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.
apple-hermes.png

toryb-fitbit

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.

spongebob.jpg

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.

watch

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.

Kittens that drive mobile revenue?

Even though I don’t usually watch television, when I was in Japan this past week, I found myself watching more than I normally would. Considering that I had no wifi access, perhaps this was a natural and rather unsurprising replacement to cater to my attention span. But aside from the fact that I had a little more free time than usual, I was also drawn to the t.v. in Japan because it was interesting to see the types of commercials that ran, particularly the ones about mobile games and apps.

From what I’ve seen and know of, the commercials seen on American television programming are usually about cars, alcohol and fast food. This is not to say that Japan doesn’t run these types of commercials either. In fact, here’s a charming commercial from Kirin Beer starring George Clooney:

And this isn’t to say that the U.S. doesn’t run mobile-related ads either. Here’s a commercial that Google has recently broadcasted to show all that Google Play has to offer:

Not to mention, in America, if an upcoming movie, a chain restaurant or an established company has an app in the App Store or the Google Play Store, they usually tack on a quick 5-second announcement about it at the end of the commercial.

But in Japan, there are 15 second spots dedicated solely to just mobile apps. Gunosy (グノシ), for example, is a news app that condenses its stories into easy-to-read formats. Think the lovechild of Circa and Nick D’Alosio’s Summly. According to Google Play, the app has anywhere from 500,000 to 1,000,000 downloads. There’s an English version of the app too, but it’s done dismally in the United States. And even in Japan, where it’s most downloaded, it’s ranked in the top 125-150 apps* in the news category, not overall. Yet, as you can see from the Gunosy ad below, effort did go into the production:

Monster Strike, on the other hand, is a mobile game that’s doing quite well in Japan — ranked consistently in the top 15 for games and top 25 for overall apps (in the App Store). Compared to Gunosy, it makes a little more sense that Monster Strike would be running television ads, especially since this app ranks in the top 3 for grossing apps in the action, games, role playing and overall categories.*

There’s also the adorable commercials that COLOPL, Inc. runs for its game, ほしの島のにゃんこ (Hoshi no Shima no Nyanko) or, loosely translated, Cats on Star Island. Download ranks are all over the board for categories, including Family and Games. On the other hand, grossing ranks are fairly straight forward, coming in at numero uno in the kids and 9-11 age groups, as well as number three in family. And, after seeing this purrfect commercial, you won’t be too surprised as to why that is:

Aside from these smaller gaming companies, let’s not forget the giants such as Mobage, GREE and Line that continue to dominate the mobile industry in Japan. Puzzles and Dragons, for example, which has made more than $1 billion in profit, can easily expend money on television commercials.

So why all of these television ads? After all, with all the types of cross promotion and in-app ads, why would you bother going through the trouble of casting, producing and broadcasting a commercial just for a mobile app? Even though there are still quite a number of people who use flip phones as opposed to smartphones, for the ones that do have smartphones, they’re more likely to be a pretty passionate app user.

From what I do know about the Japanese app market, Japanese users are more likely to spend money on apps, especially when it comes to free apps that offer in-app purchases. And with so much competition in app stores (like the American App Store), companies need to come up with more ways to stand out. Hence, television commercials. Seeing that the other non-app-related commercials in Japan were about beauty, cleaning or food products, it’s pretty obvious (unfortunately) that these ads are targeted to women — specifically stay-at-home wives who watch television. To reiterate an important (but generalized in this case) statistic in the mobile app world, more females use, download and pay for apps than men. And, frankly, if more women are watching television, then wouldn’t it make sense for these mobile app publishers to advertise on television? Yes, and as long as they’re ok with spending too.

As for America, I haven’t seen too many commercials (if any, really) that are dedicated to just one mobile app. Then again, the so-called “millennial” generation isn’t watching as much television as they are streaming via Netflix or Hulu. Since the mobile app competition is already fairly intense in the states, will we start seeing more mobile app commercials on these streaming platforms? Only time will tell.

* = Data from App Annie

Notable reads from this week

Though I find maybe one or two solid and thought-provoking articles each day, for whatever reason (maybe the Facebook/Twitter gods were smiling down on me), I came across a number of great reads yesterday that I wanted to share. In case you don’t have the time to read all of these articles, I’ve TLDR’ed them for your convenience. Enjoy!

