Back to Basics

About a week ago, Apple released a physical book – “Designed by Apple in California” – to the public for the cool price of $300. The book is dedicated to Steve Jobs and explores 20 years of Apple design.

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Apple’s newest innovation – the book.

What I find fascinating about this book is that Apple – one of the tech giants that really set forth the digital and mobile revolution – decided to publish this manifesto in the form of a heavy book instead of an app or a video.

Though photo printing and coffee books have been around for quite some time now, there’s been a revitalization of print. In fact, it could even be considered a glorification of print.

Artifact Uprising is an example of a company that’s capitalizing on this print renaissance. With their services, you can get your Instagram photos printed individually on matte-finish paper or create a softcover photo book for your coffee table. Photo books from my childhood always seemed a little tacky and cheesy – they were also only one of few ways we could keep and share photos. Now that there are so many platforms on which to share photos – the majority of them being free – we have plenty of choice in the digital space. But there’s something to be said for a beautiful photo book filled with your own curated photos that will live on even when there’s no wifi or outlet.

Like Apple’s new book, seasonal magazines that are en vogue such as Cereal, Kinfolk and Drift are definitely pricier than the average magazine, but they’ve become akin to status symbols. Complete with stunning photos and plenty of delicious white space, these magazines are more art than content at times. If you were worried that print would vanish soon, make no mistake – the sexiness of print is here to stay.

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Magazines – the ultimate… accessory?

And on the flipside of that – though we have Evernote, OneNote, Wunderlist and so on and so forth, we simply remember information better if we write it down. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of glamorized analog is RIFLE PAPER Co., a charming stationary brand that sells calendars, notebooks, planners and much more. Sure, I could buy a 50 cent notebook from Staples… but getting to open a cloth-bound, copper-foiled planner every day for the next year sends chills of excitement down my spine.

Then there’s the resurgence of physical “pens” and “pencils” for digital products. FiftyThree sells $30 “pencils,” and Microsoft and Apple have been duking it out in terms of who has the better “pen”.

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The prettiest planners you ever did see.

 

Amazon had initially made books more consumable, and still do. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is hard to say. These days, buying a book is as easy as two clicks of a mouse – nothing particularly rejuvenating. In fact, the discovery of the Japanese word tsundoku – the act of stockpiling books never consumed – was a hit among popular media recently. It’s just another testament to how much we take buying books for granted.

Before Amazon, you probably went to Barnes and Nobles and embarked on a mini-scavenger hunt looking for books and stumbling upon others along the way. But the book shopping experience is long from forgotten. There’s been a resurgence of independent bookstores, bringing back dusty bookshelves and bargain book finds.

Amidst all of this rambling, I think what I’m trying to say is that there will still be a place for books, stationary, pencils and erasers in many of our wired hearts. Yes, there are many who are full-blown digital and are completely plugged in with smartwatches, Kindles, iPhones and all. But when the portable battery runs out of juice, will you then lunge for a book? When your computer is malfunctioning during a lecture, will you go through your backpack, searching for your paper and pencil?

Whether you’re drooling over the recent issue of Drift or caught up in an unexpectedly good dollar novel, keep it up. Continue to support print in any form. Maybe even check out a couple of books from your local library if you want to take it a step further – bonus points for using the Dewey Decimal System.

Update:

Other resources I’ve found a couple of days after I posted this…

People are falling in love with a simple productivity system that just uses pen and paper
http://qz.com/701309/people-are-falling-in-love-with-a-simple-productivity-system-that-just-uses-pen-and-paper/ 

Nothing can kill our love of books, not even e-readers
http://qz.com/829076/nothing-can-kill-our-love-of-books-not-even-e-readers/

The Case for Wrist Wearables

I remember when Pebble first came out on Kickstarter. I didn’t really know why I would need so many extra features on a watch, but I knew one thing for sure: I had to have it.

However, since I was in college at the time and pinching pennies, I ended up not getting one. But perhaps it was for the best. Though Pebble might have killed it on Kickstarter, it wasn’t a formidable company compared to the likes that started joining in on the smartwatch fun. Soon, and predictably enough, Samsung, Motorola, Sony and – of course – Apple came out with their own versions.

Pebble didn’t give up even with the addition of these new competitors. They still had the advantage of being the scrappy trailblazers – the startup that was ahead of the game and identified something that people really wanted before the tech giants did. But it wouldn’t be accurate to say that they’ve had tremendous success with their business so far.

But as we’ve seen since Pebble’s debut, smartwatches and general “wrist wearables” – wearables that primarily go on wrists – still haven’t been proven to be nearly as groundbreaking as personal computers, smartphones or, these days, the other kind of wearables – headsets for AR/VR.

