South by Southwest is the biggest, most important digital conference in the world. IT’S ACTUALLY AMAZING.
It’s also a launching pad for some pretty great apps. This years edition wrapped up last week to some mixed reviews and no true stand-out show stopper. However, we have picked out a handful of apps that caught our eye.
Thread for Android takes caller ID and makes it amazing. Thread will pull information from all your social networks about your caller for you to see before you answer a call. Don’t know why this person is calling? Thread will show you their recent Tweets, status updates and text exchanges with you to give you a snapshot of where you left off. It’s only available on Android right now, but something this useful (and that completely replaces and improves upon an existing phone function most people pay for) should take off in no time.
Hater is a social network for Internet trolls. If you have spent any time in the comments section of Youtube, you know the internet can be a dark and scary place full of, well, hate. Hater caters to those that want to complain, gripe, cry, cuss, dis and diminish. It takes Facebook’s “Like” and turns it on its head. Although it’s questionable if we should really be creating more space online for people to be negative, Hater is an interesting concept that could prove to be incredibly popular.
Finally, Hinge will help you find a date. Internet dating is big business, so it was only a matter of time before it invaded our phones. Hinge looks at friends of friends on social networks and gives you a handful of profiles to rate. They have pictures and basic details, nothing too extensive. If you rate somebody highly, you will show up on their feed. If they rate you highly Hinge introduces you through email. It’s very simple and only introduces you to people you already have a connection to. It’s only available in Houston right now, but if it works it could only be a few months before that cute co-worker or classmate is finally going on a date with you.
Did you see anything that caught your eye at SXSW? Let us know on Twitter @plasticmobile
Facebook recently released an iOS app called Poke. The app allows users to send photos, videos or text messages to their Facebook friends.
What makes Poke interesting is the fact that users must set a time limit that will limit the amount of time that the recipient has to view the message. Options are 1, 3, 5, 10 seconds and after that the message can not be viewed again.
When I saw Poke for the first time, I was immediately reminded of a very similar app I stumbled upon months ago. The app, Snapchat, is an app that shares nearly identical functionality, but is wrapped in a distinctively different package.
One of the first differences I noticed was in the apps’ login screens. Poke’s Facebook integration made getting started with the app very quick and easy. In fact, it only took one tap for me to get started. However, I should mention that I assume it would be different if I wasn’t logged into the Facebook app that is also installed on my phone.
Starting off with Snapchat was also quite easy, but the app does require a little more work from users. To sign up, users must provide an email address, create a password and then create a user name. However, most users are more than used to such practices, so this isn’t really a nuisance.
Another significant difference I noticed between the two apps, was where each one started users off. Poke users are presented with a home screen consisting of sent and received messages, settings and refresh icons at the top of the screen, and buttons for sending pokes, text, photos and videos.
Snapchat starts its users off in camera view ready to snap a pic or record some video. To view messages, users navigate to their mailbox by tapping a box-shaped icon in the lower left corner of the screen.
I thought this was a strange approach, as it is the equivalent to launching the iOS Messages app and seeing the New Message screen. Therefore, every time I launched the app to check a message, that extra tap did definitely not go unnoticed. I guess, on the other hand, I was always one tap closer to the camera.
I also noticed another difference between the two apps when it came to recording video. Facebook’s Poke seperates its still camera and video recording functionality, while Snapchat combines the two.
I preferred Poke’s approach here, only because it took me quite a while to figure out how to record video with Snapchat. Only after some investigation, did I learn that tapping the blue center button takes still images, while holding it records video. There is really nothing to indicate this to users and make the experience more intuitive.
Poke has some issues when it came to video recording. While recording a video with Poke, I noticed that there is nothing to indicate how long a user can record, or how long they have been recording. Only when the recording stops on its own, do you know that you have reached the maximum video length.
Snapchat however, shows users how much time they have left to record with a red guage that moves around the centre record button. Doesn’t give them a numerical value, but it does give them a good idea of how much time they have left.
