content that has been selected by Flipboard editors. It will be released every day at 7:00 am and will feature all the biggest news from the previous day, as well as a daily photo and “parting GIF” for readers.
Moving Beyond Reader Curation
For Flipboard, the move to a topic-following model is a departure from its previous personalization efforts. Last year, the company released a big app update that enabled users to create and subscribe to virtual magazines based on their own interests. By doing so, they could curate stories from multiple different sources and present it in a unified fashion. Readers, meanwhile, benefitted by being able to subscribe to magazines created by other like-minded users to discover content they might not have seen otherwise.
Magazines have been incredibly popular on Flipboard: The company says there have been more than 10 million of them created and curated by readers since launch. They can range from having just a few followers to hundreds and thousands of followers — and the top magazines have generated tens of millions of page flips from readers.
That feature also added a new potential revenue stream by enabling brands and retailers to create shoppable magazines and catalogs of products for sale. That’s on top of advertising CPMs that are closer to print publications than digital properties.
That said, Flipboard’s magazine model wasn’t perfect. After all, it relies on readers to keep updating their magazines over time in order to keep providing fresh content to others. Furthermore, each magazine reflects the interests of the creator or creators and may not be exactly what a reader is looking for.
Zite Acquisition Bears Fruit
The update is designed to improve upon the current experience with a more personalized feed, which users create by following different topics of interest to them. That ensures readers will be kept up to date on the news that’s important to them, without having to rely on another reader to curate a magazine for them.
McCue says the new version blends people-powered curation with algorithmic curation. For that, the app builds on its magazine creation tools and adds features from a couple of acquisitions Flipboard made over the last few years.
The first was its Cover Stories feature, which came about with help from technology it acquired as part of its purchase of Ellerdale several years ago. That gave Flipboard the ability to structure and display content more like a magazine.
It’s the more recent acquisition of Zite which helps to power the app’s new topic-centric following model, however. Zite was acquired from CNN earlier this year, and ever since the combined engineering teams have been working on ways to make Flipboard more personalized and more engaging.
It’s Zite’s technology that is being used to identify and categorize the topics that users can subscribe to. It can do that without its readers building magazines, which opens up a whole lot of new topics and content for readers to discover.
But that’s the whole point. Finding more relevant content is key to Flipboard’s business model, after all.
The more readers flip and the more engaged they are in its magazine-like experience, the more ads they see. The more ads they see, the more money Flipboard makes. And considering that Flipboard has raised more than $160 million since being founded, it’ll need a lot of flips to justify that funding. The good news is, whatever it’s done so far seems to be working.
Fashion and social networking belong together, but so far no one has found the perfect balance between user-generated content and a focus on edgy fashion. That’s where Cloth comes in.
It’s a new app, launched today, that lets users share their favorite outfits in an Instagram-like feed, letting them get feedback from friends (with likes and chat) and saving their favorite outfits to remember later.
Cloth has been in beta for two years now, and today launches into public availability on the App Store. It was founded by Seth Porges, who has been a longtime journalist for organizations like Maxim magazine, Popular Mechanics, Bloomberg News and Men’s Health.
With Cloth, however, Porges shifts to a more entrepreneurial focus, looking to help people record their own best looks and share them with others.
“The goal has always been to make getting dressed easier and more fun,” said Porges. “We wanted to make an app that enhances how people are already using their phones and fashion together, without forcing them into unnatural actions that they aren’t already doing.”
Cloth not only allows you to build out a closet through photos, shared in a stream, but it also allows you to tag them so that others can search for inspiration based on specific guidelines. Plus, Cloth includes weather notifications to help you get dressed each day.
The company has raised a small undisclosed amount from a group of unnamed angel investors thus far.
We're based in the Mission District of San Francisco. Navdy was founded by entrepreneur Doug Simpson and serial inventor Karl Guttag, and is supported by a highly accomplished veteran team. In 2013 Navdy went through the acclaimed Highway 1 Incubator program and continues to work closely with Highway 1’s parent, PCH International, whose world class supply chain and manufacturing capabilities are used by companies such as Apple, Beats, and Google.
Digg, Milk, and Revision3 founder Kevin Rose recently left Google Ventures to start a new mobile development house called North, and now we have some details on the firm’s first app, Tiiny, which will launch soon. The basic idea is that Tiiny lets you share thumbnail-sized photos and animated GIFs to a grid of pics on your friends’ phones, and they disappear 24 hours later. Rather than making you scroll through full-width photos like Instagram, Tiiny lets you get a constantly-updated look at what lots of your friends are up to in a single glance.
Rose told TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington that the app is currently going through the iOS App Store approval process and should launch very soon. Rose’s team said he’s not ready to talk more about the app just yet, but we’ll have more details on TechCrunch when it’s time.
I did get a quick look at the app yesterday, though, and it’s slick. As you can sort of make out from the photo below, the top of the screen features a 3-wide by 4-tall grid of photos and animated GIFS, with a button to capture and share more at the bottom. Seeing all the moving images on the same screen made the app feel vibrant and alive, which could make it addictive to check compared to more static apps like Instagram or even Vine, which only shows one video at a time. Rather than a replacement or direct competitor to other more public broadcast and direct messaging photo apps, Tiiny seems like it could fit in as a complement.
There’s also supposedly some more functionality but we’ll have to wait until it’s out for that.
North, which we profiled last month, has a peculiar strategy. Rather than languish on building one app, North is trying to use a small team of about 3 people to launch a new mobile app every three months. This scheme lets North quickly throw apps against the wall and see what’s sticky for users. With building social apps being likened to capturing “lightning in a bottle”, this diversified approach means North won’t spend a year building something no one wants. If Tiiny is a flop, the team will just move on to the next app.
