Archive for the ‘Apps’ Category

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Waze’s big exit to Google proved one thing: if
companies can harness the power of the crowd to
deliver real-time, granular data, big tech corporations
will be watching them closely as potential acquisition
targets. There’s another category ripe for the picking,
even if the problem being solved isn’t as apparent or immediately useful as traffic and navigation data:
weather. A few apps are trying to harness the crowd
to provide accurate, ground-level forecasts and
conditions, and they’re catching on with consumers,
too. Montreal-based startup SkyMotion is one such firm,
and it recently launched its 4.0 update, which not only
harnesses crowdsourced weather reports, but also
allows other businesses to plug into that data using a
public API, to integrate real-time reporting data from
SkyMotion’s users into their own products. That provides an up-to-the-minute forecast, one that
probably won’t show you weather conditions
completely dissimilar from the ones you’re actually
feeling outside at any given moment, as can still be
the case with apps that pull weather data only from
specific weather monitoring stations. SkyMotion has had considerable success harnessing
the crowd to populate its real-time forecasts, with
over 200,000 people currently submitting observations
according to the company. Over 50 percent of those
who download the app actually keep it and use it, and
65 percent of all users are active between 15 and 200 times per month. The company is now close to
reaching 500,000 total downloads, and anticipates
being well over 1 million by the end of the year should
the pace remain near its current rate. SkyMotion isn’t alone in crowdsourcing weather data.
There’s also Weddar, the “people-powered” weather
service and mobile app that encourages location-
based reporting with a very human element, since it
asks people how conditions generally feel on the
ground, instead of seeking out specifics. The Weddar team, which is based in Portugal, launched its app
back in April 2011, and where once you’d be hard-
pressed to find anyone using it outside of its home
market, now you’ll probably see results just about
anywhere you open it up. Crowsourced weather data could appeal to big tech
companies for the same reason that crowdsourced
data does; it greatly improves the quality of
consumer-facing products. But it also offers a lot
more besides, by providing services that can be
combined with other local data including maps and traffic, as well as shopping and advertising
information, to give a much more accurate, much
more complete snapshot of any given location at any
given time. Weather affects everything from the
average user’s day planning, to marketing, to
budgeting, and companies that are improving the quality of that data will no doubt be on the radar of
anyone who makes those things its concern.

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This started out as a list titled “Fashion Apps Actual Fashionistas Would Use,” but in sifting through numerous
style-centric apps, I realized that girls like Alexa Chung aren’t going to be using any of them. Outfit selfie services like Pose and Cloth are awesome if you’re an everyday clotheshorse looking to share
your new haul — and, seriously, I’m all about the democratization of fashion — but why use your smartphone
if your alternative is getting snapped by Tommy Ton? Trendabl and Snapette can be good marketing tools for brands, but if Derek Blasberg’s last post was 39 weeks ago, it’s not hitting the mark. So here is the newly revised: Apps For Actual Fashionistas.

20130618-213014.jpg AfterLight: A Conde Nast photo assistant friend of mine turned me onto this image editor, which gives the user more control than Instagram. The filters are
more subtle, and you can further dial their strength up and down. There are also
options for exposure, brightness, saturation, and contrast; plus, cropping that
allows you to cut an image into letters. Or shapes! Edit on AfterLight; upload to
Instagram or any other social media site of your choosing; make yourself look
amazing.

20130618-213113.jpg Instagram/Vine/Twitter: This wouldn’t be a roundup of apps for the fashion industry if these three weren’t
mentioned. It’s a small, social world, and the tags fly fast. The Man Repeller and Kate Upton are getting silly on Vine, and Twitter tends to the professional, but Instagram is where it’s at. Goodies include group hugs at Coachella,
group hugs with Derek Blasberg, and sweeping views of wherever Rosie Huntington-
Whiteley is shooting.

20130618-213149.jpg SoulCycle: Nothing says ‘I work in fashion’ like SoulCycle. In maybe the best news of the summer for its rabid followers, the
uber-hip spin chain is putting the finishing touches on a mobile app tentatively set
to launch in early August. The app will accelerate the sign-up process by allowing
Soul enthusiasts to pre-select classes and bikes before registration for the week
goes live on Monday at noon, rather than having to select a class at noon through
the company’s website. It will also enable social sharing so friends can sync up workouts, note classes they want to take, and see each instructor and his or her
music lineup.

