Finally, a Bagel Wednesday that’s not all about Apple.
Today the Japanese telecommunications operator KDDI introduced the new HTC J Butterfly. Google’s latest offering is halfway across the world and is quite a few miles ahead of devices in North America.
Underneath the HTC J Butterfly’s exclusive 5-inch 1080p HD “Super LCD 3” screen is a device jammed with great features. Running on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, the Butterfly has 16GB and microSDHC expansion, an eight megapixel camera is set up for NFC and can be used globally. And, oh yeah, it’s waterproof. The only speculated problem so far with the HTC device is its battery which may be too small to power the only 1080p screen on the market.
Battery issues and tech bragging aside, it is refreshing to see waterproofing included as an integrated feature and not as a hokey marketing position. We’ve seen waterproofing before from phones like the Samsung Rugby Smart, which is as durable as it is unattractive and low-tech. Sony’s Xperia is better looking and more capable as a smartphone but is still relatively mid-range and lackluster.
Why can’t we get high performance and all around UX at the same time? It seems that consumers have been sacrificing some common sense for the latest and greatest technology. Waterproofing seems like the biggest no-brainer necessity for consumers who are investing hundreds of dollars in something they rely on all day, every day. Improvements in durable UX that fix your phone’s phobia to water and prevent its screen from shattering are functions that companies should be making standard.
Just like us, our smartphones are exposed to wear and tear. Companies from HTC, Samsung and Apple alike claim that with their phones you can have it all. But the HTC J Butterfly seems like the first of its kind that really does.
The Butterfly will not be released in Japan until early December and there is no word so far on its arrival into the North American market. But when it does get ready for the whole package: a high-operating smartphone with durability to boot.
We are all guilty of it. We have at some point used a cellphone while driving. In fact, before it became illegal to do so, such practice was very common.
Aside from being illegal, using a mobile device while driving is also very dangerous. Safe driving requires a driver’s full attention, and electronic devices in general are quite distracting.
While I highly recommend refraining from doing so, if you still find yourself occasionally using your phone while driving, there’s an app out there that makes it significantly safer to do so.
Drive is an iOS app that is available on the iTunes App Store for the price of $0.99. The app makes using a cellphone while driving slightly safer, by reducing the focus and attention needed to perform some common tasks, allowing users to focus more on what matters; driving.
It does so with the use of large text and icons, gesture controls, a simple UI, and simplified and somewhat automated text messaging, calling, music and mapping functionality.
Throughout the app, the use of large text, icons and buttons make it easier for users to locate a particular feature and navigating to and through it. These elements alone significantly reduce the time users spend looking down at their phones, which is also time spent looking away from the road!
But as an app designed for use while driving, Drive is even further optimized for use behind the wheel. Take for example the quick call feature, which with some relatively quick setup, makes the task of placing calls much easier and far safer. It should be noted however, that the use of some sort of hands-free device is the single best way to reduce the risks of placing or taking phone calls while driving.
Users must select phone numbers they wish to be included in the quick call feature from their contact list. After doing so, those numbers can be seen in the green portion of the screen. Users can tap a contact to make a call, or swipe to scroll through contacts.
The large text used in the call feature make it extremely easy to locate a particular contact and place a call. I find that smaller text and smaller buttons, if not too small, work fine for regular use. However, on the road, they require users to look down at the their phones for a longer amount of time, greatly reducing safety.
The quick text feature also reduces the time users must spend looking away from the road. It allows users to create a list of common messages they may send, which can be sent in two easy taps while behind the wheel of a car.
Users must also select a recipient for each message ahead of time during the setup. Once setup is complete, users can again swipe left or right to scroll through messages or tap to send. Again, the large touch surface, which takes up over half of the screen, reduces the amount of time users need to spend looking down at their phones.
The music portion of the app was what most impressed me with Drive. I always use my iPhone for music in my car (though, I should point out my car has a USB connection that allows me to control my iPhone music player with my stereo controls).
However, my last car did not have such a feature and required me to use my phone’s touchscreen to control my music. For such cases, Drive can be your best friend. It allows users to control music without having to constantly look away from the road.
The music portion of the app taps into you iTunes library and is entirely gesture controlled. Users can tap to play or pause, swipe to the right to play the previous track, swipe to the left for the next track or swipe up or down with two fingers to increase or decrease volume.
The use of gestures here works very well. The controls are simple, easy to remember and allow users to control the app without looking at their phone. They can swipe or tap just about anywhere on the screen, meaning they don’t have to look for a tiny play button, then struggle to tap it in a moving car.
The only part of the app that I thought could really use some work was the map section. It doesn’t provide any search or directions functionality. All that users get is their position plotted on a map. They can pan and zoom as they would in the native Maps app, but that’s just about all they can do.