Apple has hired industrial designer Marc Newson. Newson will join his friend and Senior Vice President of Design, Jony Ive on the company’s design team creating future Apple products. This hire is huge as it would give Ive someone of his caliber of talent to work with. Steve Jobs was famously hands-on with most aspects of the design of Apple products. This involved spending a lot of time with Ive as the two collaborated on the company’s hardware. Meanwhile, Tim Cook took care of the day-to-day business. CEO Cook is still not nearly as involved in the day-to-day design elements of upcoming products, at least according to The New York Times. Hiring Newson could be a way of giving Ive someone to collaborate with like he did with Jobs.
Which is perfect since Newson and Ive are friends and have already collaborated on numerous projects including a design a special edition Leica for a (RED) organization charity auction. Vanity Fair also notes that Newson has worked with Ive on Apple products in the past.
Plus, who wouldn’t want to hire someone that’s designed a rocketpack? Plus, he already has experience designing time pieces. If an iWatch is announced at theSeptember 9 event, we wouldn’t be surprised if Newson had a hand in the design since he’s consulted on Apple products in the past.
Newson will continue to be based in the United Kingdom, but will make frequent trips to Cupertino.
- How user experience and interaction design evolve in an agile, continuous world
- Why creating a cross-functional design process increases the viability and success of your products
- How to focus your teams on creating digital experiences instead of documentation
Speaker: Jeff Gothelf
Designers have long relied on heavy documentation to communicate their vision for products and experiences. As technology has evolved to offer more complex and intricate interactions, the deliverables we've been creating have followed suit. Ultimately though, these deliverables have come to serve as bottlenecks to the creation process and as the beginning of the negotiation process with our team mates -- a starting point for conversation on what could get built and launched.
Lean UX aims to open up the user experience design process with a collaborative approach that involves the entire team. It's a hypothesis-based design approach that tests design ideas early and often and, along the way, builds a shared understanding with our team mates that eliminates the dependencies on heavy documentation and challenging communications. Lean UX is a solution for the challenge of Agile and UX integration while it also works effectively in traditional waterfall and other hybrid environments.
Google announced a new universal design language, called Material Design, as part of the forthcoming “L” release of Google’s Android mobile operating system. The design is meant to offer a more consistent, universal look-and-feel across mobile, tablets, desktop and “beyond,” the company explains.
“We imagined… what if pixels didn’t just have color, but also depth? What if there was a material that could change its texture? This lead us to something we call ‘material design,” says Matias Durate, Director of Android operating system User Experience at Google, during the keynote this morning.
Some of the key features of the new design include an updated version of the system font, Roboto, as well as bold and dramatic colors and highly polished animations.
Durate also quickly walked through the changes in the new framework, which it’s also releasing publicly today at google.com/design. The idea is to put this framework in the hands of developers who build on Google’s platforms, so all apps have a consistent look, similar to how Apple has its own design guidelines for Mac and iOS developers.
The company is also introducing new redesigned versions of Google’s flagship apps using this new language, including Gmail and Calendar, for both Android and the web. You may recall reading about these changes recently, when some blogsgot a hold of leaked versions of screenshots showing Gmail’s redesign, featuring a cleaner and simpler interface.
On Android, the new look is called “Material,” and it supports a variety of new animation capabilities, has built-in realtime UI shadows, and “hero” elements that can be passed from screen-to-screen.
The open-sourced framework Polymer, which highlighted during the last Google I/O, was also mentioned as being a way for developers to create building blocks which work with this new design language. Polymer offers a prototyping tool that lets you build responsive websites using predefined, customizable building blocks, and was recently discussed as being a part of Google’s forthcoming design changes we covered here when it was known as its internal codename “Quantum Paper.”
On the Google Design website, the company references its goals for Material Design as follows:
Create a visual language that synthesizes classic principles of good design with the innovation and possibility of technology and science.
Develop a single underlying system that allows for a unified experience across platforms and device sizes. Mobile precepts are fundamental, but touch, voice, mouse, and keyboard are all ﬁrst-class input methods.
Google describes the new design as being “inspired by the study of paper and ink, yet technologically advanced and open to imagination and magic.”
The design uses familiar tactile means of interacting with its many parts, with visual cues that are grounded in reality, Google says. Its elements also recall print-based design typography, with “deliberate color choices, edge-to-edge imagery, large-scale typography, and intentional white space create a bold and graphic interface that immerses the user in the experience.”
Motion is another key element of the design, but is meant to be. “Motion is meaningful and appropriate, serving to focus attention and maintain continuity,” Google adds.
More broadly speaking, the design refresh is about making the experience of using Google’s products and services, including Android, more enjoyable for end users. Apple is well-known for having stricter design guidelines for its developer partners, and that has helped shaped how consumers perceive Apple — that is, as being a design-focused company.
Now Google is stepping up to show that it’s ready to compete on design, as well.
The move comes at a time when Apple is also moving into areas Google dominates – like cloud services. That has worried Google, sources say, since it seemed like Apple was getting better at infrastructure than Google was getting at design. Material Design is Google’s effort to change that.
4 Myths About Apple Design, From An Ex-Apple Designer
WHAT'S LIFE REALLY LIKE DESIGNING FOR APPLE? AN ALUM SHARES WHAT HE LEARNED DURING HIS SEVEN YEARS IN CUPERTINO.
Apple is synonymous with upper echelon design, but very little is known about the company's design process. Most of Apple’s ownemployees aren’t allowed inside Apple’s fabled design studios. So we’re left piecing together interviews, or outright speculating about how Apple does it and what it’s really like to be a designer at the company.
Enter Mark Kawano. Before founding Storehouse, Kawano was a senior designer at Apple for seven years, where he worked on Aperture and iPhoto. Later, Kawano became Apple's User Experience Evangelist, guiding third-party app iOS developers to create software that felt right on Apple's platforms. Kawano was with the company during a critical moment, as Apple released the iPhone and created the wide world of apps.