Another difference worth pointing out is the ability that Poke users have to send text messages. Snapchat doesn’t have this functionality, but as an alternative users can cheat by writing over a photo and sending it off. Poke also has similar functionality that allows users to draw over photos, but also lets them type their messages as well.
Have you used either of these apps? Which do you prefer? Are you a poker or a snapchatter? Tweet us @plasticmobile and let us know!
For the past few years, major brands have been advertising via Facebook so fans can see and engage with their products and content. But lately, there has been some discussion suggesting that Facebook should up their game in the mobile department. While Facebook itself works great on a mobile device, brand pages are responsible for their Facebook mobile sites and aren’t doing much about it. What’s the point of having a Facebook page if it looks crummy on your smartphone?
To look at this issue, social engagement platform Friend2Friend conducted a study of the overall mobile Facebook experience. They identified 10 of the most popular brands on Facebook and checked to see if their pages were mobile friendly. From this study, they found that in 7 out of 10 cases when someone clicked on one of these great brands’ Facebook pages from a mobile device, it either didn’t work at all, or the experience was disappointing.
So what’s the problem? It seems that Facebook – and the brand pages we love to visit – are still living in the desktop era (so last year). For some reason, they’re still putting Facebook pages optimized for mobile on the back burner.
Market research company Lab42 states that “about 50% of consumers think a brand’s Facebook page is more useful than a brand’s website.” There has also been a dramatic increase in Facebook smartphone traffic this year, and “Likes” are through the roof on mobile devices. So, there really isn’t any excuse for brands who are slow on the Facebook brand page train.
And, if we haven’t hammered it through enough yet, Facebook brands really need to optimize their social experiences for mobile. If users try to access your brand page via mobile and it doesn’t work or perform the way they want it to it’s possible that they’ll buy from a different brand. Not good.
Late last night Barack Obama was re-elected as President of the United States, coming out of the fierce race that is now being called “the Twitter Election.” The moniker is apt for this election, as voters took to their mobile devices and social media channels to engage with politicians and the voting process.
During the electoral frenzy, voters used their smartphones to engage with Facebook and Twitter in at polling stations on Facebook and hordes took to Twitter to support their candidates and advise others to get out and vote.
But this kind of mobile social media use does not only highlight the voting spirit of the American people. It also helps us understand voter demographics. Facebook hosted a page on it’s “Stories” platform that encouraged voters to “Check In” at their polling station and displayed Facebook voter’s demographics on its interactive mapping page.
The presence of the election on Facebook via check ins and status updates and the massive response on Twitter postings rallying for Obama or Romney and encouraging voting was simply put: massive. In fact, Obama’s victory tweet, “Four more years,” garnered the most re-tweets in twitter history and the picture below of the President and First Lady hugging is now the most “liked” photo on Facebook to date. Initiatives from candidates to have a mobile and social media presence and the overwhelming response from the public to take to these platforms showcases just how important new mobile technologies are. Not only do they advertise candidates and get people to vote, but mobile connectivity also promotes a national voting collective and brings the nation together. Yay Mobile!
Twitter also proved itself as a crucial news source for the election. In many cases, major news outlets tweeted results from states instantaneously, and many people found out whether the Democrats or the Republicans had won states and the entire election itself on Twitter before the news hit TV.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, mobile devices also allowed American citizens to text to find polling stations and, in the most affected parts of New Jersey, residents could even vote by texting. Wow.
We think that this mobile election will set a precedence with elections all over the globe.
Did you make your voice heard with mobile and social media during this election? Let us know what you think by writing a comment or tweeting @plasticmobile.
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.
Going mobile isn’t simply a passing trend and it is not the future. Mobile is the present. For brands and businesses, ignoring mobile not only runs the risk of being left behind, but as mobile continues to grow, no poses the threat of rendering your product or service obsolete. In the time that it takes you to read this post, there will be 694,444 views on YouTube from a mobile device and $827,064,000 spent via mobile transactions globally.
Our Plastic research team is noting and documenting these statistics, for obvious personal use, but we are not the only ones. As brands strive to stay relevant in a digitally driven world, more and more they are turning to mobile and adopting a “mobile-first” approach.
