Just a few months ago, investors were concerned about Google’s ability to maintain mobile ad rates, in the face of Facebook’s mobile ads generating 30% of ad revenues.

Google’s recent announcement of joining ad forces with Facebook to create a monster ad exchange has certainly calmed the nerves of the concerned. The search company’s advertising clients now have access to FBX, Facebook’s real-time bidding exchange, in addition to the current offering on DoubleClick Bid Manager.

In spite of going head-to-head in the mobile ad competitive landscape, both digital giants realized that advertisers wanted the best of both worlds, social ads along with search ads, and now DoubleClick is well on its way to be the go-to exchange for advertisers everywhere.

This recent move sent investors swarming, bumping up stock prices by a whopping 14%, and pushing Google’s stock price over $1000USD for the first time! While it is a significant milestone, it’s got us wondering what next move is gonna keep those stock prices afloat.

Best Apps of SXSW

By on March 18, 2013

SXSW

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

PM UX: Poke vs. SnapChat

By on January 02, 2013

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.


Since the two apps are so similar, I want to focus on some of the differences I noticed between the two.

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.

Bad idea.

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.

Are you satisfied with what your favourite brands are doing on mobile? Let us know the good, the bad and the ugly, @Plasticmobile

BW: A Mobile Election

By on November 07, 2012

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.

Why?

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

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!

The Smashing Cartoons by Smashing Magazine

The Smashing Cartoons by Smashing Magazine

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:

1. iThrowU

 

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.

2. Chattr

 

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.

Check out comScore’s latest mobile report from Mobile Metrix 2.0

Who will be the first Data Carrier?

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.

PM UX: The $1billion App

By on April 17, 2012
The Smashing Cartoons by Smashing Magazine

The Smashing Cartoons by Smashing Magazine

If you haven’t already heard about Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram for a reported $1billion, you must have just come out of a weeklong coma, or possibly recently found your way home after being lost at sea. For the rest of us, it has been next to impossible to miss the headlines.

Instagram has been around for over a year, and in that time has built up a substantial user base (over 40 million). However, with its recent release on the Andoid platform, and the current buzz surrounding this app, that user base is sure to grow.

That’s why I chose now to hop on the Instagram band wagon and try out this super app formyself.

The Gist of It
Simply put, Instagram is a social network for photo enthusiasts. Users can take photos, add filters, include geo tag captions and then have their photos posted for other Instagram users to like or comment on. They can also share their photos on other popular social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, Posterous and Foursquare. What makes Instagram so special is how easy and quick it makes the process of taking and sharing great pictures. In a matter of seconds, users can take a picture, add a filter and share that picture for all the world to see.

New User Experience
I found Instagram to be relatively friendly to new users, as the interface was simpleand uncluttered. Also, I liked how the app walks you through the process of getting started in five easy steps.

I used the app on my iPhone and found that the icons and UI elements felt very iOS-centric, making it fairly easy to navigate my way around the app. However, I felt that some icons could have been designed to be more intuitive.
After doing a little research, I found that the icons and UI elements had been different in previous versions of the app and while the newer icons were moreesthetically pleasing, the previous used icons were more intuitive and user-friendly because they included titles.

Take for example the feed icons from the above screen shots. The feed icon in the screenshot to the left (older version) would be very hard to misinterpret. However, the one on the right (newest version) can fairly easily be seen as a home screen of sorts.

Filters & Photo Quality
I was impressed with the quality of photos that can be produced with Instagram. Just by adding one of the 18 available filters, one can dramatically improve the quality of an average photo. The trick is to experiment and learn when to use which filter.
I enjoyed not having to wait until after taking a picture to apply a filter. I could see what the picture would look like before actually snapping a shot. On the downside, one thing I felt was missing was the ability to apply multiple filters to a photo as you can with other photography apps.

I liked the use of a carousel style pop-up menu for the filter options. It was a great way to pack 18 items into a list while minimizing real estate usage. I also appreciated how the icons for each of the filters gave me an idea of what that filter did. I didn’t have to go through each filter individually until I found the desired effect.