In an interview with Co.Design, Kawano spoke frankly about his time at Apple--and especially wanted to address all the myths the industry has about the company and about its people.
Apple Has The Best Designers
“I think the biggest misconception is this belief that the reason Apple products turn out to be designed better, and have a better user experience, or are sexier, or whatever . . . is that they have the best design team in the world, or the best process in the world,” Kawano says. But in his role as user experience evangelist, meeting with design teams from Fortune 500 companies on a daily basis, he absorbed a deeper truth.
“It's actually the engineering culture, and the way the organization is structured to appreciate and support design. Everybody there is thinking about UX and design, not just the designers. And that’s what makes everything about the product so much better . . . much more than any individual designer or design team.”
It has often been said that good design needs to start at the top--that the CEO needs to care about design as much as the designers themselves. People often observe that Steve Jobs brought this structure to Apple. But the reason that structure works isn’t because of a top-down mandate. It’s an all around mandate. Everyone cares.
“It’s not this thing where you get some special wings or superpowers when you enter Cupertino. It’s that you now have an organization where you can spend your time designing products, instead of having to fight for your seat at the table, or get frustrated when the better design is passed over by an engineering manager who just wants to optimize for bug fixing. All of those things are what other designers at other companies have to spend a majority of their time doing. At Apple, it’s kind of expected that experience is really important."
Kawano underscores that everyone at Apple--from the engineers to the marketers--is, to some extent, thinking like a designer. In turn, HR hires employees accordingly. Much like Google hires employees that think like Googlers, Apple hires employees that truly take design into consideration in all of their decisions.
“You see companies that have poached Apple designers, and they come up with sexy interfaces or something interesting, but it doesn’t necessarily move the needle for their business or their product. That’s because all the designer did was work on an interface piece, but to have a really well-designed product in the way Steve would say, this 'holistic' thing, is everything. It’s not just the interface piece. It’s designing the right business model into it. Designing the right marketing and the copy, and the way to distribute it. All of those pieces are critical.”
Apple’s Design Team Is Infinite
Facebook has hundreds of designers. Google may have 1,000 or more. But when Kawano was at Apple, its core software products were designed by a relatively small group of roughly 100 people.
“I knew every one of them by face and name,” Kawano says.
For the most part, Apple didn’t employ specialist designers. Every designer could hold their own in both creating icons and new interfaces, for instance. And thanks to the fact that Apple hires design-centric engineers, the relatively skeleton design team could rely onengineers to begin the build process on a new app interface, rather than having to initiate their own mock-up first.
Of course, this approach may be changing today.
“For Apple, having a small, really focused organization made a lot of sense when Steve was there, because so many ideas came from Steve. So having a smaller group work on some of these ideas made sense,” Kawano says. “As Apple shifted to much more of a company where there’s multiple people at the top, I think it makes sense that they’re growing the design team in interesting ways.”
Notably, Jony Ive, who now heads usability across hardware and software, is reported to have brought in some of the marketing team to help redesign iOS 7. It's a coup, when you think about it, for marketers to be deep in the trenches with designers and engineers. (That level of collaboration is frankly unprecedented in the industry.)
Apple Crafts Every Detail With Intention
Apple products are often defined by small details, especially those around interaction. Case in point: When you type a wrong password, the password box shakes in response. These kinds of details are packed with meaningful delight. They're moments that seem tough to explain logically but which make sense on a gut level.
“So many companies try to mimic this idea . . . that we need to come up with this snappy way to do X, Y, and Z. They’re designing it, and they can’t move onto the next thing until they get a killer animation or killer model of the way data is laid out,” Kawano explains. The reality? “It’s almost impossible to come up with really innovative things when you have a deadline and schedule.”
Kawano told us that Apple designers (and engineers!) will often come up with clever interactive ideas--like 3-D cube interfaces or bouncy physics-based icons--during a bit of their down time, and then they might sit on them for years before they make sense in a particular context.
“People are constantly experimenting with these little items, and because the teams all kind of know what other people have done, once a feature comes up--say we need a good way to give feedback for a password, and we don’t want to throw up this ugly dialog--then it’s about grabbing these interaction or animation concepts that have just been kind of built for fun experiments and seeing if there’s anything there, and then applying the right ones.”
But if you're imagining some giant vault of animation ideas hiding inside Apple and waiting to be discovered, you'd be wrong. The reality, Kawano explains, was far more bohemian.
“There wasn’t a formalized library, because most of the time there wasn't that much that was formalized of anything that could be stolen,” Kawano says. “It was more having a small team and knowing what people had worked on, and the culture of being comfortable sharing.”
Steve Jobs’s Passion Frightened Everyone
There was a commonly shared piece of advice inside Apple--maybe you've heard it before--that a designer should always take the stairs, because if you met Steve Jobs in the elevator, he’d ask what you were up to. And one of two things would happen:
1. He’d hate it, and you might be fired.
2. He’d love it, the detail would gain his attention, and you’d lose every foreseeable night, weekend, and vacation to the project.
Kawano laughs when he tells it to me, but the conclusion he draws is more nuanced than the obvious Catch 22 punchline.
“The reality is, the people who thrived at Apple were the people who welcomed that desire and passion to learn from working with Steve, and just really were dedicated to the customer and the product. They were willing to give up their weekends and vacation time. And a lot of the people who complained that it wasn’t fair . . . they didn’t see the value of giving all that up versus trying to create the best product for the customer and then sacrificing everything personally to get there.”
“That’s where, a lot of times, he would get a bad rap, but he just wanted the best thing, and expected everyone else to want that same thing. He had trouble understanding people who didn’t want that same thing and wondered why they’d be working for him if that was the case. I think Steve had a very low tolerance for people who didn’t care about stuff. He had a very hard time understanding why people would work in these positions and not want to sacrifice everything for them.”