Can Silicon Valley Be Saved?
Published March 6, 2014
TLDR: Though Silicon Valley, particularly San Jose in this case, is home to mega-corporations including eBay, Cisco Systems and Adobe, people don’t really want to live in this area. Some of the reasons that are brought to attention include the lack of a unified public transportation system, little walkability (San Jose’s congestion is the seventh highest in the nation), and barely any culture that attracts tech people who like food, bars and an overall urban atmosphere. Samsung is hoping to contribute to this change with a brand new building that promotes walking instead of driving.

The Ultimate Guide to Solving iOS Battery Drain
Published March 27, 2014
TLDR: My friend Jessie told me about this article and how the author of this blog, Scotty Loveless, worked on the Genius Bar for about two years. Though I already knew that leaving my 3G on in places with poor service drained my battery, I didn’t know about BAR (Background App Refresh) or that quitting my apps actually messed with the phone’s RAM. To get the most out of this article, I advise that you read it somewhere where you won’t be distracted, so you can follow each step in the article.

The Internet’s Telltale Heartbleed
Published April 9, 2014
TLDR: I had read plenty of other articles about Heartbleed, but none of them explained the bug as well as this one. Key takeaways include: 1) Up to 500,000 sites were affected; 2) Heartbleed is scary because you can’t detect whether requests for information are malicious or not; 3) OpenSSL is a volunteer project, and is only overseen by four people; 4) Unless websites have specifically told you to change your password, there isn’t much to be done as of now (maybe wait a little longer, then change all of your passwords).

Will starving artists turn to coding instead of waiting tables?
Published April 11, 2014
TLDR: A feature story on Fractured Atlas, a non-profit in New York that’s looking to help artists get and learn the resources they need in order to become entrepreneurs. Since the program is so new, there haven’t been any Atlas alumni just yet, but it might be worthwhile to keep an eye on this organization.

When the restaurant you Googled Googles you back
Published April 13, 2014
TLDR: A swanky, three-Michelin star restaurant is now catering a more personalized dining experience by doing research on its clientele beforehand. Though it sounds creepy, the intentions are good. Taking a page from the article, “If a particular guest appears to hail from Montana, [the maitre d’] will try to pair up the table with a server who is from Montana.”

300M downloads and $600M in revenue say Google is the ‘loser’s choice’ in mobile games monetization
Published April 14, 2014
TLDR: In a VentureBeat survey, it was announced that when it comes to monetizing their mobile games, developers are using companies like Vungle or AdColony instead. As for which mobile ads proved to be the most annoying, banner ads, notification ads and surveys ranked in the top three.

Why Yahoo! is becoming a force to be reckoned with

It’s only been a year since Marissa Mayer decided to take on the foreboding role as CEO of Yahoo!, the site that was once considered a lost cause compared to the cooler and hipper kids on the block: Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

But Mayer, as one of very few women CEOs out there, made the headlines of virtually every publication as soon as the announcement was made. And she hasn’t stopped since then.

In an effort to make Yahoo! a more unified community, Mayer instated a ban against Yahoo! employees working at home, which received mixed reviews. Mothers, for one, criticized Mayer for being insensitive, especially to those who are pregnant or who have just given birth.

But a couple of months later, Mayer announced that she would extend maternity leave by eight whole weeks, a move that helped redeem her reputation among previously miffed mothers.

Then Mayer decided to go on an acquisition spree, scooping up startups left and right. Within 10 months, she picked up 11 companies, most notably Tumblr for a cool $1.1 billion dollars. Her other acquisitions include Astrid, GoPollGo and the brainchild of 17-year-old Nick D’Aloisio, Summly.

Though Tumblr may be the last acquisition Mayer makes for a while, unlike her predecessors, she won’t let her purchases rot anytime soon.

Gizmodo recently published an article on Monday, “Flashback: How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet,” a scathing but brutally honest look at why and how Flickr did not takeoff as the premier photo-sharing site it was expected to be.