The term “Mobile First” was coined by digital product leader Luke Wroblewski to describe someone who is designs for mobile prior to designing for desktop and laptop design.
For those in the know, it may seem far-fetched to think that a company might design for a medium with less functionality, first. Because the truth is, mobile is not only less functional than it’s stagnant brothers, but is also the most challenging medium to design for. So a “mobile-first approach” may seem counter intuitive, however, it’s still the route that leaders on the digital forefront, like Facebook, are taking and, as a result, deserves further investigation.
Breaking News outlines a number of ways that one can begin to adopt a mobile-first mindset in this article. And, the sheer fact that the appraoch was even considered is a clear sign that people like Wroblewski are aiming to solve a problem; that, above all else, users and devices pay attention to metrics and recalibrate goals.
As mobile continues to disrupt the normal paths of Internet marketing, brands and agencies need to re-calibrate their own thinking and approaches to design and development. In fact, some of our partners have looked to mobile to inform the redesigns of their other platforms, and it has completely transformed the way that they do business.
So why become mobile-first? Because it’s disruptive either way. Embrace mobile and make it work for you. The expectations already exist.
What do you think? Is mobile-first the way of the future? Tweet us @plasticmobile and share your thoughts.
At our weekly Bagel Wednesday meeting, the topic du jour was, of course, Facebook. Over and above all of the buzz surrounding their apparently over-inflated IPO, there is no shortage of gossip and speculation about the social networking giant.
From creating their very own mobile device, to paying millions for facial recognition, Facebook seems to have a hand in everything lately. While some of the rumours seem a bit farfetched, or at least a little odd, the potential acquisition of face.com, makes perfect sense.
Face.com offers an API to developers and publishers that allows them to create apps that have instant facial recognition on their photo services for users. This particular rumour is garnering a great deal of attention from Tweeters and Bloggers, and thus far, the general consensus among analysts is that this is a smart move for Facebook.
Tom Cherader of VentureBeat states:
“Being able to easily identify those faces would easily translate into a higher traffic return, and hopefully higher ad revenue. There’s also the fact that Facebook would be gaining a pretty wonderful domain name that encompasses half of the social network’s own name.”
The deal, which is being confirmed by multiple TechCrunch.com sources, is speculated to have the pricetag of around $100 million and could mean the sale of Russian search engine, Yandex.com’s, shares in Face.com to Facebook, or a full out acquisition. But these and other finer details have not yet been confirmed. TechCrunch lays down the evidence clearly in their recent blog post.
• Israeli business publication Calcalist first reported (in Hebrew) that Facebook was looking to purchase Face.com.
• The deal size has been put at $80 million and $100 million. We’re calling it at $100m.
• Face.com’s technology is a natural acquisition target for Facebook. Photos are core to Facebook’s lock-in strategy and facial recognition allows tags to better reflect the social graph, which then feeds into making its advertising platform more efficient.
• There is evidence the two companies have been talking for some time (after all, Face.com appeared in 2007), but a price was never agreed until now.
• Face.com’s popular Facebook application Photo Tagger, allows people to scan their (or their friends’) photo albums for known faces. It also has the iOS facial recognition app KLIK and a public API that could benefit Facebook.
• Facebook’s own camera app could integrate the Face.com API.
• Face.com has so far raised $5.3 million from Yandex and Rhodium
What do you think of Facebook’s proposed purchase? Savvy or shifty? Tweet us @plasticmobile and let us know!
This week, I want to change things up a bit. Instead of just discussing one app, I’d like to review two of them and highlight some things that caught my eye. I will be focusing less on each app as a whole and more on individual features or elements that influence the overall UX.
Let’s get started:
IThrowU is one of the more popular photo/text sharing apps available these days. It delivers an enjoyable experience packaged in a neat and simple user interface that’s also nice to look at. What I like most about this app, and the reason it caught my attention, is the use of iPhone’s gyroscope technology.
In iThrowU, users don’t just tap a button to share like they do in other similar apps. Instead, when they are ready to share, users simply hold their phones (tightly!) and make a throwing motion.