As for Kawano, did he ever get an amazing piece of advice, or an incredible compliment from Jobs?
“Nothing personally,” he admits, and then laughs. “The only thing that was really positive was, in the cafeteria one time, when he told me that the salmon I took looked really great, and he was going to go get that."
“He was just super accessible. I totally tried to get him to cut in front of me, but he’d never want do anything like that. That was interesting too, he was super demanding . . . but when it came to other things, he wanted to be very democratic, and to be treated like everyone else. And he was constantly struggling with those roles.”
Algoriddim is updating its iOS app djay today with a big new feature — integration with Spotify.
This is the first time djay (which the company says has been downloaded 10 million times, making it the world’s bestselling DJ app) has been connected to a streaming music service. This means users will no longer be limited to the music in their collection, and can instead access 20 million tracks in Spotify’s library.
Algoriddim aims to serve both casual users and serious DJs, and on the serious side, this could be the next step away from having to lug crates of vinyl records from club to club. It sounds like an obvious move, but CEO Karim Morsy said there were significant technical challenges, because users aren’t just streaming music from the cloud, but also mixing and applying effects in real-time.
You can see the app in action in the video above — as I watched Morsy show off djay’s different features, the app seemed to work as quickly with Spotify tracks as it did with iTunes music that was stored locally.
In addition to giving djay users access to more songs (they can search or browse different playlists, as well as share playlists of their own), Morsy said the integration allows Algoriddim to introduce two new features. First, there’s Match, which recommends songs that would be the right fit to play after the current track. Morsy’s a DJ himself and he said he’d previously believed that making this kind of song selection could never be automated. But using technology from Spotify’s acquisition of The Echo Nest convinced him that he was wrong.
And users can take that automated approach even further with Automix Radio, which won’t just choose the next song, but will create an entire mix and handle all of the transitions. So you can select a song that sets the mood, then let Automix continue playing automatically. In some ways it’s similar to just creating a station on an Internet radio service like Pandora, but with “beatmatched, DJ-style” transitions between songs.
Users will need a Spotify Premium account to access the Spotify library in djay, but the app includes a 7-day free trial for the premium service. Algoriddim is also promoting the apps by cutting the iPad price in half, to $4.99, and making its iPhone app available for free.
A number of companies have attempted to combine physical objects and the iPad in an effort to create new kinds of children’s games, whether that’s Crayola with their DigiTools coloring pens or games that teach toddlers their shapes, like Tiggly. Today, another digital toymaker, Tangible Play, is entering this space with the launch of a series of high-quality games designed for children ages 6 to 12, including puzzles, word games, and other forms of creative play.
In development for over a year, we first spotted Tangible Play demonstrating its games at a previous TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Alley.
The company was founded by ex-Googlers, including Pramod Sharma, who had earlier seen the intersection of physical and digital when he helped build Google’s book-scanning machine, and Jérôme Scholler, who had worked on Chrome for Android.
Both men are also dads, and like most parents, they have mixed feelings about the way today’s tablet computers engage kids’ attention. On the one hand, technologists generally like to see their kids embracing digital tools at young ages.
But, says Sharma, “[my daughter] could literally spend hours just looking at a screen, and doing nothing else. And as a parent, this is obviously concerning,” he says. That led the founders to create Osmo, the company’s first product built to combine social and creative play with the highly engaging tablet their kids were addicted to.
The games center around a technology which they refer to as “Reflective Artificial Intelligence.” What that means is that the Osmo gaming kit includes a uniquely designed reflective camera that snaps onto the top of the iPad, allowing the app to “see” the shapes and objects placed in front of the tablet on the tablet or other flat surface.
The game kit also includes an iPad stand and two physical games, their app counterparts, as well as third app that’s Osmo’s most recent addition.
While the best way to experience Osmo is to try it for yourself, the general gist of the experience involves playing a game in front of the iPad, following software prompts along the way which guide the gameplay.
In the case of “Words,” children try to quickly guess the word by sliding letter tiles in front of the tablet, while in “Tangram” kids use colorful wooden pieces to try to reproduce the image on the screen by placing shapes together. A third title, “Newton,” lets you engage in more creative play by placing any object in front the iPad – glasses, a pen, your hands, etc. – to turn them into structures inside a game involving bouncing balls and targets.
Though my daughter is only four, and below the target age range for these apps, with some guidance we were able to play some of the Osmo games together. It was easy to see how these games could make the iPad a more social activity - something that’s more like the modern-day equivalent to what was once the family board game night at home.
That being said, the test versions I was able to try (admittedly a few weeks behind the versions of the apps launching today) did have some kinks. I found, for example, that the shapes game “Tangram” would sometimes not see the pieces correctly, lighting up to show a match, then dimming again for no apparent reason, then lighting up again, which was confusing.
The sounds effects and music also need work, as they didn’t seem quite as kid-friendly and engaging as they could be. (They actually sound better in the video above, than in person). But overall, the games work as advertised, provided you have good lighting and a flat surface to play them upon. And Sharma says that now the goal is to make Osmo work on any surface, including floors and tables alike.
The company has been piloting the games in over one hundred schools, many near their home base of Palo Alto. From these early tests, the founders came to better understand the potential for Osmo from an educator’s perspective, explaining that their group play nature could help with a child’s social and emotional learning, while other games taught different concepts, like spatial intelligence and creative thinking.
Today, Tangible Play is launching its crowdfunding campaign which will allow it to assemble a core group of early adopters who the team hopes will help to evangelize the product and help Osmo gain traction. Though the gaming kit will eventually retail for $99, crowdfunding backers will be able to get it for a discount at $49, with some limited availability. The goal is to raise $50,000 to help with start-up and manufacturing costs.