20130618-213256.jpg CitiBike: SoulCycle changed pop fitness the way fixed gear bicycles changed street-style photography. Scott Schuman’s inclination
to snap well-dressed ladies on velocipedes ushered in a new era of Girls On
Bikes, or Cycling In Heels. Which is all to say that the May 27 launch of NYC’s
CitiBike bike share program and accompanying app for iOS and Android (showing
bike locations, availability and routes) is big news for fashionistas without their
own wheels. If the bike share operates smoothly this summer, I’m predicting a major deficit of bike availability between shows during fashion week in September.

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20130618-213355.jpg Hailo & Uber: But sometimes you just don’t want to bicycle! Or your bag is too heavy, or whatever. Now that Hailo has been cleared to operate in NYC, it’s definitely going to be getting some use during New York Fashion Week, during which it is notoriously
impossible to get a cab. Uber’s black car and SUV options may make it a better pick for
those aiming for a sleeker look or who need the extra space to wedge in two dozen
garment bags, shoe boxes and an intern.

20130618-213436.jpg GoodGuide: While not the sexiest app in the world, GoodGuide is your app if you care to know what exactly is going on your skin or
in your hair. It lets you sort through products (personal care, food, apparel, etc.)
and gives them ratings for health, environmental, and societal impact, along with a list of ingredients. Because
sometimes finding a good sulfate-free shampoo really matters. Ask any beauty editor.

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Beautified: Ever since this app launched in the last week of May, it’s been getting major buzz on industry news sites. That’s partly because DJ/cool-girl-
about-town Hannah Bronfman is one-third of the brains behind the product, and
partly because it’s a genuinely solid idea: you want to book a last-minute beauty
appointment, and the app hooks you up with open appointments at salons and
spas around town. Sure, similar apps have come before, but a) Beautified has
culled a roster of participating salons that are already trusted city-girl faves and b) Bronfman is having a major moment right now. For an app to win with New York’s fashion set, it doesn’t have to be all fierce and fashion-y — it just has to gel with the daily groove of the industry, during work and after-hours. If you live and breathe fashion every day of the year, you don’t need a nail art decorating app,
because you invented nail art. You do need an app that functions as a juice bar map/social media support group for those on cleanses. Seriously, that would be great. The other thing to keep in mind is that the fashion set is a subset of the population that doesn’t mess around
with poor-quality anything. With its attachment to analog traditions that for a long time set the gold standard,
the industry has made a relatively slow move to incorporate technology into its design and editorial cycles.
Although the emerging generation of designers, editors, and, of course, bloggers, is by nature tech-friendly,
fashion is still a luxury industry, and any app that supports its mechanisms had better deliver a good product.

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We’ve been working on getting more details on a
press event that Facebook is having this week.
Earlier, we wrote it could launch a news-reading app,
but we have since heard more details that point to
something else entirely. On June 20, a source says
Facebook will unveil that Instagram, its popular photo- sharing app, will begin to let people also take and
share short videos. Call it the Vine effect. We are still looking for more information because we
understand that Facebook has not wanted the details
of June 20 to leak out — so this could be an
intentional blind alley. But if the Instagram video
report is true, you could say the event invite itself —
sent by snail mail, coffee cup stain charmingly in one corner — is a red herring of its own. Earlier reports about Instagram getting video provide
some indication, though, that this is not coming out of
the blue. Most recently, about three weeks ago
Matthew Keys broke a story noting that such a
service was getting tested internally. At the time,
there wasn’t any information on when it would be coming out, nor whether there would be filters, nor
whether this would be in a separate app or part of an
Instagram update. The videos would be between five
and 10 seconds in length, he noted. Getting video on Instagram is a move that would
make sense. Specifically, it looks like a direct
response to the rising popularity of video-sharing
services, namely Twitter’s Vine. It, and others like
Viddy, Cinemagram and Socialcam, sometimes get
described as “Instragram for video” apps. The Vine app — which lets users take six seconds of
video footage on an iOS or Android handset and then
share those clips to Vine’s own network, Twitter or
Facebook — has shot up in popularity since going
live in January. After Twitter debuted an Android
version of Vine in the beginning of June, usage reached a tipping point: shares of Vines surpassed
those of Instagram photos on Twitter — usage that
has only diverged even more since then: Of course, you could argue that part of the reason is
because Twitter no longer shows inline views of
Instagram photos — that may have affected how
many Instagram photos have been shared to Twitter. When those Instagram/Twitter cards disappeared, we
noted that part of the reason for the move — taken by
Facebook/Instagram, not Twitter — appeared to be to
drive more direct traffic to Instagram itself, a popular
social network in its own right, with over 100 million
monthly active users, rising sharply since Facebook bought the company last year for $715 million. Putting in a video service could serve to further that
strategy even more, before new-but-already-popular
services like Vine get more of a foothold. It will mean
one less app and social network for users to build up,
and, for those who like to take and share videos,
another reason to visit Instagram. You can see how something like video could be a very sticky
complement to its photo service. There could be another reason for adding video to the
service: it’s a very attractive medium for advertisers
and marketers. Of course, Instagram is not running any ads yet — in
fact, Facebook and Instagram got a lot of heat over
changes in their terms of service in December over
how it could implement advertising services in the
future — so much heat that they rolled back the ToS
and apologized. And in Facebook’s last quarterly earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a point of
noting that while big brands were interested in
advertising on Instagram, for now there were no plans
to implement this. (That’s not to say that Instagram is
not already a substantial marketing platform for
brands.) And with 100 million+ users, you could argue that
there may not be enough scale there yet to really
monetize ads properly. Adding in video is laying the
groundwork — and providing one more engine to grow
that Instagrammer base.