I have read in other blogs, that the app’s creators are planning updates that will see integration with iOS Maps and turn-by-turn directions as well as support for landscape orientation.
I will be looking forward for such an update, as I though this feature was obviously lacking functionality. However, as a whole, the app impressed me with the way it’s optimized for driving, it’s sleek and simple UI, and aesthetically appealing design.
If you weren’t satisfied with Apple’s iPhone 5 launch last month then gear up for the debut of Samsung’s new Galaxy 3 III Mini tomorrow.
Timing for Samsung’s miniature release couldn’t be any better. Amidst a continual cavalcade of problems surrounding the iPhone 5, the Galaxy S III has gained ground and cache in the mobile world. While Apple is handling scratches and product delays, Samsung will usher in the newest member to its family tree.
If the GS III has been criticized for anything it was its 4.8 inch screen. Now a moot point as the iPhone 5 features a 4.8 inch screen, the GS III mini would fix this issue outright. It will provide the same specs that the larger version provides while giving customers an option for a smaller body and price point.
Samsung is not the only smart device that is diversifying. Apple’s newest additions, the rumoured iPad Mini or an updated iPad 4, will be uncovered later this month. With both companies opening up their lines to larger and smaller devices, digital consumers will be able to use smart technology in new and interesting ways.
Tech developments this fall have been game changing for the mobile industry. The introduction of Passbook, Samsung’s moment in the sun and the upcoming size additions will revolutionize the way that consumers interact with smart devices in the home, when shopping or on the go.
If you’re a fan of Internet memes and entertaining web content, then you’re probably familiar with 9gag.com – a website where users can browse, leave comments, “Upvote” or “Downvote,” and share hilarious content.
Personally, when I have some free time for some web surfing, 9GAG is one of my go-to sites. That is why I was excited when I heard about the release of the official 9GAG app back in July. Until then, my mobile options were limited to a few unofficial 9GAG clients or the 9GAG mobile website.
The 9GAG app is available in the iTunes App Store as a free download, and is supported on multiple devices running IOS 4.2 or later. I use the app on my iPhone 4 running IOS 6.
When users first launch the app, they are presented with a log in/sign up screen that displays alternating image posts, giving the user a good idea of what’s to come. Actual sign up and log in are made very quick and easy when using Facebook to do so.
Users without a Facebook accounts wanting to sign up are directed 9GAG’s mobile website, where they can do so by providing their name, email address and a password.
Once users are logged in, they are presented with a graphical set of instructions to aid them in the app discovery process. However, it should be noted that there is very little need for such instructions, as the app is extremely simple and very easy to use.
A quick tap hides the aforementioned instructions, and allows users to jump right in and start browsing content.
Once browsing, users can swipe to the left to see the next post or swipe to the right to see the previous one. Some posts are larger and require vertical scrolling to view the entire image.
Users also have up and down vote options, as well as the ability to comment or share. As expected, sharing options include Facebook, Twitter, Email and SMS. Users also have a “Save Photo” option, which saves the image to the user’s camera roll.
Aside from the apps setting and users’ ability to browse, comment, vote and share, there isn’t much more to this app as far as functionality. Some other 9GAG clients provide more browsing options, allowing user to view trending, hot or new posts.
Overall, I didn’t mind any lack of functionality others have pointed out. I find it makes for a very simple and easy experience, which allows me to quickly launch the app, pass time with some laughs and then go about my day.
It’s likely that we will see additional functionality in future releases, but until then users who demand more can try a third party solution.
Personally, I’m quite content with the official 9GAG app. I like the simple and clean UI and the smooth operation. I find the app quick and responsive, something I look for in such an app.
If you’re the type of person who enjoys listening to music throughout your day, at all times, while doing, well, just about anything, then you have probably at some point or another used a music streaming app.
These apps offer large selections of music that span many genres. Much more music than any one person can store on their iPhone. Some of these apps require users to cough up monthly or yearly service fees, while others are absolutely free of charge, meaning you just have to put up with ads.
One of these free apps has be around for just about a year and has been building an impressive user base – and, more importantly, has retained more than half of those users!
Songza is special because it not only removes the work of creating playlists, but it also makes browsing and deciding what to listen to surprisingly quick and easy. This is especially so for those times when you have no idea which artist or song you want to listen to.
To get started, Songza users need to sign up for the service, but the Facebook login makes the process very quick and easy. Once signed in, users are presented with the app’s core feature, dubbed “Concierge.” This is where all the magic happens.
Based on the time and day, Songza offers users six possible categories to choose from. Users then select the category that best matches what they are doing or how the feel at that moment. Some of these categories are very specific, while others are fairly generic, making it very likely that you will find an option that works for you.