However, the company doesn’t really need the crowdfunding in order to get the device to manufacturing, as they’ve previously raised an undisclosed round of seed funding from K-9 Ventures last year.
You can join the new crowdfunding campaign or learn more here: www.playosmo.com.
Wearables continue to be an area of focus for device makers, large and small. Here’s another would-be entrant to the space: Tinitell is a wearable phone and GPS tracker for kids, with electronics small enough for the whole device to be strapped to a toddler’s wrist.
It’s the work of a Swedish startup, founded last year, which has taken to Kickstarter to raise $100,000 to turn its prototype into a shipping commercial product by April next year. At the time of writing they are just shy of $30,000 pledged, with 29 days left of the campaign to run.
As well as being small, Tinitell is designed for basic operation. This connected wearable doesn’t have a screen on the device itself, with just a hardware button to activate the interface, and voice recognition to summon a particular contact.
Say ‘Mum’ and it will call the assigned number based on that pre-recorded voice label. There is also a way to cycle through contacts manually, using physical volume keys, and wait until the device has spoken the name of the contact you want to call.
The voice interface is based on matching what’s being said to pre-recorded name labels, rather than being fully fledged voice recognition software — which helps keep the processing power requirements down.
Contacts are added to the device via Tinitell’s website or via an app. This also allows for parents to manage who can contact their child’s device, and also locate it on a map should they need to.
Tinitell takes a 2G GSM SIM for connectivity, to power the voice calls and GPS tracking. It’s battery powered, and apparently good for an hour’s talk time on a single charge or seven days on standby. It’s also water resistant and sandbox proof, to ensure it’s robust enough for outdoor child’s play.
“I came up with the idea for Tinitell when I was hanging out with a friend who is also a father,” says founder Mats Horn. “His son wanted to go outside and play, but he didn’t have a cell phone. He had lost a cell phone once before, and we didn’t feel like lending out our smartphones. Worst of all, we couldn’t join him outside because we were busy cooking dinner. His son ended up playing in his room with his iPad, and I thought that was sad.
“I loved being outside when I was a kid… This led me to think there should be a simple mobile phone for kids, nothing advanced, just a nicely designed speaker and microphone to handle quick ‘hellos’ and ‘come heres’.”
Horn argues that market for a simple mobile for kids is “largely untapped” — although it must be said that there are a lot of kids phones already out there. But the wearable aspect of Tinitell gives it the advantage of being harder for the child to lose than a phone. It’s also arguably less obtrusive than other GPS tracker systems for parents to keep tabs on kids, such as Locca. Whether those are big enough advantages to get parents flocking to buy Tinitell remains to be seen.
Wearable devices are certainly going through a sort of Cambrian Explosion of incarnations at present, as companies try to figure out the use cases and form factors that stick. (On the not-going-to-stick front, I’m pretty sure you can write off the ridiculously unwieldy Rufus Cuff, for one.)
Tinitell’s bet is there is space for dedicated connected kids’ wearables. And they are not the only startup to think so — the Moff Bluetooth bangle is a wearable toy that augments the gestures of play with sound effects. There’s also the Guardian Bluetooth Low Energy-powered tracker wristband, also designed specifically for parents to keep tabs on kids.
Cost is likely to be a key factor in whether these kids’ wearables flourish or perish. Tinitell is being offered to early Kickstarter backers starting from $99 — rising to $149 once early pledge levels are claimed. So it’s not exactly cheap.
Tinitell’s Horn says he’s been funding development on the device through private stipends and loans, thus far. The startup also won Sweden’s largest entrepreneurship competition in 2013.
Earlier today, Leica unveiled its new Leica T camera system. It's an all-new mirrorless camera platform with a distinctly different design than anything Leica has produced before. Leica had a little help along the way: the company called upon Audi's design team to work on the project, and the final result looks very similar to an iPhone or other modern, unibody metal smartphone.
We'll be reviewing the new Leica T in the coming weeks, but until then, peruse the images below for looks at the camera, its lenses, accessories, and the manufacturing process that goes into making the Leica T.
Since we are roughly six months into the general release of iOS 7, and about two months from learning about iOS 8, I thought I’d share my thoughts on iOS 7 as well as my iOS 8 wish list. Overall, I’ve been pretty happy with iOS 7 and haven’t wanted to go back to iOS 6. However, I still think there is room for improvement.
What I like
The new look-and-feel introduced in iOS 7 was controversial, to say the least. For me, I liked the new interface from the beginning. I’m in the developer program and installed the beta the day it was released. I took me a few days to get used to it, but after that there was no going back. I recently had my iPad replaced under warranty. When I got the new one, it had iOS6 installed. It was a jarring moment as I realized then how much I liked the new look and feel.
Being able to flip up (as opposed to flip off, I guess) Control Center and turn Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the flashlight off and on, as well as have quick access to a calculator, is a nice addition and has also eliminated the need for a separate flashlight app. My one complaint is the touch target for the swipe seems a little narrow.
The Notification Today Screen is a great addition. I’d be lying if I said I used it as much as I should. It’s nice seeing what my day looks like first thing in the morning. Granted, it seems the times I use it the most are the days I’m thinking of calling in when I’m sick and want to see if I have any important meetings. When I swipe down to see the Today Screen, and it tells me “There are 2 events scheduled…” for the next day, I’d like to be able to tap on that sentence and bring up the calendar.
What I also like to see is for them to borrow from Google Now and let me add in sports scores and the like. This week, I fell asleep before the Red Sox won a game in 14 innings. It would have been great if the Today Screen showed the score the next morning. However, I’ve never really used the Missed Notification tab, because I’ve really limited the amount of apps that hit the Notification Center.
I really like the new Multitasking screens. It took a little getting used to it taking up the whole screen, however, the live update is great. Sometimes, I’ll use that to take a quick peek at an app and then scoot back over to the current app.