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Irish startup Galvanic has just launched a Kickstarter
to crowdsource funding a wireless stress biosensor
it’s calling PIP. PIP — which stands for ‘personal
input pod’ — is a Bluetooth biosensor that monitors
its user’s stress levels by measuring their galvanic
skin response (GSR) as they hold the PIP pinched between thumb and forefinger. GSR means skin
conductance — so basically how sweaty you’re
getting and therefore how nervous you’re feeling. PIP isn’t just a quantifiable self-tapping biosensor; it’s
been designed to work in conjunction with iOS and
Android phone and tablet apps to provide a
gamification element. The company has created three
games designed to be played using the PIP, which
utilises Bluetooth as its data transport tech. The user’s stress level is then incorporated into each
game as the core gameplay mechanic — with the
ultimate aim being to help the player learn what they
need to do to relax. It sounds a bit counterintuitive, since competitive
gaming can be synonymous with sweaty palms,
which is presumably why Galvanic’s project extends
to designing stress-busting games. It’s created three
games to be used in conjunction with the PIP — a
relaxing racing game, a seasonal mood game where players meditate on a wintery scene to turn it into
spring, and a more playful lie-detector multi-player
game — but it does also plan to launch an SDK in
future to get third party developers expanding the
PIP’s gaming ecosystem. With this initial handful of in-house games the PIP
can only be so interesting, but if Galvanic can
convince enough people to buy in to the gadget and
thus lure enough outside developers to join in, there’s
plenty of potential for other cool biosensing software
ideas. The price per PIP is $79 for a limited number of early bird Kickstarter backers, or $99 thereafter.
Presumably each new PIP-compatible game may
also carry a consumer price-tag. Galvanic is gunning for $100,000 in Kickstarter
funding, with the money to be used for finalising
manufacturing and readying its own apps. Assuming
it hits this rather ambitious funding goal, the company
reckons it can gear up for mass production by the end
of 2013, and expects to be shipping in Q1 2014. In future it said it plans to expand platform support
beyond Android and iOS, to add Windows Phone,
Blackberry, Windows, MacOS and also game
Consoles and set-top boxes.

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Skype has just announced that the previously beta
video messaging feature it’s been testing is now a
proper release feature of its Skype applications for
Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android and
BlackBerry. Video messaging on Skype simply allows
users to record a message for a contact to be viewed later, sort of like a video voicemail, instead of
requiring that any real-time communication
shenanigans happen. Asynchronous video is arguably the older form of
communication – I can still remember using the
parents’ old VHS camcorder to make tapes that we’d
later show grandma and grandpa, for instance. But
Skype has been slow to integrate it, and it’s possible
that the advent of recent startups including Glide, and to some extent Twitter’s Vine, which are focused
specifically on time-delayed video broadcasts, have
lit a fire under the Microsoft-owned company, lest
they get disrupted. Other competing apps like Viber
and various messaging platforms have also
previously offered the feature. The video messaging feature had previously been
available as a beta feature since February, with a cap
on the number of messages in place, and free
unlimited use relegated to those with premium
subscriptions. Luckily Skype seems not to have seen
much value in locking this feature behind a pay wall, unlike its screen sharing option, which is good news
for all. Video messaging scratches an itch that was
previously one of the major limitations of video
communication, which is, what do you do when the
other party isn’t available? All that intent gets lost as
you run up against the wall, and consumers are bound
to be less inclined to use a service like that should they encounter disappointment. At the very least
video messaging offers a way to act on that impulse
to connect via video, even if real-time communication
isn’t possible or practical. Skype entering the fray and offering multi-platform
support out of the starting gate may put a damper on
startups in this space, but we’ll have to see how
users respond to this addition to the Skype platform,
and whether people think Skype’s implementation is
strong enough to replace more feature-rich offerings from Glide and the like.