Share and Share Alike
Another thing I liked about Instagram was the ability to import pictures from the camera roll. Users that already have a favourite camera/photo-editing app can use their preferred app to capture and edit a photo, then import it into Instagram to share with the Instagram community or on other social networks. However, it should be noted that photos imported from users’ camera roll need to be cropped to match thestandard square (1:1) images produced by snapping picture using the Instagram app itself.

Android Version
Since Instagram was also just released in the Google Play Store, I also took some time to check it out on the Android platform. Right away, as expected, I noticed that all the UI was now appropriately Android-centric, but I also couldn’t help but think that the app wasn’t on par with its IOScounterpart and here’s why:

  • Every image must be cropped (IOS version only requires cropping of images imported from camera roll).
  • Android users have to wait until they have captured and cropped their images before they can apply a filter to the image (IOS version gives users a preview).
  • Not all devices are supported.

Overall, Instagram on Android offers a noticeably less streamlined experience by lengthening the process of creating and sharing images. I must also include that the short comings of the Android version of Instagram are most likely a result of technical limitations due to the many variations of Android.

Are you loving Instagram on Android or iOS? Tell us about your photo-sharing love at @plasticmobile.

Mobile News from VentureBeat by Sean Ludwig

Yesterday’s big news was the purchase of photo-sharing app Instagram by social media giant, Facebook, just days after finally launching an Android app and reportedly closing a $50 million second round of funding. It seems that Facebook is determined to make its mark on iOS and Android, which makes sense since Facebook is on the mark, wanting to be avaialble to everyone, every where, all the time! Go Mobile!

But, according to sources, the good news for  Instagram keeps on coming. Just a day after Facebook announced that it would acquire Instagram for $1 billion cash and stock, Instagram’s new Android app has attracted 5 million downloads in just six days.

The Smashing Cartoons by Smashing Magazine

The Smashing Cartoons by Smashing Magazine

Draw Something is currently one of the hottest games to play on your Android or iOS device – and we know because it has invaded our office, resulting in all kinds of hilarious images and sudden burst of “ohhhh… I see it now!”

Best described as a combination of Words with Friends and the classic game, Pictionary, the game is incredibly fun and highly addictive. In fact, after three weeks of use, I am considering checking myself into anti-gaming rehab.

How it works

1. You start a game with friends by connecting the app to Facebook or by using their email address or Draw Something username. You can play multiple games with different friends simultaneously. You can also play with random Draw Something users if you find you don’t have enough friends to sufficiently support your habit to the addictive game.

2. Once you have selected a friend to play with, you choose one of three words that vary in difficulty from easy, medium or hard. You then draw a picture of your chosen word and send it to your friend. They then have to try to figure out what you’ve drawn using a subset of the letters shown on the screen. Based on the fact that few of us are anything remotely close to artists, this is the fun part.

3. If your friend guesses the correct word, you are both awarded coins that you can use to purchase more colours or bombs. The number of coins you receive depends on the difficulty of the word your drew. You get one coin for easy, two for medium and three for the hardest word.

4. It’s then your friend turn to draw and your turn to guess. This cycle continues indefinitely, even if either person fails to guess correctly.

Plastic Mobile User Experience Draw Something App Review from Plastic Mobile on Vimeo.

Despite the addictive nature of the game, and how much the Plastic Mobile team seems to love it, we decided to take an objective look at its overall usability.

Usability Issues

 

I encountered one minor usability issue while using this app. I found that while trying to guess words, the bottom portions of some drawings were obstructed by the semi-transparent overlay showing the number of letters in the word.

Only after repeatedly becoming frustrated with this, I realized that I could pull up the image and uncover the bottom portion.

 

A possible solution for this issue could be a “hide” button that would toggle the visibility of the overlay, or a more evident and intuitive scrolling option.