Breaking down wrist wearables, we have two categories:

  • Long-term wrist wearables
  • Short-term wrist wearables

Long-term wrist wearables are those that are meant to be worn over a long period of time, usually daily. These wearables include smartwatches and activity trackers (i.e. Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone, etc.).

Short-term wrist wearables are those that are meant to be worn during certain occasions or events. These wearables include first-party wearables (e.g. Disney’s MagicBands) and third-party wearables (e.g. PixMob).

Long-term wrist wearables are obviously much more of an investment. Companies like Fitbit and Apple have partnered with high-fashion brands to position them as luxury items, hoping to make these wearables more desirable.
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Despite all of the hype, long-term wrist wearables have (so far) only accomplished: 1) Tracking and collecting data for activity and 2) Bringing some smartphone capabilities – literally – at your fingertips.  The former purpose is more helpful and seems to be stickier with users. Yet, it’s still not as effortless as it could be. There’s still manual syncing involved, and if there are syncing-related bugs in a new version of iOS or Android – users will abandon the wearable in droves. Not to mention, there’s the added hassle of charging all of the time.

I’ve owned a Fitbit, Jawbone and Microsoft Band at different times, and have worn them exclusively. I’d be optimistic at first about keeping track of my activity or hitting 10,000 steps daily. But gradually, I’d grow apathetic, leaving my house for a run without a wearable because I stopped caring or I had forgotten to charge it. Of course, this apathy could stem from the fact that I’m not a hardcore athlete looking to improve mile times.

Short-term wrist wearables, on the other hand, seem to do a good job of satisfying my short millennial attention span. I’ve been seeing PixMob wristbands more and more at events like concerts and conferences. They don’t require much effort on the user’s end since event staff is usually coordinating the wristbands – plus, they have pretty colors.

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Though I haven’t personally used a Disney MagicBand before, I’ve heard great things about the experience. Like PixMob wristbands, MagicBands do all of the work behind the scenes – WIRED has a great article on the technology. For instance, Disney characters will already know visitors’ names and where they’re coming from based on data that the band stores.

Despite the fact that short-term smart wrist wearables had a slightly later start than long-term  wrist wearables, I think they are proving to be more exciting. When long-term wrist wearables get to the point of syncing effortlessly with devices and doing more of the “magical” things that short-term wrist wearables are accomplishing… perhaps I’ll change my mind.

The most ironic part about all of this that you didn’t see coming? With all of this talk about wearables, I’ve been typing this blog wearing the simplest one of all – a $10 Casio Analog Watch I bought from Amazon.

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As a non-expert on wearables, I probably missed some details and would love to hear about your experiences with long-term vs short-term wrist wearables. Do you see any up-and-coming players in the space to watch for? Any companies doing extraordinary things with wrist wearables? I want to hear from you!

Update: Pretty cool – MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research worked together to come up with this new connected temporary tattoo.

TwoDots case study: A more effective IAP model for mobile gaming

While I was abroad for about a month, I found that with my limited access to the Internet, I started playing offline-compatible games that were still on my phone that I hadn’t played for some time. The game that I went back to most, almost obsessively, during my travels was TwoDots.

For anyone that doesn’t know about TwoDots by now, it’s the more grown-up version of the original Dots game, which took the casual mobile gaming universe by storm. It takes less than 30 seconds to understand the game and the interface (for both games) is both elegant and clean. The team beefed up elements in the game where, perhaps, a lot of developers wouldn’t pay much attention to otherwise (See NYT’s piece on TwoDots’ charming soundtracks).

Since the Playdots team launched TwoDots, they’ve spruced up some of their pay walls. Here are some examples:

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When you’re about to start a level, the game gives you the option of starting with a boost. I’m pretty stocked up in terms of boosts, but for users that have already run out of boosts, they are available for purchase.

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If you get very close to finishing a level but fail, the game usually gives you the option of purchasing a boost and a couple more moves.

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If you run out of lives, you can either wait 20 minutes for another life or refill your lives for 99 cents.

I’ve briefly written about TwoDots before, and how for a fairly casual game, they’re putting in a lot of effort to seamlessly monetize without being too pushy. I have to admit, it’s pretty effective. I’m not bothered at all by the pop-ups because they combine both helpful information (e.g. number of lives/boosts I have left) and chances to make a purchase. Though occasionally the placement of the “Refill lives” or “Buy more boosts” buttons are a little tricky (I find myself accidentally pressing them all the time).

But here’s the thing – I haven’t paid a single penny. Yet at the same time, I wouldn’t mind coughing up some cash for the game either. What gives?

As much as I talk about games and love reading news about gaming, I am not a devout gamer. I’ve taken gaming personality tests in the past, and each time, my results identify me as a very casual gamer. I am not a whale – I will not spend money unless I have to upfront for a game like, say, Monument Valley. I download freemium games to get a sense of what the games are like, but rarely do I ever stick with these game for more than a month or so (there are exceptions).