Much of what Honan says in his article cannot be overlooked — the sloppy integration of Yahoo! logins on Flickr and the poorly-timed release of the Flickr app — and these mistakes should hopefully serve as examples to Yahoo of what not to do in the future.

The downfall of Flickr occurred during former Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang’s era, so there’s a better chance that Mayer won’t fall into the same pattern of neglecting acquisitions. Just today, Yahoo! unveiled a fresher look for Flickr, an update that just might bring back some of the users it has lost. However, Mayer’s spree mirrors the actions that Yahoo! took years ago, scooping up the promising startups Delicious and Upcoming, the latter which Yahoo! ultimately decided to kill.

There’s also the incredible amount of money that Mayer has been burning through to get what she wants. Summly, for instance, was bought for $30 million — only $3 million less than what Flickr was bought for — and Tumblr was purchased for five times that amount. Though it’s true that Tumblr has the young and active audience that Yahoo has been drooling over for quite some time, the social blogging site has not done a great job of marketing itself as a money-making product, something that Facebook’s Instagram has yet to do.

To put Mayer’s acquisition in another perspective, in 2006, Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion, an amount that seems like a bargain now considering how successful the video-sharing site is.

Despite these hiccups, Mayer still seems to be on track to do something really great for Yahoo!. Yahoo! has been consistently making the headlines in a positive way, keeping shareholders happy and hopeful. Mayer keeps the public on its toes, holding investors and users in suspense to see what Yahoo! is going to do next.

Also unlike her predecessors, Mayer seems to know what she wants to do with Yahoo! and what improvements she wants to make. With all of the mobile acquisitions she made, it’s no secret that a Yahoo! wants to build a strong mobile presence for itself (Yahoo! launched a very aesthetically-pleasing weather app in April) as well as attract younger users. And Mayer has done what she needs to do to so far to achieve these goals.

But despite all of these bold acquisitions and rebranding efforts, something still doesn’t feel right. Mayer has goals and aspirations for the company, but Yahoo! still lacks a solid niche. Google serves as a universal search engine. Facebook is the ultimate platform for sharing content and interacting with friends. Twitter connects people of all backgrounds with short memo-style posts.

But what about Yahoo!? Yahoo! has become a social network-search engine-newswire Frankenstein that doesn’t just do one thing well. In order for Yahoo! to truly have a chance at standing out among its larger, more well-established competitors, a clear vision needs to be established for the company. Mayer promised that she wouldn’t “screw up” Tumblr, so Yahoo! probably won’t be taking over the blogosphere anytime soon (except in the form of ads come 2014).  Perhaps Yahoo! has something big planned for mobile apps. Or maybe Yahoo! will be putting more emphasis on the news and gossip sections of its site, using Summly’s summarization algorithm.

Keep an eye on those headlines.

Update: On Thursday, May 23, Yahoo announced that it acquired California-based gaming startup, PlayerScale.

Favorite Things of 2012: Apps

It should come as no surprise to past and current readers of Techvolo that I am head over heels in love with apps. This love affair started when I traded in my chunky flip phone for a thinner and more technologically in-tune smartphone. It was definitely love at first sight. The minute I brought my smartphone home, I ran upstairs and started downloading apps in droves. I browsed the app store as if my life depended on it.

Here we are, about a year later. I think back to when I had my old phone and wonder at how I was able to maintain friendships and keep up with the news. So this post goes out to my smartphone, the world of apps and the advances made in technology thus far. Because even though anxieties regarding technology seem to be brought up more frequently than ever, technology is also helping us more than ever as well. Which brings me to introduce:

Best of… apps!

Google+

It’s no secret that Google+ has been the butt of a ton of social media jokes lately. The fake Mark Zuckerberg account, @notzuckerberg, tweeted on Christmas day, “This morning, good kids got presents, naughty kids got lumps of coal, and very naughty kids got Google+ accounts.” Sure, it’s harsh. But Google+ is going to have the last laugh. With a newly revamped interface, Google+’s mobile presence has never been more beautiful or easy to use. As more and more people hop on board the Google+ train, they are going to stick with it, especially for its great UI.