 

Pros

  • Play with friends or random players
  • Seeing replays of your friends guessing and drawing (so hilarious at times!)
  • Easy to pick up and play
  • Simple interface
  • Highly entertaining and interactive

Cons

  • Limited dictionary (words are repeated among different players)
  • You can write instead of drawing (takes the fun out of playing)
  • Obstructed view of some drawings

 

 

Suggestions for Improvement

  • Give users the ability to pause and navigate away from a game that is in progress. Right now, in order to leave a game with one friend and move to the next, users must finish guessing and drawing. The only other option available to users is shutting down and re-launching the app.

 

  • Provide users with an option that would allow them to undo their last action while drawing. This would save users from having to erase parts or all of their drawings in order to correct any mistakes.

 

 

Side Note: Back to the Stylus…

Here at Plastic Mobile, we are in the midst of an ongoing debate regarding the use of the stylus. We generally believe that the introduction of the touch screen should have been the ultimate demise of the stylus. We agree with Steve Jobs’ belief that we are born with 10 of the best pointing devices in the world.

However, after playing Draw Something, I could see why sometimes a stylus could be useful.

Are you as addicted to Draw Something as the Plastic Mobile team? Tweet us @plasticmobile.

In my weekly blog post, I normally prefer to comment on some of the large scale challenges or successes affecting the mobile industry, but this was too special to pass up.

Our team  made some time earlier this week to mobilize our Ping Pong matches. It all began with one of our Android developers creating a tablet app that could actually keep a proper game score (there seemed to be a recurring discrepancy in the scoring of our afternoon table tennis matches). The idea was that an Android tablet would sit atop the Ping Pong table and the app would keep an accurate, un-biased score of the Ping Pong games while in action.

How it works is pretty awesome. The “Plastic Paddle,” as it has now been dubbed, is good for a single’s or double’s match, and scores in terms of three sets per match and follows the proper rules of Ping Pong prior to 2000, meaning every 5th point the server changes. You can pre-set the serve, or use the server randomizer by clicking in the middle. A voice not entirely unlike Siri (but, better) will tell you who’s serve it is based on the scoring system. She will also tell you who’s advantage it is or if it is a deuce. To compensate for the inevitability of human error (if you click a point on your side when you did not actually receive a point) you can minus out the score. Last, when you win, the voice will tell you that you are the winner, and then a prompt will appear to allow you to post your results to the server.

It proved such a huge success around the office that it’s currently being developed for web to include such things as player stats with loss and win ratios and real-time tracking so matches can be carried over and rivalries can be tracked.

While this is an amazing first step, I’m looking forward to an even more advanced Ping Pong tracking system – Got that, team?

A big congrats to our developers for their ingenuity and drive to maintain a civilized game playing environment, and stay tuned for the coming improvements!

Great job team!

The Smashing Cartoons by Smashing Magazine

The Smashing Cartoons by Smashing Magazine

Last week we covered Clear, a nifty task management app that delivered a highly positive user experience. This week, we dive into the realm of photography with Microsoft’s Photosynth.

Photosynth is a free app available on multiple iOS devices, which allows users to create really cool panoramic photos in a fun and engaging way. Depending on how much time you spend on creating these photos, you can create anywhere from fairly common wide-angle photos to amazing full spherical panoramas.

Over and above making super cool photos of late night dance parties to share on Facebook, the app extremely easy to use. Even first-time users can enjoy the process from start to finish without feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. From the moment you open the app to the final photo masterpiece, you are carefully guided through each step of the process. Even if you veer off course, there are plenty of audio and visual cues to gently nudge you back on track.

Short and sweet
When the app is launched, you are greeted with a pleasantly simple user interface and the words “Tap to start” – and that is it. There are no lengthy tutorial screens that bore users into losing interest before they even get started. In Photosynth, the tutorials are integrated in a subtle way that makes the app forgivingly intuitive.

From there, you simply tap where you want it to start and then move the camera slowly in a horizontal or vertical sweeping motion, then let the app work its magic. When you’re happy with the image, just tap the finish button and the app will begin to stitch the images together to create your panorama. It’s pretty awesome, actually, and comes in really handy around the office when we’re trying to take a group shot.