When I come across a game or app I really like, the more I use it, the more I get comfortable with it. And the more comfortable I get with an app, the more I feel ok with spending money on it, since it’s already served me well. The problem with a lot of freemium apps (especially for mid-core/hardcore games) is that their monetization strategies are geared heavily towards getting whales to pay up. It’s not a bad strategy, especially when whale users, who make up 0.15% of mobile gamers, bring in 50% of the revenue.

Monetization gets a little trickier though when it comes to TwoDots, a game that’s not mid-core or hardcore, but pretty casual.

It’s worth noting that TwoDots hasn’t done too bad in terms of grossing, but it’s nowhere near Clash of Clans or Candy Crush status.

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iPhone stats for TwoDots within the past year via App Annie.

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Google Play stats for TwoDots within the past year via App Annie.

As I mentioned previously, the more I play TwoDots, the more I would be ok with paying. However, I’d prefer to not pay 99 cents every time I need lives because it does add up over time. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind paying $5 to play as much as I want. Obviously, this is not a new revenue model at all – in fact, it’s how games have been sold since they were created. Buy so-and-so game for Xbox, and you can play it as much as you want.

So I’ve been thinking – whales bring in a lot of money, but they only make up a small portion of the gaming audiences (note: this doesn’t mean that non-whales DON’T pay – they just don’t bring in nearly as much cash as whales do). It’s true that you can’t directly use users’ UDIDs, but most major gaming companies have found a way of going around UDIDs by giving users their own ID numbers/codes to be able to define cohorts and gather data. Why not use the data you already have on users to make the gaming experiences slightly different? And I’m not just talking about tailored push notifications (which is already being done) – I’m talking about tailoring the ways to get users to pay up.

For users that are loyal to the app but have yet to spend anything, change the experience for them – send out a *limited time offer* to spend $5 for infinite lives (just don’t tell the whales). By doing this, it’s true that once the users opt into the $5 deal, they will never spend money in the app again… but hey – would you rather get $5 from a user or nothing at all?

At the same time, this kind of customized monetization experience can be slightly risky – the obvious factor being that people start finding out and getting angry that they’ve already spent a bunch of money on the app while the non-payers only have to pay $5 for infinite lives. Since this is a difficult situation, it might be best to roll out a “differentiated experience” like this when a company/developer(s) realizes that the game either is A) tanking or B) is not monetizing at all, since at that point, there aren’t too many options left to save the app.

Ye Olde Mac vs PC Debate

I have a confession to make.

Every post I put up on Tech Volo is done using, not a Mac, but a PC.

Surprised? I don’t blame you. After all, I’m 19 (Mac users are 22% more likely than PC users to be between the ages of 18-34), I like to snack on hummus and banh mi (PC people supposedly prefer tuna fish sandwiches and patty melts) and I’m a big fan of The Daily Show and the Colbert Report (PC people tend to enjoy The Newshour with Jim Lehrer and 20/20 more).

Where am I getting these facts? The fabulous people at the Hunch Blog surveyed over 700,000 Hunch users between March 2009 and April 2011 about their personal preferences as PC or Mac users and organized everything into a neat “Profile Of A Self-Described Mac Person vs. PC person” infographic.

Sure, it’s all a little silly, but it’s also very interesting to see just how differently these two brands (sorry Linux) portray themselves through the users of their products and not primarily through their products.

Remember those good ol’ Mac vs. PC commercials? Apple made it so easy to laugh at the uptight, suited middle-aged man with the spectacles and so difficult to root against the smooth, relaxed and confident brunette yuppie in the slacks. Instead of being subtle, Apple went ahead and boldly showed the world what they thought a typical Mac user and buyer should look and act like. These commercials were flattering for Mac users but terribly embarrassing for PC users. Nevertheless, the commercials worked. Apple successfully branded themselves as the “cool” operating system and to this day, never fails to maintain that image (except when they started to run those Genius Bar ads… read more about it here).

But what if you’re a PC user, like me? First of all, don’t feel bad. I did at one point, while those ingenious Mac vs. PC commercials were running, but once I realized it was all a marketing tactic, I was once again happy with my trusty PC.

But what if you actually want a Mac but just can’t afford to have one or have to wait a while until you can get one? Well, right now my computer looks a little like this:

Like what you see at the bottom? Though you can’t completely change your PC into a Mac, you can just pretend for the time being. All you have to do is download ObjectDock here and you’ll have a new Mac-esque widget on your PC!

So are you a proud Mac user or a proud PC user? What do you like about your operating system of choice? What do you not like? Let me know in the comments below!

News Round-Up #2

I promise that I won’t bombard you all with news round-ups, but there have been so many recent developments in tech… I just couldn’t wait to tell you all about them!