I think interactions like this are fun, engaging and make for a pleasantly different experience. I also believe that thinking outside the box in order to creatively employ available technologies, goes a long way in creating an app that stands out from the crowd.
Chattr is an all-in-one messenger app that allows users to carry out coverstations on Facebook, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Google Talk and Yahoo! Messenger, all at once.
Now, while there are many apps out there with similar levels of functionality, simply put, I like Chattr because it looks nice. What I’m getting at, is that with all else being equal, visual appeal can play a big role in the overall user experience.
Chattr’s secret is a well-designed UI coupled with beautiful themes (backgrounds). Users can select from a list of pre-loaded background images, take a picture or import from their camera roll.
I also really liked Chattr’s use of gestures controls for navigating between chats and managing open chats. I’m definitely a fan of gesture controls and I believe them to make apps more fun and interactive. I sometimes find that apps can get boring when all you’re doing is mindlessly tapping away.
Again, we go back to the whole taking advantage of available technology thing. I am a strong believer that when you are developing an app for a device such as the iPhone, with its beautiful high-resolution screen, it would be silly not to ensure your design uses that screen to its full potential.
For example, and for the sake of argument, let’s just pretend that Chattr and Facebook Messenger did the exact same things, in the exact same ways. Let’s take it even further and say that the only difference between the two apps was the way they looked at a glance. From the screenshots below, which would you choose?
My point is that the more technologies an app takes advantage of, and the more innovatively those technologies are used, the better the experience that app will deliver. That’s not to say that app developers should force this, but instead should consider which technologies could possible be used, and determine if they will actually enhance the end user experience.
However, it should be noted that there are multitudes of other things to consider while developing an idea for an app, or while designing and developing the app itself. Focusing too much on any one facet can possibly cause others to be overlooked. So what I am saying is, make it fun, memorable but perhaps not gimmicky – i.e. don’t force them to shake the phone each time they want to delete a letter. Find the balance and you shall succeed.
ComScore Mobile Metrix 2.0 released a report on Monday that looked at mobile media usage across both apps and mobile web browsing. According to the new data, Google is the #1 site used across iOS, Android and RIM devices, followed by Facebook, Yahoo and Amazon.
But in terms of usage, apps took home first prize. The New numbers from Comscore indicated that of the smartphone users on the web while mobile, nearly all of them are using apps and not a browser, with four out of every five mobile media minutes spent in apps.
There was little surprise as to which apps were being used most with the built-in system applications winning and Facebook following as a close runner up.
The first spot on app usage? Well, given the information above, it seems obvious that – platform dependent – the App Store or the Android Market are most used.
What does this mean for mobile commerce, we wondered? It’s hard to say from the report statistics, but we’re excited to see more mobile users moving away from just browsing on their phones and using apps to do their research, stay connected and get immersed in the wonders of mobile.
What do you use most on your mobile device? The web browser or apps? Tweet us and let us know @plasticmobile.
The biggest topic of conversation at today’s Bagel Wednesday sharing of mobile news was the possibility of Google and Apple to start carrying their own data.
While not exactly news, or even anything imminent, we couldn’t help getting all excited at the prospect of a solution to our pricey Canadian carrier plans. And so, we started pondering – a wishin’ and a dreamin’ – about Google, Apple or Microsoft finally purchasing their own data plans.
While there has been a lot of speculation about who will be the first to buy a data carrier, we started wondering why they hadn’t. Clearly they have the necessary funds, with an article in The Next Web putting purchasing a data carrier as at the top of the list of things that Apple, and others should consider doing with their $65 billion dollars of cash reserves.
The same article notes that Google has been rumored to be looking at buying Sprint and also Verizon FiOS and that Microsoft might pick up an ISP from their recent location based advertising and purchase of Skype.
Since the vast majority of our favourite device creators’ headaches come from dealing with the data carriers, and most of the pains we have with our devices are a result of our data carriers, why not just cut out the middle man? In fact, we’re like the sound of faster and cheaper service with a direct channel to both device and service provider. We like it a lot.
What are your thoughts? Tweet us @plasticmobile and let us know what you think about Apple and Google getting into the data carrying game.