Users hate waiting
The stitching process is quite fast and accurate, which is beneficial to the overall UX. For larger full spherical panoramas, the stitching process may take a little
over a minute to complete, but the progress bar makes waiting a little more palatable as you can count down until the finished product.

Facebook, but no Twitter?
Photosynth gives users the option of sharing their masterpieces with others in five ways: Facebook, Bing maps, Photosynth.net, email or camera roll. We would
have liked to seen Flickr, Tumblr and Twitter on that list, but for now users can just export their panoramas to their camera roll and share them from there. Having to insert an extra step to share on Twitter or Tumblr is annoying and makes us drop the Photosynth grade to an A-, but we’ll forgive with the hope that function will come in an update (because, seriously, where there is Facebook, there should be Twitter).

Overall, the app delivers a positive user experience by handling the complexities of stitching algorithms and panoramas, leaving the user the simple tasks of pointing and shooting. It also helps that it is packaged in a well designed and intuitive manner. Good job Microsoft!

Pros:

• See your panoramas take shape with each picture you take

• Simple and easy to use, even for beginners

• See most panoramas within seconds of taking your last picture

• Zoom, pan, stretch and view your panorama in landscape or portrait
mode

• Share with friends on Facebook as images or interactive panoramas

Cons:

• Missing Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr

Suggestions:

• Add more popular social networking avenues such as Twitter, Flickr and
Tumblr

• Make “My Library” more interactive (maybe with the use of a carousel
similar to itunes)

What do you think? Love it or hate it? Tweet us @plasticmobile and join the conversation.

The App in Action:

All you have to do is take a look around you to see that mobile is fast becoming a ubiquitous part of our society. Mobile is everywhere, but especially retail locations.

Specifically, the proliferation of mobile in relation to retail has left marketers scrambling in a frenzy to re-evaluate their audience and understand how consumers are interacting with mobile – and how to take advantage of this new relationship.

In order to do this successfully, brands need to better comprehend how current trends are shaping the mobile environment, who this new audience is and how to best interact with them.

This is no easy task. As a brand, where do you start? For me, I think there is an expanding dichotomy between retailers and the mobile + social spaces, which marketers should be conscience of for 2012.

Let me explain.

Many 2011 reports, like comScore’s 2012 Mobile Future in Focus, identify various mobile users demographics. Still, retail marketers seem to glaze over the 20- to 30-something GenY-ers (or, as this Mashable article calls them, “Generation C,” the C standing for “connected.” A bit cliche, but probably accurate), who I tend to think are the ideal demographic for brands as they use both mobile and social media for commerce.

Sure, the stats say that moms are the decision makers and dads are the money makers, but the “young influencers” are a generation of digital-hungry consumers who covet cutting-edge tech and are spending on everything from the latest tablet to Vegas vacations and chic urban condos.

Perhaps this demographic is so often neglected because, as Shane Smith of Vice Media pointed out at the Young Influencers Conference in Toronto last week, most brands don’t really “get” that generation. And, as he suggested, there’s absolutely no point focusing on that demographic just because you think you should – they’ll see through that kind of fake like a bad boob job.

Regardless, to me it seems obvious to focus efforts on a group that’s poised to shop and who’s lives are hinged on mobile, as well as social media – an area that has seen significant growth on mobile, with its overall popularity in accessing social networking sites on mobile devices becoming nearly common place last year. Basically, it’s the same people who are using their mobile devices for social sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. who will then flip to a new browser window or app to research or buy that great item they just read about in a tweet or post.

I foresee this super trifecta of young influencers + mobile + social making an impact for brands in 2012 as marketers recognize this spectacular opportunity to increase customer conversation and conversion by tapping into the young influencers through the device that houses their entire life.