While I still use 1Password, I’ve become a big fan of iCloud Keychain. What I’d like to see is the ability to have other apps have access to it, too. I still need to keep a copy of my passwords in 1Password because Mail, WordPress, and any other app with a login can’t read the Keychain.
What I’m not sold on
The grouping of photos by Moments in the Photos app is a bit of a hit or miss for me. I’d like the grouping to be a little bit smarter. Over the period of a week, I took photos at a show in Connecticut, near work, and near home. On one view level in Photos, they were grouped all together, When I tapped on a photo it did bring me to the grouping of just the Connecticut show. The reason I’m sold on it is because of that mid-level grouping. I’d prefer it didn’t group the different locations that way. That said, I don’t like it when there’s only a few photos in a collection, so I’m guess I’m just never happy.
iTunes Radio is something I keep forgetting is there. I like the idea of it, and as a iTunes Match subscriber I should be using it more. I usually come close to my data limits each month (my plan is split between three phones) so I have cellular data turned off for Music. Since I do most of my music listening on the ride home from work, listening to iTunes Radio is pretty much out. I should use it at work, though, where I can get on the guest Wi-Fi.
What I don’t like
The fact that Airdrop only works between iOS devices (or two OS X devices) is a let down. Sometimes, I’d like to be able to drop a file from my Mac to my iPad without going through the the iTunes File Share route.
While Siri has gotten better, it’s still a let-down for me. I still seem to be having, “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that right now” moments more than I’d like. Either she has a hard time with my Boston accent, or she’s just hard of hearing, because it seems like most text messages have her end up mangling at least one of the words. I use Siri on almost a daily basis and at least twice a day I end up swearing at it. I would also like the Siri APIs opened up for all developers to use.
The folder view on the iPad feels like it should display at least another row of icons. I also don’t like that tapping the home button still leaves me in the folder; I want it to bring me back to Home screen.
GameCenter is still pretty useless for me. I have friends on GameCenter, but I never really interact with them. The Notifications seem wonky, too. My girlfriend plays Scrabble on her iPad a lot, but according to GameCenter, she last played it a year ago. I would also like to be able to tap on the Scrabble icon in GameCenter and challenge her directly.
My iOS 8 wish list
I’d like to see more app parity between OSX and iOS. iOS really needs a Preview app. I can store PDFs in my iCloud, but can’t see them on my iPad. I’m also not sure why there isn’t a calculator or compass on the iPad, either. It’s unlikely we will see this, but I’d love to be able to set default apps for mail and browsing. On the iPad, I’d like to see the landscape view have the same six columns I can have in the springboard. If there’s room there, why isn’t there room on the main display. It also throws my OCD off when the rows don’t line up.
Apple also needs to increase iCloud storage and bring their prices in line with Google’s service ($9.99/mo gives me 1TB of data vs. a max of 50GB of iCloud storage for $100/year. Also, you cannot fully back up 64 or 128GB iOS devices. Granted, some of this data can be redownloaded from iTunes Match, iBookstore and other repositories. I’d like to use iCloud to hold a lot more data than I currently can. I have roughly 30g of guitar magazines I’ve scanned in and I’d like them to sit on iCloud; right now they are on my Google Drive. I would also like to truly start severing the iTunes connection my iOS devices have, and improve how iOS apps sync back to their OS X counterparts. If I add a book on my iPad’s iBooks app from Project Gutenberg, it’s not synced back to iBooks on OS X (to be fair, I don’t think if I open a book on the Kindle app it’s auto-added to my Kindle Personal Documents, either). I would also like to create an album on Photos on my iPad and have it appear in iPhoto on my Mac.
I would also like to be able to write to Reading List from apps not called Safari. I’ve been using as a replacement to Pocket since, and I don’t like that I can’t set my Read Later in Twitter to Reading List. Actually, a share sheet like Android would be great, On my Nexus 7, once I have the Evernote app installed, I can share just about everything with that app.
We will find out June 2nd what Apple’s roadmap for iOS 8 is. Most likely, we will see a few bits of people’s wish lists and then a slew of features we hadn’t though of. What I hope is now that Apple is done (hopefully) with the redesign, iOS 8 will focus on features.
A more personalized way to pin may be on the way as Pinterest has announced a big press event in San Francisco on April 24th with the teaser image above. We’ve confirmed with the company that this will be a product announcement and CEO Ben Silbermann will speak. So what will Pinterest unveil?
The startup has written that this year it’s focused on helping people discover pins related to their interests. In January it launched a preview of a new personalized homepage that learns from what people have browsed and pinned in the past. This “Explore Interests” page then presents pins related to their tastes, and uses a mosaic of different-sized tiles to highlight certain items instead of Pinterest’s iconically uniform mason grid.
A full launch of Explore Interests would match the “choose your own adventure” theme. It would also mesh with what Pinterest head of engineering Jon Jenkins told me last year was on the roadmap for 2014. At the time, he said “Pinterest isn’t fundamentally about connecting people to other people. It’s about connecting people to interests…We try to identify interests through collaborative filtering, associative rule mining, natural language processing to provide discovery. I can pin five shirts I like and Pinterest derives my interest in fashion.”
A personalized home page could use all these signals to provide a relevancy-filtered feed, much like Facebook does. That could make Pinterest a more relaxing place to visit and browse. Instead of having to hunt through topic-specific boards or know what you’re looking for with search, Pinterest will bring what you like straight to your digital doorstep. That could make it more addictive for hardcore users and more accessible to rookies. As the majority of Pinterest’s traffic now comes from mobile, I’d expect this personalization to show up on the small screen too, not just the desktop.