VSCO CAM

VSCO CAM is easily my photo app of choice. Instead of opening Instagram or the native camera app on my smartphone, I go straight to VSCO CAM when I see the perfect photo opportunity. The filters are professional-looking and editing a photo is as simple or even simpler than editing on  Instagram. Not to mention, VSCO CAM is any UI enthusiast’s dream come true, with its swipe-friendly menus and nav bars.

ScoutMob

Undoubtedly one of the quirkiest foodie apps out there, ScoutMob offers nearly too-good-to-be-true deals to its registered users. Though the restaurants in Los Angeles are just starting to get into the whole “ScoutMob” trend, long-established epicurean cities like Manhattan have many, many places at which to use a ScoutMob deal. Useful and full of personality, the ScoutMob app is definitely the way to go for tech-minded foodies on a budget!

SpellTower

SpellTower is hands-down one of the most gorgeous games I have downloaded thus far. From a marketing perspective, SpellTower isn’t all that great. Its only source of revenue is from downloads ($1.99 per download). But from a UI/UX approach, SpellTower is exceptional. No superfluous in-game currencies, complex rules or necessary internet connection. Just spell the words, score points and stay in the game all while admiring the beauty of the layout.

Minù Timer

It might sound a bit silly to put a kitchen timer app on this list, but the Minù Timer is not your ordinary timer. It’s probably one of the best designed apps I have ever seen. This app requires no instructions because a user’s intuition is usually correct. Even though you may not be one to use timers, it’s definitely an app to have on your phone.

Over

Made with just the one purpose of adding typography to photos, Over does it in style and in the most marketable way possible. It’s sleek, easy to use and gives photos a personality that photos without text can’t quite exude. What I love most about Over is that it feel likes a community. Follow Over’s Instagram @madewithover and see all the user submissions that have been made with over! Want to see your own photos on the Over Instagram? Tag your Instagram and Over masterpieces with #madewithover. You get it all with the over app: a great community, a great app and a great design.

Pandora

This app does not need very much lauding, since the name already implies quality. Started back in 2000 as the Music Genome Project, today Pandora has taken over the realm of online and mobile music-streaming. Users are able to create 100 unique “stations” and enjoy each and every one. The app itself is just as easy to use as the online version. Sure, there are advertisements, but I think it’s fair trade if you are not paying for an ad-free subscription.

Instead

Whenever I discuss mobile interfaces with other app enthusiasts, I always bring up the Instead app. Though the app still has not quite caught on, Instead has so much potential to be a big hitter in the philanthropic app category (is there such a thing yet?). It’s swift interface and “easy-to-donate” design will make it a successful app in the near future.

Figure

Figure may be one of the most creative music-making apps out there. With a colorful interface, intuitive design, great sound and much more, this app makes creating rhythms and beats as easy as 1-2-3.  It’s fun and simple and well worth the 99 cent investment.

Have I missed any great apps on this list? Let me know in the comments below!

Next up… Techvolo’s favorite websites of 2012!

Happy 14th Birthday, Google!

Since today (Thursday, September 27th) marks the 14th anniversary of Google, I thought it would be fun to dedicate this post to Google and all of its crowning achievements!

In 1997, the Google.com domain went online and  from there, the company started to make its mark in tech and internet history. By the next year, Google had already indexed 30 million pages. Three years after that, 1 billion pages were indexed.

In February 2003, Google purchased Blogger and a month after, launched AdSense. Within the time frame spanning about 3 years after these events, Gmail was also launched, Google became an IPO, Google acquired YouTube, Android was announced and Chrome was launched. How crazy is that?!

So it may or may not be surprising then that Google’s target IPO in April 2004 was $2,178,281,828. What a number!

What also may or may not be surprising is that 45% of Google’s products are in beta! This means that even when Google has all these masterpieces going for them, they are continually innovating and improving and devising and creating. One of their projects to keep an eye out for is Google’s Project Glass which has “Terminator Vision,” Virtual Navigation and uses hand and body movements instead of touch screens for a phenomenal and never before seen augmented reality interface.

So congratulations, Google, and a happy birthday to you!! You have rightfully earned every slice of virtual cake and every scoop of ice cream!

Still want to learn more about Google and its successes?

For an infographic describing what the world would be like without Google click here.

To scroll through an interactive infographic about the evolution of Google, starting with Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s first meeting, click here!

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!