With Forrester predicting Facebook and Amazon as 2012′s major mobile players, another ComScore study speculates on the rise and expansion of overall social networking. And we ponder the relationship between the two…

Social platforms are still in the early stages, growing and evolving almost faster than they can be tracked. Social in general continues to gain ground as a dominant source of online content, accounting for 16.6 percent of minutes spent on the web towards the end of 2011. ComScore’s recent report on social networks showed that, while leader Facebook continues to dominate the arena (three out of four US users are Facebookers), relative newcomers like TumblrPinterest and Google+ are also climbing the popularity pole.

Twitter held the no. 2 spot in the category as of December, drawing 37.5 million unique visitors and surpassing its biggest competition from 2011, LinkedIn, whose audience clocked in at 33.5 million at the end of last year.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean there isn’t healthy competition brewing out there. According to ComScore’s findings, in the past six months Google+ has reached 20.7 million US visitors, while Tumblr hit 18.8 million. The network we find the most impressive/interesting is Pinterest, which has managed to draw 8 million unique visitors – mostly women! – without the clout of a gargantuan network of products such as Google’s.

And where does mobile fit into all of this?  Plastic Mobile of course sees it as a key resource to all platforms, and a crucial leveraging point for those looking to get a leg up on the competition. Melody Adhami, our President and resident mobile guru weighs in: “all of the social networks should be paying attention to mobile because it is a) where their audience is spending most of their time and b) an obvious way to reach that audience on an intimate and consistent level – meaning, those networks who can remain relevant in the mobile space will win more ‘facetime’ with their customers. Now, that doesn’t mean just offering a mobile friendly version of their site. It means taking advantage of the inherent features of the phone and the way people are using mobile to make sure users are accessing your social brand vs. your competitor’s on mobile.”

And according to an article in the New York Times, it seems other industry leaders are in agreement: “Mobile is the new face of engagement,” says Ted Schadler, principal analyst at Forrester. “Businesses should stop thinking about it as a small Web site on a tiny computer, and start thinking about mobile as being deeply embedded systems of engagement. That turns out to have huge implications.”

What do you think? Who will be the next big social network powerhouse in 2012? Will Facebook maintain it’s dominance, or will Twitter close the gap? Or will both of them lose out to Google+, or the underdog with girl power, Pinterest? And, more importantly (to us, at least), how will mobile tie into the social media battle for total world domination (or something)?

Tweet us with your favourite network, mobile 2 cents or just general musings about social networks and their future bearing on our LIVES!

Source: Twitter Bots

We all new the day would come, though no one was ever able to predict when. But, it seems Mark Zuckerberg finally got tired of everyone speculating about the value of the Book, and decided to put a price tag on it himself: $5 billion! Not too shabby.

The new speculation, of course, is does that dollar figure over-value the social networking phenomenon, or will it follow the path of the Google’s before it and prove everyone that Zuckerberg and team were actually airing on the side of conservative? Only time will tell!

The decision to go public may have been prompted by the expectation that Facebook will probably hit its 1 billionth users this year, and that they turned a tidy profit of $1 billion last year. Another very interesting fact to come of the filing for an IPO, is that about 80% of the Facebook fan fare is based outside of North America. Weird? We at Plastic Mobile were positively baffled by this stat, since no one we know isn’t sharing, posting and chatting on Facebook – except for one guy. But, he still uses Explorer as his web browser.

One final tid bit of interest we read in PCWorld stated Zuckerberg is not only chairman and CEO, but he has also included a clause to allow him to name his successor if he is still the company’s controller upon his death: “In the event that Mr. Zuckerberg controls our company at the time of his death,” Facebook’s S-1 filing says. “Control may be transferred to a person or entity that he designates as his successor.” Reports from The New York Post and Bloomberg Businessweek suggested that analysts found this mighty strange, but one thing is for certain; Mark Zuckerberg is, and will remain, Facebook’s reigning king.

We’re standing by to learn more about the over-under value debate and to see where this major moves takes the world of Zuckerberg, err, Facebook.