Google Webinars

On Thursday, August 8th, Google is hosting a webinar on multi-channel funnels. If you have an Ad Words Customer ID, you can sign-up for the webinar. If not, don’t fret. Google records their webinars so you can view them whenever and wherever you want.

Apple Pulls Genius Bar Ads After Backlash

After airing a couple of Genius Bar commercials during the Olympics, Apple decided to pull the ads after receiving some negative feedback in the form of parodies and memes, among others. Sure, people were offended to be portrayed as a witless, oblivious customer, but was it also weird to have apple anthropomorphized? After all, Apple commercials are usually product-driven, not service-driven. What do you think?

The Interactive Internet Map

Artist, visionary and tech wiz Ruslan Enikeev has created what he calls “The Internet Map,” an unconventional map that displays the Internet universe in the form of clusters of constellations and galaxies. Enikeev says his this elaborate project was made as, “[an] attempt to look into the hidden structure of the network, fathom its colossal scale, and examine that which is impossible to understand from the bare figures of statistics.”

Starbucks And Square To Team Up

That’s right — Jack Dorsey’s second brainchild (aside from his other project, Twitter) has partnered up with the mega-corporation to provide customers with an even easier way to pay for their venti lattes and cappuccinos. Starbucks, it turns out, is also investing $25 million in Square, hoping that this investment will pay off as soon as Square really takes off. So far, Square is used mostly by mobile vendors and the like, but with the addition of Starbucks in the Square circle (no pun intended), who knows where Square will go next.

Google’s Driverless Car Is Now Safer Than The Average Driver

I think it’s time that we start to worry. Machines really are doing everything better than us, even when it comes to driving a car. Google enthused that its self-driving cars have gone 300,000 miles without any kind of accident. The average driver has an accident after approximately 165,000 miles of driving. I guess it’s Machines: 1, Humans: 0 this time around.

Do you miss the Genius Bar commercials? Is Enikeev’s Internet Map incredible or what? Would you ever buy a self-driving car if it were reasonably-priced? Let Tech Volo know in the comments!

News Round-Up #1

From Apple dismissing Youtube from its new iPhone 5 to a teen prodigy building an artificial cancer-detecting “brain,” a lot has occurred this week in the news.

Youtube To Vanish From iPhone In Latest Sign Google, Apple Growing Apart

This headline may seem surprising, but considering the turmoil that has existed between Google and Apple since 2007, a move like this on Apple’s part was almost inevitable.

The Apple and Google partnership wasn’t always so bad. In 2006, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt joined Apple’s board of directors. That’s when YouTube and Google Maps were added as features to the first iPhone — features that became the pieces de résistance for iPhones.

But when the late Steve Jobs discovered that Schmidt’s goal was to put Google at the center of the smartphone business, he was infuriated.

Now Apple is in a patent fight with Samsung, a valuable player in the Android World.

Looks like Apple will have some ‘splainin to do in the near future.

Tumblr Launches Hub For Original Content

The “reblog” button is arguably the most commonly abused button on Tumblr. Wanting to change its reputation of no-originality, recycling ways, Tumblr has now launched Reblorg to encourage users to create their own original content instead of reblogging everything.

The FBI Finally Abandons Paper, Goes All-Digital

The FBI’s brand-spanking new all-digital system, “Sentinel,” as it’s called, “features a web browser-style user interface that allows agents to enter and review information about cases or suspects.” This development means quicker and more efficient searching, so the FBI can breathe a little easier.

The Perfect Playlist: How Your iPod Can Help You Run Faster And Harder

Despite some skepticism, listening to music while exercising really does add an extra “umph” to your workouts. But in order to get the most out of your playlists, make sure to keep these guidelines in mind when working out: 1) Select tracks with energizing beats (the optimal range is 120-140 beats per minute), 2) Stick with what you know (associations with songs prove to be very powerful), 3) Don’t forget to hit shuffle (so you don’t become desensitized to the motivating effects of your music) and 4) Be choosy about lyrics (you may need to reconsider Call Me Maybe).

17-Year Old Girl Builds Artificial ‘Brain’ To Detect Breast Cancer

Brittany Wenger has not even attended college yet, but she has already accomplished more in her lifetime than many professors nearly three times her age.

At just 17 years old, Wenger won the Google Science Fair with a cloud-based neural network used to detect malignancy for breast cancer. She has ran 7.6 million trials and currently her invention has a 99.1 percent sensitivity to malignancy.

Wenger currently has a website, Cloud4Cancer Breast Cancer Detection that uses fine needle aspirates to determine whether a known breast mass is malignant or benign.

One small step for girl, one giant leap for women in tech!

Have any thoughts on this week’s news round-up? Do you think the iPhone 5 will still be popular, even without a YouTube widget? Will Reblorg prove to be a success? What is in store for the bright Brittany Wenger? Leave your comments below!