We’ll also be on the lookout to see if Pinterest announces any more plans on the monetization front. Pinterest raised a jaw-dropping $225 million at a $3.8 billion valuation in October, and everyone wants to know how it will make good on that investment. After months of testing, Pinterest plans to formally launch its “Promoted Pins” ads this quarter,according to the Wall Street Journal. These ads look like organic posts from users, but brands pay to make them appear in search results and category pages related to specific topics.AdAge says Pinterest is looking to charge a pricey $30 to $40 per thousand impressions (CPM), and has been asking for $1 million to $2 million commitments from advertisers.
In my opinion, this kind of keyword-based advertising could be a very lucrative for Pinterest, because its visitors often come with a great deal of purchase intent. Promoted Pins won’t be scattershot demand generation, which has historically been Facebook’s wheelhouse. Instead, these will be demand-fulfillment ads, similar to Google’s bread and butter of search keyword ads.
And they could rake in cash for Pinterest by helping people make big purchase decisions. Dream vacations, ideal homes, children’s nurseries — there are the expensive things people pin. People know they want to vacation on St. John, buy a crib, or rent a lake house, but don’t know exactly where to spend their money. A beautified Pinterest ad could make the difference between which resort you visit, what home you lease, or where you shop for all your baby gear. With big cart sizes, e-commerce advertisers could quickly earn a return on their investment. eMarketer now gauges Pinterest at 40 million monthly users in the U.S., an audience big enough to drive serious ad revenue.
We’ll be there at Pinterest headquarters for the event on April 24 at 6pm PDT, and you can expect live updates from TechCrunch. Until now, Pinterest has acted almost like a clearinghouse for subscribing to magazines about your specific interests. But soon, it could employ big data so rather than having to subscribe to what you like, that content (and related ads) will come find you.
Frontback just released the Android version of its popular photo-sharing app. Previously, the app was only available on iOS. But even with just the iPhone app, the app was downloaded one million times over the past eight months. With the new Android release, the company can certainly expect many new users.
Frontback started as a photo-taking app to capture fleeting moments. A Frontback post is a digital collage of what’s in front of you, and your face as it happens.
I’ve been playing with the Android app for the last few weeks, and it’s everything you would expect. It looks and acts exactly like the iOS app, but on Android.
At the same time, it was re-skinned to look more like an Android app. Buttons and menus follow the general Android guidelines. This way, Frontback makes you think it has always been an Android app.
There is one additional feature compared to the iOS app — offline mode. You can now take a Frontback without connectivity and send it. The app will keep the photo and push it to Frontback’s server the next time you’re online. This feature will come in the next iOS update.
“In our case, due to full screen images, memory’s issues are indeed amplified, especially considering that Frontback provides on top of that a camera functionality,” Frontback lead Android developer Giovanni Vatieri wrote in an email. “The biggest challenge for the camera part is to reach the highest photo quality possible considering the different devices’ capabilities and the memory available at the moment the user access the camera.”
Moreover, Frontback’s user interface is very different from other photo-sharing apps. When you open the app, you just see two square-ish photos on top of each other (a Frontback post), filling up the entire screen of your phone. Yet, some Android phones have different aspect ratios, screen resolutions and more. The company had to work around these constraints.
The company also worked a lot on the iOS app before releasing the Android app. When your app is available on multiple platforms, you have to develop every single feature multiple times to reach feature parity. That’s why the company wanted to improve the iPhone app before releasing the Android app.
Co-founder and CEO Frédéric della Faille also shared some numbers. While the app recently reached one million downloads, its user base has doubled in the past two months. Compared to January 2014, the number of uploaded photos has tripled. In other words, active users are becoming more active, or the ratio between active users and total users is increasing.
These are not hard numbers, so it’s hard to claim for sure that the company is doing well. But there is one thing for sure, the Android app is a much-needed addition in order to boost the company’s growth.
The invention of the tablet PC has created a new medium for book publishing. Interactive books are everywhere, and have revolutionized the way people consume the printed word. With the recent software available to allow easy creation of interactive books and with the race to bring these products to market, there seems to be a more and more dilution of quality and a loss for the meaning of interactivity. When publishers create new eBook titles or convert a traditional printed book to a digital interactive eBook, they often miss the added value this new medium can provide.
It’s important to understand the distinction between apps and eBooks, as it's something that often confuses both publishers and consumers. It basically comes down to formats; apps are mostly native iOS orAndroidsoftware, whereas eBooks are documents of a particular format, such as the open standards EPUB and Mobipocket (.mobi). And eBooks can be further distinguished from “enhanced eBooks,” which use formats such as ePUB3 for iBooks (Apple) and Kindle Format 8 (KF8) for Kindle Fire (Amazon).
eBooks were the first to appear on devices such as the Kindle, and have very limited interactivity. You are mainly able to flip the pages, search for content, or highlight words to see a dictionary definition. These devices also allowed font size to be increased to enable visually impaired readers enjoy books more easily. This gave publishers the unforeseen benefit of regaining a large population of users who couldn’t read printed books.
Enhanced eBooks (ePUB3) are a new digital publication standard that allows easy integration of video, audio, and interactivity. I expect this format to advance the future of textbooks and other educational material. Future textbooks might be able to "read themselves" with audio narration, perhaps preventing students from actually reading. But the benefits outweigh the downsides; for example, the new text books might also offer the ability to make and share annotations without destroying the book, interactive self-tests throughout the chapters, and generally a much more enjoyable learning experience.
Apple has recently released iBooks Author, a free eBook creation software that lets anyone with a Mac to create iBooks textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books, etc. iBooks Author generates a proprietary format for books that will only be available for sale on Apple devices. Adobe has also made available a Digital Publishing Suite via InDesign for the iPad, Android, and Blackberry platforms. Mag+ and Moglue are two other independent publishing platforms that are worth mentioning.