Mobile has been under the thumb of skeptics ever since it arrived on the scene. It’s been a long time coming, but we think Mobile Marketing is finally being taking seriously. Consider these top three examples that support our hypothesis:

1. Brands bringing mobile in house – According to an article in Mobile Marketer, Walmart and e-bay, are following in Amazon’s footsteps and bringing their mobile markting development and management in house. This major move indicates they are ready to take the mobile space seriously: “These acquisitions are a welcome validation that competent mobile executions are critical to a healthy marketing program, and that expertise is in short supply,” said Brennan Hayden, vice president of WDA, East Lansing, MI.

While other big-name brands, like Lexus, who are outsourcing to agencies are still doing it right, these stores are being super-savvy in preventing their competitors from using the same tools. This bodes well for the future of mobile, but has the potential to be bad for business. Thankfully, we know that our quality work validates itself.

2. Brands that aren’t, are going down – Those big names that are not taking steps to incorporate mobile into their marketing plans seem to be feeling the effects of their negligence. For instance, we recently blogged about how e- and m-commerce were partially to blame for the demise of a number of Sears and K-Mart stores after grimm holiday figures.

Furthermore, in 2008, Kate Spade New York was a strugglin,’ but, when Craig Leavitt came on board as CEO, he woke up a sleeping giant and changed its outlook on online marketing. The result? Kate Spade is now one of the strongest brands supporting m- and e-commerce.

3. Facebook hearts mobile – The social networking behemoth was one of the first companies to jump on board the mobile train. They continue to bolster their mobile platform at ever chance they get, and are careful to always listen to their users. Thus, Facebook recently announced a new Comments Box plugin for mobile websites – a feature in high demand by business owners and website proprietors. The new plugin will make it simpler for websites to engage consumers regardless of where they are. Essentially, if the Book is doing it, you probably should be too.

There are countless other examples of how Mobile Marketing has finally grabbed everyone’s attention, but the bottom line is, if you’re not going mobile, you really should be. What do you think? Is it mobile’s time to shine?

What if, Facebook got into e-commerce by allowing you to process payments with your Facebook account. Is that a stretch? The question was raised at a Deloitte presentation in called ‘Social Media for Consumer Business.’

Facebook is always finding new revenue streams; and frankly selling ads on the site isn’t cutting it. On July 1st, the social networking giant is forcing Facebook Credits to their game developers. So, virtual currency will be a thing of the past when you use Facebook’s social games like Farmville. The game apps are free to download, but if your farm needs more hay and animals to survive, expect to pay up (with the real currency). Facebook will earn 30% on payments for all virtual goods when paid with Facebook Credits. (Not a bad source income). Players can buy credits though Facebook via PayPal, credit card, or paying it using their mobile phones.

Now that last payment option for Facebook Credits, leads me to the initial question – Could Facebook become a mobile payment processor?  Could there be a ‘Pay with Facebook’ option for your next purchase?  As mobile payment will be a huge trend in 2011, and with over 500 million users, it’s potentially a lucrative opportunity for the social networking site. But do they have the trust of their users?  I’m not encouraging this payment system, as I’m nervous to disclose my phone number to Facebook, let alone credit card information.  Especially, since several reports alluded that certain Facebook applications were sending personal user information to ad and Internet tracking companies.

Would you use a ‘pay with Facebook’ option? Or can we trust Mark Zuckerberg with our digital wallets?

I guess, we’ll wait and see what Zuckerburg and his people are brewing up at the Facebook headquarters.

Mobile phones are using millions of people throughout the world everyday!

They have changed our lives; nobody can deny this. Mobile is no longer just the most convenient tool of communication, or the best invention of 21st century; it is a part of our fibre! And with this trend, who can be happier than the digital marketers right now? Well, probably no one. While digital marketers are joyfully embracing mobile phone’s popularity, they need to take a moment to understand how they need to take full advantage of this space at the current moment and more importantly for the exciting years to come.