After selecting a category, users are then presented with a list of six recommended genres to choose from. Once they select a genre, users must then choose one of three curated playlists matching their previous selections.
That’s it! In three easy steps users have a whole playlist to listen to. You can also browse playlists through featured, trending and all-time best lists, or by categories such as genres, activities, moods, decades and a few others. There is even a section called “My Playlists,” which users can see a list of playlists that they have listened to in the past.
I really like the Songza’s way of browsing, as I find it often introduces me to new songs I haven’t heard before, or re-introduces me to songs I haven’t heard in a while.
I found Songza to be simple and easy to use for the most part, but I feel the navigation could be better. I’m not sure exactly why, but I found that navigating between the player, and the rest of the app didn’t feel intuitive at first.
Overall, Songza is worth checking out. It’s not the best looking app or the most intuitive to use, but the functionality of the Concierge alone makes the app quite special.
It also, doesn’t hurt that the app is free to download and also free of service fees. You will have to put up with some ads, but luckily they are not those overly obtrusive audio ads that interrupt the music.
Have you used Songza? Love it? Hate it? Totally ambivalent? Tell us! @plasticmobile.
The recent release of Apple’s iOS 6 marks the end of YouTube as we iPhone users know it. With the five year licensing agreement between Apple and Google not being renewed, users running iOS 6 will no longer be seeing YouTube as a pre-installed app on their devices.
I for one couldn’t be happier about this. You see, Google has released it’s own version of the YouTube app and it addresses my biggest problem with the old app, very limited video selection.
Not only does the new YouTube app offer more in terms of video selection, it also offers some new functionality, and much better experience. The app is currently available as a free download in the App Store and, not surprisingly, it’s also sitting comfortably in the #1 spot of the Top 25 free apps’ list.
When I launched the new YouTube app, the first thing I noticed was a cleaner, sleeker and far more aesthetically pleasing design. Only when I saw the new app in all its glory, did I realize how outdated the old YouTube had become.
The new YouTube sports an overhauled menu, larger images for your viewing pleasure, an alternative to full screen landscape viewing and a search function that not only reduces taps, but also allows users to search for videos without even typing.
The new YouTube app utilizes a familiar menu style used by many other popular apps, most notably the Facebook app. The new menu also improves browsing by providing users with more categories to browse by and allowing them to do so efficiently. Users can find more content that interests them in a shorter amount of time. The previous app only allowed users to browse “Featured” or “Most Viewed” videos, which only go so far at keeping users engaged.
Larger Images For Better Browsing
The new YouTube app displays much larger images than its predecessor. I find, and I’m sure most will agree, that larger images make for quicker browsing. In fact, with the new design I find that there’s less of a need to stop and read a video description, because a picture is worth a 1000 words.
I also find larger images much more enjoyable to browse through. Especially, when the app displaying those images is quick and responsive as the new YouTube app is. Take a look at the below screenshots of the old and the new, then decide for yourself.
Improved Search Functionality
If you remember, the older, pre-installed YouTube app had its search function tucked away in a tab menu. This meant that if a user wanted to search for a video while browsing the “Featured” list, they would first have to tap “Search” from the tab menu, and then tap the text field to enter their query.
The new YouTube places the search function in the app’s header bar, as an icon resembling a magnifying glass. The function is available throughout most of the app and the placement is consistent, making the function highly accessible and easy to find.
When a user taps the search icon, the keyboard slides up and a pre-selected text field appears. Because the text field is pre-selected, the user can begin typing right away, saving them a tap.
A cool piece of additional functionality comes in the form of the ability to dictate a search. By tapping the microphone icon next to the search text field user can simply dictate what they wish to search, then select their video from a list of search results.
When I first saw this feature in YouTube, I was sure I had seen it somewhere else, but simply couldn’t remember where. Shortly after, it hit me. It was another Google app we reviewed here, Chrome.
A Huge Improvement
There is no comparison! In my opinion, the new YouTube app is better in every way. Probably because the old app never really saw any significant updates and was essentially the same app for as long as I can remember.
Yesterday, Twitter unveiled its new app for the iPad. A Twitter redesign should be about helping users post hilarious status updates or share what they had for dinner. But in reality, Twitter’s new app is all business.
At our weekly Bagel Wednesday meeting, there were a number of comments made on this latest design effort.
Well, the app is very different than its earlier iPad versions, it is very similar to its sister iPhone app. Twitter’s iPad update features additions like a header on profile pages and a live-stream feed layout. While these designs are new for Twitter, they seem a little familiar. In fact, you might have seen them on Facebook Timeline.
Another added feature is Photostream, which allows users to browse photos easily by tapping on a photo and swiping left or right through the rest of their posted photos. While it’s a breeze to tap through photos, tapping through the rest of the interface is labourious and overcomplicated. Pinching gestures have been eliminated and the user has to tap through to open and close a number of windows. Just one tap won’t get you to a profile anymore – expand the tweet and tap again. The app has also eliminated the ability to browse the web while looking at the Twitter timeline and lists are hard to access.
Although the platform update does share UI with the rest of the Twitter app family, it seems like Twitter has taken away a lot of functions from the user. So what is improved by this update? Twitter’s autonomy.
In recent months the social media giant has been cutting ties with third party image uploaders and information sharing or support sites like Twitpic, Facebook and Tweetbot. Developing apps for and sharing information with Twitter has almost all been completely shut out. Amidst these moves, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was quoted calling Facebook an “enemy,” referring to the fact that they are pitted against each other as top dog in the social media playground. But Twitter isn’t being a bully – it’s just being smart.
This year Twitter earned $132m in mobile ads, beating out Facebook who raked in only $73.9m. For both companies, survival is based on ad sales and working with small screens presents challenges on that front. By creating an app that is similar to other social media sites, it helps to prevent Tweeters from using competing apps and Twitter can declare social-media sovereignty, advertising space and the revenue.
This redesign isn’t about the user as much as it’s about Twitter. While the update is not so great for us it may be worth compromising for. Eliminating the competition and gaining revenue will allow Twitter to improve for us in the long run. Let the battle begin.
What do you think of the new app? Let us know @plasticmobile.
IKEA has made it possible to unlock extra content in the catalogue, separate from the app, by scanning selected pages in the printed version of the catalog where you are able to access additional images, videos and 3D models.
We thought that the effort that went into this feature could have perhaps been directed at something more integrated or innovative into the app itself. For example, it’s a shame that there were no mobile purchasing opportunities utilized, or social media features included to engage with users or hint to your friends what you’re eyeballing for Christmas.
However, the app is ultimately just an extension of the full printed 2013 catalogue – with little else in terms of thought or creativity put into it. Also, at times the user interface becomes quite cluttered with different navigation menus popping up, and icons appearing when the screen is touched. There is a bit of a learning curve with the app which we think affects the overall user experience.
The iPhone 5 is finally here! Well, almost. Pre-orders can be arranged for shipping on September 21st. Nonetheless, the iPhone rumours passed around our weekly Bagel Wednesday meetings were finally quelled today as Apple released the 5 this afternoon.
The iPhone 5 specs include a longer, slimmer body made entirely of aluminum and glass – yup, it’s light (weighing in at 112 grams, the new iPhone is 20% lighter than the 4S and is 18% thinner than before with a bulk of a mere 7.6 mm). The new body allows for a number of improvements including a fifth row of apps and a wider viewing screen. Running on the new A6 processor, LTE and “ultrafast wireless,” the 5 is said to reach record-breaking speeds whether you’re running programs of surfing the web.
One of the major physical changes on the iPhone 5 is the redesigned charging cord, dubbed “lighting.” The new charger is all digital, has an adaptive interface and improved durability, is reversible and is 80% smaller. To users with old chords and docks: do not panic! Apple has said they’ll provide many adapters to facilitate the new device when you finally get your hands on one.
The new camera on the iPhone has a front-facing camera that’s now 720p with backside illumination and amazing video capturing. It’s also useful for the new easy-to-use feature called “Panorama,” which lets the user create vista photographs. Users can sweep the scene vertically or swing the phone sideways to get sprawling shots in 28 megapixel images. Three additional microphones which work together to make Facetime clearer than ever.
Apple has also given updates to apps included on the phone. iCal gives a broad five day work-week formatting and is cleaner and easier to use. Maps on the iPhone 5 has most of the same qualities, but performs them faster and easier on a cleaner and quicker interface. It now includes rotate function and notably beautiful 3D satellite imagery. Safari has also been cleaned up for the new phone and features a full screen view and iCloud capabilities that allow you to share your tabs from your computer to your phone.
There are also new additions to the iPhone app family. Photoshare is an app that allows the user to easily share just snapped photos with other Photoshare users and through social media platforms. Also included is Passbook, a ticketing app that is great for flying or attending events. It even shows up on the lock screen so you don’t have to fumble to pull up your ticket at security.
The iPhone 5 will run at $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB, $399 for 64GB and if that’s not in your price range, you can now grab the iPhone 4 for $0 on contract. Reservations on the iPhone begin this Friday the 14th, and shipping starts on the 21st so get in line now!
We’re excited to get our hands on one of these new devices. Let us know what your favourite new specs are @plasticmobile.