Interactive eBooks is a category for apps designed specifically to utilize the powers of tablets to enable users to interact with the storyline in sight, sound, and touch. I like to think of interactive eBooks as an evolution of the printed book with added interactivity in order to create an experience beyond the printed format. Examples of interactive eBooks include pop-up book apps for kids, interactive travel guides that utilize the device GPS capabilities, cookbooks with built-in timers and video recipes, or any traditional book that now uses the tablet to enhance the experience with interactivity.
Grimm's Rapunzel ~ 3D Interactive Pop-up Book
On a touch device, interactivity is the ability to engage with the user interface, including the ways you move your fingers on the screen, the way you to select an app, or how you browse the Web. Interactive eBooks are, by definition, an enhanced book-like experience that have a different core premise than other types of apps (with the exception of games perhaps). Whereas in most applications, interactivity focuses on menu navigation and interaction with the user interface as means to achieve a goal (view an image, find an address, read an email), interactive eBooks provide interaction with the content and storyline, and therefore offer a unique experience each time. A good example of is Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality, where you interact with the storyline through interactive demonstrations and games that allow you to get hands-on with the science discussed in the book by, for example, letting you simulate the effects of heat, pressure, and gravity on different states of matter.
The experience of interactive eBooks should not be confined to animations based on touch-and-response interaction, or merely flipping the page; when designing these Books one must ask what is the enhancedexperience—why to move from print to digital, and how to create value and fun.
Interactivity for the Sake of Interactivity
If a book app does not use interactivity in order to enhance the reading experience, it does not belong in the interactive eBook category. In the race to bring interactive books to market, some of the books have only featured very superficial interactivity—what I call “interactivity for the sake of interactivity”—where, for example, touching an image activates a simple animation such as making a butterfly fly, or a tree drop leaves to the ground. These interactive experiences do not add value to the story, and are therefore somewhat meaningless.
There are a few exceptions where this type of interactivity is actually a success. For example. one of the first books published as an interactive app for the iPad was Alice in Wonderland. This book was a phenomenal success though offered nothing but eye-candy interactivity. When the app was first published, the reviews called it "a reinvention of reading” that made clever use of the accelerometer to make Alice grow as big as a house or to throw tarts at the Queen of Hearts and watch them bounce. Although these activities through the 52 pages of the book are fun, I think they distract from the actual story. The reason this book was such a success is due its having been published when the iPad was fairly new, and touch interactivity was still an exciting experience.
Another book that was fairly successful at the time was The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross, which offers narrated animation with very basic interactivity, but was considered revolutionary when it came out because reading the story while seeing the animation unfold was definitely an enhanced experience to the young reader. However, this book did not offer any real value through interactivity, and might as well be classified as a short animated movie. The limited interactivity of seeing letters animate while you tilt the device was merely a gimmick, as you can see in the video below
Cozmo's Day Off is an interactive eBook that was on the top-seller list for many months, and is packed with interactive elements that made it a great success. It contains over 100 unique audio and animated interactions. However, this app would be better characterized as a game for young kids and not as an interactive storybook because the story seems secondary to all the bells and whistles, and it’s written in style not intended for young audiences. But perhaps this is a case where interaction simply for the sake of interaction can be the whole point of a book.
The image below shows all of the hotspots that trigger an animation sequence for one page of the book:
Interaction for Value
It is possible for interactivity to go beyond the superficial, to add value to the book and create an experience that would be impossible in print. Here are a few examples of such cases.
Al Gore's Our Choice is a great example of how meaningful interactivity creates an engaging and fun learning experience. With clever use of interactive infographics, animations, documentary videos, and images, this book is a great example of what the future has in store for digital publishing.
The Martha Stewart Cookies iPad app is a wonderful example of an interactive recipe book. Besides just offering great recipes, it also allows you to search recipes based on ingredients and cookie type to find the perfect cookie for your needs. For example, you might use the app’s search wheel (below) to look for bars and biscotti-type cookies with oatmeal as the main flavor component. This is a great added value because this type of interaction is unmatched in print.
Paris: DK Eyewitness is probably the most complete travel guide you can find for the iPad. It features beautiful cutaways of buildings that can be explored by tapping and zooming, complete offline maps for all the central districts of the city, interactive city and park walks with “hotspots,” and extensive listings of the best sights relative to your current location. No more searching aimlessly for your location on a map or looking through index pages; the interactive app shows what's around you within walking distance, making the iPad a must-carry on in your travel bag for an experience unparalleled in a traditional travel guides.
Bobo Explores Light is an educational experience for young adults. It puts a fully functional science museum in the palm of your hand, teaching you about lasers, telescopes, lightning, reflection, bioluminescence, and sunlight. This is great example of using simple interactivity to explain relatively complex topics through science experiments that you can actually perform on your iPad. Bobo, a friendly robot, serves as a guide, taking the young reader through space, land, and sea, to learn all about the science of light.
In my book, Timor the Alligator, kids participate in the story by picking toothpaste and helping Timor brush his teeth. This story could not have been told in a printed book because, without the use of interactivity, young kids would not be able to visually understand that brushing actually helps keep a clean mouth. The simple process of choosing a toothbrush, adding toothpaste, and brushing Timor’s teeth until they turn white serves as an educational experience for preschoolers and toddlers reading the book.
With the Numberlys app, kids (and adults) learn about the alphabet through a series of fun interactive games. This book probably has the most spectacular visuals I’ve seen to date. Its aesthetic is inspired by Fritz Lang’s silent film, Metropolis, so the app offers a unique cinematic experience and gameplay to engage users to learn about the (fictitious) "origin of the alphabet."
As you can see from these examples, interactive eBooks are no longer just about a touch-to-animate type of interactivity, nor simply the touch interface controls. Rather, they are about adding value through interactivity by using the full capabilities of a touch device to engage the user and enhance the learning and reading experience. These engaging experiences are what I call a true reinvention of reading.