Dear Digital Marketer

Your app has to compete with many apps, all screaming for attention in competitive app stores, right? So, how are you going to make sure that your app is going to beat them all? How are you going to make sure your app is going to win people’s heart? Well, If you want to win the battle, here are some basic hints that many tend to overlook while being all excited about the current mobile app boom.

Be the first, OR the best!

If possible, be the pioneer of an app category; if not, then aim to become the best in that app category. Add value to the existing app by adding an extra ordinary spin & come up with not only a better, but THE best app in your category.

Futuristic view
Anticipate future trends, predict potential needs, and create your app based on it.

Don’t be a  stingy scrooge
If possible, invest and spend on a well developed application and a  sound marketing & promotion plan, go big in terms of your launch. Whether this means traditional media or social strategies, put the effort to get the word out.

Be in the loop
Watch out for competitors, evaluate what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong, what is it that they are not doing, and what is it that you can do better than them.

Love at the first sight
Your landing screen is so very important. Have a likable landing screen; try your best to attract your audiences at first glance.

One of its kind APP
Your app needs to be exceptional & unique, or you should say goodbye to app marketing for good. Innovate, plan excellently, and build something magnificent.

à la mode
Know the trend, be chic, be hip, be modish if you want your app to be unbeaten.

Take it easy!
While trying to create something unique, don’t forget to make it easy to use. Complications are very quick and easy way to say goodbye to your user for good.

Go for a test drive!
Make sure you’ll have all your friends, family member’s, co-workers, ex’s, neighbors, frienemies, and enemies, try your app before you launch it. Ask for their feedback, find out about the parts that confuse the user and take advantage of  enhancing your app.

Fish for compliment
The more people you get to talk about your app, the more successful you’ll get marketing it. Remember, the more discussions = more exposure = more sales!

Social media is your BFF
Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, these are your marketing department’s team members! Benefit from the ease of sharing info on your app through these mediums.

Continuing education
Constantly read tech news, blogs, attend seminars, tech events, and review other apps to learn what’s happening out there. Keep your knowledge up to date.

In the end, think of anything unique that will make your app stand taller than the competitors. Start strong & launch big.

For more tips on how to make and market a great application, contact us.

iphone-facebook-1

There is no doubt that the importance of on-the-go online connection is important to the working business person, but I am slowly starting to wonder if the younger generation will surpass mobile data usage sooner rather than later.

This question comes to me with the release of the new Facebook 3.0 application upgrade for the iPhone. Obviously, Facebook is seeing a benefit in upgrading their application and enhancing their mobile offering. Why would they do this unless either their main demographic is quickly adopting mobile usage or they see the future potential in this area. Either way, mobile usage and application usage is increasing at an alarmingly quick rate and young generation is right at the centre of it all.

It was an exciting time at the 14th Global Mobile Awards where INQ, a fairly new entrant in the Mobile Device industry has triumphed over some of its much larger competitors such a  LG, Nokia, RIM.

Their first ever handset, INQ 1 has won this years award for the ‘Best Mobile Handset or Device’.  Their strategy was simple:  revolutionize the industry by putting all your web and mobile contacts in one place at a cheap price.  Ok so that is definitely an oversimplification but that is exactly what they did.

Impressive Features:

  • simple user interface
  • Self-explanatory icons and easy option menus
  • Integration with popular Web services such as Facebook.
  • Facebook intergratin allows for automatic integrattion of  contact details with phone contacts
  • Friends profile pictures show up when you call or they call you (fun feature)
  • Access to Windows Live messenger for IM use
  • Access to Skype to make VoIP calls
  • Shows who is online and then allows contact with them via the three Web-based services.
  • ability to add widgets to the start page allowing for customization

The most impressive of the features is obviously the integration with social media. There is a lot to be said about this award and its winner.  It shows the direction and trend of the mobile industry and the incorporation with social mediums such as Facebook.

I can go on about move of the facinating features but you can also see a video demo of the features and functionality of the INQ 1 below.

At the 14th  Global Mobile Awards in Barcelona, ‘Best Mobile and Device’ award winner: